Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, November 30, 2002
    Sydney on a drizzly summer evening
    I simply had to share this shot which I took from my balcony this evening - even the way the clouds parted looked wonderful.
    More on the Israelis and Palestinians

    Reader Vladimir Dorta offers his thoughts on this article in the NY Review of Books in a long and thoughtful email which I reproduce below:

    Amos Elon reminds me of the Democratic Party spokespersons here in America after their recent drubbing at the polls, ignoring the cathedral size of the people's rejection of their policies, appeasement included. His "extremists-on-both-sides" explanation doesn't see the consistent voting of a democratic Israeli citizenship for Likud as an opportunity for autocriticism at all. If they fail, they will only try harder next time. And move even more to the left with Amram Mitzna, just like the Democrats do with Nancy Pelosi and the "new" populist Al Gore. What the late Abba Eban said about Arabs not missing missing an opportunity seems to apply here too.

    Mr. Elon's easy explanation for many years of complex, intractable conflict: If only Israel had negotiated with the Palestinians since the beginning. He doesn't mention, for example, that after the 1948 war and even after the 1967 war there was no recognized Palestinian political entity, not even a recognized Palestinian people. Not in the Arab countries (especially and most importantly among the main Arab protagonists -and rejectionists- Egypt and Syria), not in Jordan, not even in the UN resolutions regarding both wars! Palestinians were only seen as either Jordanian subjects or Egyptian pawns, and the latter included their Egyptian-imposed "leaders." A big leap then throwing all the responsibility on an Israeli leadership who did not see the clear alternative at the time. The fact is that the conquered territory in 1967 was (and still is in many ways) Israel's only carrot in any future negotiations with any Arab country or entity, including the Golan Heights. That it hasn't resulted in Israel conquering peace has to weigh more on the Arab conscience than on anybody else on Earth, please.

    What Mr. Elon suggests as a solution to the problem, back in 1948, is typical Labor peacenik illusion. If only Ben Gurion had trusted his gut instincts and declared unilateral withdrawal (followed by unilateral disarmament, too?), all would be milk and honey by now. The truth is that withdrawal would only have moved the borders back to where they were before while leaving the problem intact, as was proven by the Jordanian behavior during their rule of the West Bank and after they conquered East Jerusalem: social and religious intolerance, no peace with Israel and no Palestinian state. His example of "good" negotiations with King Abdullah is another peacenik fantasy, because it doesn't take into consideration that any Jordanian ruler would be, as was Hussein later, in the hands of Egypt and under the gun of their own fanatics, ready to assassinate them if Jordan made peace with Israel.

    Another eternal Labor feel-good favorite, the plight of Palestinian refugees, is there too, without any mention of the --at least-- equally dramatic suffering of up to 700,000 Jewish refugees expelled or fleeing from Arab countries who were peacefully, democratically and silently integrated into Israeli society. Plenty of self-loathing, however, and even a piece of revisionist historians' legend: "David Ben-Gurion has since been accused of ... further exacerbating the Palestinian tragedy ... by authorizing his generals to expel perhaps 100,000 innocent villagers and townspeople ..." and "Israel was expected to assume much of the responsibility for their future, physically and financially, in the event of peace, and rightly so;" and "The neighboring Arab countries were expected to help and to absorb Palestinian refugees."). How neat and nice, if only it were true or at least fair.

    The author has to present historical facts in his own particular way in order to "prove" the main cause of the long, insolvable problem, one that is always close to the heart of Labor, settlements. Another red herring. In order to bludgeon everybody with this weapon, the author --dishonestly in my opinion-- glosses over the big efforts made by Ehud Barak (and Bill Clinton, not one of my heroes), misinterprets (to say the least) the fact that most of the dealing was done indirectly through Clinton, doesn't say that the offer was 95% or 96% or whatever percentage and, most importantly, doesn't say that, as in any negotiation, this was a proposal that was expected to be answered by a Palestinian counterproposal that never came. No, the author prefers to write "Clinton, not Barak himself, conveyed to the Palestinians several 'bases for negotiation'" and "calling for a Palestinian state in which Israelis would continue to occupy roughly 9 percent of the West Bank." And regarding Arafat's dread of his own thugs (perhaps together with his hope of getting more from the Jews with the Intifada?), he only quotes a neutral phrase from somebody else: Arafat was "unable to say yes to the American ideas or present a cogent or specific counterproposal of [his] own." What an explanation!

    Not that I like settlements or that I don't think they are a big problem. But they, as so many bad things in the Middle East, are consequences of Arab rejectionism, not causes of anything. To say the opposite is to take a very partial view of a long and complicated history that has been mostly driven and forced upon Israel by the Arabs. Even more importantly and contrary to what the author says, this part of the problem has a solution, whether American-imposed or as a practical fact of life. Necessity has provided one, a wall separating the two peoples that more or less follows the Green Line, with territorial compensations to include the settlements close to Israel proper. This solution is even accepted by Sharon despite what he may say, as the continued building of the wall under his administration and against right-wing protests, clearly proves.

    I don't particularly dislike the author, although perhaps I should because he once unfairly blasted my heroine Hannah Arendt, but that's for another time.

    By the way, I am not a Jew, just a concerned American who chose to emigrate from Venezuela twenty years ago to come to this great country, where my children grew as citizens and where I learned to cherish liberty and democracy, just as most Israelis try to.

    Thursday, November 28, 2002
    Rawls is dead, but his ideas live on.

    Richard Epstein writes an obituary for John Rawls entitled ‘an Appreciation from the Right’. It explains why Rawls ideas supply a strong intellectual foundation for classical liberalism. They do not necessarily support Rawls’ own lefty policy prescriptions. For example,

    What is needed here is an insertion of some modest degree of social realism about the general facts of human nature which could help inform us on how to apply the veil-of-ignorance apparatus. In particular, I would stress three points. The first is that political institutions are often occupied by people with a strong sense of self-interest, with little respect for anything other than external restraints. It is to constrain and guide their behaviour that is the prime objective of political institutions. The good people will take care to rein in their own appetites. The second is that trade produces gains to both parties in the exchange. Rawls never fastened much attention on its positive effects, and never saw the expanding pies that resulted from the successive application of this principle in a wide range of organized markets and informal social settings, including those that foster freedom of association, with which he became ever more concerned in his later years. The third is that politics in general, and the politics of redistribution in particular, implies large losses for each small gain, in a process in which the people with political power and leverage will often do far better than the poor and dispossessed to whom Rawls accorded pride of place. To open the door to state redistribution for good ends is to provide a passageway through which all sorts of dubious characters will rush. Keeping it shut and relying on voluntary mechanisms of social support should not be ruled out of order simply because they have displaced in recent years.

    It is well worth reading – especially by lefty bloggers who seem to think that incanting ‘equality of opportunity’ automatically means we should have an even bigger government.

    It certainly represents my opinions – that there is a strong pragmatic case for libertarianism. It was only after I got there that I realised there was also a strong moral/philosophical case. For a nice summary of that, read Epstein’s obituary for Nozick.

    The Unchained Commentator?

    At (yet another pointless) forum on ‘the idea of the university’ a couple of weeks ago Robert Manne said that I was a ‘neoliberal’. This week in The Australian’s Higher Education Supplement he calls one of my views ‘totalitiarian’. Is this another of Professor Manne’s backflips? (for discussion of a previous backflip, and citation to an excellent Gerard Henderson article listing many more, see Chapter 5 of my new book The Unchained University).

    The point of dispute between Professor Manne and myself is a lecture I gave last week. In this, I took aim at dubious arguments for higher education funding, and in particular the claim, advanced by organizations as diverse as the leftist National Tertiary Education Union and business groups, that higher education promotes social cohesion. I argued that this is untrue, because for among other reasons universities promote critical thinking rather than common values, and indeed public opinion research shows some division between university graduates and others.

    Professor Manne believes that in making this point I am arguing against the critical role of universities. In fairness to Manne, the speech as delivered lacks the paragraph on the web in which I say explicitly that this is only an argument against bad arguments for higher education funding. I cut it out to save time. But even without it, this is at most an argument against subsidies, not a ‘totalitarian’ attempt to control anything. In his words about me, his claim is ‘specious and bizarre’.

    Wednesday, November 27, 2002
    Euthanasia split
    Chris Textor whacks Tory Blair!
    Israelis and Palestinians
    There's a good longish piece on the consistently excellent NY Review of Books titled Israelis and Palestinians: What went wrong?
    Meta-blogging thoughts
    Postings have been infrequent as I've been swamped at work - think of it as a work induced hiatus. I'm working on three different projects at the moment, none of which I'm at liberty to discuss in great detail at least for the moment (my employer does eventually put up the final reports on its website if the final output isn't confidential). Suffice to say two of them involve matters which are quite headline grabbing and we shall probably hear more about these matters in the next few months. The third, regular readers will be amused to hear, involves my writing a report on how regulation can enhance economic performance - ah, contemporary Sophist, thy name is Consultant.

    Perhaps I might revert back to my earlier (when I first started this blog) practice of posting links to interesting articles with one liners accompanying them. It might be better than not posting at all.

    Tuesday, November 26, 2002
    Aborigines even more ancient than we thought?
    This must count as an extremely fascinating discovery:

    The Piramalai Kallar tribe living in an area west of Madurai in Tamil Nadu are the direct descendants of the very first human being on earth genetically traced and who lived in Africa about 60,000 years ago, said Dr Spencer Wells, a British geneticist, here today.

    Dr Wells, author and presenter of a programme "Journey of Man", told reporters that about 10,000 years after the first human being evolved on earth, the human population was a mere 10,000 and the whole of that population lived in Africa.

    About 50,000 years ago, the first travellers of this population travelled to India, and their descendants are still living -- the Piramalai Kallars.

    The Piramalai Kallar is an Indian subgroup in South India and as they had different features, experts from Kamaraj University suggested that Dr Wells conduct DNA sampling on members of this tribe as part of his world-wide research to trace the origin of man.

    DNA samplings of members of the Piramalai Kallar tribe revealed that it had similar DNA strand as those of the aborigines in Australia, leading Wells to conclude that the ancient Africans came through India on their way to Australia, while some remained in India, who are today called the Piramalai Kallar tribe.

    Monday, November 25, 2002
    Let's get back to the war on the anti-Enlightenment forces please
    I've believed all along that picking a fight with Iraq is a waste of political capital and resources when we know who the real barbarians are. Saddam may be a cruel dictator but compared to the people who are funding Al Qaeda his secular regime is a force for enlightenment in the Middle East. His people are well-educated and mostly modernist in outlook and would be better off if sanctions were lifted. His deputy prime minister is a Christian. Call it the lesser of two evils, just as IMHO the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan would have been a lesser evil than the monster the US created by funding Islamic 'freedom fighters' (is there a stronger oxymoron?). Perhaps the recent US probe into Saudi terror links is a sign that it is finally getting back to priorities?
    Armed and dangerous indeed
    Not much posting from me till later this week, but am I the only one who's concerned that Eric Raymond's source-code could do with a little debugging?

    Godless comments on Eric's post:

    Jayzus H. Christ. Talk about delusions of grandeur. How many Islamic terrorists are reading Eric Raymond's blog? How many of said terrorists are willing to listen to an infidel on how best to kill infidels instead of using the tried & true tradition of thinking up their own plans for mass murder? And of that number, how many care enough about Raymond's secret plan that they'd actually kidnap and torture him for it? I'd wager that the answers are zero, zero and zero respectively.

    Pull your head out of it, dude. You're embarassing yourself. We'd rather remember you as the Open Source guru.




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