Tuesday, August 27, 2002

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ASIO BILL UPDATE

Just a quick follow-up on a the ASIO secuirty bill mentioned a few posts back. Zem has posted some additional information on his site, including a press release from the Attorney General that's worth a look if you haven't seen it. Hopefully, there is a long way to go on this one yet.
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AN EFFICIENT EXPLANATION

In a discussion with Ken Parish, Jason Soon, as he is wont to do, makes an interesting observation: "Efficiency is a word which has a different meaning under economics from what laypeople understand it to mean. Efficiency isn't solely about technical efficiency - ultimately it's just another word for what maximises the welfare of society. Economic efficiency analysis is simply a methodology for taking account of all effects on total welfare. These arguments have everything to do with efficiency because one wrong step means a lot of people will be a lot worse off."

To which I wonder out loud, and no doubt showing my ignorance: really? I can find in many economics' books reference to such things as "technical efficiency", "allocative efficiency", "efficient wage hypothesis", "efficient market hypothesis" and a bunch of others--all of which are defined in terms that could generally be conceived of in terms of technical efficiency--but I see no single reference to efficiency as an economic concept in the way Jason defines it. Efficiency by itself is often bracketed with the concept "effectiveness" but again, the definitions are all to do with inputs and outputs in operating systems and the like.

I'm not saying Jason is wrong--though his approach does seem a tad more holistic than I might have expected--I'm just asking for more information.
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ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS PORTENTOUSLY

In a deft manoeuvre of weblog absolution it seems Jim Capozzola has handed this humble site the keys to linkdom heaven and reinstated The Road to Surfdom in his links list. Sort of. I'm not actually in the links list, but there in "The Critics" list where I am quoted as calling TRR "portentous". Which is not actually what I said.

Still, I know repentance when I see it, and all in all this is a rather a neat outcome, for Jim, too, I trust.

It also means I don't have to send Guido and Knuckles around to sort out his link's list for him. Just as well: I was thinking of letting them go anyway.
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DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT

Australia is in the process of considering legislation to do with anti-terrorism activity and a bill has been drafted to that affect. George Williams, a professor and director of the Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law at the University of New South Wales, and also, I think it is fair to say, a bit of a conservative, reckons said bill is a problem, to say the least:

The ASIO bill is rotten at its core. It would affect the basic rights of every Australian. It is unfortunate that it has come to this, but the ASIO bill would establish part of the apparatus of a police state. It is a law that would not be out of place in former dictatorships such as General Pinochet's Chile....While laws dealing with the problem of terrorism are necessary and important, this bill cannot be, and has not been, justified.

In the article he gives five reasons to back up this claim and once again he thrusts us into the live debate about the correct balance between security and freedom. Why exactly is it that governments around the world, even if later forced into ammendments, tend to err on the side of "security" and approach the legislative process as if it was a union wage negotiation, making ambit claims they more or less dare opponents to challenge and claw back?

Whatever the reason, this bill, from Williams' description, sounds vile and in serious need of ammendment. You can read some of the submissions on the matter here, and follow the links to read the Bill itself.

Monday, August 26, 2002

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A NOTE ON THE COMMENTS FACILITY

I have just replaced my former comments facility with a new one. The old one kept making itself unavailable and was becoming annoying. Hope this one turns out to be more reliable. Sorry for any inconvenience.
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ON CASTING FIRST STONES AND THAT SORT OF THING

Just to recap: Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review is sending a lot of hits my way (actually, not that many, strangely), encouraging people to be outraged by my weak joke in this post.

Jim is rightly offended by my cultural insensitivity (or so he says):

"No longer in this culture do civilized people “Gyp” their customers, “Jew down” merchants, accuse friends of “being Scotch with the liquor,” or “nigger-lip” cigarettes. Polish jokes are a relic of the past, as are such terms as “gook,” “chink,” “spic,” and “JAP,” the latter a reference to Jewish American Princesses (and princes). Others, however, endure. The greasy daigo, wop, guinea Guido stereotype lives on. Robustly so, even amongst otherwise intelligent people."

Well, on the point about the robust endurance of some stereotypes, he's apparently right. By a remarkable coincidence, over on the site called TRR, which is portentously billed as the "lighter side of The Rittenhouse Review" we find this old standby, penned by Jim himself or one of those he shares blogspace with:

"And shouldn’t the British be occupying themselves with more pressing national concerns? Like building dental schools?"

Oh dear. Now how would we explain this bit of levity in regard to Jim's confected outrage at my similar dip into cliche? Double-standards is what fleetingly flits through my mind, though it is quickly replaced with the precisely opposite thought: great minds think alike. Clearly, we will both stoop to almost any level to pick up a cheap laugh.

Pass the fart cushion.
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GOLIATH, WITH DAVID DOWN, CONTINUES TO GO IN SWINGING: OR, DON'T MESS WITH RITTENHOUSE

The Rittenhouse Review is a big blog with lots of readers. Mine is a little blog with not many. But I guess in blogworld we are all equal in some respects.

First I was on the receiving end of a legally encrusted email from Rittenhouse's Jim Capozzola because he got a bit testy about a response I blogged to his lame defence of the Pope. Go read what I said for yourself and see just how offensive it was to your average Catholic, of which I am one.

Next, I was expunged from Jim's list of links. Excommunicated.

I think we have now moved into the vendetta stage, though I am reluctant to use the word because, well, you'll see.

In the latest installment the many visitors to his site are being encouraged to see me for the racist he apparently believes me to be, with this rather heavy handed-handed put down.

In it, I am accused of being an Australian. Oh wait, that bit's true. Then he has the nerve to suggest that Australia was once a penal colony. Damn, that bit's true as well. But he then goes on to take offence at my Godfather-esque joke in this post. Having made his own cultural stereotype joke/putdown about Australians (they must all be criminals as the country was once a British penal colony) he is mightily offended that I employ a rather obvious cultural stereotype myself in search of a cheap laugh. (Though I must wonder exactly how he ascertained the ethnic origins of someone I called "Knuckles")

I doubt that Jim would have even considered the possibility of my own ethnic origins as he has already reached his conclusions about me based on a little bit of stereotyping about my Australianess, land of insensitive convict types. Then again, I suppose it will not make any difference to the clearly very prickly Jim to know that my mother's full maiden name is Anita Maria Katrina Bombelli, her father hailing from Milan, most of our family fluent in the mother tongue. No, this will no doubt just render me a self-hating wop.

The interesting thing is, Jim would have his readers believe that the basis of his post is the offence he has taken at my "Guido" crack, when in fact it seems much more likely to have been inspired by my daring to be not as impressed with the Pope as he is. Or is it just coincidence that I have only now come to his wrathful attention?

I guess I can look forward to another cranky email that threatens civil action if I quote any of it. Or perhaps a little more Old Testament blogging.

Anyway, I think all this needs to be taken in hand and for someone to make a mature response. So I will be holding my breath and turning blue until Jim puts me back on the Rittenhouse link list. Starting now (deep breath).

Forget my PayPal link. Send Jim an email and tell him to re-link me so that I can breathe again!

(Actually, don't forget my PayPal link!)

Sunday, August 25, 2002

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REVIEWED BY RITTENHOUSE - OR THE ROAD TO SURFDOM UNBLOGGED

A few posts ago I did what bloggers everywhere do - expressed an opinion on what another blog had written. In this case it was The Rittenhouse Review's defence of the Pope. Somebody had told me that they (Rittenhouse) had linked to me, which was nice to know, and while visiting there I noticed the piece in question and blogged a response.

A few days later I got an email from Jim Capozzola, one the bloggers at Rittenhouse, and he was none too pleased. I won't tell you what he said because he had a bit of threatening legal stuff at the bottom of his email to the effect that he'd sue anyone who reproduced the email without permission. Heaven's knows if I'm even allowed to tell you this much.

I can tell you what I wrote back, as I have no intention, at this stage anyway, of suing myself (though I will consult my lawyers):

Fair enough, Jim. I'd hardly expect you to agree. But thanks for
responding in a pretty restrained manner. My intention wasn't to be
offensive, as I hope was apparent.


And his manner was restrained, if obviously angry.

He responded to that email with a single word which indicated he agreed, though maybe he was being ironic. Hard to tell from one word.

Anyway, the upshot is I've been unlinked, erased from the extensive blogroll on his site. Goliath got his David, if I might use a biblical allusion. It's a shame, all things considered, but then again, we can all link to whomever we like, can't we? Still, if you enjoy being linked by TRR, be careful what you say.

The worst thing is, I have been informed that I've also been removed from the links list on the Pope's blog as well.
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CHRISTOPHER'S KIND

Is it Christopher Hitchens' well-known hate for Henry Kissinger that leads him to join the long list of people (including the sub-editors at The Observer) who have misinterpreted what Kissinger said about going to war against Iraq? Who knows, but join the list he does. Hitchens writes:

"A week or so ago I wondered when he was going to pronounce on the impending confrontation with Iraq. And I bet right. He is against it."

Although I don't know of an actual link to the Kissinger article (I read the piece the day it came out in The Washington Post but have been unable to find it electronically) plenty of people have quoted this particular sentence which, unless down is up and red is white, conclusively contradicts the presumption from which Hitchens and others proceed:

"The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, the demonstrated hostility of Saddam combine to produce an imperative for pre-emptive action."

What gives? The mistake is particularly egregious for Hitchens as he also says: "I must say, however, that Henry Kissinger has never let me down, as a person to consult before making up my own mind." The implication is that if Henry says one thing then all wise people would be best advised to do another. Henry doesn't want to attack Iraq, therefore Christopher does. Except Henry actually does want to attack Iraq and so Christopher will either have change his mind or take up arms with Henry.

And what about this? Hitchens also says: "General Sharon, at least in his public pronouncements, appears to be against it as well."

Well, given that we all exist with a soup of information and media-generated impressions in our heads, I must admit this wasn't the feeling I had. Coulda sworn I remembered hearing Sharon supporting the attack. And just thinking about the wording of Hitchens' sentence, it seems to be trying to have it both ways. Still, it didn't take long to find a few references to Sharon's and Israel's public position, including this from The Guardian the sister publication of the one in which Hitchens was writing:

Israel has voiced support for an attack. An aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said there was evidence Iraq was speeding up efforts to produce biological and chemical weapons. The Jewish state, which was hit by 39 Iraqi Scud missiles during the Gulf War, is preparing to be targeted again if there is a war, and says it will strike back if that happens.

So from his public pronouncements, Sharon seems to be for an attack.

And what are we to make of this?:

"A sizeable chunk of the American military and business elite is peacenik as well, either because it fears damage to its polished and expensive arsenal or because it fears the disruption of Opec and the corresponding loss of business and revenue."

Let's forget the dishonest vagueness of a "sizeable chunk" and ponder the prospect that American military elites are peaceniks because they don't want to scratch their weapons. I can just see the Generals sitting around pondering, now how can we blow people up without getting any marks on our bombs? Um. And just consider this as a working definition of "peacenik", which is the one Hitchens is using: person who wishes not to kill people because it might damage the weaponry. Or forget the reason stated and just consider the proposition that a sizeable chunk of the military elite in the US are peaceniks.

Overall, this article by Hitchens seems to be of a kind with his piece after 911 where he attacked Chomsky et al and won the eternal gratitude of the right. It basically takes a reasonable, even self-evident position--that the people of Iraq would be better off without Hussein and with a nice democratic government--and applies a strawman construction to those who oppose an immediate war with Iraq, implying, often by smear, that they oppose this happy outcome. He writes:

"Shall we just say that the anti-war position is the respectable status quo one? That's interesting in itself. Who would be the beneficiaries of an intervention, always supposing it went well and Saddam's vaunted army fought no better than it did the last time? Only the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples. Well, from the Kissinger-Saudi-Turkish viewpoint, and from the vantage of the Dallas boardroom, where is the fun in that? The consequences might be - if we employ the revealing word of choice among the conservatives - 'destabilising'."

In other words, on this understanding, the only grounds for opposing a war with Iraq are that you do not wish to see the Iraqi or Kurdish people living under better circumstances; you wish to continue doing business with a homicidal but stable dictator; and that you agree with Henry Kissinger. I'd suggest that the other reasons have as much validity as the last one and that last one is a demonstrable crock.