Sunday, October 08, 2006

THIS BLOG HAS MOVED

...or has it? I'm still working out a few issues, like how to get a recent comments module working at Wordpress, but Thoughts on Freedom will now most likely be at

http://alsblog.wordpress.com

I am yet to send an email out to the existing contributors, but if you're reading this, save your posts for the new blog.

There's also a glitch that makes it appear as if every post on the new blog is written by me. I'm not really that much of a prolific writer, and I will change the author attribution in due course.

Update: We have definitely moved. See you at our new place!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The rabbit punch routine

Once again Crikey has decided that Catallaxy is worthy of some added attention, in large part, I think, because I write there. I'm sure Jason doesn't mind the free advertising - and nor does Thoughts on Freedon, which got some nice advertising courtesy of news.com.au (link below). That said, I am heartily sick of what GMB & JC call 'the rabbit punch routine', where people are attacked, well, because it's cool to do the attacking. Not because of anything they may or may not have said. I made this comment in the relevant thread over at Catallaxy. I've put it here so everyone can see it as a main blog post.
I wondered why I couldn't get onto Catallaxy this morning while I was waiting for the jury's verdict. Yet another bit of Crikey dross explains it.

Disclosure
Unfortunately, some of this attention has come Catallaxy's way since I've been one of its writers. Much as libertarians may find Mark Davis' politics annoying, his analysis of the way the commentariat reacted to me in Gangland is pretty much on the money (see my Quadrant piece for details). Margaret Simons is a bit player in that commentariat, and people like me are clearly a threat. I'm not sure why, but I am.

These people simultaneously believe that blogs contain the collective (and meaningless) outpourings of Gen X/Gen Y, are no threat to the MSM, are never fact-checked, are populated by TEH EVIL GMB, and so on. Yet I start writing for Catallaxy and Thoughts on Freedom and that is news - more than Crikey, too - see this piece from news.com.au. I'd like to think these asshats can see that their days are numbered, but I suspect they don't want to see that far.

It's worth pointing out that Simons wrote a major piece for the Australian during the controversy over me winning the Miles Franklin. This piece - among ather things - made comments on my physical appearance and depended entirely for its cachet on gossip. Like Weathergirl, Simons claimed to have spoken to all sorts of shadowy - and not so shadowy - people in my past. Funnily enough, when I spoke to some of these people later, they claimed either (a) that they'd been misquoted or (b) that no-one by the name of Margaret Simons had ever approached them. The piece ran in late 1995 or early 1996. If people with access poke around on Factiva, they should be able to track it down.

Simons has significant appearance issues of her own - which I will not detail here - that do help to explain some of her obsessions. And it is characteristic of the left (and even the non-political commentariat) to 'pile on' (Les Murray uses this phrase, too, GMB) when someone doesn't fit the cookie-cutter model. Murray also makes the point that women are generally treated very badly - he has written some excellent stuff on this issue, excerpted here. This is actually a chapter-length excerpt from his biography, and details his views on exactly the issues Jason has flagged above. I highly recommend it if you've got some spare time.

For my part, I don't 'represent women', and I don't mind the sometimes rather masculine interactions on Catallaxy. Just as men stand to learn from how women manage interpersonal relations, I believe women also can learn from men on that score. I'm quite sure that if GMB or JC disagreed with me, I'd know about it. Instantly. And I'd probably get called a bunch of stuff. To which my response would probably be 'phooey'.

The commentariat, by contrast, goes behind my back, writing sneaky, smearing articles about both me and co-bloggers in forums where no-one from Catallaxy is granted a right of reply. To be quite frank, I prefer the 'blokey' in your face model, rather than the 'girly' stab in the back model. I always feel much happier when I know where I stand.
There, that's said it. Frankly, a large number of people in the commentariat need to get over themselves and get a life. I don't think Crikey is leftist, by the way (although the two recent attacks on Catallaxy were both from leftists). Rather, I think it is symbolic of a broader problem in Australia's commentariat - the substitution of personal attacks and smears for engagement with peoples' actual views. The staff writers at Catallaxy and Thoughts on Freedom - to a man and woman - write thoughtful, reasoned copy. People in the comments sometimes don't. This is the way the blogosphere works, folks. Get used to it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A rule of thumb

Jayant Bhandari, responding to the news that financial incentives will be offered by the Indian government to encourage inter-caste marriages:
"I cannot but shudder at the social corruption this policy will cause."
The more governments, with their powers of coercion, get involved in anything - be it the economy or our social lives - the more opportunity there is for corruption. This is another reason why plans like this aren't very bright.

Blog by a constitutional lawyer

I have stumbled across the blog of Dr Simon Evans, an academic at the Melbourne University Law School who I will (hopefully) have the priviledge of being taught by for Constitutional Law next year. Go check out his site, and also his response to Peter Singer's deranged views on taxation.

The Government has a moral right to almost everything we own

Well, that seems to be what Peter Singer thinks anyway:
The best justification of a right to private property is that we will all be better of if we recognise such a right. But if it is the common good that justifies the recognition of a right to private property, then the common good can also set limits to that right.
It's worth following the link and reading the whole extract word for word to get a taste of how utterly convoluted Singer's thinking really is. When I read Singer's work on animal rights I got the impression that he is a highly overrated 'philosopher'. This merely confirms my view. If this is how the Left thinks, then each and every one of us should be scared.

Not just for our property, but for our lives.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Apologies from skepticlawyer for lazy blogging

I've only just noticed that people are still commenting on my Quadrant piece. I have no excuse for failing to notice apart from a tendency to only check recent blogposts.

Obviously, the link is all over the internet so of course people are still interested in stopping by and offering their thoughts. My apologies, then, to those people who dropped in and offered a comment expecting a response from me. I have now replied to your questions to the best of my ability.

...And I would really like to learn how to enable a 'recent comments' feature, like we have at Catallaxy...

Sukrit, is this even possible?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More politics of envy

The role of government in education became controversial with the Australian Labor Party's Great Australian Schools education policy, released during 2004's election campaign. Aimed at freezing and cutting funding for a 'hit' list of primary and secondary schools whose fees were above a specified threshold, it attracted much criticism for stifling the hopes of aspirational voters.

In The Age today John Roskam depicts Labor's opposition to full-fee places for the 'rich' as more politics of envy:
"Unfortunately, it appears that envy is a key motivation behind Labor's promise to abolish full-fee places. At the last federal election envy motivated the ALP's "hit list" attack on wealthy private schools. Just as Mark Latham disappeared after the election, so too did his policy.

Hopefully, Labor's current higher education policy will go the same way as Mark Latham's schools policy."
Roskam makes a good comparison. Full-fee places are perceived by many people as a second chance to get into the course of their choice. And unfortunately for Labor, the FEE-HELP loan scheme makes full-fee places more affordable, increasing the liklihood that people will recognise Labor's politics of envy for what it is: blatant scare-mongering.

Contrary to popular opinion, the ALP's 2004 schools policy did not intend to take money from non-government schools and give to public schools. Rather, it outlined a view of taking money from a select group of non-government schools and giving to other non-government schools - about $378 million to Catholic systemic schools and $206 million to low-fee independent schools.

Few voters would have read the fine print on Labor's education policy under Latham. The Government's propaganda was too effective. I suspect many will form their opinion on Labor's universities policy in a similar fashion, mainly because it's so easy to point out the 'envy' involved.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Calling all Australians and silly folk!

It has come to my attention that Erin and Mel have entered a video into GoogleIdol, and are representing Australia in the 'Pop Webcam Competition'. They are calling for support from down under:
"We need a little more support to remain secure in the eight entries that will proceed to the next round. We’re not sure how far we’ll get, but it would be nice to get our Aussie contribution through the preliminaries!

So, I am asking you this favour as a friend. If not a friend, as a fellow Australian (cue national anthem). If you’re not an Australian, or if you’re not particularly patriotic, I am asking you as a fellow idiot, or sucker for silliness. Please. If you have time, check out our video and rate us what you think we’re worth! NB:Rating in this round finishes on the 29th of September!"
Click here for the video, and turn your sound up - it's worth it ;)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Oz Politics Blog

Bryan has included Thoughts on Freedom - along with a tasty selection of other blogs - in his Oz Politics Blog feed. The full list is here, so you're encouraged to pay him a visit and check out the newcomers. Highlights among the additions include Andrew Norton and The Raving Wingnut, although there is plenty of bloggy goodness besides.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Education in a Free Society

We live in one of the richest countries in all places and all times in the history of the world. It is normal for people in Australia to live in a free-standing house with hot and cold running water, three or more bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, surrounding yard and gardens, to have a car, to have television, video, stereo, radio, electric stove, kettle, microwave oven, telephones, mobile phones, x-box, bicycles, game-boys, to have as much meat, vegetables, bread, lollies, and chocolate biscuits as they would like (and more than is good for them), to eat from restaurants and take-aways. Cinemas, theatre, and all sorts of amusements and entertainments are common. Take a look as you drive around at the houses, renovations, factories, the cars, how new they are, the caravans, horse-floats, yachts, boats, surfboards, aromatherapy. All the toys. People who have travelled overseas are common. This wealth is not confined to some rich wicked class. It is normal.

Yet in the middle of all this plenty, the belief has somehow taken root among the population that paying for one's own child's education is something intrinsically unaffordable. It would be impossible, or improbable, or impracticable, for the people of society to be able to provide a decent education without the people of government threatening the whole population with imprisonment to confiscate the money.

'Free' compulsory state schooling began in the late nineteenth century, before the great rise in wealth that made all these goods and services commonplace. A justification based on a supposed general inability to pay for education services has long since expired, if indeed it was ever valid.

Putting aside for a moment the question of the disadvantaged and vulnerable, the effect of government education is simply to compel everyone in the population to subsidise everyone else's real estate, cars, gameboys, fast food, and chocolate biscuits.

As to the 'disadvantaged', the definition should surely exclude those who are spending the cost of their children's education on goods and services such as those mentioned above, which should rank lower in priority than education. A moment's reflection will show that this would exclude almost the whole population.

Why should someone who doesn't even own their own house or car be forced to subsidise someone else's house or car? And why should people whose position is approximately equal, have their common wealth degraded by having to subsidise each other's similar property-holdings by way of a vast government department? How can so-called public education, as it is now, avoid this perverse and unfair result?

But suppose we say that there remains a minority of truly poor people, defined as those who could not afford any of the goods and services less important than their children's education, and who still can't afford a decent education. I personally don't believe they exist because I have many times visited people who in our society are 'the poorest of the poor', and seen the televisions, videos, mobile phones, toys, carpets, computers, internet, take-away foods, lolly water, disposable nappies, biscuits, microwaves, and all the rest of it. But say for argument's sake…

Even if there is a truly poor class who cannot afford the education of their children, it still does not necessarily follow that the social provision of education services for that minority must be paid for by governmental confiscation. Libertarians are all in favour of education - we are just opposed to trying to achieve it by using coercion and producing a second-rate result at above the market cost. There is in fact widespread social agreement on the high value of education - that's where the policies of state education came from in the first place. It would be nonsense to suggest that all the people in society who are in favour of free education for the truly poor could not possibly find the value, the means, or the motivation to pay for it. It's a matter of taking responsibility for your own values. But if those who are in favour of providing free education for the truly poor are not willing to pay for it voluntarily, why should those against, have to pay for it under compulsion?

Even if the tiny proportion of society who are truly poor were to be worse off without state schooling, and charity not to make up the difference, which is unlikely, still, why should the far greater proportion of the rest of the population be so much worse off in their education as to be deprived of the benefit of private schooling tailored to their needs and forced into state schooling, just so the tiny minority can have free state schooling? Even on grounds of equity such an argument must fail.

Also the whole point of education is that it benefits the person who receives it. Some advantage no doubt accrues to others in society, so it is arguable that there should be a call on others to contribute. But still, why should all contributions be equal? Where is the equity in that? Why should other people be forced to pay for parents' decisions, and for their living expenses? Why should not the contribution of parents to their own child's education be greater than that of a complete stranger? The argument for state schooling is almost entirely built on grounds of equity, but on critical examination, even this core argument cannot be sustained.

And even if the government is to pay for education, that doesn't mean the government should provide and administer it - a recipe for waste and legal fraud. One possibility is to divide the education budget by the number of students, pay it in equal shares to parents in vouchers or cash, and abolish the state schools and their departments. Under a voucher system, different providers would compete to provide education services. Different providers would emphasise different values, according to the values in demand. Some might emphasise technical subjects like mechanics or computing, others might emphasise arts, or religion, or classics, or the outdoors, or law, or people skills, or investing. Some services might be in the form of schools as we know them, some might favour more practical form, or more theoretical form, or tutorial form, or peripatetic form. Still others might provide better forms unthought of yet because suffocated under the dead hand of government. The quality, diversity, and economy of schooling would all be much improved.

There could be no objection to such a reform on grounds of equity - what could be fairer? And not even the proponents of state schooling make the argument that it is defensible on the ground of the superior quality of its outcome.

The idea that governmental intervention is necessary to safeguard quality standards is nothing short of laughable. The biggest factor in the degradation of quality standards in education is caused by governmental intervention. For a recent example, one state primary school recently had 217 suspensions in one day. The Director-General and other senior officials of the NSW Education Department send their children to private schools - that just says it all, doesn't it? The two main forms of discipline in government schools seem to have become suspensions (ie ostracism) and psychiatric medication, a quite disgraceful state of affairs, while illiteracy and innumeracy among new entrants into high school are common.

The objection to such a reform of the state school system has got nothing to do with equity or quality, and everything to do with the system's functionaries preserving their accustomed position at the expense of the rest of society.

The state school system in the western world was built on the Prussian model of the late nineteenth century. The Prussian state education system was designed for the mass production of soldiers and employees - obedient and submissive to authority. States all over the world have adopted it because states love it. Each rising generation of human beings is drilled for years with the ideas of uniformity, conformity, 'one-size-fits-all' education, enforced mediocrity. Young adults are taught about the bio-chemistry of the cell, the physics of quasars, and the literature of the Victorian novelists, but nothing about happiness, sexual relationships, making money, investing or insurance - in fact, the real kinds of problems that will occupy most of their adult lives. They are filled to overflowing with a doctrine of 'entitlements' with no other moral basis than self-interested and forced confiscations by the state.

When you think about it, why should human beings be treated as property of the state, to recruit, and compel, and muster, and uniformise, and roll-call, regiment, discipline and punish them, and indoctrinate them with the creeds that their lives, liberty and property are what is left over after the state has done whatever it feels like? The most committed and reflexive totalitarians I have met are recent graduates of the state school system.

There are several fatal objections to the state school system.

First, as shown, the basic premises for its existence are false. It is not justified on equity grounds. The whole population of parents in Australia is already spending far more than the costs of state education on lower order priorities. The idea of a relevant population of 'disadvantaged' and 'vulnerable' is, quite simply, nonsense: a myth of the welfare state. The state education system represents an inane machination for the compulsory cross-subsidisation of lower-order priorities by everyone of everyone else.

Secondly, this circular re-distribution is done by pouring billions of dollars every year down the black hole of vast bureaucracies of government employees in league with a left-wing trade union specifically intended to further the interests of its own members at the expense of everyone else.

Government departments are notorious for their inefficiency. The idea that, on a dollar for dollar basis, they can compare with private organizations either in morale, efficiency, or academic achievements is nonsense. (And if they can, there can be no objection to their abolition.) In general, state education represents a depression in the moral and academic landscape.

Third, government runs a zero-sum game. In the market, those who want a religious school, and those who want a non-religious school, for example, can all get what they want. With government, it is always a case of one person being forced to do what another person wants. A government department can no more imitate the quality and variety of services that the market would and does produce, than the Soviet Union was able to imitate the quality and variety of goods in a free society - for exactly the same reasons. Government requires the restriction of individual liberty and still can't produce comparable results!

Fourth, the state's involvement creates a nest of parasites - vested interests whose first concern is to use the state's power of compulsion to further their own interests. A classic example is the way the Teacher's Federation has used its influence to promote laws to make it illegal for young people to leave school until 14 and 9 months. Many students after seven or eight years in state school still can't read and write and are tortured by boredom. But they are prevented from getting on with their lives, leaving and starting work, by laws which exploit them as 'assets' of the teacher's union. Their lives and freedoms are suspended in frustration to protect the members of the teacher's guild from having to provide any value in the market place that someone would actually willingly pay for.

Another example is the use of the state to outlaw teaching without the license of the state, thus effectively criminalising services which consumers would willingly pay for, but which might threaten the vested interests in the state.

If parents are too stupid or incompetent to be legally permitted the freedom for themselves to choose, through the market, their children's education providers, how can the same people have the competence to choose, through the ballot box, to put officials above them to restrict their choice in the same matters? How can a person appoint a person to 'represent' 'on his behalf' that he does not have the competence of a principal? The argument for state schooling involves a fatal self-contradiction.

Fifth, in the state system the syllabus cannot be something that parents and students choose for themselves. It becomes the prize of education 'experts' who have no accountability to any individual student or parent. It becomes the plaything of political movements who would like to impose their views on everyone else and can think of no better object than to have their creed entrenched in the state syllabus, in hopes of indoctrinating it in the rising generations as orthodoxy. (Such ideas almost always involve the expansion of state power at the expense of human freedom.) If you are a parent or student and don't like the syllabus, what are you going to do? In the market you simply don't buy the service. Under government, the line of authority would logically go from your local MP, to his party leader, to Parliament, to the Minister, to the Board of Studies. Your local principal and teachers are irrelevant. Good luck. Your power is effectively nothing.

Still, all these arguments only show technical reasons why the claims of the state education system cannot withstand critical scrutiny, and why a free market in education services would be better. However there is also an argument based on ethics, which I have not seen anyone refute. I challenge anyone to try.

All law and policy relies on force, that is, violence or the threat of violence: ultimately, if you don't submit to and obey the laws or policies, a group of men armed with weapons will come around and physically seize you. If you resist they will shoot you and if you don't, they will lock you up where you have a further risk of being violated and brutalised. That's how the government gets the money it uses to fund the state education system.

It's not like a threat of violence - it is a threat of violence.

Too often the arguments for state education proceed as if the only question were the desirability of this object or that, without regard to the prior ethical question. Yet there is a fundamental moral difference between violent and non-violent behaviour. Consensual exchanges and the libertarian approach are on the right side, and state education, with its forced payment, forced curriculum and forced attendance, is on the wrong side of the ethical divide. The ethical deficit is not, and cannot, be made up by a mere majority decision. The 'Darwinist' taunt proffered to libertarians is back-to-front. “I spit it bleeding in your high disgrace” (Shakespeare said that: pretty good eh?). We are not the ones advocating violence: our opponents are!

The ethical question cannot be made to go away - it can only be overridden, as power can be used to override principle. But the original ethical deficit contaminates everything it touches, and is ultimately responsible for all the technical problems which cause the second-rate character of state education.

Perhaps the most repulsive aspect of state education is the implicit notion that the value of other people is how far they can be forced under threat to serve your purposes. This ethical aspect is sometimes the most neglected, and leads to the defects in practice. We libertarians believe that the right place of the value of both the ethics, and of human freedom, is foremost.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Animal rights #4: on bestiality

(This post continues the previous animal rights discussion: 1, 2 and 3.)

Steve Edwards (The Raving Wingnut) extends the logic of animals having no rights to reach the following conclusion:
“There are, of course, far more disturbing ramifications from my line of argument, but being a guy who generally feels an obligation to argue things through and countenance the inevitable implications of his logic, I shall have no choice but to admit the following: due to my reasoning, there can be no legal prohibitions on bestiality!
One should recognise firstly that Steve is not arguing against extending consideration to animals. Indeed, I believe it is impossible for him to argue against affording animals some consideration as living beings.1 It would be the social equivalent of arguing that the Earth is flat, or that paedophilia should be encouraged.2 What he rightly argues is that animals have no a priori rights, nor can they be given rights (because animals cannot take on any accompanying responsibility).

Secondly, we should note that it is not entirely relevant to this discussion that bestiality is despicable. What is of main concern is the harm to the animal.3 This is a logical conclusion of my contention that it is impossible to argue against extending consideration to animals. To focus only on bestiality would be to become a member of the ‘moral police’. If legislation is needed to realise the common sense view that animal abuse is wrong then that legislation should be exclusively focused on preventing harm to the animal. Whether a ban is needed is more of an empirical question, and goes back to what happens when you legalise any previously illegal activity (you can now regulate it). Personally, I don’t think a ban is needed, for reasons I will outline in a later post.

While bestiality shouldn’t be the main issue, we do need to justify picking on bestiality in the first place. After all, couldn’t killing animals for food be said to be a form of abuse? There are a couple of reasons which I will elaborate on in my next post. For now let’s just say bestiality is less useful to society than meat-eating or other ways in which we use animals (eg. laboratory experiments). I freely admit there is a moral element to this discussion.

The issue is how best to achieve an accepted goal

Steve implicitly recognises two things by saying:
“So basically, if you want to torture your own dog to death for fun I'll call you a sick freak, but I'm afraid I cannot think of any particularly compelling reason to ban this kind of cruelty in itself.”
By calling an animal abuser a ‘sick freak’ Steve firstly indicates he is not prepared to argue that torture of animals, or bestiality for that matter, is a perfectly normal and acceptable activity. That is his admission bestiality is wrong. Second, and more importantly, his statement implicitly tells us that he does consider it ‘cruelty’ to torture an animal to death. What this means is he recognises that it is cruelty and therefore harm occurs. This is relevant to the second point I have made above (about disregarding the bestiality element and focussing on the harm to the animal).

Despite there being no logically justifiable position for animals having ‘rights’ (a position I agree with), Steve’s description of ‘cruelty’ tells us he, like every decent person on this planet, does not think animals are so beneath regard that they should be afforded no consideration whatsoever, even if they are private property. That is the hidden premise in his statement, and in all debate over animal welfare. Would he describe it as ‘cruelty’ if it were an inanimate object? I think not.

Why it’s impossible for Steve to argue 'against'

That animals should be afforded some consideration is a matter of common sense. The issue is how best to achieve this undeniable goal, and what competing interests need to be balanced. Steve’s own human nature tells him there’s something wrong. Either that, or he is not prepared to go on record as supporting bestiality even though there is no logical way to reach the conclusion that animal abuse is bad (since animals have no rights). The position opposed to affording some basic consideration to animals is an unarguable one, hence the frustration expressed in Steve’s second statement above. For elaboration on this line of argument, I would refer interested readers to Brian Scarlett's work.

A common logical problem?

Similar philosophical frustration occurs in formal logic. This is the problem with having a hidden, unarguable, premise. As an example4 take the argument:

The Prime Minister collects clocks.
Anyone who collects clocks has to be slightly mad.
Therefore, someone is slightly mad.


Here one can identify a couple of hidden premises.

1. You can’t be a Prime Minister without being a citizen (Sue v Hill tells us that much).
2. So the Prime Minister is a citizen.
3. If the Prime Minister is a citizen, then he’s a person (because you can’t be a citizen without being a person).

Even in these propositions I’ve made some hidden assumptions. For example, I’ve assumed the Prime Minister is a Member of Parliament. Everyone agrees with that. It’s an unarguable position. In philosophical logic hidden premises (which everyone agrees with, and which when added to the premises of an argument will render the argument valid) are dealt with by adding propositions known as enthymemes. Without going into all the symbolic mumbo jumbo, the basic point is that hidden, unarguable, premises need to be factored into discussions such as this. I think this is the best way to analyse this dilemma. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will smack me down accordingly.

Notes
[1] Two points: Firstly, I’m talking about humans abusing animals, not animals abusing other animals. The fact that we are superior beings allows us to have this discussion and change our response to undesirable behaviour. We can’t stop animals from sexually abusing other animals for fun. Second, I’m mostly referring to bigger beings. It would be quite difficult to abuse smaller beings such as termites, ants or snails, and few people own them. More common are farm animals such as horses.

[2] A more complex issue which I raised with Steve earlier is whether consensual cannibalism should be legalised.

[3] This is the main concern. You cannot argue against this position in today’s society. The very fact that Steve and I are writing articles on animal welfare indicates we care enough.

[4] Taken from Greg Restall's book on Logic.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Welfare/Warfare State

We who love Australia should be sad, but not surprised, to find that our troops have been abusing human rights in Iraq. A military has only two purposes: to threaten to shoot people, and to actually shoot them. If you wanted any other job done, you wouldn't send a military, would you? Pointing guns at people is what soldiers do - and that's when they're being relatively restrained!

If our troops had committed other or worse abuses, would we know about it?

To blame a few rogues is to miss the point. Our soldiers should not be there. Our good intentions have miscarried. After 9/11, in a wave of sympathy for our old allies the United States, we joined them in a military campaign in a foreign land broiling with chronic religious, ethnic and nationalist disputes. We now know that the reasons put forward for the war in Iraq were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and there were no Iraqi links to Al Qaeda. President Bush had his own reasons for making war on Iraq. But the point is, we have now joined in a war which has killed over 100,000 men, women and children. Australia. For what? The best reason, or excuse, that is now on offer is that we are helping to 'build democracy' in Iraq. It's a kind of welfare/warfare state, if you like. We take money from people who didn't consent, and give destructive 'benefits' to people who didn't ask, all in the name of 'democracy' and helping 'the disadvantaged'.

This teaches us a home truth. Democracy loses its value when it means nothing more than that the majority or the state can use force to violate other people's liberty and property rights. What's the point of having a government to keep down thieves and burglars, if those in government are free to take as much of your liberty and property as they feel like? Only when the law equally constrains all people - including those in government, - to respect other people's life, liberty and property, is democracy a guarantee of freedom or human dignity. This applies everywhere - as much in Australia as in Iraq.

The welfare/warfare state violates the values of life, freedom and property at every turn. It denies personal responsibility which is the foundation of morality, it involves everyone in the injustice of its own plunder, and it destroys social harmony. The government does not 'represent' us when it commits crimes and violates human beings.

The truth hurts, but we should still face it. It is wrong that the war in Iraq has any legitimacy in terms of the defence of Australia. It is wrong for Australia's military to be involved in a campaign that has destroyed the lives and the homes of thousands upon thousands of innocent people. The Iraqi people are not our enemies. It is wrong for the Commonwealth in this way to defame the good name of Australia.

A true friend helps his friend to see and do right, not to persist in wrong. We should withdraw our troops from Iraq immediately and urge our old allies the Americans to do the same.

Funding students and not schools (pirate style)

In recognition of this special September 19, I offer my views on vouchers in pirate-speak:
Vouchers are in th' news again, with the Australia Institute stirrin' up th' pot in th' media recently. Fire the cannons! And hoist the mainsail! Vouchers have also bein' suggested fer disabled little sandcrabs and those with readin' difficulties but fer th' purposes o' this post I'll focus on ideas fer universal vouchers fer all school little sandcrabs that are funded by th' government. Aarrr!

In a nutshell, I am not advocatin' that government withdraw from fundin' education (at school level). Ahoy! I think this a pragmatic approach. Governments should withdraw from runnin' schools but provide everyone subsidised education at school level. Parents should have a choice as t' what school they send their child with th' 'X' amount o' dubloons th' government gives, but are free t' spend beyond that t' provide better quality. Aarrr! Fetch me spyglass!

Basic education at school level should be available t' all little sandcrabs who desire it because it confers positive social benefits on society as a whole. Society needs scallywags t' have a minimum standard o' literacy and mathematical ability, by Blackbeard's sword. Universities on th' other hand, produce graduates who solely capture th' value o' their degree.

It doesn't make sense fer low wage workers t' have their taxes redistributed t' subsidise th' university fees o' lawyers or doctors in-trainin', fer example. If there are shortages in these areas th' market will automatically and impersonally send out th' signals that attract th' desired workers (i.e. higher wages or salaries). Fetch me spyglass! Fetch me spyglass!

Where t' get th' funds fer free school level education? One idear is universities and colleges (there may be some possible exceptions in th' skills-based ones). Governments should (a) stop fundin' and runnin' them completely, and (b) divert funds gained t' parents/guardians who have school-age little sandcrabs. I'm not entirely sure vouchers should be means tested. Fetch me spyglass! I think 'tis better they weren't - th' notion is t' raise overall fundin' fer th' school sector, not just redistribute funds.

Givin' t' schools directly has not worked well. Give th' dubloons t' parents (if not through a voucher, perhaps through a tax credit) and watch schools compete and raise standards t' get students. More accountability and openness so parents could make informed choices regardin' actual performance wouldn't hurt either. If this means some bad schools go under, well, tough. Australian students deserve th' best. And th' best isn't necessarily what th' educational unions - who have a vested interest in th' system stayin' th' way it is - want.
Hat-tip: Andrew Leigh

Award rates not fair

Kim Beazley provides ample evidence why he will probably never become prime minister. What's "fair" to him are the award rates that effectively price low-skilled migrant workers out of the job market.

The unions love minimum wages because they prevent other workers from taking the jobs of their members. It has nothing to do with helping the poor, because the poor can be helped through welfare payments. If Labor denies the evidence in favour of higher minimum wages causing increased unemployment, then it needs a crash course in basic economics.

Mr Beazley prides himself on standing up to bullies. Why not stand up to the unions for a change?

[The Chaser has more on another Beazley stuff-up.]

Monday, September 18, 2006

One for the dog lovers

Are dogs' mouths really cleaner than humans'?
All dogs lick themselves. Some eat their own feces. Humans (most of 'em, anyway) do not. So how in the world can the mouth of a canine be cleaner than that of a person? Simple -- it can't. According to ABC News, this is basically an urban legend. However, unlike the one about the psycho killer with the hook, this story has a grain of truth. Although the mouth of a typical dog is full of bacteria, it's "species specific." So, if a dog were to lick a person, most of the germs wouldn't transfer. "Bottom line -- you're more likely to get a serious illness from kissing a person than kissing a dog."
The myth may have stemmed from the way pups lick their wounds. A dog's tongue gets rid of dead tissue so wounds heal faster. Perhaps folks concluded that dog saliva is "healthy." Hardly the case, but you shouldn't be afraid of licks. They might be gross, but they're not dangerous.
And here are a whole lot more things about dogs that you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Husky puppies

As promised, some husky pics. First up is a picture of the illustrious dad himself, looking like King Muck on the bed. This is a dog who genuinely thinks he's Christmas. Next, some puppy pics. Texas threw 7 puppies; They're nearly 5 weeks old, and the two show specimens have already been sold. The others (non-show) are still up for grabs, and come wormed, vaccinated and socialized.

You'll need to wait, though, as reputable husky breeders prefer to keep their puppies for 10 weeks so they're properly ready for their new home. The puppies come in a range of colours, consistent with both sire and dam colours. There are darker pups with 'masks', and lighter pups with tan highlights. All have blue eyes.

The first puppy pic shows two of the darker pups. The second pic shows two of the lighter pups contrasted with one mid-tone puppy.

If you've decided a husky is for you, then I highly recommend some research into the breed. These dogs like exercise, and if you're determined to stick to that new diet and exercise regime, one of these pups could be for you. If, however, you just want a pretty dog and you're not willing to exercise it, then expect to find holes in your backyard galore and one very stroppy animal. Huskies need to RUN.

Still interested? Contact rdiplock AT hotmail DOT com. Non show puppies are $400.00 each.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

We are global citizens

Mark Richardson wonders where liberalism stands on the nation state. The short answer, I think, is that classical liberals recognise the concept of ‘country’ as an artificial construct that is not inherently something of value to be preserved – because it is backed up by state force.

To take the line that there is something inherently special about being Australian is to place undue emphasis on a word. Politicians love inspiring this sort of nationalistic fervour because it wins them votes, and conservatives get sucked into their posturing.

If, in the future, globalisation sees the political merging of nations, there is no valid reason to prevent this from occuring. Apart from intangible value judgements on national identity, there are no compelling arguments for preventing Australia merging with another country.

In this way, conservatism differs from liberalism. Conservatives think ‘tradition’ ought to be preserved: for them, every change needs to be justified in light of the past. It can be an inflexible position bereft of substance, and is an example of the closed-mindedness Rafe Champion alludes to in this post about Popper. Too much nationalism contributes to conflict, whereas globalism minimises it.

Conservatives can however, mount a reasonable argument in favour of civic duty or obligation. I would argue we have an obligation to promote good deeds, and that liberalism supports such voluntary community initiative. But it supports it from a human angle. Not because it's a case of Australians helping other Australians, but because humans are helping other humans. Conservatives like Richardson don’t seem to understand that.

I am a practical person. When I found out I needed to take up Australian citizenship to get a very generous loan for higher education, I naturally took the appropriate steps. While I am completely opposed to HECS and would like to see it abolished (governments should not be involved financially in universities) I am, like everyone else, self-interested.

Some would say my attitude is very Australian!

Update: Mark responds.

War is bad for business

I wrote previously on the link between democratisation and peace. Here is a good article by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. on how commerce has the potential to thaw relations between the United States and China:
"It was Bastiat who observed the trade-off between trade and war. When goods don't cross borders, he said, armies will. Without trade, there is less to lose from the mass destruction that war implies. Countries that trade have a mutual stake in the preservation of open, friendly relations. This is one reason that free commercial activities promote peace, and why protectionism and trade sanctions generate war tensions."
Economics is becoming increasingly important.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A friendly wager...

I've had a little dispute that I need help resolving. Put simply, me and a friend can't agree on which of our rabbits is cuter. Please help us solve the dilemma by honestly voting on which you think is cuter.

The rabbit known as 'Alfie'



Video of Alfie.

The rabbit known as 'Jack'


Video of Jack.

Pictures (1, 2) of Jack.

VOTE NOW!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Nicholas Gruen talks in Melbourne

Sorry for confusion, this is posted for Nicholas.

Invited by the indefatigable impresario of ideas Race Mathews to talk to the Fabian Society I’ll be doing so this Wednesday evening. The topic is the economic and social significance of open source software as a new mode of production, and I’m still working on the slides.

Please come if you’re interested, and it would be great to see any Troppodiles there. After the show we’ll retire to Toto’s pizza bar, so you’re invited if you want to come.

You have to pay the Fabians a small charge for entry to the talk - see over the fold. You can read this article I wrote on Open Source for Policy Magazine if you want to do a bit of pre-reading, though the talk will not assume any prior knowledge of what ‘open source’ software is. Please feel free to let me know you’re coming in comments or by email. And please let anyone else know who you think might be interested.

“New Models of Social Production: Open Source and its economic and social significance.”
Meeting details are 6 for 6:30pm to 8pm, Wednesday, 13 September, in Meeting Room 1, Trades Hall (Victoria Street Entrance), Cnr Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton. Australian Fabian Society members $6, non-members $8, concession $3.