Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Monday, March 27, 2006

    Wednesday, March 24, 2004
    Thanks a lot to blog host c8to Catallaxy now has a new, more reader friendly set up. Please redirect your links to
    Criminal Carlton

    I can't think of anywhere I'd rather live than Carlton, but its rough edge survives alongside the latte-sipping types (like me) who have moved in over the last 30 years. I've been in my current apartment for four years, and on average there has been a crime nearby involving shooting once a year. The latest was yesterday's underworld killing.

    Except possibly for a drive-by shooting at a Brunswick St restaurant, though, none of these crimes have been random assaults, the crimes that really create fear among residents. Yesterday's killing made part of my normal route home a crime scene, but apart from adding 5 minutes to my walk it will have no negative repercussions for me. Indeed, with one of Melbourne's nastiest criminals dead and another in custody (perhaps what happens when you shoot someone about 2 minutes drive from a police station) this seems like a good result for those of us whose lawbreaking doesn't extend beyond getting back to the car after the meter expired.

    Carlton wasn't always as safe as it is now. I've been dipping into an advance copy of an excellent new history of the suburb, and not so long ago much of it was a dangerous slum. The notorious 1920s criminal Squizzy Taylor was shot dead just up the street from where I now live (in another crime, the site is now an ugly block of flats). The age and size of the police station suggests that law enforcement has long been a big local industry.

    Tuesday, March 23, 2004
    Calling c8to a.k.a. Vogelsang
    I don't know what your current email address is but I'd like to discuss the possibility of moving this site over to Moveable Type. I'm happy to offer appropriate compensation for your efforts. email me or reply in the comments box.

    Monday, March 22, 2004
    An Australian Atlantic Monthly?

    An article in Saturday's Age profiled Melbourne property developer Morry Schwartz (article not on-line), the man with the money behind the patchy Quarterly Essay series. The profile reported that later this year Schwartz plans to start an Australian version of The Atlantic Monthly.

    I'd be delighted if such a project could work. But I doubt it will. Australian publishing is littered with the ruins of previous such attempts, The Eye and The Independent Monthly being the latest two to crash. There aren't enough writers or readers to make it work. Partly this is a vicious cycle. There aren't enough readers because the magazines don't have the must-read quality of their American models, but the Australian imitators never get to that quality because they fail through lack of readers before the pool of writers able to write long, intelligent articles for a lay audience can be developed.

    Though the blogs offer quite a different kind of reading experience to Atlantic Monthly type magazines - short, sharp comment, often based on first impressions - they do compete for the scarce time of people who are interested in this kind of thing. So they will probably make life more difficult for Schwartz's magazine. On the other hand, if it is any good they'll speed the positive word-of-mouth.

    My early prediction: it will be gone in less than twelve months.
    A captive audience

    Taking a taxi during a weekend in Canberra I got the driver to stop briefly at the National Library, so I could take a quick look at a book on public goods and private wants. Canberra taxi drivers are often quite educated, and mine asked me what I had been looking at and why. I explained that I was writing a paper on economic reform and public opinion.

    "I had a famous professor in the car who'd written a book about something like that" he said, " a guy with strange mannerisms."

    "Michael Pusey?" I replied.

    "That's him. He gave me a copy of a lecture he had given at the Senate. He couldn't stop talking. I never read it.'

    Taxi drivers would be a more than usually sympathetic audience for Pusey. After all, they are protected from competition and charge high prices. But isn't it pathetic that Pusey cannot even take a taxi to the airport without boring people with his political views?

    Thursday, March 18, 2004
    The real Kramer
    For those who are both Seinfeld fans and political junkies it's worth mentioning that the real Kramer, Kenny Kramer is doing a tour of Australia and is apparently today dining with the hard left Meredith Burgmann at Parliament House, according to this report, which I find quite amusing because Kramer was only recently a Libertarian Party candidate in the New York mayoral elections:

    The US comedian Kenny Kramer is doing lunch at Parliament House today with the president of the NSW upper house, Dr Meredith Burgmann, and a bunch of fellow comedians. Kramer confesses he has hardly worked a day in his life since he invented flashing jewellery in the disco era and sold bracelets and necklaces by the truckload to "stoned" partygoers ...

    There's a twist, however - Kramer was also the Libertarian Party candidate for the last New York mayoral elections, and is all for free markets and the privatisation of schools, hospitals, phone companies and transport. Asked if she expected some political debate with her meal, Burgmann told Spike: "I assumed he'd come to eat out of my fridge and in return I'd get a seat at the Oscars. We're just going to have fun. It's a change to what usually happens in this place."

    Of course the US Libertarian party also advocates open borders, legalising hard drugs and returning land to the Native Americans so they will have some common ground. More about the real Kramer's political involvements is available here.

    Wednesday, March 17, 2004
    Public funding and snob value

    I'm not sure whether it is the pressure of writing two columns a week, or whether he is having a mid-life mind-goes-to-mush crisis like Lindsay Tanner, but Ross Gittins' rubbish-to-sense ratio has been heading in the wrong direction recently. His column this morning, in which he tries to argue that increased subsidies for private health and education are fuelling demand for zero-sum 'positional goods' , is a case in point.

    In fact, neither private education or private health are, as such, positional goods. The key attributes of positional goods are that they confer social prestige and are in limited supply. Some private schools have prestige attached, but the schools that really benefit from the Howard government's policies, the low-fee private schools, have little or no prestige. Neither Gittins or anyone reading this blog will have heard of 98% of them. Parents will have chosen them for far more substantive reasons, such as their value system, their approach to discipline, and possibly their academic performance (which most studies suggest is much less of a factor than many assume). The supply of these schools is potentially unlimited, and they could replace the public education system entirely.

    Private health insurance is even less of a positional good. In my 38 years on this planet, I have never heard anyone boasting that they had their operation at a private rather than a public hospital. But having been a patient in both public and private systems, I know why I want private health insurance. Sharing a ward with five other people did not enhance my 'communitarian' (to use Gittins' term) feeling for my fellow Australians. Quite the contrary. Being kept awake half the night by their noise and that of people attending to them is not conducive to either warm feeling or a quick recovery. Like private schools, private hospitals could largely replace the public system. The obstacles are policy-induced and financial, not that there is an inherently limited amount of prestige that we are all fighting over.

    I am not after taxapayer subsidies for private institutions. I'd prefer low taxes and zero subsidies for private schools and health. But if we pay high taxes to fund universal services, I do not see anything wrong with wanting to take a share of that service finance to put toward something other than the standard product delivered by the state.
    Speaking of Oxford Street...
    My girlfriend wrote the lyrics for the 'I'm gonna show you a Diva' dance remix CD, originally written for the 2003 Diva awards (I know as much about this as any other straight guy) now selling at music shops listed here. So go out and buy one and help boost her copyright royalties! You can listen to the radio edit remix here (and in case you're wondering, no, she's not the artist/vocalist on the CD) - especially for those readers who play for the other team (not that there's anything wrong with that) but not necessarily.
    City living
    Thanks to Andrew for keeping the ship on course while I've been moving, meeting deadlines and dealing with the innumerable administrivia involved in moving (changing direct debits to real estate agents, getting new furniture/whitegoods because of moving from a relatively furnished to less furnished apartment, installing said whitegoods and furniture, etc, etc).

    I'm now firmly settled in what is technically Surry Hills but really just off Oxford Street (I lean on my balcony railings, turn my head left and I see Oxford St) and feeling quite at home. Neutral Bay (where I previously lived) was sort of 'happening' too but compared to the variety and colour of the various establishments along Oxford St, Neutral Bay really can't transcend its stodgy North Shore, burgher-like feel. There are a greater variety of restaurants and cafes and the bookshops are more than just boring old Dymocks. Unfortunately being just 10 minutes wander down to Ariel's and Berkelouws not to mention the Verona cinema also has budgetary implications.

    There's something nice about living among people who stay up as late as me, where the nearest CD shop closes at midnight. When I get more time I might put up some digital camera shots of my new abode and environs. If I'm not mistaken there are a few other Sydney bloggers who would now be near neighbours with me - perhaps we have the makings of a regular blogger gathering? Get in touch in the comments box if you wish.

    Monday, March 15, 2004
    Will the 2004 election be Australia's most dangerous ever?

    The Madrid train bombings last week seem to have triggered a last minute swing against the pro-Iraq war Spanish government, leading to a victory by the opposition socialists who opposed the war. This result tells Al Qaeda to focus on soft Western targets. Months of attacks on the US military in Iraq have seemingly made no difference to its resolve there, but one co-ordinated attack in Spain is likely to deal that country out of active international anti-terrorist operations. On that precedent, an attack in Australia just prior to the 2004 federal election would make a lot of sense to Al Qaeda strategists. It isn't clear that they have the capacity to carry out such an attack. But the rationale for it is a lot clearer than it was a week ago.

    Update, Tuesday 16 March The Prime Minister and senior police disagree over the Madrid attack's implications for Australia, the former thinking it makes no difference, the latter thinking that our involvement in Iraq makes us more of a target.

    For the reasons indicated in my original post, I think at least the aftermath of the bombing does make us more of a target. The reason is not our involvement in the first place. Rather, it is that Al Qaeda is now involved in combat in Iraq in an attempt to create an Islamist state, i.e. a totalitarian regime enforcing Islamic religious law. This is going to be very difficult to achieve while Western troops remain in Iraq. The Spanish government's decision to withdraw is a 'victory for terrorism'. Whether or not the war was a good idea in the first place, I believe events mean we should now stay in Iraq in an attempt to create some reasonably civilised regime (at least by the standard of the Arab world).




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