Saturday, November 02, 2002

Che Guevera: Champion of Peace

The Canberra Times yesterday ran an article (sorry, no direct link available - you'll have to take my word for it) on local students who were "airing their laundry for peace". The idea was for the students to hang out pieces of clothing for others to view, with the proviso that the clothing should somehow symbolize peace.

The photo accompanying the story showed students standing in front of a piece of clothing on which was printed the likeness of that most famous of peaceniks, the totalitarian terrorist Che Guevera, henchman of that other crusader for peace, Fidel Castro.

Yes, the ACT really does have a world-class secondary education system, doesn't it? The concise Brittanica encyclopedia describes Guevera's peace credentials as follows:

Theoretician and tactician of guerrilla warfare and prominent figure in F. Castro's revolution in Cuba (1956-59). Born to a middle-class family in Argentina, he completed medical studies in 1953 and subsequently traveled widely in Latin America, eventually settling in Guatemala. The overthrow of Guatemala's Pres. J. Arbenz persuaded him that the U.S. would always oppose leftist governments and that only violent revolution would end the poverty of the Latin American masses. He left Guatemala for Mexico, where he met Castro and joined his cause. After the Cuban revolution he held several key posts as one of Castro's most trusted aides; handsome and charismatic, he served as one of the revolution's most effective voices. He left Cuba in 1965 to organize guerrilla fighters in Congo and later Bolivia. Captured and shot by the Bolivian army, he immediately achieved international fame and the status of a martyred hero among leftists worldwide.

In The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, you can also read a brief account of Guevera's peace credentials. His own friends described him as "an authoritarian, through and through", who wanted to impose a revolution of total communism. As Guevera wrote to a friend in 1957:

"My ideological training means that I am one of those people who believe that the solution to the world's problems is to be found behind the Iron Curtain."

Guevera commanded the execution of children for petty theft, and even directed the liquidation of comrades who refused to abandon their democratic beliefs, saying that "I can't be the friend of anyone who doesn't share my ideas".

A man of peace, indeed.

Flag Burning Hypocrite
The Weekend Australian's editorial on a Melbourne flag burner has to be one of the best editorials in that newspaper this year:

Call it a fashion statement, political protest or treasonous insult. But flag-burning has never become the "hot button" issue here that it is in the US. Most American states prohibit flag desecration. In Australia, sending the national symbol up in flames is not a crime. When Melbourne University arts/law student Elizabeth O'Shea set fire to an Aussie and US flag at an anti-war protest this week, she was within her rights. But the little rich girl and her Trotskyist comrades were also callous, tasteless, ignorant and plain stupid. Flag-draped coffins are still returning from Bali; memorial ceremonies for the victims continue; and the US is picking up the pieces after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Never mind. O'Shea and her co-protesters of haute-bourgeois backgrounds think it's cool to burn the Australian flag and the stars and stripes as a protest at the "racist, homophobic and sexist" regimes in Canberra and Washington. The Socialist Alternative kids are also angry about the possibility of an "imperialist" war on Iraq (does that make Saddam Hussein defender of the free world?).

Perhaps the protesters picked up tips from the staging of anti-US rallies in cities such as Karachi, Pyongyang, Beijing and Tripoli; or Aussie flag-burning in Jakarta. That's the sinister underbelly of flag-burning. It connects O'Shea & Co with fanatics of terrorist and authoritarian persuasion. Is this what the students want – a world united against the Great Satan/the supreme terrorist, the respective terms of abuse for the US favoured by Osama bin Laden and ageing Aussie lefties such as John Pilger? O'Shea is sorely mistaken if she thinks religio-fascist millionaires like bin Laden share her anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation agenda to rid the world of economic inequality, racists and heterosexists. He would surely love to blow up the biggest brand name in the anti-globalisation game, Naomi Klein (her being Jewish and a Western woman would be an added incentive) and O'Shea, along with the rest of us who live in countries that value personal freedoms. For bin Laden and his supporters No Logo is irrelevant – "No Western/Christian/Jewish infidels" is his brand.

We want our youth to challenge, dispute and protest against the established order. It's encouraging to see a bit of passion and political awareness surfacing on Australian campuses among characters such as O'Shea and her brother-in-pyromania Sebastian Left-Focus (who changed his name by deed poll from Prowse). However, we do hope O'Shea and her desperately radical peers get over their misplaced anti-Americanism and "proudly un-Australian" fetishes faster than some members of the post-May 1968 generation. The political creed-turned radical chic by those such as author/activist Klein is ignorant to the wealth, jobs and improved living standards brought to poorer nations by multinational companies and international trade.

For O'Shea, flag-burning may be an attention-seeking act by an undergraduate desperate to relieve herself of ruling class guilt brought on by her middle-class, private school-educated, model student background. She should chill out. There is not an excess of patriotism in Australia. We are inherently sceptical of nationalistic displays, but we have a healthy respect for our national symbols and our democratic freedoms. And even though O'Shea can't stand the US, she's thinking of studying there. Go figure.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

No more 9/11s: The case for invading Iraq
The "estimable and principled" Reason magazine gets it right once again, with this recent piece by Brink Lindsey. That's twice in the space of a week. If they keep this up, I may have to drop the ironic quotation marks.

Thanks to Mark Harrison for the link.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Private Sector Deterrence
In an excellent piece in today's Melbourne Age, economist John Whitley of Adelaide University argues that private sector prevention and deterrence of crime has been ignored in the current gun "debate":

Dr Lee Gordon-Brown and the others involved in subduing and disarming Huan Xiang, the alleged perpetrator in the Monash University shooting, have rightly been celebrated as heroes. According to paramedic Paul Howells, quoted in The Age: "The people on the floor at the time were just unbelievable. They definitely saved lives." But the implications of this seem to have been lost on Prime Minister John Howard and others seeking to use these events to call for more gun control.

As with most crimes, it was not the police who stopped the shooter from claiming more lives. Law enforcement activities and a police presence are obviously important factors in deterring crime, but they do not deter all crimes and they almost never stop crimes during their commission. As the tragedy at Monash indicates, the task of stopping crimes during their commission inevitably falls to private citizens.


The shooters in these events generally desire to kill as many people as possible and often do not plan to live through the attack. Criminal penalties will not deter them, and it would be impossible to eliminate the possibility of them obtaining a gun. The only effective deterrence appears to be the prospect of failure.

The evidence is not in the Prime Minister's favour. Where studies have been conducted, gun control of the kind he advocates has been found to cost more lives than it saves. Australians should think twice about accepting new gun control laws sold solely on anticipated benefits. These benefits may not be realised and the costs may be large indeed.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

The Gay Index
The Melbourne Age today reports that "Melbourne is the place to be gay and bohemian":

The latest snapshot of the nation's regions has suggested that Melbourne - with its vibrant street culture, gay community and population of artists, actors and musicians - is leading the nation and parts of the United States when it comes to "creative capital".

The report, from respected researcher National Economics, has found that Melbourne has a higher proportion of same-sex couples than Sydney and San Francisco and more bohemians per head of population than New York.

Not only that, but the city's creative energies could have inadvertently boosted the state economy.

The report argues that creative capital has become one of the most important drivers of a region's financial success.

But it seems like poor old Fairfaxville can't seem to make up its mind about the gay index. In particular, it can't seem to decide whether Sydney is "more gay" than Melbourne. For example, back in May the Sydney Morning Herald ran this piece on Sydney's "gayness". The piece concluded:

Melbourne can boast about her grassy suburbs, affable neighbourhoods, and other ''family friendly" features. But on the sexuality and the city test, Sydney is queen.

So next time you see two men holding hands, give them a smile, for they are our proof that Sydney is indeed Australia's most livable city.

So who has the higher gay index - Sydney or Melbourne? Buggered if I know. The debate rages, but it is completely asinine. The implication of these two articles seems to be: we should tolerate and in fact welcome gay people living in our cities, not because we value individual freedom, but because their "gayness" is good for economic growth.

But what if this research had come up with the opposite conclusion? Would that mean, for example, that we could conclude that "next time you see two men holding hands, abuse them, for they are our proof that Sydney is indeed Australia's most unlivable city?"

No. "Creativity" is a largely unobservable characteristic in individuals, and may or may not be positively correlated with “gayness”. But in any case, who cares? It is free markets for goods and services, and interactions between a much broader class of individuals - the “creative class” - that are responsible for giving cities their social and economic vitality. The members of this creative class make their livings designing things and solving problems, and include engineers, musicians, scientists, actors, software developers, and writers.

So, irrespective of whatever foolish stereotype you want to keep peddling, sexual preferences are simply beside the point: if your city has a lot of creative people and free, open markets you will prosper. If you don't, your town and region risk sinking into slow decline.

Gray Davis on Economics and Economists
The Wall Street Journal's John Fund reports that California Governor Gray Davis (whose signature appears on my degree) has eloquently hit out at a recent piece by Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith in the WSJ:

All Ely Dahan wanted was a brief conversation with California's Gov. Gray Davis of California about an exciting article by a Nobel Prize winner that had just appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Dahan, a UCLA business professor, thought the article had valuable insights into California's electricity problems. What he got instead was a highly agitated governor ignoring the policy points, cursing the Journal as "f---ing a--h---s," and declaring: "They don't see the world realistically." End of conversation.


Mr. Dahan's encounter with Mr. Davis came on Friday, Oct. 18, after the governor had finished a taping of CNN's "Moneyline," hosted by Lou Dobbs. Prof. Dahan approached the governor along with several students. Mr. Dahan wanted to discuss an article he had just read in the Oct. 16 Wall Street Journal by Vernon Smith, a George Mason University professor who the week before had been one of two winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics. The article, "Power to the People," explained how California could take advantage of the fact that the cost of producing electricity can vary along with its pricing. California's energy crisis was born because of a state rule imposing on utilities an "obligation to serve" all customers "could not be met at times of severe stress because the unresponsive demand exceeded energy supply, and the shortfall was met by rolling blackouts." California utilities lost some $14 billion trying to avoid those blackouts. A small fraction of that would have solved the problem if utilities had been allowed to "sell less to consumers by offering a discount if they consumed less."

Mr. Dahan doesn't recall the specific words Mr. Davis used to trash the Journal, but he agrees "the cursing wasn't helpful." "I was disappointed that he didn't want to engage me on what a very smart Nobel Prize winner had written," he told me. "Perhaps the governor was still upset over what Enron had done to mess with California's market."

Jonathan Young, a junior at UCLA who was present for the governor's comments, said he was surprised at the vehemence with which the governor reacted to Prof. Dahan's question. A self-described "leftist," Mr. Young says other students who were present were also taken aback by the governor's obscenities. A CNN staffer says students told her they couldn't believe this was the same man who had minutes before calmly answered questions on television.

Ben Shapiro, a UCLA student and columnist with Creators Syndicate, said that when he called the governor's office for comment, spokesman Gabriel Sanchez told him: "I'd be very careful not to use unverified info. That could be slanderous. You weren't there, I wasn't there, you didn't hear it." Mr. Shapiro says "the implicit threat to sue was obvious." My own conversation with Roger Salazar, the governor's campaign press secretary, was much more cordial. "I don't remember the governor using that language," he told me. "He said something about the Journal wanting him to give the energy companies a 400% increase in rates, and that was a crock."

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Vote Early and Vote Often
Over at Little Green Footballs, Charles Johnson is conducting a poll on the question:

Which European or Scandinavian country do you think will be first to institute Islamic law (shari'a)?

I voted for France.

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