Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT



  • Jason Soon
  • Heath Gibson
  • Jack Strocchi
  • Andrew Norton
  • Sarah Strasser
  • Teresa Fels


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    Tuesday, March 04, 2003
    Net censors ride again (and again¡K and again)

    How fitting that my 100th post to this blog should be on a topic I am so passionate about - Internet Censorship.

    The latest round of pro-censorship lobbying comes from none other than Clive Hamilton at The Australia Institute. (TAI) The double-barrel attack comes in the form of a paper on the exposure of 16 & 17 year olds to Internet porn and its alleged harmful effects, and a follow-up paper the next day on regulating the Internet. The reports, aside from revealing the obvious ( teenagers these days are fairly likely to have seen porn before they are 18), is just the latest round of "Won't somebody please think of the children." (yes - this link is to a sound file:-)

    Adele Horin at the SMH has jumped on to this with enthusiasm and produced some great headlines like

    * Kids drawn into vile web porn as '60s generation sits on its hands
    * No sex, please: a blueprint for safer surfing
    * Net laws a failure: Harradine

    So what is TAI recommending. I'll give a quick assessment of its main proposals.

    1 School-based education
    1a. Incorporation of pornography education into school curricula on health and personal development, media literacy and protective behaviours.
    1b.Promotion of parental understanding, monitoring, and household guidelines.
    ƒ¡c. Provision to young people of compelling and educational Internet and other content on sexual health and relationships.

    1a. I'd really challenge whether this is the role of the school at all. Encouraging teenagers to be critical media consumers is one thing. But at the mention of this proposal I immediately thought of those appalling circa 1950's "sex ed" films. Please, lets not go down that path again. Besides - what I want to tell my kids about porn is probably different to what Clive wants the teachers to say.

    1b. Sensible enough proposal and the plenty of web sites have been handing out helpful parenting tips pretty much from when web porn first arrived. But lets face it, sixteen is the age of consent so surely 16-18 year olds deserve a bit of privacy. For younger teens the most practical advice is to install filter software (if you must), not hand out your password, and most importantly, place the PC in a commonly used room in public view.

    1c. There is already plenty of compelling content out there. Having some government anti-porn department create new content isn't going to be helpful

    Mandatory ISP-filtering
    2a. All Australian ISPs required to filter all material for prohibited content.
    2b. .Adult users may opt out of filtering and receive X-rated content.
    2c..Website owners may apply to have their sites classified and thereby exempted from filtering.

    2a. Clive Hamilton (in the second report) considers this to be a fairly easy and affordable thing to do. I suppose it all depends on what your idea of easy and affordable is. ISP level filtering is thrown up every couple of years as the answer to net p0rn. And it gets knocked down just as rapidly because it isn't easy, isn't cheap and isn't easy to manage. As someone who works for a large ISP , this would be something of a nightmare to implement and would probably have a fair bit of regulatory compliance cost to boot. Then there is the fact that mandatory filtering sinks the business case (and return on investment) for those ISP's who have chosen to offer a differentiated (i.e. filtered) service on a fee-based basis.

    2b. Opt out sounds fine at first, but administering opt-out (such as ensuring only authorised account reps over 18 choose to opt out) adds significantly to the complexity of the system and hence the cost of it. There's also the issue of any reporting on those who opt-out.

    2c. Even after reading the detail on this it doesn't make much sense. The content which TAI is most concerned about is prohibited from being hosted locally under current regulations. This means it is being accessed from overseas sites that won't be impacted one bit by this proposal. All it might allow is some R and X sites to be hosted in Australia. But for commercial reasons most major p0rn sites host in the US anyway.

    Additional measures
    3a.Stronger age-verification technology.
    3b.Plain brown wrappers for Internet sex sites.
    3c .Instant help functions for children exposed to offensive material.

    3a. Commercial sites already have age verification. Requiring the same level of verification for non-commercial sites is likely to be a significant barrier to providing content. The easy answer of course is to host the content overseas.

    3b. Essentially the proposal here is for the 'home' page of porn sites to contain no teaser images. In effect, all images must be in the age restricted area. This is never going to fly as viable for the porn sites, since teaser images are how they provide potential customers with a preview of their site and attract them to become subscribers. So again, it just encourages sites to stay overseas, rather than host locally,

    3c. This is downright disturbing. TAI propose things like "help" buttons in users web browsers or on their desktops, clicking on which will put them in touch with someone to provide counselling for any disturbing images they may have seen. There are a number of things that concern me here. First off - what the hell is wrong with parents talking to their kids about what they saw on the Internet? Are parents going to have any role at all in their children's moral education - or are we to trust some (presumably) government funded or endorsed agency to do that too. And secondly, who the hell would trust this piece of spyware/bloatware to be installed on their PC.

    But despite these weaknesses, Johnny Howard has given it his usual knee-jerk reaction and stated that he will look in to fixing our "useless" laws that we currently have in place.

    The anti-censorship side has gotten little space and little air-time in this debate. Kath Albury did manage a good piece in the SMH today. But the best answer was the responses from teenagers in an article that ran Monday, which gave the impression that most teenagers thought net porn was either something of a joke, or more often, just another annoyance (which is exactly how most adults view it).

    Full version of the regulation paper is available online.

    Monday, March 03, 2003
    Catallaxy Downsizes

    Pity to see Charles and Teresa go, but it would seem to all be part of the dynamics of group blogging. I can understand teresa's reasons, as my work effectively restricts the topics I can blog about. But it's a shame she couldn’t stick around to blog on topics that aren't work related (like child p0rn and censorship).
    Catallaxy Corporation downsizes
    I have removed Charles Richardson and Teresa Fels from the list of guest bloggers. Not because of their infrequent postings - the CEO of Catallaxy Corporation is very tolerant of the quirks of its contributors. But because of technological incompatibility in one case and work issues in the other.

    Charles, as an avid hater of Microsoft, does not have Internet Explorer. He has found that Netscape is incompatible with Blogger software and though he initially tried downloading Mozilla which does work with Blogger, it screws up the rest of his system. If any readers have technical tips on how to get over these issues perhaps Charles can be reinstated.

    Teresa, alas, has now moved to the public sector in a regulatory capacity and does not think it would now be appropriate for her to blog on the issues she tends to want to blog about.
    Summers vs Hakim
    Anne Summers gives Catherine Hakim's theories a well deserved serve.

    Catallaxy Files yet again delivers a world scoop. For years members of his adoring public wondered what porn star Ron Jeremy did for a day job. It can now be revealed to readers of Catallay Files that "the Hedgegog" has been moonlighting as a fundamentalist terrorist. The image of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the notorious AlQuaed terrorist, bears too much of a resemblance to the world's most famous fat, hairy scuzz ball to be a coincidence.

    Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - in happier days, hamming it up as the famous Porn Star aka "Ron Jeremy".

    Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - looking a trifle dishevelled, just after being nabbed.

    He should have stuck with the day job.


    "One does not teach one's revolutionary grandmother how to break eggs"

    Dear Mr Cassin

    Normally I don't mind your columns, although Left in a vague sort of way, they lack the rattiness of Margo and they are firmer in tone than flabby Hugh.
    But your Open Letter to Horta really annoyed me, so better sit down as you are going to get it with both blog-barrels.
    You are a newspaper journalist who, I would wager, has probably never had a knife pulled on him in a pub, seen a gun drawn, still less shot fired, in anger.
    Yet you have the nerve to lecture a certified war hero like Horta about "the correct use of peace",
    the right doctrine of just war and wag your finger at his quasi-hypocrisy in the face of a military power.
    That really takes some cheek.
    (I recall Frank Knopfelmacher's immortal quote of intellectuals whose nearest brush with danger is "prolonged uneasiness before a typewriter").
    Your article has a number of gross factual errors starting with a silly premise in the heading "Self-interest makes the world safer for no one", implying that the predatory use of force by a regional bully is morally equivalent to the enlightened use of force by a constitutional hegemon. This ignores the history of two thousand years of great power public goods, when the self-interested use of military power by a civil Leviathan (such as Rome, the UK) did in fact bring regional peace (Pax Romana, Pax Britannia):

    • "What have the Romans ever done for us?", apart from buiding roads etc "brought peace?" "Oh Shut-up!"
    • "What did the Americans ever do for us?", well Contained Totalitarianism, built the internet etc

    But your next howler came a close second. When attempting to tease out the link between weapons inspections and military interventions you claim that:

    "the last time the threat of force was used...the result was the collapse of the previous UN inspections regime"

    You get the causal sequence precisely back to front. In 1998 the collapse of effective inspections brought about the use of force. For the dreary factual history of Iraqi obstructionism I refer you to the UNSCOM chronology. Over the course of 1998 the UN issued no less than four Resolutions calling for SH to open up palaces for inspection.
    SH dissed them every time.
    Only after SH refused all entreaties to comply with these Resolutions were the terms of the cease-fire lifted and Desert Fox executed.
    Ditto the current crisis, the US/UK's collapse of faith in inspections & verifications has hastened the use of military force. (Remember, this is not a goose chase for weapons, it is a reconciliation stock take, which is currently showing alarming discrepancies.)
    Next you pull out your big gun, St Thomas Aquinas' doctrine of the "Just War". Comrade you forget, Horta is a revoulutionary, not a thumb-sucking, hair splitting casuist. One does not teach one's revolutionary grandmother how to break eggs. Yet you presume to lecture him thus:

    "according to the traditional just-war doctrine in which, minister, you and I were schooled, the threat [of WMDs] does not constitute sufficient reason for going to war."

    Well we might just have to have another look at "the  traditional doctrine" now that we have a twin break out by some seriously demented and heavily armed entities:

    • mass casualty "fundie" terrorists
    • rogue "nutso" state militarists

    If that isn't enough to set the "traditional just-war doctrine" on it's head then nothing is.
    It is perfectly obvious that fascist militarist WMD accumulators and fundamentalists terrorist delivery systems will go hand in hand, they are made for each other, look at Jabotisky-Kahanists, Baathist-Islamicists, Fatah-Hamas, TNI-JI etc
    Fascists are bombed up but boxed in, fundamentalists are psyched-up and breaking out .
    Just to go on with "politics as usual" is asking for trouble.
    But of course, first principle of modern Leftism, never give the US an even break when a cheap shot is a better bet.
    You are right about one thing, it is the immoral, bestial, nature of the SH regime that bothers Horta.
    And to give you credit Ray, that bothers you., But instead of giving the whole argument up as a bad job, you attempt to dislodge Horta from the high moral ground and mount our own wobly high horse.

    "This argument deserves to be heard with greater respect from you than from some others who are making it, because you know what it is like to live under a tyrannical regime:"

    Let's ignore the fact that your statement ditches two thousand years of logical doctrine which unambiguously states that argument ad hominem is fallacious, arguments deserve respect on account of their cogency and verifiability, nothing more.
    (Eye witness reports are another thing, but you chose not to use that construction).
    Does this imply that the arguments of those, like me (I am in the service and twice sought a position in the initial push) and presumably you, who opposed E .Timor's oppression, but did not live under the jurisdiction of the Suharto regime, had little merit? Your domicile-dependent argument actually gives more weight to Vichyite collaborators than liberators.
    Next you set up the yawning double standard trap, so it only takes a nudge for the unsuspecting Horta to fall in.

    "If the reason for going to war with Iraq is that it would be a war of liberation for the oppressed Iraqi people, surely we should be fighting to liberate other oppressed peoples around the world?"

    Yes, if we all possessed the magic wand that main street protestors and op-editors have of waving away the intractable power realities of scarce resources, limited attention spans, perverse coalitions and responsibility to secular material interests in the here and now, then sure, we would all act now to end all dictatorships everywhere. Queue feral street orchestra:
    ("what do we want [fill in impossible Leftist blank]?, when do we want it? NOW ")
    Tell me Mr Cassin, because you cannot immediately perfect all aspect of your life do you give up on doing bits of good here and there?
    Because the US has not been, and cannot be, a chronic serial do-gooder does that entail it ought not be an episodic goodie, now and again.
    Only a Tolstoyan monomaniac requires that degree of eternal fidelity to the moral law.
    Perhaps it is true that:

    "the strategic arguments that were initially used to justify the Gulf build-up have failed to win general acceptance"

    Agreed, the stated US strategic rationale for Regime Change is flimsy. SH does not currently harbour terrorists or cache WMDs.
    But flimsy or not, there  is now a higher chance that SH will do more damage:

    • if inspections were lifted, he would likely use terrorists as delivery systems
    • if sanctions were lifted, he would likely use the oil revenue to get more weapons

    The sanctions/inspections regime is not robust and will disintegrate over time. Regime Change is the only way to be sure, and the US wants to be sure these days as it is becoming risk-averse to Bad Arabs With Big Bombs.
    So the US's "strategic arguments" may not be false, just unmentionable:

    • need of the US for secure access to Iraqi oil, without revenue going through SH militarist hands
    • need for the US to regarrison Gulf Legions in a secure area, without SA's fundamentalists being disturbed

    Yes grubby Real Politic like this underlies Great Power moves, but Great Powers also create (cloning, stem cellsinternet etc).
    You then go on to mention West Papua as a morally plausible target of Regime Change, which Horta, the quasi-hypocritical power realist, ignores.
    But there are two key differences that you ignore:

    • No one argues that Indonesia is accumulating aggressive stocks of WMDs(no nukes, long range missiles)
    • Everyone acknowledges that the Indonesian regime is Regime Changing itself (fair trials etc

    What ever evils Indo. perpetrates over W. Papua it at least is not nearly as oppressive or militarist as SH's Iraq.

    But the kicker comes in your last par when you argue that Indonesian pre-emptive invasion of Timor is morally equivalent to the US's pre-emptive invasion of Iraq:

    "the strategic doctrine being followed by the US the right to fight "preventive" wars whenever it believes them to be in the US national interest. Suharto' s strategists invoked a similar doctrine of national interest in 1975, didn't they, minister? It is not a doctrine that can make the world safer for anyone, oppressed or free."

    This implies that there is analogical symmetry between the two  pre-emptors.
    Was there ever an argument more patently absurd?
    You equate the US's pre-emptive Regime Change removal of Iraq's aggressive  fascist dictatorship in 2003 with the Indonesia's pre-emptove imposition of a fascist dictatorship over democratic Timor in 1975.
    You ignore the history of the past decade of institutional-legalised UN scrutiny over SH regime, which has not changed it's abominable nature one iota.
    You ignore the fact that the US and UK are democracies, and when they act in tandem they have a record of propagating democracies.
    Two "exceptions" prove that rule:

    • Suez: UK acted without the US and almost got burnt re-imposing colonialism
    • Vietnam: the US acted without the UK and did get burnt re-imposing colonialism

    SH is still as fascist as he was in 1990 and and he still avoids co-operation with disarmament requirements now as he did after the cease fire. Except that now the US has lost patience. Given the state of play in N Korea and S Arabia, can you blame them?
    And now we come to the bit most beloved in all subversive critiques, the ideological sub-text.
    The Australian Left has not had a great decade, has it?
    It was good to give Economic Rationalism the arse in 1993, but let's face it, by mid decade it was obvious that Keating's Identity Politics (Reconciliation, PC Feminism, Republic, Multiculturalism) was going belly up and got a deserved comeuppance in the great debacle of 1996.
    The Left's one great positive achievement this decade has been the liberation of the socialist republic of Timor.

    But guess which black-hearted reactionary executed the military logistics and diplomatic acrobatics on that one!
    For the rest decade the Australian Left has lived for one thing only: to negate Howard.
    Yet Howard has been, and will be, an active leader in the liberation of three cities from fascist dictatorship: Dili, Kabul and, next, Bagdad.
    Does the spectacle of the fin d' siecle Australian Left punctuating the millenium with a seried of rasberries for a leader who liberated three cities from fascism fill you with ideological pride?
    That way lies the Dustbin of History comrade.

    Yours fraternally

    Jack Strocchi


    Sunday, March 02, 2003
    Walzer on containment
    Michael Walzer, possibly one of the few contemporary philosophers around who actually earns his keep (unlike, say, Derrida) and is capable of writing clearly has a nice piece on the 'right' and 'wrong' way to be antiwar:

    There are two ways of opposing a war with Iraq. The first way is simple and wrong; the second way is right but difficult.

    The first way is to deny that the Iraqi regime is particularly ugly, that it lies somewhere outside the range of ordinary states, or to argue that, however ugly it is, it doesn't pose any significant threat to its neighbors or to world peace ...

    The right way to oppose the war is to argue that the present system of containment and control is working and can be made to work better. This means that we should acknowledge the awfulness of the Iraqi regime and the dangers it poses, and then aim to deal with those dangers through coercive measures short of war. But this isn't a policy easy to defend, for we know exactly what coercive measures are necessary, and we also know how costly they are.

    Walzer then goes on to tackle the tough issues associated with containment that the hawks have suddenly feigned concern with, such as the matter of sanctions:

    First, the existing embargo: this can and should be adjusted so as to allow a wider range of products necessary to the civilian population into the country, while still excluding military supplies and the technologies necessary to the development of weapons of mass destruction. But however "smart" the sanctions are, they will still constitute a partial blockade and a forceful restraint of trade, and, given the way Saddam spends his available funds, they will impose severe hardships on ordinary Iraqis ...

    Second, the "no-fly" zones: preventing Iraqi planes from flying over an area that amounts to about half of the country requires constant American overflights, and this requires in turn what has averaged out as twice-weekly bombings of radar and antiaircraft facilities. So far, no planes or pilots have been lost, and I believe that few civilians have been killed or injured in the bombing raids. Still, this is a risky and costly business, and if it is "short" of war, it isn't far short

    Third, the UN inspections: these will have to go on indefinitely, as a regular feature of the Iraqi landscape ...

    Defending the embargo, the American overflights, and the UN inspections: this is the right way to oppose, and to avoid, a war. But it invites the counter-argument that a short war, which made it possible to end the embargo, and the weekly bombings, and the inspection regime, would be morally and politically preferable to this "avoidance." A short war, a new regime, a demilitarized Iraq, food and medicine pouring into Iraqi ports: wouldn't that be better than a permanent system of coercion and control? Well, maybe. But who can guarantee that the war would be short and that the consequences in the region and elsewhere will be limited?

    An equally important point he makes is that:

    an international system has to be the work of many different states, not of one state. There have to be many agents ready to take responsibility for the success of the system, not just one. Today, the UN inspection regime is in place in Iraq only because of what many American liberals and leftists, and many Europeans too, called a reckless US threat to go to war. Without that threat, however, UN negotiators would still be dithering with Iraqi negotiators, working on, but never finally agreeing on, the details of an inspection system; the inspectors would not even have packed their bags (and most of the leaders of Europe would be pretending that this was a good thing). Some of us are embarrassed to realize that the threat we opposed is the chief reason for the existence of a strong inspection system, and the existence of a strong inspection system is today the best argument against going to war

    For those tired of the shrill bleatings of the trigger finger hawks and the 'it's all about oiiiiilll' peaceniks, this piece is a brilliant must-read.
    Hitler's Jewish soldiers
    In 2002, University of Kansas Press published an intriguing book called Hitler's Jewish soldiers. I have been meaning to get hold of it but haven't yet, and being in Australia, am not aware of what general reception and coverage of this book in the US has been like. I'd certainly be interested to hear from any readers who have followed this. The book, from what I've read about it in articles like this certainly documents one of the most interesting quirks in history:

    Germans of mixed Jewish descent, the so-called Mischlinge, suddenly found themselves in limbo. As many as 3 million Germans, at least 25 to 50 percent Jewish by descent, fell into this category. Many had no idea they had a Jewish ancestor until the Nazis told them.

    Suddenly second-class citizens, thousands sought to “redeem” themselves as Germans through service to the party in the Wehrmacht. They were eager to demonstrate they were Germans first in a Germany where it was a crime to be Jewish at all.

    Rigg points out that “These Mischlinge internalized Nazi standards.... Many behaved the same way as Aryans…out of loyalty to Germany, belief in the Nazi government, because they were scared to act otherwise, for opportunistic reasons or, most commonly, out of a mixture of all four.”

    Sympathy with Hitler’s goals for Germany was apparently very common among Mischlinge. Rigg was told by more than one of his interviewees, “If not for my [Jewish] grandmother, I could have been a Nazi.”

    Wehrmacht policy on Mischlinge varied depending upon which service one was in (it was best to be in the Luftwaffe or the Kriegsmarine) and whom one knew (a high party official or military officer with access to Hitler or the Reich Chancellery was best), as well as upon whose desk a particular soldier’s file landed. Despite pressure from the Nazi Party to eject all partial Jews from the service, Wehrmacht officers were largely willing through the end of the war to retain the services of those Mischlinge in whom the Reich had invested money and time in training and who proved good and tested comrades in battle. A very select few of high-ranking and talented individuals never had to worry.

    The book alleges that one of these 'Mischlinge' was the Nazi war criminal Erhard Milch.

    There's an excerpt from the book here.

    And here's another great irony - this picture of 'Mischlinge' soldier Werner Goldberg was used by a Nazi propaganda newspaper, and captioned 'The ideal German soldier'.

    Here is the 'Mischlinge' Luftwaffe General Helmut Wilberg who was 'Aryanised' by Hitler in 1935.

    Apologies in advance to all German readers but this stuff doesn't exactly disabuse me of the prejudice that Germany was one screwed-up nation. ("Oh, he's Jewish but he's a decent chap, a good killing machine. We'll spare him") And just what the hell were these 'Mischlinge' soldiers thinking??? Was this German nationalist madness so infectious that it could overcome family feeling in addition to simple humanity?
    The US right and Islamofascism
    Part XX of my series of posts to alienate and annoy the hell out of everyone on the political spectrum is my strong recommendation of this comprehensive and well-researched piece by secularist leftist blogger Zizka on the many, many troubling links between conservative US activists and nasty Islamic fundamentalist bigots who share their views on 'faith' and 'family'.




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