Saturday, October 26, 2002

Hanson on North Korea
Victor Davis Hanson pens a fantastic piece in the National Review Online:

Unfree and totalitarian regimes like North Korea lie and always will lie, for two simple reasons. One: Without a free press and a political opposition, they can. And two: They must, because their system does not work and would collapse were their people free and able to speak freely. Second, appeasement — in the past, now, and for all time — only encourages thugs and killers, and proves far more dangerous and costly in the long run than either preemption or early resolute opposition (in the manner in which Israel took out the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, or we pondered the same in 1994 in North Korea). Third, culture affects the way a people fights, creates government, eats, and sleeps, but it does not trump human nature itself. Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Il-Sung may have had culturally specific preferences in their terror and mass murder, but as human tyrants of the ages they were predictable in their behavior and thus could only be opposed, never appeased. In short, Thucydides or Hobbes would know more about the North Korean leader than would the present leadership in either nearby Tokyo or Seoul.

So let us beware of personable but smug men like Mr. Carter and Mr. Clinton, the prizewinners who assure us that either their ostentatious morality or their self-righteous glibness is equivalent to wisdom. It is not. I'd prefer a less nuanced and less conceited Truman or Reagan, who sensed something evil about the Sung dynasty that our present generation in its missionary pride has forgotten.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Banning Guns vs Banning Asians

Courtesy of Bovination:

Larry Leftie: One thing this incident proves is the need to ban guns.

Rudi Redneck: Rubbish it demonstrates the need to ban Asians.

LL: But Asians didn't cause this - guns did.

RR: An Asian did cause this.

LL: But if there were no guns this incident couldn't have happened.

RR: If there were no Asians this incident couldn't have happened.

LL: But you can't judge all Asians on the actions of a few.

RR: You can't judge all gun owners on the actions of a few.

LL:Even if you did ban Asians, gun deaths would still occur.

RR: Even if you banned guns, crimes would still occur.

LL: But guns are inherently evil.

RR: Why?

LL: Because they kill people.

RR: An Asian killed people on this occasion - does that make Asians inherently evil?

LL: Of course not - very few Asians kill people.

RR: Very few guns kill people.

LL: You don't agree with me, therefore you are evil!

RR: Leftie Loser!

LL: Redneck!

The ABS's Neo-Liberal Agenda?
Peter Norden, policy director of Jesuit Social Services and convenor of the Victorian Criminal Justice Coalition, writes in today's Melbourne Age:

Despite repeated assertions to the contrary, and occasional misleading figures from groups with a partisan agenda, it is apparent from the most reliable sources available that there has not been a significant increase in serious crime across Australia.

As I detailed in a previous post, ABS data show that violent crime in Australia has increased since 1996. Whatever you think about the horrors of imprisonment, gun control or anything else, there is just no getting around this fact.

So is Norden saying that the ABS is publishing "misleading figures" and that it is a "group with a partisan agenda"?

If so, then Norden would, in fact, be partially correct - the ABS is one of the most left-wing partisan outfits around. For example, in relation to the recently launched ABS report "Measuring Australia's Progress", the Centre for Independent Studies' Peter Saunders writes:

This initiative threatens to compromise the political neutrality of the ABS, for it blurs the line dividing fact from opinion. Any definition of 'progress' will be inherently evaluative, and therefore political. Bias arises in what gets included as 'progress' and in what gets left out. In the case of this particular report, the set of indicators of 'social progress' that the ABS has come up with reflects a broadly green and left-wing political agenda.

There is a heavy emphasis in the report on environmental measures. Environmental sustainability is important, but this level of emphasis exaggerates its importance for most Australians. Opinion polls show that most people rank environmental issues well down their list of priorities.

Bias also occurs in the selection of income inequality as one of the dimensions of 'progress'. The ABS implicitly equates social 'progress' with reduced income inequality, reflecting an unthinking commitment to the egalitarian politics of the left. It is important to recognise that increased equality may mean that a society is going 'backwards' rather than 'forwards'.

The ABS selected its indicators on the advice of a 'panel of experts' whose composition was skewed towards people concerned about environmental and/or social inequality issues. This led to the neglect of other possible 'progress' indicators that might have been more favoured by the population as a whole-lower taxation, for example.

The Australia Institute welcomed the ABS report, claiming that it vindicates its own anti-growth stance. The Institute's Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) suggests, implausibly, that Australia has made very little 'progress' over the last 30 years. Two leading supporters of the GPI, both of whom believe that economic growth produces more problems than benefits, were on the panel of 'experts' who advised the ABS in developing its measures.

There is clearly a danger of the ABS compromising its reputation for political neutrality.


The Licensing and Registration Status of Firearms Used in Homicide
In today's Sydney Morning Herald, the chairman of the National Coalition for Gun Control, Sam Lee, is credited with making the following statement:

Most people who commit murder with handguns are law abiding citizens.

As a matter of logic, this statement is utterly false - how can you be a "law abiding citizen" if you commit murder?

Perhaps what Lee really meant is that most people who use handguns to commit murders obtain them legally. But this also turns out to be false.

Consider, for example, this article, by Jenny Mouzos of the Australian Institute of Criminology, which can be downloaded here.

From international studies, she finds that "a review of international literature reveals three consistent findings:

  • Handguns are the firearms most commonly used to commit firearms-related homicide.

  • Offenders of firearm-related homicide are usually unlicensed.

  • The firearms used to commit homicide are most often illegal, that is, they are unregistered, stolen, or modified in some way."

But what about the Australian situation? Mouzos finds that:

Licensed firearm owners were not responsible for the majority of firearm-related homicides. These findings are consistent with international research.
(emphasis in original).

She continues:

In the few cases where licensed firearms owners used a registered firearm to kill, not one handgun used in homicide was registered.

This is based on data between July 1997 and June 1999, and it should be interpreted with care. But the findings suggest that the recent Monash shooting, tragic as it was, is the exception rather than the rule.

She concludes:

Since the proportion of handguns used to commit homicide in Australia has noticeably increased since the introduction of the new firearms regulations, this suggests a different pattern of firearm use by offenders. Offenders tend to use firearms that are easily concealable and available on the black market, such as handguns.

It was also found that the majority of firearms used to commit homicide were not registered, and the perpetrators of firearm-related homicide were not licensed firearms owners. This last finding indicates that the regulatory regime seems to have made it difficult for irresponsible, or otherwise unsuitable, individuals to legitimately obtain a firearm. In other words, those who commit homicide in Australia are individuals who have circumvented legislation and will be least likely to be affected if further restrictions on firearms ownership are introduced. Any further restrictions will most likely affect individuals who are the law-abiding shooters in Australia.

However, these findings suggest an alternative direction for policy. As those who engage in firearm-related violence in Australia are least likely to register their weapons or comply with appropriate licensing procedures, the preventative efforts would need to be directed at curtailing the supply of firearms to such persons. In other words, policy would need to consider the following:

- Greater enforcement relating to the storage of legal firearms.
- Illicit trafficking in firearms.

Regardless of policy initiatives introduced, the findings outlined in this paper indicate that there will always be individuals who will attempt to circumvent legislation for illicit purposes. Licensing and registration provisions have made it more difficult for irresponsible, or otherwise unsuitable, persons to acquire a firearm legally. This has resulted in their turning to illegitimate means to acquire firearms and poses compliance challenges for law enforcement.

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Socialists
From today's Wall Street Journal Europe editorial:

When Socialists left office in Spain in 1996, unemployment was 25%, interest rates were close to double digits and, with budget deficits above 6%, Spain looked set to be left out of the euro.

We bring you this horror story as a preface to the following news item: On Tuesday, the latest leader of these very same Socialists, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, surprised politicians of all parties, including his own, when he rather than his shadow finance minister rose in Parliament to respond to the government's new budget. The crux of his attack was that the government's economic policy was "anti-social."

This is what the Socialist argument has boiled down to in 2002. We can expect this line to be repeated throughout Europe after a rash of elections put parties who are promising tax cuts in power.

By "social policy," what Socialists mean is government interference to support pet projects. Mr. Zapatero proposed an "alternative" economic policy replete with goodies from scholarships to more rent-controlled housing and more funding for R&D boondoggles. As Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar quipped afterward, now all of Spain knows "there's no alternative to the government's economic policy."

Now, Mr. Aznar's government is given sometimes to resting on its laurels. Only this month it backed down on a law that only marginally reformed unemployment benefits. It should use its absolute majority with more vigor.

But reducing unemployment to 11.3%, the deficit to zero, and returning to Spaniards more of what they earn by cutting taxes -- the percentage of government outlays is around 38%, far below the EU's average of 45% -- is a quite successful social policy. When Socialists around Europe try to make Mr. Zapatero's arguments, their opponents should simply cite the Spanish example.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Taxpayers Chase Their Own Wallets

Thus writes the Wall Street Journal in today's editorial:

If you've got kids in college, you don't need the College Board to tell you that tuition continues to spiral -- a 9.6% hike over a year ago, about seven times the inflation rate, the largest increase in a decade. As this newspaper reported Tuesday, however, the headlines about tuition sticker shock came with a telling sidebar: Over the same period financial aid increased by 11.5%, outstripping even the rise in tuition.

Let's connect these dots. Typically announcements of escalating tuition provoke a spate of stories about how fewer and fewer ordinary Americans will be able to afford a college education for junior. And it is certainly true that tuition increases have for years far outrun both inflation and family income.

In most parts of the American economy, the market would eventually call a halt to this kind of trend. Consumers would refuse to pay, and suppliers would reduce their costs to keep their business. But American higher education long ago stopped being a normal market.

Parents will pay a lot to stamp their children with a brand name for life, and in any case the politicians have created a system of subsidies that increase along with tuition. These are federal as well as state, direct as well as indirect through the tax code, and they effectively immunize college campuses from the market pressures that businesses face every day. Thus have we created a vicious circle: Tuition goes up, the politicians deliver more aid, and tuition goes up some more.

In other words, taxpayers are chasing their own wallets. Given the powerful economic benefits that accrue from a college degree (Census figures put the difference in lifetime earnings between college grads and non-grads at nearly $1 million), government subsidies amount to a reverse wealth transfer in which Peter, the working stiff, is taxed to underwrite college-bound Paul and the tenured faculties living in Madison and Chapel Hill and other leafy latte towns. Maybe it's time to stop.

"Government subsidies amount to a reverse wealth transfer in which Peter, the working stiff, is taxed to underwrite college-bound Paul and the tenured faculties living in...leafy latte towns."


Like Brother, Like Brother

As Treasurer, Peter Costello is often accused of throwing rubbery figures around. In today's Melbourne Age, his brother Tim Costello, also does the same thing in relation to the effects of gun control.

For example, Costello states:
So what was achieved last time and what are the possibilities for reform? The buy-back cost $320 million, and successfully removed 643,000 semi-automatic rifles plus millions of other rifles from the community. And the benefits were immediate...homicides fell by 10 per cent.

Let's take a look at the ABS data, Cat. No. 4510.0 ("Recorded Crime"). What Costello doesn't tell us is that the "homicide rate" includes murder, manslaughter and driving causing death. The latter category has declined dramatically since 1996, while the absolute numbers of murder and manslaughter are about the same (Murder: 312 in 1996, 306 in 2001; Manslaughter: 38 in 1996, 34 in 2001; DCD: 342 in 1996, 249 in 2001).

So the absolute number of murders and manslaughters are about the same as they were in 1996 (although obviously the victimisation rate might be lower). The number of actual homicides is lower due to a decline in driving causing death, where (presumably) guns were not a factor.

Costello also states that:
the proportion of armed robbers using firearms fell by 37 per cent.

I can't find this anywhere in the data. In 1996, there were 1585 robberies committed with a firearm. In 1997, the figure jumped massively to 2185. That's exactly a 37 per cent increase!

So either Costello has made a grave error about the sign of this change, or he is just flat out lying in order to score political points. (In 2001 robberies committed with a firearm were again at about the 1996 level, at 1686, but still higher.)

Costello fails to mention that in 1996, 4029 robberies were committed with "other weapons" (knives and syringes). In 2001, the figure more than doubled, at 8266. Overall, since 1996, once we include data where weapons were used but "not further defined", robberies with a weapon have jumped from 6256 to 11056 in 2001- almost a 100% increase.

In fact, immediately after the 1996 gun laws were passed, there was a 50 per cent increase in weapons related robbery, from 6256 in 1996 to 9054 in 1997.

Similarly, excluding murder, all forms of violent crime with firearms are up since 1996:

Of course, this says nothing about victimization rates. But it is simply just not true to say that "the benefits of gun control were immediate".

In relation to victimization rates (rate per 100,000 persons), here are the overall crime figures, with the 1996 number first, followed by the 2001 number. Decreases are in italics, increases are bolded:

A careful look at the data also suggests that for most of these categories, the largest increases in crime between 1996 and 2001 occurred in 1997, the year after the Howard reforms.

Again, I can't see how the data indicate that the benefits of the 1996 reforms are "immediate". In fact, the only reasonable conclusion is that the opposite is in fact true.

What is also interesting is that many forms of crime with firearms were actually decreasing before 1996. For example, here absolute crime figures where a firearm was used, with the 1993 number first, followed by the 1995 number.

Peter Reith Deceived Us
Thus reports the Sydney Morning Herald. How do we know that this is true? Because the Labor Party says so.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

An Event Not to Be Missed

'Southern Cross' crushed car body sculpture: ANU Factor of Ten exhibition

The artist and a transport expert discuss the sculpture.

When: Friday 25 Oct 2:00pm-2:30pm
Artist: Michael Le Grand
Scientist: Professor Peter Newman
Medium: Compacted car bodies (50)
Location: Between Fellows Oval and the Chancelry building

Professor Peter Newman, transport expert, will discuss with the artist Michael Le Grand his sculpture of 50 crushed car bodies. It raises issues of people's desire and need for mobility, and it's consequences for urban energy intensity, the environment and community health.

At a time when the ACT government is consulting on public transport futures, it demonstrates the value of combining academic and artistic approaches in communicating the link between individual choices and the bigger picture.

That's right, you heard in here first: a sculpture of 50 crushed car bodies in the middle of the ANU campus "demonstrates the value of combining academic and artistic approaches in communicating the link between individual choices and the bigger picture."

Yep. Sure.

Guns and Violence: The English Experience

The "estimable and principled" Reason magazine gets it right with this piece by Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm:

Last December, London’s Evening Standard reported that armed crime, with banned handguns the weapon of choice, was "rocketing." In the two years following the 1997 handgun ban, the use of handguns in crime rose by 40 percent, and the upward trend has continued. From April to November 2001, the number of people robbed at gunpoint in London rose 53 percent.

Gun crime is just part of an increasingly lawless environment. From 1991 to 1995, crimes against the person in England’s inner cities increased 91 percent. And in the four years from 1997 to 2001, the rate of violent crime more than doubled. Your chances of being mugged in London are now six times greater than in New York. England’s rates of assault, robbery, and burglary are far higher than America’s, and 53 percent of English burglaries occur while occupants are at home, compared with 13 percent in the U.S., where burglars admit to fearing armed homeowners more than the police. In a United Nations study of crime in 18 developed nations published in July, England and Wales led the Western world’s crime league, with nearly 55 crimes per 100 people.

This sea change in English crime followed a sea change in government policies. Gun regulations have been part of a more general disarmament based on the proposition that people don’t need to protect themselves because society will protect them. It also will protect their neighbors: Police advise those who witness a crime to "walk on by" and let the professionals handle it.

This is a reversal of centuries of common law that not only permitted but expected individuals to defend themselves, their families, and their neighbors when other help was not available. It was a legal tradition passed on to Americans. Personal security was ranked first among an individual’s rights by William Blackstone, the great 18th-century exponent of the common law. It was a right, he argued, that no government could take away, since no government could protect the individual in his moment of need. A century later Blackstone’s illustrious successor, A.V. Dicey, cautioned, "discourage self-help and loyal subjects become the slaves of ruffians."

But modern English governments have put public order ahead of the individual’s right to personal safety. First the government clamped down on private possession of guns; then it forbade people to carry any article that might be used for self-defense; finally, the vigor of that self-defense was to be judged by what, in hindsight, seemed "reasonable in the circumstances."...

So much for Jason Soon's "essence of the rule of law". But perhaps Jason is right about what the rule of law really means, and perhaps Blackstone and Dicey were horribly wrong.

On second thoughts, perhaps not.

Professor Malcolm continues:

The London-based Office of Health Economics, after a careful international study, found that while "one reason often given for the high numbers of murders and manslaughters in the United States is the easy availability of firearms...the strong correlation with racial and socio-economic variables suggests that the underlying determinants of the homicide rate are related to particular cultural factors."

Cultural differences and more-permissive legal standards notwithstanding, the English rate of violent crime has been soaring since 1991. Over the same period, America’s has been falling dramatically. In 1999 The Boston Globe reported that the American murder rate, which had fluctuated by about 20 percent between 1974 and 1991, was "in startling free-fall." We have had nine consecutive years of sharply declining violent crime. As a result the English and American murder rates are converging. In 1981 the American rate was 8.7 times the English rate, in 1995 it was 5.7 times the English rate, and the latest study puts it at 3.5 times.

Preliminary figures for the U.S. this year show an increase, although of less than 1 percent, in the overall number of violent crimes, with homicide increases in certain cities, which criminologists attribute to gang violence, the poor economy, and the release from prison of many offenders. Yet Americans still enjoy a substantially lower rate of violent crime than England, without the "restraint on personal liberty" English governments have seen as necessary. Rather than permit individuals more scope to defend themselves, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government plans to combat crime by extending those "restraints on personal liberty": removing the prohibition against double jeopardy so people can be tried twice for the same crime, making hearsay evidence admissible in court, and letting jurors know of a suspect’s previous crimes.

This is a cautionary tale. America’s founders, like their English forebears, regarded personal security as first of the three primary rights of mankind. That was the main reason for including a right for individuals to be armed in the U.S. Constitution. Not everyone needs to avail himself or herself of that right. It is a dangerous right. But leaving personal protection to the police is also dangerous.

Thanks to Mark Harrison for this link.

Student Unions: Your Ugly Days are Numbered

According to the Australian, it looks like student choice and voluntary unionism are finally about to become a reality at my alma mater, the mighty James Cook University:

In what amounts to a test case, the Government has helped convince the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to leave James Cook University exposed to possible legal action unless it stops requiring students to join the university's student association and pay fees for it.

The Government, Opposition, Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee and student leaders have reacted cautiously to the draft decision's implications, which include a possible national collapse of compulsory membership.

JCU still has the chance later this year to convince the competition watchdog to change its mind before a final ruling but has indicated it will drop compulsion if it loses.

The ACCC's wide-ranging draft decision is about a university's immunity from legal action and not about whether compulsory membership breaches the act, which might eventually be tested in the Federal Court by another university or student associations.

The decision, posted on the ACCC website, claims student services would not be threatened if a university administration simply took over the services and collected the fees for itself.

The commission gave JCU temporary immunity from threatened legal action last January while it considered a public benefit test under the act. It plans to stop the immunity, effective in 2004, to give JCU time to adjust.

The ACCC conceded this week its decision, if it stands, could result in a significant membership fall for the JCU student association. But it prefers the public benefit of freedom of association to any likely detriment, continually pointing to JCU's undertaking to assume the student services if necessary.


The Adams Family
In today's Australian, Jane Albrechtsen coins a fantastic phrase:

The Australian's Phillip Adams suggests: "Australia has as much to fear from its powerful friend [the US] as it does from its putative enemies." John Pilger sees President George W. Bush as the West's mirror image of Osama bin Laden. Former Labor party speechwriter Bob Ellis ups the tempo with: "We are paying in blood for John Howard's arselicking, ignorance and xenophobic bigotry." And peace parson Anglican Primate Peter Carnley chimes in with: "It was surely only a matter of time before Australian lives were sacrificed in some form of retaliatory action."

For this Adams family, September 11 and and October 12 are about the sins of the US, Bush's arrogance, Howard's obsequiousness to US foreign policy. Anything but terrorists who kill in the name of fanatical, militant Islam.

Terrorism in the Blogosphere?

The Melbourne Age reports that:

An unusually powerful electronic attack briefly crippled nine of the 13 computer servers that manage global internet traffic this week, officials disclosed today.

But most internet users didn't notice because the attack only lasted one hour.

The FBI and White House were investigating. One official described the attack yesterday as the most sophisticated and large-scale assault against these crucial computers in the history of the internet. The origin of the attack was not known.

A Whole Lott of Sense

John Lott, of the American Enterprise Institute, writes in today's Australian:

AS the Washington sniper attacks and Monash university shootings on Monday illustrate, guns make it easier to kill people. But there is another side.

Especially for physically weaker people – such as women and the elderly – guns make it easier to protect themselves.

The news media's focus on only tragic outcomes, while ignoring the more numerous tragic events that were avoided, gives people a distorted view on gun ownership and leads to many myths that endanger lives...

Police are extremely important in deterring crime, but they almost always arrive on the scene after the crime has been committed. Annual surveys of crime victims in the US continually show that by far the safest course of action for people confronted by a criminal is to have a gun. Just as the threat of arrest and prison can deter criminals from committing a crime, so can the fact that victims can defend themselves.

The public school shootings have provided many with the strongest motivation for more gun control. Thirty-two students have been killed in the US by guns at elementary or secondary schools from autumn 1997 through spring 2002, an annual rate of one death per 4 million students. This total includes gang fights, robberies, accidents and the much publicised public school shootings.

The attacks all took place in so-called gun-free safe zones. To some, gun-free zones may seem a sure way to guarantee safety. Yet with gun-free zones, as with many other gun laws, it is law-abiding citizens, not would-be criminals, who obey. Hence, these laws risk leaving potential victims defenceless.

After a long flirtation with safe zones, many Americans have learned their lesson the hard way. The US has undergone a significant change since 1985, when just eight states had the most liberal right-to-carry laws – laws that automatically grant permits once applicants pass a criminal background check, pay their fees and, when required, complete a training class. Today the total is 33 states. Deaths and injuries from multiple-victim public shootings fell on average by 78 per cent in states that passed such laws.

Gun control advocates conveniently ignore that the nations with the highest homicide rates have gun bans. Studies, such as one conducted recently by Jeff Miron at Boston University, which examined 44 countries, find that stricter gun control laws tend to lead to higher homicide rates. Countries such as Russia, which has banned guns since the communist revolution, have had murder rates several times higher than that of the US. Even under the communists, the former Soviet Union's rate was much higher.

Cross-sectional comparisons can frequently be misleading because many factors affect crime and it is hard to account for them. What's more informative is that around the world – from Australia to England – countries have recently strengthened gun-control laws with the promise of lowering crime, only to have violent crime soar.

In the four years after the UK banned handguns in 1996, gun crime rose by 40 per cent. Similarly, since Australia's 1996 laws banning many guns, armed robberies rose by 51 per cent, unarmed robberies by 37 per cent, assaults by 24 per cent and kidnappings by 43 per cent. Although murders fell by 3 per cent, manslaughter rose by 16 per cent.


The Evils of Terrorism Tourism
The Australian today reports that:
ONE of Bali's foremost academics and cultural leaders says last week's Sari Club bombing was a "good thing" that would cleanse Bali of unwanted foreign influence.

"This is the punishment of God because we have not developed cultural tourism but we have brought in many things outside our Balinese culture," Luh Ketut Suryani said in an interview with The Australian....

A teacher of psychiatry at Denpasar's Udayana University, Professor Suryani is a towering figure among Indonesian scholars and is regarded by foreign academics as one of the world's leading experts on Balinese Hindu culture.

She has rankled Australian diplomats and resident expatriates by writing an opinion article in the Indonesian-language Bali Post newspaper that was interpreted by some as anti-Australian and insensitive, coming so soon after the blasts.

But Professor Suryani's comments cannot be dismissed as those of a nationalist firebrand. She speaks for a growing lobby of Balinese nationalists who want to limit the mass-market tourism that has led to the rise of raffish boom towns such as Kuta.

Sowell on Bali
On of my favorite economists, Stanford University's Professor Thomas Sowell, writes on the Bali massacre and Islamic terrorism:

In this era of non-judgmental mush, too many Americans have become incapable of facing the brutal reality of unprovoked hatred, based on envy, resentment and ultimately on a vicious urge to lash out against others for the pain of one's own insignificance. That has been a common thread in things as disparate as ghetto riots, two world wars, and now Islamic terrorism.

"Libertarians" Against Liberty
Over at Catallaxyfiles, libertarian Jason Soon wants to ban all private ownership of handguns:

I suspect this is an issue that will garner much consensus in the Australian blogosphere among left and right. As for how this squares with my professed libertarianism, well, the private ownership of handguns is no more an issue of fundamental individual rights than the private ownership of bazooka missiles.

Well, applying that logic, it must also be the case that the private ownership of knives and the private use of your own fists is no more an issue of fundamental individual rights than the private ownership of bazooka missiles.

To my mind this issue won't garner much consensus, although I will let fellow bloggers speak for themselves first, instead of speaking for them. (As an aside, I don't see what is so good about consensus - consensus in any field of human inquiry is a sure recipe for irrelevance, stagnation, and death of that field).

Jason also cites the extremist position of John Quiggin in support of his policy proposal:

If the danger of terrorist attack had not already settled the issue of gun prohibition in Australia, this ought to do it. No one in an Australian city (or country town, for that matter) ought to be allowed to own a gun.

I'm trying hard to understand exactly what terrorism has to do with this issue, but the argument seems to be: we believe that terrorists are going to threaten the citizenry, and so the immediate policy response should be: disarm the citizenry. He continues:

Security guards and police should be able to take guns from an armoury for work and return them at the end of the shift, and I suppose some similar arrangement could be made for the 'sport' of pistol shooting. Farmers (and professional shooters) need rifles and obviously have to keep them on-farm. But possession of a firearm (or gun parts, or bullets) outside these limited exemptions ought to be treated as evidence of intention to murder, in the same way as possession of a 'traffickable quantity' of drugs is sufficient to convict someone of being a drug dealer, and similarly with housebreaking implements for burglary.

But why should we allow security guards and police to use guns? After all, if all guns are banned, then surely there will be no need for police to be armed, so we can disarm them too. Unless, for some reason, you believe that criminals will somehow be able to purchase guns even when a ban is in place...

There is, after all, no real use for a gun but killing, and no real use for a handgun but killing people.

Damn straight: if someone threatens to attack me or my family, I would like to be able to defend myself by shooting and killing them as they break through the front door. The fact that there is no real use for a handgun but killing people is a statement of the obvious, but it does not constitute an argument.

But possession of a firearm (or gun parts, or bullets) outside these limited exemptions ought to be treated as evidence of intention to murder.

This extreme proposal would simply encourage criminals to hide their guns more carefully, and would overturn centuries of accepted Western legal doctrine by make self-defence a crime.

Jason then goes on to state:
The essence of the rule of law is that the State have a monopoly on the use of force through authorised procedures and subject to checks and balances.

but then argues that if he were an American he would take a more nuanced position, because:

"there is already a tradition of gun ownership that has to be taken into account because it would mean a greater circulation of guns among criminals, which might have the sorts of consequences discussed in the Lott and Mustard study if a ban were enforced."

But if the principle of the rule of law really says that citizens cannot own handguns, then why should we not apply it to, of all places, the United States? I'm a really big fan of John Lott's work, but is the tradition of widespread gun ownership and the existence of an academic study by Lott really enough to make us throw out the rule of law?

The answer, of course, is no, because the principle of the rule of law does not say that "the State can have a monopoly on the use of force through authorised procedures and subject to checks and balances." If it did, then the framers of the US Constitution must have been violating the rule of law when they passed the Second Amendment.

Jason continues:

Which is not say that an effective ban which significantly diminished the circulation of firearms would be impossible with sufficient political commitment.

Ah, the vision of the anointed: government can accomplish anything with "sufficient political commitment".

I have never seen a real gun in my life and would like to keep it that way.

Same here. I hate guns. So what? I hate lots of things.

There is obviously a constitutional issue that all good liberals must take account of. Again, there is fortunately no such complication in the Australian system.

So the Second Amendment is just a "complication". Presumably, all the other constitutional amendments are as well. Lucky Australia doesn't have those, I guess.

And we are not any less freer than Americans because of it, though we are undoubtedly more secure in body and property.

Well, unfortunately this is just not true. For example, according to the ABS, between 1993 and 2001, victimisation rates for armed and unarmed robbery have nearly doubled, and the proportion of robberies where a weapon was used has not declined. Time series data indicate that the homicide rate in Australia is about the same today as it was in 1901, although attempted murders are on the rise, particularly where a weapon is involved.

As Thomas Sowell recently wrote in his piece "The Sniper and the Gun Controllers":

Guns are not the problem. People are the problem. Weapons matter primarily when the wrong people have them and the right people don't. It is the imbalance in weapons that creates the danger.

This is not rocket science. We should not even have needed the studies which have shown that gun control laws don't work. What we really need to do is stop and think.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Over at The View from the Right, Alan Anderson gives his view of Germaine Greer's latest nutty piece in the Age, as well as these fantastic observations:

I always like reading Germaine. Sure, she is a shrivelled old prune with the sex appeal of a decaying walrus corpse and the brains of a retarded rodent. Yeah, she is an ex-sheila whose bitterness and rage scream to the heavens of a sex-deprived harpy desperate for a good root, and hoping in the alternative to persuade the rest of the sisterhood not to indulge.

But she is a treasure trove of ammunition for the experienced Left-baiter.

"An ex-sheila whose bitterness and rage scream to the heavens of a sex-deprived harpy desperate for a good root."

Right on!

Heroic Econometricians
The Melbourne Age reports on the heroic acts of Monash econometricians, Dr Lee Gordon-Brown and Dr Brett Inder.

My sincerest condolences to the victims, their families, and all others who were affected by this tragedy.

The ABC reports on the investigation of the Bali massacre:

The spokesman for Australia's chief investigator, Brett Swan, says initial indications are the first bomb at Paddy's tavern was made from one kilogram of TNT.

He says the second one in a mini bus parked outside the Sari nightclub contained up to 150 kilograms of ammonium nitrate mix.

"The planting of the explosive devices was a highly organised activity," he said.

"It's believed that the timing may have been designed to maximise the number of deaths."

You don't say.

Monash Shooting is all John Howard's Fault: National Union of Students

The Australian reports:

THE National Union of Students (NUS) has blamed the Federal Government for the fatal shooting at Monash University.

NUS said the government's "disgusting policies" were destroying the lives of university students.

"NUS Victoria, though waiting further information about the shooting, is concerned that the increase in violence on university campuses could be very seriously attributed to the policies of the Howard government," the union said.

"It is not just their disgusting policies which are destroying lives of university students, lumping them with massive debt and forcing students to work two, sometimes three, part-time jobs but also its current position on foreign policy," the statement said.

"John Howard promised us a relaxed and comfortable country, yet is highly unlikely that anyone in this country is relaxed and comfortable.

"Howard has played the politics of divide which has left Australians feeling isolated and scared, contributing to this morning's tragic events.

"It is indicative of an American style of federal leadership that American values and actions are seen in Australian culture."

The comments were attributed to NUS's Victorian education officer Conrad French, environment officer Angus Smith and Victorian president Lambros Tapinos.

The three union officials also sent their deepest sympathies to those affected by the shooting at Monash University's Clayton campus.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

As it Happened: The Bali Massacre
You may have heard about an Army Captain in Bali and how he organised evacuations etc. Well here is his story of what actually happened on 12 Oct 02. It is rather long but pretty compelling.

To all my friends,

Firstly, I’m fine. Extremely, and I am talking extremely lucky. The doctor made me have a blood test as a precaution as I got a lot of blood on me from other people, but assures me it will be clear.

Yes, I was there, about 30 or 40 metres or 10 seconds away to be exact.

Thank you very, very much to all those who called me, sorry I was short, but from the email you will read why that was the case.

Ok, here’s how it happened….

I had been in Bali for about 10 days and had an excellent time up until the night of 12 October. I had gone away with some excellent people I have been working with here in East Timor with the UN. Mike a NZ Air Force Squadron Leader, Nick a Riot Cop from Liverpool in the UK and Francisco a Captain from the Portuguese Paratroopers. We had been white water rafting, jet skiing, parasailing and drinking a truckload of beers. Which is pretty much your standard Bali holiday. I have even got a bloody good tan.

Every night was about the same. Have an afternoon siesta, get up around 8pm, dinner until 9.30pm, get to Paddy’s by 10pm for Happy Hour. Then over to the Sari Club sometime between 11.30pm to midnight, home nice and early (never before 5am). Call us creatures of habit, but other than Paddy’s or Sari, there’s not much else. That was where all the Aussies and other westerners went to, and every night both places were packed.

The 12th was no different, had dinner, we were joined by some backpackers from the UK, Lucinda and Anna. They had just flown in from Cambodia and we were swapping stories about drinking in Phnom Penh. We arrived at Paddy’s after 10pm and one of the lads bough the first round, some absolutely crap German beer which was on special. I drank half, which I was no enjoying, keen for a Carlsberg. I had been meaning to go to the internet café that day and transfer some of the USD I have been earning in East Timor to another account. I wanted to do it as the cash was building up and would be better off my mortgage. I though now was a good time, rather than trying to do it after 27 beers. So I headed off to the internet café, ANZ internet banking wasn’t working after 4 attempts. So I decided to have another beer with the lads and try again.

I walked back to Paddy’s and the next round they had bought was again this crap German beer. There was a German guy who had joined the group and was standing next to me; I saw his name hours later on the list of dead on the wall of Denpasar General Hospital. That night nothing was out of the ordinary, the same as every other night we had been there before. However when I think about it and talking to my friends, there was one thing. When I returned to Paddy’s, on my left was the German guy, and on my right was a Middle Eastern looking male who was very much out of place. He was wearing a blue and white-stripped shirt and his eyes were very weird and he was sweating heavily. He was not drinking and was just looking at the place, not at the girls, not at the TV, just keeping a look out. He didn’t like making eye contact with me, and dropped is stare. I thought it was weird, but that was all. My mate Nick thought the same. We passed this onto the Federal Police in an interview today.

I had a quick chat and told them I would be back to buy a round of Carlsberg. Mike turned and said to me, in all seriousness, “Cocksy its you last night in Bali, you have to go out with a bang”. In about 2 minutes from then, he wasn’t further from the truth. I had a look at the dance floor at the back, full of people, then headed up stairs to have a look. It had crossed my mind to go to the toilet, but for some reason I still do not know now, I went up the stairs. The top dance floor had a few people on it but not a lot going on, I headed back down the stairs and saw the guys weren’t ready for another beer yet. So I decided to go and try the internet bank again while I will still sober. The guy in the blue and white stripped shirt had gone. So I headed out onto Legian Street towards the internet café.

I was about 10 seconds away from the front entrance, or about 30 or 40 metres when the first blast went off. The power was cut and I knew something was wrong. About 2 or 3 seconds later hell on earth started. The blast threw me on the ground and I was covered in glass. The flames rose 50 metres into the air lighting the area up and I could see the silhouettes of many people in front of and in the blast. The Sari Club and Paddy’s were in flames. I had to get out of there and find my mates. I located Nick and Francisco, they couldn’t hear me as their hearing was damaged in the blast. I couldn’t find Mike, Francisco has seen him get out but was running towards to the Sari. They had Ana and Lucinda with them; Anna was in a bad way with a badly burnt back. I picked a girl up who was in a really bad way, she was from Geelong and I found out that later on she died – 95% burns to her body. We took them back to the hotel which was not to far away. The front lawn of the hotel was awash with blood and the smell of burnt flesh. I was gagging carrying that girl back.

We gave what first aid we could on the lawn; most people were standing around doing nothing. It was hard to get people to even get a blanket from their room. The Balinese cab drivers were not taking people who had blood on them. We organised the owner from the hotel to take the critical ones in his ute to the hospital. We then found Mike, initially he looked fine. It was a big relief as I was planning to go back to the Sari and Paddy’s to look for him. After he had been there for 5 minutes I saw his back, it was burnt so bad it was bleeding, blistered and blackened in places. We all must have been running on adrenalin, as he still had no pain. I then grabbed my phone, passport and torch and told Mike I was taking Anna and him to the hospital.

I called home and to East Timor on the way to the hospital. In 15 minutes my phone went mad and did not stop for the next 24 hours. The General in East Timor directed that I stay in Bali and give updates on the general situation, medical situation, and account for all UN personnel in Bali on leave. I was their only contact on the ground. At that time I knew that there was about 30 Portuguese Paratroopers on leave there who all went to the Sari every night. I checked Mike and Anna into a clinic in Kuta who handled ex-pats; the place was out of control.

I then got in a cab and headed for the Denpasar General Hospital, which is the biggest hospital on the island. What I saw there will remain with me forever, it was totally out of control and made me realise how lucky I was. The place was like a scene from WW1 movie in a trench hospital. Dead people everywhere, people so burnt they were unrecognisable, people screaming, people getting CPR, and the worst part was that most of them were Australians aged between 20 – 30. I arrived there at 12.30 am, an hour after the blast. I rang East Timor and told then to get medical people there ASAP, they started planning a medical team to fly in from Dili. I don’t think any hospital in the world would have been ready for what happened, and Denpasar General certainly was not.

I then spent the next 4 – 5 hours looking for UN personnel, some were in different hospitals with burns and shrapnel wounds. They were discharged or about to be discharged. I made it back to the clinic where Mike and Anna were, Mike was flying on morphine by then. The UN started sending me faxes of lists of UN personnel which had to be accounted for. I could account for some from going to the hospitals, but there was still some 40 unaccounted for, and this was at 6am the next morning. Francisco was also with Mike so we set off to find these Portuguese and Brazilian soldier on motorbike. As the Sari and Paddy’s we basically in the middle of Kuta, the quickest way to get to these hotels was to get through the crowds of locals who were gathering around the site and walk through the site. Armed with my army ID we crossed through. The Indonesian police and army had already started getting the bodies out, which was now a row about 50 or 60 metres long. Some of them were covered, but it looked like they had run out of body bags hours ago, and then ran out of white sheets, so the badly burnt ones were lying in the sun.

After hours of bashing on hotel doors and walking around the hospitals looking at the injured and some dead, we were still one Portuguese paratrooper and one Brazilian soldier missing. They were both on the main dance floor at the Sari at the time of the blast. I believe there are in the morgue in the area with the unrecognisable bodies, however we are still hopeful that they may have been accidentally evacuated to Australia due to sloppy Indonesian paperwork, though very unlikely.

I ended up getting 4 hours sleep between 2am and 6am Monday morning, to be woken up by a call from the UN saying that we were going to be evacuated back to Dili and I was coordinating the first flight and Francisco the second. The first flight was on Monday night, then second on Wednesday morning. I took most of the Portuguese and Brazilians with me, leaving a few behind to identify the bodies if needed. To date they still do not have a positive ID.

Funnily enough one of the harder things I had to do was get 40 of them onto the UN jet. Once they passed through the express immigration I had organised, they didn’t understand what proceed to Gate 9 meant. As a result they ended up getting drunk at the bars around the airport. The UN Air Ops guy told me the 2 hour delay had cost the UN $20K USD, I told him the lads had all had a hard night……

After hitting the deck in Dili I slept for about 20 hours and then I briefed and got I debriefed. Over the last two days I have just been chauffeured around to the General, my Colonel, the doctor, the psychs, the Federal Police, the Portuguese Commander……….

I go back and see the doc on Friday and will be heading back to my border post on Monday. I am fine and have not turned into a nut case or an alcoholic (well not anymore than the amount we were drinking in Bali leading up to the 12th!!).

One thing which I am very aware of when I watch the media coverage here is how lucky I am. I see a lot of familiar faces on the TV, particularly the football and rugby lads. I spoke with them all at the Denpasar Hospital. I was lucky to get out and so were my mates.

My mates?
Mike – He has got 10% burns to his body on his face, hand and back. He’s now in the plastic surgery area of the burns unit of Singapore Hospital. He tells me the burns have added to his rugged looks, and even though he is married the chicks will still love him! Also having some problems with his hearing – awaiting tests.

Nick – Unconfirmed, but looks like deaf in one ear. The other ear is potentially repairable. Big cut on his foot and head, all patched up. Evacuated to Darwin.

Francisco – Same problem with hearing. Severely burnt ear and shrapnel wounds to his back. Evacuated to Darwin.

Lucinda – Shrapnel wounds to her legs, all patched up. Evacuated to Sydney.

Anna – Burns to her back, not as bad as Mike’s. Evacuated to Sydney.

I will be in Dili until Monday morning, so it would be great if you could give me a call. My phone is on all the time.

By the way when I was in Bali a lot of media wanted to talk to me, do a story and all that kind of thing, I gave them the bypass. But you will be able to read about it in the next Army Newspaper - looks like my cheesy pic and story will be in the next edition

So don’t worry I’ve got 8 lives left! Stay in touch, take it easy, and like I say cheers and beers (as long as they are not that cheap German crap from Paddy’s in Bali)

Maggie? She’s an Icon

In this recent Spectator piece, Petronella Wyatt canvasses opinion about Lady Thatcher (at Oxford of all places):

A couple of months ago, staying overnight at the Feathers hotel near Oxford, I struck up a conversation between two law students at Balliol — one male, one female. I asked what Lady Thatcher meant to them and was surprised by their answers. The young man, Damian, said that, though he intended to vote Labour at the next election, this was because all the Tory leaders after Thatcher ‘were so pathetic. At least Blair looks like a leader. He borrowed that from her. I mean, who knows what Duncan Smith stands for?’

His 19-year-old companion agreed. ‘She should be given icon status. Not only was she the first woman prime minister, but she revitalised the country, though she got a bit batty towards the end.’

Mass-Murder and Automobile Accidents: An Equivalence Result
Gwynne Dyer writes in Thursday's Canberra Times:

THE FINAL death toll is not yet known, but over half of those killed in the terrorist bombing in Bali on Saturday were Australian, so Australia (with about one-fifteenth of the US population) has suffered a loss of life of roughly the same order as the United States did on September 11, 2001. Or, to put it another way, an extra month's worth of traffic deaths this year.

I do not wish to hurt the feelings of the bereaved, but I put it that way because it is the right way to think about it.

Well Gwynne, I'm sure the victims and their families will take great comfort from that qualification.

He continues:

Some statistics. From 1942 to 1945, after the Soviet Union, the United States of America and Japan had all joined the fighting, World War II was killing more than one million people a month: another Bali every 10 minutes, day and night, for years. That is what major wars used to be like before nuclear weapons. If the third world war had been fought around 1970, with all buttons pressed, it would probably have killed 500 million people in the first month.

But we've never had a Third World War, so 500 million people didn't die. So what exactly is your point here?

Terrorism is a much more bearable phenomenon. Over the past 12 months, excluding the single and perhaps never to be repeated mega-strike, which killed over 3000 people in New York and Washington, the monthly American death toll from terrorism has been less than three. Even if Islamist or other terrorist groups could pull off a September-11-scale strike on American soil every year, that would still add up to an average of only 250 US deaths a month, or one in a million. The average American's likelihood of being killed by a terrorist would still be comparable, at worst, to his chance of winning a lottery.

You see, mass murder is really not that bad after all. Just like a pin-prick really, except for the burning corpses.

Of course, this entirely neglects people's intense psychological reaction to terrorist attacks. The US Government is prepared to spend a hundred times as much to prevent one American death from terrorism as it would commit to preventing one traffic death precisely because we view the former in a different light; human beings pay more attention to threats that they think they can do something about than to dangers that they can do little to control. In particular, history and maybe even evolution have conditioned us to go into overdrive when confronted with a threat from another group.

So according to Dyer, the fact that most decent people view deliberate, calculated acts of mass murder somewhat differently from car accidents has everything to do with history and evolutionary conditioning, and nothing to do with the following facts:

(i) The automobile actually confers obvious and massive benefits on everyone, whereas mass murder is never beneficial.

(ii) Car accidents are just that - accidents - which most people, even in the absence of negligence laws etc, try to avoid by taking simple precautions to minimise damage; whereas what happened on September 11 and October 12 were deliberate acts designed to cause as much damage as possible.

No, in Dyer's twisted world, mass murder and car accidents are equivalent, except for "people's intense psychological reaction" to the former.


Great Moments in Idiotarianism, Part II
In yesterday's Australian, Emma Tom writes:

The Western world's experience of death is paradoxical. Thanks to the age of information and the rise of ultra-violent entertainment, we've never had so much contact with en masse mortality. Yet most of it is sanitised, Hollywood-ised or transformed into the relatively non-toxic format of statistics.

Some cultures (including the Hindus in Bali) still practice hands-on community rituals when it comes to death. Other nations, such as those in the war-torn, famine-ridden Third World, have no choice in the matter.

In the West, however, the invention of refrigeration and multinational funeral companies has meant that death is closeted away and delegated to "experts". Our exposure to the harsh realities of what happens when we die is virtually zero.

It is for this reason that I think we need to see the explicit photographs and to read the gut-wrenching reportage. It might be disturbing, but then again, it should be. And it's the only way we'll even get close to understanding the true ramifications of disaster and war.

You see, according to Tom's twisted view of the world, we don't fully understand anything when we are simply told that Australians have been blown to pieces and burned to a crisp. Western culture is inferior because of the invention of refrigeration. And of course those evil multinational funeral companies. We would all somehow be better off if we were forced to confront the "harsh realities of what happens when we die."

So this is all Tom could think of writing about after last week's massacre: that explicit photographs and gut-wrenching reporting make us better off.



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