Saturday, December 07, 2002
"SIR – Emigration benefits a poor country only to the extent that migrants keep ties with their old home. The policy implication is to divorce permission to work in a country from a right of permanent residence. Switzerland has long operated such a system.
This has three advantages. It encourages migrants to retain closer ties with their country of origin and take a more active interest in its affairs. It also deters free riders attracted by generous welfare systems. Finally, it would assuage the fears of those who worry that large-scale migration might lead to big (and unpalatable) cultural change.
The position Mr Stadler advocates has some appeal, and provides a solution to the thorny problem of migration that might benefit both rich and poor countries. However, I think that the idea is deeply flawed.
The crucial difficulty is that it is a policy that deliberately and consciously maintains cultural differences between the host population and a temporary immigrant population. It might be anticipated that a large proportion of the immigrants on these visas would be single men, though perhaps a more enlightened regime would obtain.
In any case, this course is likely to exacerbate racial and cultural tensions. There would be no integration of temporary immigrants, whose allegiences would be permanently at question in times of tension (as they would be encouraged to continue to identify with their countries of origin), whose mores, however incompatible with the modern world, would presumably operate unchecked (forced marriages, female circumcision, etc), and whose status, not as valued members of the community but as factors of production would be a standing cause of resentment among the poor and unemployed of Britain.
A freer system of immigration would be of benefit to Britain and the West. Economic migrants may well have a great deal to offer. But this relationship can only be stable when there are steps towards assimilation. The semi-Westernised worker returning home with skills, knowledge and capital will only turn out that way if he (or she) is, er, semi-Westernised in the process.
The cultural benefits to the West through the infusion of new ideas, arts, cuisine, etc can only happen if there is sustained cross-polination between the host population and new-comers, temporary or otherwise.
A more plausible approach might be to have a variety of forms of visa, some for short periods, some for long, some of indefinite duration, with movement between the categories or to citizenship a relatively easy and frequent process. Immigrant populations should be encouraged to feel a part of the country they are living in and to take an active part in civic life. Otherwise, large population movements, which, as far as I know, have not been a feature of recent Swiss history, would provoke far more upheaval than under the present system.
"In this time of war, the Conservatives have unselfishly recognized that Britain simply cannot afford to have two strong, competing parties"
"One of the popular uses of document imaging systems in America is for use in the discovery phase of big legal cases, which is very similar to what's happening with Iraq. Typically, during discovery, one side will drown the other in paper in hopes that the incriminating stuff will never be found. "Drown," in this case, means at least a million pages packed away in at least a thousand boxes. Emails, computer databases, and electronic documents are just bonuses.
This used to work pretty well in the old days, but today most legal teams on mega cases use high-speed scanners and imaging software to solve this problem. You scan the million pages, which takes a week or three, and then OCR the results and make a full-text index. Once that's done, searching through the mountain of paper is as easy as typing a Google query. You know, search for "Netscape" and "crush" within ten words of each other, and a few months later Bill Gates is staring down the barrel of a breakup order."
I imagine "we admit it all" won't be in there, but it sounds like this sort of technology would be handy for the UN. Bet they haven't got it...
I'm not sure whether that's the case in the USA, or whether it refers to particular varieties of crime. But the (occasionally self-serving for politicians) consensus over here in the UK is that economic prosperity leads to certain types of crimes rising naturally.
One theory, popular among politicians responsible for policing, is that rising wealth can lead to more property crime. 50 years ago, there were few items of value worth stealing. Now, the average house will have TVs, stereos, microwaves, mobile phones, a car with a stereo, some other electronics (PC or console), etc. All of these are increasing portable, and only their rapidly falling retail price depresses their value to thieves. Certainly, 50 years ago people may have had more reason to steal, but what was there to take from the (clichéd) "unlocked homes"?
That's crimes against property. But crimes against the person are also related to prosperity (over here at least). With fat pay-packets and some job security, you find young men out enjoying themselves, having too much to drink, and getting into fights, causing minor property damage, etc (or coming home drunk, with potential implications for domestic violence). And the spate of mobile phone theft in the UK (and no doubt abroad), often with menaces, can only occur because muggers know that a large proportion of people are carrying valuable items around with them.
And, in terms of white-collar crime, the recent experiences of Wall Street should suggest that when there's more slack in the system, criminals are able to get away with more, for longer, without fraud or deception necessarily being brought to light (and there's a ready supply of suckers waiting to be bilked).
Obviously, none of these claims are quantified. But the intuitively appealing notion that prosperity reduces crime as people have less reason to steal (say), perhaps represents an overly optimistic view of human nature.
"Imagine you’re going through an alphabet book, and it’s the letter A. The picture shows a breakfast tableau, with Daddy cooking up a meal. “Aaron asks for Applesauce,” says the caption. There are many items that begin with A, and Gnat names them all: Apples. Applesauce. Acorns. Airplane. Egg.
“No, honey, Egg begins with E.”
“A is for Egg.”
You try to explain that one. “No, A is for epple. E is for aig.”
$%)%#$ English language. Wait until we get to F, and I have to explain it’s for ghoti."
Oh, and, of course, the rest of his column's good too - go read it.
Thursday, December 05, 2002
Oy! Oy! Oy! You have a British Attitude!
You're a stout-slogging, fish-battering, monarch-having,
mac-wearing, pastey-white, eccles cake eater
Take the What the Hell Kinda Attitude is That? Quiz at aka cooties
Via Moira Breen, blog-mother to the stars.
Two prima facie arguments are offered:
A) "Does anyone really believe that the 2040 version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in its list of the world's wars, is going to put TWOT in the same column as Korea, Vietnam, etc?"
B) "Or that anyone will ever agree on the end date, if there even has been one by then?"
The answers to the questions/arguments rather depend on whether there turns out to be a common nexus of parties across the conflicts past, present and future making up "The War on Terror".
For example, if it turns out, after the fact, that there are important links between Iraq, al-Queda, any Palestinian organisations that drag themselves into things, any new groups that spring up, etc, then the answer to "A" might be "Yes". If there are consistent parties on both sides of "the action" in a number of theatres, then history might well judge that one conflict.
More likely, given the current balance of evidence, is that there will be one or more conflicts, such as "The Second Gulf War", that history views as side-events to the main conflict. But as long as you concede that what's been going on is a war of some sort, then, given the opposition is pretty much one, at times amorphous, organisation, then it strikes me that historians, looking from a distance, will view it as one event.
As to "B", if there's a heart to al-Queda and associated organisations that can be successfully ripped out, then it's possible that they might identify an appropriate event to mark the "end" of the "war". This does require you to reject the theory that Islamic Terror is a hydra, with a suicide bomber and a master
planner springing up each time you kill one member of the organisation. But it might be conceded that low level terrorism, of the type that we've seen of the years, could easy arise from the ashes of the conflict, without accepting that this is a continuation of the war.
The conflict with the IRA might be said to have ended (big "might"), but there are still splinter groups and less capable organisations carrying out periodic attacks. The elimination of the "marquee" names of international terrorism wouldn't stop occasional crazies or small groups, but it would remove much of the possibility of "spectaculars" or sustained campaigns.
So: if you think that the US (and allies') opponent is a reasonably specific group of entities, and particularly if you think it is possible to defeat them reasonably conclusively, then a future historian might well opt for "The War on Terror" as a label. She may also identify other conflicts during the period ("The Second Gulf War", e.g.), but TWOT could be an event that would be possible, subject to scholarly debate, to identify with some precision.
If you disagree about this, and hold that each operation the US embarks on will probably be against a different body, or if you think that the rhetorical strength of "The War on Terror" marks a real intent to eliminate all terrorism, or if you think that the US is likely to set out to eliminate all/most threats, of diverse kinds, then obviously, you're free to reject that conclusion.
""Israel's rabble of an army can kill child stone-throwers with ease. Al-Qa'ida is a quite different opponent. And if Mr Sharon wants to take on Mr bin Laden, he is ensuring that Israel goes to war with its most dangerous enemy in 54 years."
Israel's army a "rabble"? That is not a statement a sane Middle Eastern expert could ever truthfully make or defend. Fisk is both sane and, in the narrow area of Israeli military efficacy, at least as knowledgeable as the next expert. Therefore, he must be lying. The question would be, why? The obvious thought that comes to mind is that Fisk has fancied himself a personal FOA (friend of Osama) before. He has stated he firmly believes the man is still alive. By the flattering prose, is he trying to position himself to gain The Interview of the Century (tm), perhaps?"
FIRE SERVICE TO COVER FOR ARMY IN IRAQ
15th April, 2003
In the face of industrial action by members of the armed forces, the government has announced that the Fire Service will, as an interim measure, carry out military operations in Iraq.
The army, who have demanded a 40% pay increase on the basis that their job has become rather more technical since 1945, will begin strike action next Thursday unless a compromise pay deal can be agreed in the meantime. It is understood that they will spend their time standing around little bonfires, rubbing their hands together and waving at passing vehicles who honk their horns at them.
Crack Fire Service personnel, highly trained in playing darts, brewing tea and sliding down poles, are understood to be on standby to take up front line operations. Using their "red goddess" vehicles instead of tanks, they will race towards Iraqi lines and attempt to annoy the enemy into surrendering by making a lot of noise and spraying them with water.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has already stated that the Fire Service strike of this year proved that a vastly undermanned service with limited training and unsuitable equipment can perform the duties of a
well-trained, well-equipped and well-manned professional force equally as efficiently and without loss of life.
When it was pointed out to him that the bright red fire engines might
make an easy target for enemy fire, Mr. Blair said, "Never mind, we've got too many firemen as it is... er, is that camera running?"
Asked for his comment, Britain's partner in the coalition in the war
against Iraq, US President George W. Bush, said "Ooh, can I have a go on the siren?"
Wednesday, December 04, 2002
"Arab diplomatic sources said the kingdom has been consulting with Egypt, Syria and the Gulf states regarding the ramifications of post-Saddam reforms in Iraq. The sources said Saudi Arabia is concerned that it will be the next target of the Bush administration. . . .
"No one can change the Saudi regime but Allah," Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz said."
An instinctively offensive cowboy's reaction: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Allah...
(apologies for the inevitable offence caused...)
"You know someone is losing an argument when they start calling you names, particularly when, in cowardly fashion, they abuse parliamentary privilege to do so. A Labour Scottish minister had to resign after calling firefighters “fascists” last week. Yet David Blunkett denounced me in the House of Commons on Monday for “bordering on fascism” in columns I have written on these pages criticising the Government’s deliberate programme of mass immigration."
(link requires registration to the Times)
"Geoffrey Evans, a politics professor at Oxford University, decided to focus on what has caused Britain to become more open-minded in a report published today. The study, from the National Centre for Social Research, is based on interviews with a cross-section of 3,500 people.
Young people are much more tolerant than their elders, with a quarter of twentysomethings believing that homosexual sex is always wrong, compared with two thirds of pensioners.
But the key to converting a bigot is to send him or her to college, with graduates twice as accepting of homosexuals as those with no GCSEs, and a third less racist.
That transformation happened no matter what social class the student came from and, with 41 per cent of young people now attending university, it was a powerful social effect, Professor Evans said.
“Mr Blair’s famous mantra ‘education, education, education’ seems far less consequential now than when first announced in 1997, as Britain struggles with an overburdened health service and the reality that as more and more people get degrees, degrees buy less and less,” he said.
“But the growth of higher education can provide a bulwark against the undermining of liberal democracy through intolerance,” he added."
"Story #21, Filson Double Tin Pants (Style 67)
"My double tin pants paid for themselves because no blood came from the cut of my chainsaw when it came off the blade. I'm still singing in the baritone section of the choir."
Hood River, OR"
Monday, December 02, 2002
I wasn't going to comment on Rawls' legacy. I wasn't that sort of philosopher, I've never studied his work very closely, and (shamefully) I was too wrapped up in things to notice the obituaries.
However, the Observer has managed to drag me into the fray. As I say, I haven't a perfect knowledge of Rawls' Theory of Justice (here's a simple walk-through one standard criticism). But I'm pretty sure I have a good general understanding. And, if I don't and the article I'm about to go after accurately reflects Rawls' thought, then I'd argue his position should be subject to the criticisms I raise.
The article's by Will Hutton. I won't quote it all, but his argument should be clear from the reproduced text.
"Not every day does a death justify the full- page treatment, but John Rawls, the American political philosopher, unequivocally deserved the space. He did for political liberalism what Keynes did for economics; he revolutionised it, and in the process proved that the liberal left case is right."
"proved"? Not a hint of the possibility of dispute about whether Rawls' argument succeeds, or whether "the liberal left case" (which one) is correct. No suggestion that the "liberal" part of the case might be undermined by a "veil of ignorance" argument (just as redistribution of wealth might be appropriate, so might limitations on free speech or free conduct that might harm the interests of the poorest in society - not an idea that harms the "American liberal" but a position antithecal to the traditional liberal stance).
"His lasting contribution is the demonstration that our natural proclivity is to organise a social contract. Without it, society collapses into the survival of the fittest, in which the majority lose."
The majority lose? Surely Rawls' argument is that the fair social contract is the one that secures an equitable situation. But the majority can be very well off without an equitable/just social status. Consider the parable of the village whose happiness is dependent, in some mystical fashion, upon the misery of a single child, or perhaps a society where a large minority lived in slave-like conditions, supporting the opulent indolence of the rest (no, I'm not thinking of Saudi Arabia...). An injust society could be the best of all possible worlds for the majority of its citizens. Rawls argued against utilitarian approaches, because they neglected the worst off in society: his argument implicitly assumes that justice for most isn't justice for all.
Hutton seems to acknowledge this by contrasting Blair's utilitarianism with Gordon Brown's social democracy. But if he acknowledges this, then he hits some problems:
"Rawls challenged the view that utilitarianism, or some variant of social liberalism, was the only way to construct a social order. In A Theory of Justice, published in 1971, he laid out his alternative. Imagine, he postulated, that you have to make a choice about what social order you would want to be born into behind 'a veil of ignorance', in which you don't know beforehand your sex, skin colour, skills or the class of your parents. Your overriding concern would be to ensure that it was fair, because if you drew a short straw you would want to know that, as far as possible, society had structures that would redress the balance.
This means society should build what Rawls calls an 'infrastructure of justice' that ensures everyone has access to key primary goods - some reasonable level of income and material wellbeing, opportunity and basic rights and liberties - which allow them to consider they have been given a proper chance to achieve full membership of society. Moreover, the rich must recognise that their incomes can only be allowed to reach the level consistent with ensuring that the position of the poor is the best it could possibly be, so that were the positions to be swapped, the rich could accept their reduced position as fair.
Apologists for social liberalism interpret [Rawls] as meaning that the best social order is one where we provide a reasonable safety net; don't worry about extravagant incomes at the top or if the 'infrastructure of justice' of schools and hospitals differ widely in their performance. The lesson of Rawlsianism, they say, is that we should not mind the gap between rich and poor as long as there is a basic minimum of provision. If this holds, the best schools and hospitals should be left to be as good as they can with no thought for the implications for the rest.
This is not Rawls' conception at all. Apply his thought experiment, say, to foundation hospitals. Would we, behind a veil of ignorance, opt for a NHS in which the quality of our care depended on whether we were born into the catchment area of a foundation hospital? This would only be fair if we could be shown that the quality of provision in the rest of the system was higher than it otherwise would have been and that there was a robust process in place to make sure that those being treated in a foundation hospital would not mind if they were swapped with those in other hospitals. If the difference grew too great, it would not pass the fairness test. At present, to my knowledge, the purpose of foundation hospitals is self-consciously to create centres of excellence; as with any social liberal position, the overall fairness of the system is beside the point."
My apologies for the length of the quote: all I can plead is that society as a whole is better off than it would have been if the quote was shorter. It also fully illustrate's Hutton's Rawls. The requirements are a) that the poorest in society should be better off and b) that they should agree that they are.
I readily concede that Rawls held "a". It's the position that he's famous for - behind the "veil of ignorance", everyone would, allegedly, pick on the basis of minimising potential losses, rather than maximising potential gains. This may be incorrect, but it's defensible.
However, "b" isn't part of the standard formulation of Rawls' argument. If it appears as anything other than an aid to visualisation, or as an abandoned early position, then I haven't heard about it (as I say, not an infallible guide to his philosophy).
Why is this position problematical? Because it takes no account of the irrationality of the individual in the moment, nor their capacity for judgement. The Veil of Ignorance carries much of its force as it is meant to enable us to identify the society we would wish to live in if we knew nothing about what our lot is to be. But if you must ask people in that position, then they may, perfectly rationally, perfer a situation where society as a whole is much worse off, but they are somewhat better off. Indeed, "real" people, rather than Rawlsian abstractions, would probably find it very hard to weigh up whatever evidence was available.
Hutton plays his position a couple of ways (consultants' pay rises should depend on whether they can be sold to the poorest in society as improving medical care for themselves; the test should be whether the richest would be willing to swap places; etc). But all are based on (idealised) real people making judgements after already knowing where they'll end up. And that's not a Veil of Ignorance: if this is Rawls' claim, it lacks much of the power attributed to it; if it's Hutton's, his article lacks force.
"Chris mentions the Treaty of Westphalia. It is ironic that an official of an organisation that is in the process of shedding sovereignty should invoke a treaty, the essence of which was the recognition of the fundamental building block of the international community, the Sovereign State. New concepts of sovereignty--we see it in the European Union--often lead Europeans to believe that only collective action is legitimate, that only multilateral institutions can confer legitimacy, especially when the issue is the resort to force. There are alternatives, Chris says, to the use of force, and indeed there are, and by and large they are to be preferred. But this easily slides into the cliché which we hear all the time, that force must be a last resort.
In the case of Europe, it is often not even the last resort because there's no capacity to apply force. On this point I certainly agree with Chris' assessment of the feeble defence capabilities of the European Union. And I must say the inability to act leads easily to an abhorrence of action. We Americans re not so constrained in our ability to act, and that's perhaps why we consider action in the face of threats to our security rather more readily. But I want to raise this question of the notion that force must always be a last resort. What do we mean by a last resort? Do we mean that force must only be used after we have applied political and economic measures, sanctions for example, sanctions against Iraq for example, sanctions in the case of the former Yugoslavia for example? Did we save lives or improve the security of Europeans by imposing sanctions in the case of Bosnia--sanctions that in that particular instance prevented the victim for defending itself?.
Have we improved our situation or dealt effectively with Saddam Hussein by imposing sanctions that have in many ways strengthened Saddam within his own country? The question of the appropriate time and circumstances to use force has to be approached with greater sophistication than the cliché that it must always be the last resort. Sometimes the timely use for force may forestall great dangers and may avoid a prolonged period in which the situation, far from getting better, actually gets worse. So I would hope that the disparagement of the use of force would be treated in the real world in which we're living - there are sometimes situations that can only be dealt with effectively by the use of force and if that can be reasonably anticipated at the outset, it seems to me foolish, dangerous and costly to indulge in a prolonged period of ineffective political and economic measures."
There's other thought-provoking stuff from both protagonists - go read it.
Via Charles Johnson
Sunday, December 01, 2002
""Clearly, he had some sort of nasal-tip disaster," said Dr. Gerald Imber, a celebrity plastic surgeon based in Manhattan. "What probably happened is that he had some sort of support put in there and the tissue broke down. Now, it looks like he has skin grafts or something to close it up. A collapsed nose is very unusual -- I've never seen one, and I've done 15,000 rhinoplasties."
Dermatologists also suggested that Jackson has probably undergone Botox injections in his forehead, has had plastic surgery on his eyes, had had his chin squared off, has lightened his skin using a hydroquinone compound (not legal in the U.S.), and has tattooed eyebrows and eyeliner."