Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Saturday, April 19, 2003
    Here! Here!
    If all lefties were like Chris Mooney (no permalinks but it's the post called 'The real test') the world would be a better place (primarily because the saner parts of the Right wouldn't need to put up with social conservatives as a lesser evil against the relativist left):

    The real test, it seems to me, will be whether the Bush administration, which does not believe in the strict separation of church and state here at home, believes in it for Iraq. Pat Robertson, it should be noted, has already come out in favor of a secular, or rather, un-Islamic Iraq. Of course, this is the same guy who recently said, "we have had a lie foisted on us that there is something in the Constitution called separation of church and state” ...

    Let's also hope that left wing intellectuals don't pick up on the "Not American, not American!" part of the chant, and embrace Islamic government simply because it's not Western ...

    If a government arises in Iraq that allows secular intellectuals to be persecuted, that won't allow Salman Rushdie to publish The Satanic Verses for fear that Islam will be offended, then that's a serious problem. Call me a Western chauvinist, but in my opinion allowing religious censorship into government is way too big a price to pay for the sake of honoring cultural diversity

    Friday, April 18, 2003
    Acolytes vs pioneers
    Centrist economist Brad de Long provides a fair and balanced assessment of Milton Friedman as pragmatic libertarian:

    Friedman as a pragmatic libertarian, perhaps: believing that market failures are atypical, tending to generate profit opportunities and creating institutions to route around them, and that government failure is pervasive--that any expansion of government beyond the classical liberal state is likely to cause more troubles than it solves...

    Is Friedman a libertarian?: Advocacy of congestion charges--Ken Livingstone, socialist former darling of Labour's Trotskyist loony left, and London's autommobile congestion charge. Negative income tax. Not libertarian ideas...

    Friedman's politics: transparency as most important goal, a need to get government's nose out of people's business (freedom--drug liberalization, et cetera) a second goal, avoidance of large redistributional programs a third (but negative income tax?), need to educate voters about the magnitude of government failure a fourth goal.

    Joe Froomkin's story about running into Milton Friedman a few years after finishing at Chicago--and Friedman's distress that his classes were now much more Uncle Milton and the Acolytes, and that since Joe got his Ph.D. far too few students were willing to try to take him on in class...
    Buruma on liberal interventionism
    Ian Buruma, who is always worth reading, provides a cogent analysis of liberal interventionism in the process of reviewing Paul Berman's new book:

    If some Western intellectuals can be faulted, it is for the kind of moral blindness that sees every Israeli or US action as a crime against humanity, while ignoring mass murders by tyrants in Africa and Asia. Those who demonstrate against US imperialism do not do so, on the whole, out of sympathy for Baathism or Islamist suicide bombers, but out of a deep conviction that American force—at least since Vietnam—cannot possibly do any good. This, it seems to me, is a mistake. If the US, or other Western governments, can usefully intervene to stop atrocities, or help people to establish liberal democracies, no absolute principle of national sovereignty, or fear of US imperialism, should stand in our way. But does this mean we must embark on revolutionary wars? Do we really want "a new radicalism to press Bush to turn more convincingly against the 'realist' errors of the past"? Is a "militant version" of Wilsonianism what we need in today's world? Is there not something a little irrational about a messianic project to save the world, even if much of the world is against it? ...

    Berman is right to call the attack on Saddam's Iraq a revolutionary war. That's what "regime change" means. To think that American force will bring liberal democracy to the Middle East is indeed a form of militant Wilsonianism, and this is why it warms the hearts of former leftists, such as Berman, who can't settle for what they see as the bourgeois, compromising, peace-loving mediocrity of "European" democracies, but crave instead the Sturm und Drang of revolution from above. Berman calls himself a liberal, but it is hard to distinguish him from the more radical neoconservatives, whose mentors under Reagan mixed up Straussian conservatism with the revolutionary zeal of their Trotskyist origins. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the former student leader of Paris '68, recognized this immediately in a recent debate with Richard Perle, when "Red Danny" called his opponent a Bolshevik who reminded him of his own student days ...

    Again, one does not have to be a hard-boiled "realist" to see that bringing democracy to Iran, Saudi Arabia, or North Korea with military force would be a very different proposition. The US may be exceptional in many respects, but the belief of its more zealous officials, and intellectual cheerleaders, in a national destiny to dispatch American armies to remake the world in its own image is by no means unique. Others have been down that route, and not everything they did was ignoble: think of Napoleon's emancipation of the Jews. But eventually such missions always come to grief, leaving ruins where they meant to build utopias.

    Incidentally I think the relevant clause in Buruma's analysis is: "If the US, or other Western governments, can usefully intervene to stop atrocities, or help people to establish liberal democracies, no absolute principle of national sovereignty, or fear of US imperialism, should stand in our way". Thus my position on this is that intervention along the lines of, say, Kosovo, is quite different from Michael Leeden's fantasies about 'taking' Syria and Iran (see below).
    The neo-cons: More dangerous than Baathists?
    An intelligent anti-war reader whose views I respect wrote me in the middle of the Iraq war that he was actually more afraid of the neo-cons in the Bush Administration than of the Baathists. He argued that if the US found it easy to take Iraq, then the idea might get into their heads that it would be easy to take other countries. At the time I thought this was a bit of hyperbole on his part. I still think there were good reasons for singling out Iraq over other countries with possible WMD and terrorist links as a way of sending appropriate signals given Iraq's past history and recalcitrance. This signal would then serve as a bargaining chip for tackling other regimes in less wasteful (both of human lives and expenditure) ways. However I get worried when I read pieces like this by leading necon chickenhawk Michael Leeden. On purely humanitarian grounds, it was great that the attack on Iraq wasn't a prolonged affair (relatively speaking) but have we created a Frankenstein's monster that will finally erupt in a third world war?

    The utopian neocons should remember that if there was no US support for the Afghan 'freedom fighters' there would have been no OBL in his present form (and Afghans would have been better off under a modernist Communist government that evolved into a modernist leftish one with the fall of the USSR) - all present troubles start from there. This is an example of the butterfly effect in geopolitics.

    Steve Sailer (read him rather than the pop-cons at National Review for intelligent conservative analysis of geopolitics) has more salient points to add:

    Clearly, as we've seen over the last week of looting and chaos, the Pentagon is naturally better at killing people and breaking things than at converting Middle Eastern countries into new New Hampshires, so it's only natural for them to want to distract from their problems reordering Iraq by doing something easy like conquering Syria...

    All land conquerors run into this Problem of the Frontier. You conquer Country A (e.g., Iraq), but you immediately start worrying about whether or not you can hang on to it as long as unconquered Countries B (e.g., Syria) and C (Iran) are nearby, providing bad examples of independence and riling up their cousins in your new land. So, you conquer B and C to protect your hold on A, only to find that now Countries D (Saudi Arabia), E (Egypt), and F (Pakistan) are causing trouble in your new holdings B (Syria) and C (Iran). So, you conquer them, only to find that G (Germany), H (Turkey), I (Russia), and J (China) are now funding revolts in your possessions and therefore must be dealt with severely. And so on and on, war ad infinitum. This is essentially the bloody history of the Muscovite Empire over the last 500 years

    Thursday, April 17, 2003
    DVD Coding
    Allan Fels has turned his attention to the problem of entertainment industry cartellists using DVD coding to exploit their market power. My boss Henry Ergas, ahead of the zeitegeist as always, had this to say about DVD coding in an article published in January last year:

    The regional playback control system for DVD films is controversial. This system affects anyone wanting to buy a DVD player, install a DVD drive in a computer or buy a DVD movie. It divides the world into six technically distinct markets, roughly but not completely on the basis of physical divisions. Australia and New Zealand occupy region 4 with not only the Pacific Islands, but also Latin America and the Caribbean. Region 1 is North America.

    As a result of this partitioning, Australians who buy DVDs from retailers in the US (region 1) or Britain (region 2), cannot watch the films in Australia - unless they buy DVD players that are compatible with region 1 or region 2. This market segmentation is achieved by patent licensing. The consortium that owns DVD encryption technology requires equipment manufacturers to produce machines that play DVD films only from a single region. Failure to do so is a violation of the patent licensing terms. In turn, DVDs are coded to function on players marketed in the region in which they are sold. What justifies this industry practice? ...

    The ability to control theatrical release dates is one justification commonly given by the movie industry ...

    Although the usual delay between US and Australian release is two or three months, some films are released almost simultaneously.

    The movie industry's stated reason for the coding system also seems inconsistent with the practice of applying coding to older films and television shows. The number of DVD titles released in region 1 is between five and 10 times greater than the number released in region 4. In practice, this means Australian consumers get far less choice than their counterparts in the US. If the regional coding system were scrapped, at least for older titles, this problem would no longer exist.

    The coding system also allows producers to price-discriminate among national markets and to prevent parallel importation of DVDs ...

    It seems that any benefits in efficiency for consumers from the coding system are unproved. Instead, consumers suffer from reduced choice, particularly in countries outside region 1, where many more titles are released than in other regions. In countries outside region 1, the system acts as a potentially substantial barrier to trade. This might benefit producers, but it would be at great detriment to consumers.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2003
    The real Philistines were not philistines

    AFTER all these centuries of calumny, the Philistines are finally having some good things said about them. They were not, it seems, deserving of that withering epithet: Philistine.

    Archeologists are uncovering increasing evidence that the Philistines, arch foes of the Israelites in biblical times whose name became synonymous with barbarity and boorishness, were actually the creators of fine pottery and grand architecture, clever urban planners and cosmopolitan devotees of the grape. If anything, the Israelites, at the time mostly shepherds and farmers in the hills, were the less-sophisticated and -cultured folk.

    In excavations this summer among the ruins of Ashkelon on Israel's Mediterranean coast, archeologists from Harvard University came upon revealing remains of the Philistine city as it was on the day of its destruction by King Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian army in 604 B.C. They found inscribed pottery, stone altars, buildings and rooms of handsome design and advanced construction techniques and a wine press that belies the lingering image of the Philistines as a loutish, beer-drinking people.

    The wine press, perhaps the property of King Aga, the last ruler of Ashkelon, consists of a shallow grape-treading basin with a channel directing the liquid into a deeper collecting tank. The masonry is said by experts to be similar to the work of later Roman artisans.

    "One could not imagine a finer craftsmanship than what we see in these last stages of Philistine life," Dr. Lawrence E. Stager, a Harvard archeologist and leader of the Leon Levy Expedition at Ashkelon, said in an interview.
    Wolfgang Kasper: The intellectual equivalent of a Kamikaze pilot
    Wolfgang Kasper is debating not one, not two, not three, but four lefties at a School of Arts next week. I'm certainly planning on turning up if I can, and I'd encourage any fellow travellers of the libertarian cause to do so as well - he'll need all the moral support he can get. Should be an interesting evening regardless of whether anyone goes away with a changed mind. Details are below.

    The Interface Youth Festival on the Anzac Day long weekend will be on 27 April, 15:30-17:30, School of Arts (off Oxford Street/Albion Street), Block E Common Room.

    Topic: Is Free Trade Tying us down?

    My answer will be: "Oh yes! Thank heavens!"

    Discussants: Lindy Edwards, ex-assistant to Stott Despoja, Steve Keens, writer of "debunking Economics', James Murray, representing ATTAC (a street-protesting anti-globalisation action group), and Reuben Humphries (National Youth Roundtable), and Wolfgang Kasper, Centre for Independent Studies.

    Tuesday, April 15, 2003
    Syria next?
    Look, Bushies, I'm no kneejerk peacenik. I do think the world and Iraqis are better off with the fall of Saddam and it's better to be safe than sorry re the weapons of mass destruction issue, and there seemed to be a strong basis for concern on that front at the time (though admittedly we're still waiting). But you've already sent your signal and much as I think the world would be a happier place if it was modelled around superior Anglosphere socities, you're going to have to do a lot better to butter me up for the next war. Let's see what you do with Iraq first, eh? I don't doubt the sincerity of your Chief Executive, but I admit that I still have doubts about his intellectual ability (dumb but sincere isn't bad) which will be more important in handling complex situations like institution-building.

    Monday, April 14, 2003
    Flesh eating fly
    As if we didn't already have SARS to worry about, now comes news of the flesh eating fly. Of course the article says it only attacks dogs, but SARS used to be an animal virus too. Who knows what Mother Nature has in store for us?
    Looting in Iraq
    Point of clarification - I agree that the looting in Iraq is a problem which should be dealt with effectively by Allied forces. In fact I alluded to this issue in a previous post (see two posts below). Letting the Iraqis blow off their steam by looting Baath headquarters and such like is not necessarily a problem if looting can be properly restricted to those spots. I don't believe the Allies' 'allowed lootings' were any more or less than that. Thus I took issue with John Quiggin (who is prone to blaming the Allies for every little stuff-up while turning a blind eye to the follies of the Iraqis themselves ) for implying that somehow the Allies were purposely egging the Iraqis on to destroy their archaeological treasures. What they might be blamed for is for letting the looting go beyond the confines of looting that aided regime-destruction - but ultimately the Iraqis themselves are morally responsible for any excesses (including the Shiites who were killing each other and the Sunnis). They are not children and shouldn't be treated as such.

    None of this stops me from being equally annoyed by Tim Blair's ridicule of Paul McGeough (links not working). Timbo, Paul McGeough and Robert Fisk are ultimately at the front line there dodging bombs, not we armchair bloggers. If anyone's entitled to blow a fuse occasionally, it's them.
    Science - the noblest enterprise
    Canadian scientists break genetic code for SARS -

    Scientists in Vancouver yesterday broke the genetic code of the virus suspected of causing Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the first step toward developing a test for doctors to diagnose victims and developing a possible vaccine ...

    The genetic sequence was posted on the internet ( for use by other scientists around the world immediately after it was broken early today, and later was released to the public by the Genome Sciences Centre.

    The genome-sequencing laboratory in the Canadian west coast city is normally dedicated to cancer research, but came on board with Canada's National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg, Manitoba and the BC Centre for Disease Control to help with the global fight against SARS.

    The new information, said Marra, "Will tell us if SARS resembles other viral genomes, and gives us hints about the biology of the virus".

    Sunday, April 13, 2003
    Ex-feminist says 'Have those babies before it's too late'
    Ex-feminist turned anti-feminist bore Bettina Arndt devotes a large chunk of the Sydney Morning Herald's book and ideas liftout to highlighting the whinges of women who regret not having children. All this discontent is of course blamed on that evil idea, cohabitation, which just sucks you in until one day you wake up and find out your biological clock can't tick anymore:

    The result is many women hit their 40s unmarried and childless, often after spending time in a number of live-in relationships. Living together may cruel women's chances of mating in time to have children. Adding to the problem is the fact that most women, particularly educated women, don't even consider marriage until their late 20s, which leaves precious few years for achieving family goals.

    A woman who spends too long in cohabiting relationships begins to incur what economists call "opportunity costs", explains Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, in her new book, Why There are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman (Broadway Books, 2003). "Each year she spends in a cohabiting relationship that doesn't 'work out' is one less year available to invest in a successful search for a life partner ... While she is waiting for Mr Not Ready or Mr Maybe or Mr Someday to make up his mind, she is missing opportunities to meet other potential partners she may be ready and willing to marry." (And have children with, we might add.)

    I guess I shouldn't mock this too much, being of the gender that is able to continue to produce children late into one's years but really, what is the point of all this? There's also an opportunity cost involved in choosing the wrong match in which to invest one's reproductive facilities isn't there? On the one hand, these Promoters of Motherhood would have women fall pregnant at the get go, on the other hand they lecture women about not getting divorced because it f***s up your child. And if so many women are having regrets then why in the same article does Arndt refer to the need to 'remind' women that they should be having a life other than work?:

    But there's also a broader issue, affecting both young men and women - namely that children are no longer seen as rewarding. "Many young people don't see children as bringing something into your life. Children are seen as taking something from you," says Cargill. The research bears him out. Surveys show that far fewer people see children as important to life satisfaction. In 1971, two-thirds of people agreed that "a woman is only really fulfilled when she becomes a mother". By 1991, this figure had dropped to 7 per cent, according to research by AIFS and the Australian National University.

    The reason for this shift, according to Whitehead, lies in efforts to encourage girls to aim for independence by acquiring a good education and a successful career. What she calls "the girl project" has been an astonishing success but, in the process, the traditional goals of marriage and children have been denigrated or relegated to a distant someday that often never arrives.

    Of course she also says they'll come to regret it later, but she would say that.
    For those interested in such matters, check out the newly revamped Race Archives, the web's first Human evolution, genetics, anthropology and archaeology portal.




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