Sunday, November 30, 2003

Direct Democracy II: Stealing my thunder

NZPols has an excellent post on this topic, which has stolen a lot of my thunder. Damn other bloggers!

Along the way she admits to "a rather unpopular lack of faith in the ability of people in general to make good decisions". To a certain extent, I share her lack of faith - but then again, I don't think the purpose of democratic government is to make good decisions, but rather our decisions. And I prefer this to any number of Platonic philosopher kings.

A lot of the specific concerns about affordability and trampling minority rights can be dealt with by proper checks and balances. One method would be formal judicial review to ensure consistency with the Human Rights Act and Treaty of Waitangi, though I'm not sure that it should go so far as a veto (I'm not sure that I would want to give quite so much power to judges); NZPols' method of a formal report an explanation by the government is probably adequete. But the easiest way is simply for Parliament to be able to overturn a referendum on a simple majority; this would enable the government to say "no, we can't afford that", or "no, that's not consistent with our international obligations", or simply "no, it would cripple our policy direction". Like NZPols, I think the PR cost of going on record to vote down a referendum would be a significant deterrant to doing it casually.

So, my preferred version of positive referenda would look something like this:

  • Voting on specific legislation, rather than vague one-liners.
  • Formal judicial review to ensure consistency with the Human Rights Act and Treaty of Waitangi.
  • A minimum turnout for a referenda to be passed (50% of enrolled voters is probably about right).
  • If passed, a referenda would become law after one month, unless Parliament explicitly voted it down (or, I suppose, unless the Governor-General withheld their assent - but how many times does that happen?)

How "binding" this system would be is really up to the public; we can make it strongly binding if we vigorously punish governments who ignore our wishes, or we can cut them some slack. In other words, we can decide how much direct democracy we actually want, and shift that consensus depending on the politicians we elect.

And needless to say, we should have a referendum about it first.

New Fisk

The lies we tell to appease the enemies who are now our friends

Book Review - The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford

My knowledge of Greek History is pretty sketchy but I'm a sucker for any sort of historical fiction (I'm drooling at the thought of Robert Harris' latest offering on ancient Pompei). The Ten Thousand is set in the chaos that followed the Pelopennesian war in the 5th Century BC. With the war over, there are lots of bored soldiers sitting around with nothing much to do until the Persian Prince Cyrus starts recruiting Greece's finest to do his dirty work for him.

A large mercenary army sets out from Greece and it eventually emerges that Cyrus is attempting to usurp the throne. At Cunaxa, near Babylon, battle ensues and Cyrus is killed. In the subsequent peace negotiations Cyrus' army is betrayed and most of the senior officers killed. Ten thousand Greeksoldiers now find themselves trapped far from home in hostile territory facing an army 10 times their size. Into the breach steps the brave Athenian Xenophon who now has the task of bringing his army home.

The story traces their 10 month journey north as they flee to the safety of the Black Sea struggling against raids by Persian forces and hostile tribes, infighting within their army, starvation, disease and the worst the elements can throw at them.

The story is based on Xenophon's own account of events, the Anabasis, which I would probably find quite daunting reading - from that perspective the author has done well to make an interesting historical tale much more accessable to the average reader and he sets the scene very well giving a good insight into ancient Greece.

Unfortunately the author never quite manages to get the reader emotionally involved in the story or with the characters (with the possible exception of the part where they are reduced to chewing on the marinated sphincter muscles of sheep for sustinance) and the attempt to add a love interest into the story never really works. By the end of the story this reader felt quite flat. Rating 6.5/10


NZPols has responded to my question about forcing people to go to church with a "yes":

At the level of considering the morality of any particular cause of action, I would countenance just about anything. I wouldn't necessarily do it, but I would countenance it. Being a fairly rabid consequentialist, I don't really believe that anything is inherently off limits - it all depends on the situation.

I have a certain fondness for consequentialism as well, but I'm far from rabid about it. While its a useful tool in the moral armoury, there have to be limits on its use - otherwise you run smack bang into the problems laid out by McCloskey. To some extent you can get around this by retreating to a rule-based version, but not if you allow exceptions for the specific case as NZPols does.

As for what those limits are, as a liberal I think there's a wide sphere around the individual which is off-limits to government intervention. Libertarians would justify this on the grounds of natural rights; Rawlsians from the original position; Kantians on the grounds of respect for autonomy; and rule consequentialists on the basis that people are generally happier that way. What's in that sphere will vary depending on your specific basis, but I think all four versions agree that what you believe and who you live with are well and truely covered. "Encouraging" marriage is as illegitimate as "encouraging" people to go to church. These things are simply too important to people's life-plans, their sense of self, for the government to interfere with them - no matter what the benefit.

Good news for a change

Preliminary rulings before Ahmed Zaoui's judicial review have gone in his favour. The Human Rights Commission will be allowed to make submissions, and better yet, the head of the SIS may be cross-examined on some questions.

It's not a total victory for Zaoui's lawyers - the cross-examination is restricted to three questions - but it's a step in the right direction.

The hearing proper starts tomorrow.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Restaurant Review: The Bangkok Thai

The Pad Thai alone is worth driving to Palmerston North for.

Oh, and did you know that the official hood colour for a Massey University bachelor of Defence Studies graduation gown is "pansy"? Was someone poking fun at the army there...?

New blogs

Welcome to MediaCow, and to Morgue (another Gamer), who is currently hanging around in Europe somewhere.

Thursday, November 27, 2003


I'll be AFK for the next two days. Normal blogging service will resume on saturday.

New Fisk

Attacked for telling some home truths


Sock Thief quotes Andrew Rawnsley in The Guardian:

It is a delusion to think that all that is needed to make the world safe is a change to the occupants of the White House and Number 10. Charles Kennedy could be Prime Minister and Michael Moore might be President of the United States. Al-Qaeda would carry on killing. Because, to them, freedom is an ugly thing.

and then goes on to say:

I can see why some could disagree with his overall argument but to consider this view as something completely beyond the pale is a bit extreme.

But once again he's directing his arguments at a caricature - and an exceptionally poor one at that. Noone I know thinks that regime change in the US will cause al-Qaeda to stop killing people. What they do think is that it is the best way to get a change in policy - in particular to policies that have some hope of actually defeating al-Qaeda, rather than driving people into its arms.

The "war on terror" is a war of ideas. It is not won on the battlefield, with tanks and laser-guided bombs, but in the hearts and minds of those who actively or passively support terrorism. There's that old Mao quote about guerillas being fish who swim in the ocean of the people; they need both the active support of people who hide and fund them, and the passive support of people who look the other way and ignore what they do, in order to operate. Al-Qaeda's ocean is the poor of the Muslim world, the oppressed, and those who despise modernism. The way to defeat al-Qaeda is to dry up this ocean - to "drain the swamp" - and make them rich, free, and fans of MTV.

That's a slow process - and to its credit the US is working on some of it (promoting democratic reforms in several Gulf states, for example). But at the same time, they are doing some extraordinarily counterproductive things. Propping up authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia. Blindly supporting Israel. Creating their very own West Bank in Iraq. Threatening Iran - a nation which is relatively democratic, and whose people (as opposed to rulers) are very definately modernist... it's almost as if they want to turn people against them.

Changing the occupants of the Whitehouse and Downing Street won't stop al-Qaeda from killing people, but to the extent that it changes these disastrous policies, and puts the focus firmly back on al-Qaeda rather than Iraq, then it will make the world safer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Question for NZPols

NZPols says:

...the question we need to ask is "what is the most effective way of changing this situation?" If attempting to change family structures is it, then we should do it. The potential returns are great enough that it warrants the "intrusion".

And if the most effective way of changing things was to force people to go to church, would you countenance that as well?

If so, then are there any limits at all to State power?

He really is an authoritarian

NZPundit has a lot of handwringing about families and children being murdered by their parents. But his "solution" - effectively stopping people from getting divorced - is a complete non-sequiter. I don't see how this benefits anyone, apart from maybe sad loser men who need to use legal and financial coercion to keep their relationships "intact".

(Likewise his "starve the poor" policies - and he has the gall to call himself a human being?)

I'm surprised that someone who is so anti State-intervention in the economic sphere can be so supportive of the State dictating personal relationships. This is an area which is central to people's life-plans - certainly on a par with religion, if not even more important - and therefore one that the State should steer clear of. It has no more right to dictate family arrangements than it has to interfere with what goes on in people's bedrooms. If people want to live or raise children alone, with a partner, or as part of a larger unit, then it is no concern of the State.

Yes, the State has a compelling interest in protecting the lives and welfare of children, but all it can rightfully demand of its citizens is that they fulfil their duty as parents. How they fulfil that duty - or who they fulfil it with - should be entirely up to them.

"We were doing our jobs"

That's the excuse of one of four US soldiers accused of beating Iraqi POWs.

Maybe someone ought to tell her about the Geneva Convention?

Sock Thief may want to read the latest Monbiot.

Best line: "The genius of the hawks has been to oblige us to accept a fiction as the reference point for debate."

My Precious

I now have a copy of the Return of the King soundtrack. Ho ho ho.

Direct Democracy I: What's wrong with Winston's proposal

A couple of weeks ago I played at journalist and attended the launch of Winston Peters' direct democracy policy. I've been meaning to blog about the details ever since - unfortunately, other people have beaten me to it. There's an excellent article by Tim Bale in the Herald, which points out (some of) the flaws in Peters' proposal, and Russell Brown was appropriately cynical about the whole thing. Like Russell, I think that

It would be easier to feel comfortable with such a proposal if it wasn't being wielded by an incurable demagogue like Peters.

I'd add that I'd also feel a lot more comfortable if Peters' proposal made the slightest bit of sense, and didn't have loopholes that you could run a Mûmak through.

While Winston gives a lot of detail on the logisitics and timing of the polls, there's very little on the precise form of the referenda, or how they would fit into the existing legal structure. In particular:

  • Clarity: Referendum questions must be able to be "clearly understood", but what exactly does this mean? One of the reasons our current referenda system is non-binding is that the questions are one-liners or general policy statements, requiring legislation to implement them. What would it mean for such a statement to be binding on the government? For example, how would the infamous law and order question posed in 1999 have translated into actual law if it had been binding? While there's a clear direction, there's no detail for implementation - in fact, it's so vague that the present government could argue that they've complied with the public's wishes.
  • Amendment? The usual way of solving the above problem is for referenda to be votes on proposed legislation - in other words, they are an alternative way of passing a bill into law. But would a law passed by the public be treated just like a law passed by Parliament, able to be amended by simple majority, or would the proposed 75% supermajority required for a veto also apply to amendments? If the former, then it will be relatively easy for a government to gut any undesirable provision passed by the public; if a supermajority is required, then we have a Californian system, where contradictory referenda progressively bind the hands of government until it is incapable of functioning (now wouldn't the Business Roundtable like that?)
  • Affordability: Winston's scheme would only allow a vote if "the referendum’s objective is capable of being met within the country’s fiscal constraints". But who decides? The government? Bring on the Mûmakil! But if not the government, then who?

Make no mistake - I think there's a place for citizen's initiated referenda in our parliamentary system, but I don't think Winston's proposal is up to it. Unfortunately, as Tim Bale points out, it is difficult to criticise binding referenda without coming across as "a sniffy liberal afraid of real democracy". So, sometime over the next few weeks, I'll try and put together a few posts on how I think it can be done properly...

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Playing with society, part II

Republic of New Ithilien.

If Iraqis are so supportive of the occupation, why are they mutilating the bodies of dead American soldiers?

"Love the occupation, but hate the occupier", perhaps?

Monday, November 24, 2003

We cannot take this on faith

KiwiPundit says:

I'm not sure whether Zaoui's detention is unjust, because we don't know what classified information they have. It seems doubtful that one person would be singled out like this for no reason at all.

I'm sure the SIS has a reason, I'm just not sure that it's a good reason. And the problem with the current system is that we will never know. Without proper, independent oversight of the process, we effectively have to take it all on faith. And given the quality of their "evidence" so far, the bias displayed by the supposedly "independent" judge and by the Immigration Minister, that is simply not possible.

In the wider context, there are some things no government can be trusted with. Noone should be imprisoned solely on the say-so of a government official, no matter how good they think their reasons are - such contravenes some of the fundamentals of our constitution. If the government wants to lock someone up, they should prove it in a court, before a jury - or at worst, before a panel of judges in camera. But they should not be allowed to imprison people simply because they've convinced themselves that it is justified.


The merger of United Future and the Outdoor Recreation party provides a perfect example of what is wrong with our current MMP system: the undemocratic 5% threshhold forces mergers between parties who have nothing in common, for the sole purpose of leveraging maximum advantage from a single safe electorate seat.

It would be better to ditch the threshhold entirely (or rather, reduce it to that required to win a single seat). That would remove a great deal of the game-playing, and allow parties like Outdoor Recreation to be represented without having to crawl into bed with a pack of fundies.

Watching the Watchers

The Listener interview with SIS Inspector-General Laurie Greig is here.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Unfair process, biased judges

Just when you thought the Ahmed Zaoui travesty couldn't get any worse, we have this news from the Sunday Star-Times. The Inspector-General of Security Intelligence, the man who is supposed to be "watching the watchers", has discarded any pretence of neutrality and displayed significant bias towards both Zaoui, and asylum seekers in general.

On Asylum seekers:

We don't want lots of people coming in on false passports thrown down the loo on the plane and saying, 'I'm a refugee, keep me here.'

On Zaoui himself:

I don't bind [Dalziel] to say 'out'. Because she's got three days to decide ... If that wasn't the case, then she wouldn't have a decision. I'd be making my decision and it would be 'outski' on the next plane.

If these comments were made by a judge in a criminal case, they would result in his immediate disqualification. It is essential to our system of justice that judges be neutral, and seen to be such. The government can no longer expect us to have any faith in the process it is following - one even Greig thinks is unfair - or in the neutrality of the people making the decisions. If it wants to maintain any credability or conform in any way to standards of natural justice, it should either send the case to a credible court, or else revoke the SIS's security risk certificate and allow Zaoui to stay.

Playing with society

Brian Logan has drawn my attention to an online game called Nation States. Users create a nation, define its political and economic outlook on various axes by answering a short political quiz, then guide its progress by responding to issues posed by the game. Kindof an interactive, evolving political quiz. If you're interested in playing, he has created a region, Zealandia, "for the purposes of politico kiwi bloggers to show how their philosophies are effective and make sense." Might be a way to waste another lifetime.

Though actually, having poked around the site, I'm more interested in its creator: Max Barry, author of Jennifer Government. I saw this book in Dymocks, read the blurb (an early version of which is here), and stuck it on my "to buy" list. It sounds like it has all the craziness of Snow Crash, plus the cool bits from Only Forward. And looking at his other novel, Syrup, it looks like I'll have to get that one too. <Sigh>... And I don't have enough time to read as it is...

Iraqi bombers 'are war criminals'

Of course they are. While US troops and their quislings are legitimate targets, the resistance has been even more indiscriminate than the US. The US usually tries to avoid killing bystanders; the resistance (or at least those parts of it conducting large-scale bombings) just don't give a shit. Hell, the more dead civilians, the more a bombing proves that the US canot provide security. Don't you just love terrorism...?

Saturday, November 22, 2003

New Fisk

The price of an infantile attempt to reshape the Middle East

A free and open media

Why doesn't Bush like to travel overseas? One reason is that he actually has to answer questions posed by foreign reporters (rather than being able to outsource this to a spindoctor), and he has far less control over who those reporters are and what they might ask.

So in London yesterday, Bush got asked the question no member of the American media would dare ask him back home: "Why do people hate you"? And his "answer"? Avoidance, denial, an attempt to claim that anyone who disagrees with him hates freedom and loves Saddam, and some macho posturing for good measure:

Mr. President, if I could ask you, with thousands on the street...marching today here in London, a free nation, what is your conclusion as to why apparently so many free citizens fear you and even hate you?"

"I'd say freedom is beautiful, Bush responded. "It's a fantastic thing to come to a country where people are able to express their views."

Pressed on the question of why people hate him "in such numbers," Bush said he doesn't know that they do hate him.

"I fully understand that people don't agree with war," President Bush said. "I hope they agree with peace and freedom and liberty. I hope they care deeply about the fact that when we find suffering and torture and mass graves, we weep for the citizens that are being brutalized by tyrants.

"And finally, the prime minister and I have a solemn duty to protect our people. And that's exactly what I intend to do - as the president of the United States, protect the people of my country."

No wonder he avoids press conferences like the plague.


NZPols has a thoughtful response to my earlier post about Tony Ryall's outrage at the UN criticising us.

I agree that the fact that we are a liberal democracy counts for something - and that this seems to be exactly the sort of minor and often quite debatable case that NZPols is talking about. At the same time, though, adhering to international human rights standards requires that we yield some of our national sovereignty to international bodies - and if we don't stick to them, then why should anybody else?

But my main beef with Ryall's nationalist chestbeating is that if we hide behind national sovereignty, then so can anybody else... and other people hide far worse things behind it than we do. We effectively lose any right to criticise other people's human rights records. Death penalty? "Sorry, that's a matter of national sovereignty". Torture? "It's our contry, not yours". Disappearances, forced labour, and gulags? "We make the decisions here, not the UN". By standing on our "sovereign rights", we give a free pass to any shitty regime who wants to do the same.

(I'd also point out that the Nuremberg precedents seem to indicate that human rights standards trump national sovereignty anyway, but they really only apply in the big cases).

Sure, we're a liberal democracy. And there's no question that our human rights record is generally good. But trying to draw a distinction based on a country's type of government is not going to produce an acceptable result. Firstly, while democracies generally respect human rights, it's not necessarily so (just look at the US - death penalty, excessive sentances, Guantanamo, Jose Padilla...). And secondly, it allows the shitty regimes to claim that we're just dividing the world into "goodies' and "baddies", and therefore why should they listen to what we say?

Consistency is the better answer, I think.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Putting things in perspective

KiwiPete approvingly quotes from an article by Claudia Rosett and claims that it "puts it in perspective":

For Saddam to have presided over the slaughter of 300,000 during the course of his rule meant killing, on average, about 34 human beings per day, or more than one an hour, every hour, around the clock, for 24 years.

A quick glance at the Iraq Body Count counter on the left hand side of my screen shows the current tally of confirmed civilian deaths stands somewhere between 7898 and 9729 since January 2003. That's a generous average of between 24 and 30 a day (I say "generous" because the war - and flow of casualties - didn't start till March; in other words there's two "free" months in there. You do the maths). And of course, IBC underestimates, and restricts its figures only to what is solidly reported and confirmed. This report talks of estimates of 20,000 or more - but goes with the concrete figure from IBC...

To "put things in perspective", the occupation has, on average, killed around the same number of civilians per day as Saddam. And this is supposed to be better?

New Fisk

Under U.S. control, press freedom falls short in Iraq.

The company they keep

National Party Corrections spokesman Tony Ryall is outraged by a UN finding that our preventative detention system breaches human rights. His response? "NZ decides its justice laws, not UN". But perhaps Ryall should be aware of the company he is keeping here. National sovereignty is the same excuse used by China, Cuba, and every other shitty despotism with an appalling human rights record. We don't accept it from them, so why should anyone accept it from us?

"Anything you say or do can be used against you in a court of law..."

NeoCon arch-hawk Richard Perle has admitted the invasion of Iraq was illegal:

In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing."


But Mr Perle, a key member of the defence policy board, which advises the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable.

Now, what was that precedent from Nuremberg again...?

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Why we shouldn't privatise health

Crooked Timber has an interesting analysis of OECD health stats. His conclusion? "Health care systems that are government run or funded tend to be cheaper despite being just as effective in every respect, and more effective in some respects".

Kindof shows the lie behind the Right's dogma that increased privatisation in healthcare will be more efficient and give better results...

Spinning Bush's visit

"Bush defies critics on UK visit" - that's what the headlines say. But how "defiant" is he being when he will speak only before a hand-picked, friendly audiance? Why isn't he making this speech before the British Parliament? Perhaps because he's afraid of the reception he'll get...?

Sock Thief's comments on Monbiot's article on the European Social Forum has reminded me that we have one of our very own - the Social Forum Aotearoa - taking place in Porirua this weekend.

I'm tempted to drop by in search of blog-fodder, but their registration page is broken, and there seem to be no details on cost.

As for Monbiot's key question, "what should be done about capitalism?", my answer is the same as his: tame it. While it is red in tooth and claw, the market mostly works, and its a damn sight easier and less intrusive into people's lives than the alternatives. The trick then is to regulate it, to insulate people's lives from the bad effects of capitalism, while keeping as much as possible of the good. This means taxation, redistribution, regulation, and state provision of some services. While this is obviously offensive to purists, fundamentally the market is just a tool for resource allocation, and if it does not work properly (by providing a sufficient allocation of resources for all members of our society to live a decent life) then it needs to be tweaked until it does. Tools should serve human ends, not vice versa.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Reaction from around the blogosphere to the US army's adoption of the Israeli tactic of demolishing suspected militant's homes:

  • Riverbend (an actual Iraqi, mind you): "I'm so angry it makes me want to break something!!!! What the hell is going on?!"
  • Tacitus (the thinking man's warblogger): "This is wrong."
  • Billmon: "Criminal, stupid and counterproductive"

They're all interesting posts (and much longer than the quickie summaries) - go read them.

Victory in Massachusetts, but questions at home

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled in favour of allowing gay couples to marry:

"Barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution," the court said, saying state law forbids the creation of second-class citizens.

They've kicked it back to the state legislature, and given them 180 days to bring the law in line with the ruling - after which, they'll have to start issuing marriage licenses.

This is a victory for civil rights, but at the same time it raises the question of why New Zealand is lagging behind on this issue. While the government has announced plans for civil unions, they seem to have sunk without a trace; there's no mention of the legislation on knowledgebasket, and no further mention of it in the press. You'd almost think that the government had got cold feet...

This simply isn't good enough. Marriage rights are an issue of basic equality, and the government should be moving to correct its discrimination ASAP.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The Two Towers extended

Things I've learned from the extended Two Towers:

  • Hobbits are like Kiwis, and take vegemite (or at least "seasoning") with them whenever they travel.
  • All Hobbits secretly want to be taller.
  • Ents occasionally channel the spirit of Tom Bombadil.

Unfortunately, it hangs together badly, and the rescoring is less than impressive. it almost seems a little... rushed. Or maybe "crammed" is a better word. <sigh>...

(Oh, and while we're geeking out on LOTR, check out this cartoon from PVP)

The US is using Israel's tactics in Iraq, part II

Not satisfied with the collective punishment of bulldozing people's crops, the US Army is now destroying the homes of suspected terrorists.

Israel's practice of destroying the homes of suspected militants has been widely condemned around the world - including by the United States.

Missing the Point

Once again, Sock Thief misses the point of the Listener's editorial. They're not saying that:

it is "insufferable arrogance" to say that "some things are right, and some things are wrong:"

They're saying that it is insufferably arrogant to think that what other people think doesn't matter.

This is Brash's problem - not that he has clear ideas about morality, or even that he thinks that he can derive his chosen economic policies from his chosen moral foundations, but that he is a fundamentalist who doesn't give a shit what anybody else thinks. He has the Way, the Truth, and the Light to deliver us from the Economic Darkness. Why is this arrogant? Because it completely ignores the fact that politics is about what we want, and about balancing the disparate views of the ends and goals of society in a way that we can all live with (or at least not kill each other over).

According to Brash, what we want doesn't matter. If we're stupid enough not to want his economic prescriptions, we should just shut up and take our medicine. It's for our own good, and we'll thank him in the end. It's Rousseau's "forcing people to be free", all over again...

But then, what else would we expect from a technocrat from Treasury?

Convicting Terrorists

John Allen Muhammad has been convicted of murder, terrorism and conspiracy for his role in the "Washington Sniper" killings. In a normal court, in front of a normal jury, under normal rules of evicence, with no military tribunals or stacked decks in sight.

If it's good enough for him, then why isn't it good enough for the prisoners at Gunantanamo?


Evil House Monkey (a name which should be recognizable to Wellington Gamers) asks why everyone is blogging about the rugby. Beats me; I don't follow sport. I guess that's why I find blaming socialism or the "feminisation of NZ society" for the loss to be more than a little silly.

Giving in to the French, part II

Hot on the heels of yesterday's news that the US will speed up the transition to Iraqi self-rule comes this bombshell: they have agreed in principle to international control in Iraq.

The United States accepts that to avoid humiliating failure in Iraq it needs to bring its forces quickly under international control and speed the handover of power, Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, has said. Decisions along these lines will be made in the "coming days", Mr Solana told The Independent.

The comments, signalling a major policy shift by the US, precede President George Bush's state visit this week to London, during which he and Tony Blair will discuss an exit strategy for forces in Iraq.

Unfortunately, I think this is too little, too late. The US had their chance, and they've blown it. Yes, they liberated Iraq from Saddam, but they've managed to piss away any resulting goodwill by kicking in doors, "disappearing" people, using collective punishment, and shooting or arresting anyone who protests (not to mention the failure to restore basic services and the chance of random death from an American teenager with a twitchy trigger-finger). As a result, the opposition has gone from a few yahoos and "dead-enders" to a serious guerilla campaign with widespread public support (How widespread? They can graffitti warnings in Arabic next to their roadside bombs and no-one tells the Americans. That's some conspiracy of silence). They've fucked things up completely, and now that Bush is facing re-election, he wants to cut and run and dump the problem on the international community.

Frankly, the international community should tell him to fuck off. Thanks to America's actions, the situation in Iraq is fast approaching being unsalvagable (if it isn't already). Realistically, there is nothing we can do to help the Iraqi people at this late stage. The only "good" we can do is to die in the place of Americans - and help Bush get re-elected in the process.

If the US had done this six months ago, then I would have supported it; hell, if they'd made even a half-arsed effort at doing things properly rather than trying to turn Iraq into Haliburton and Bechtel's private fiefdom on the Euphrates, I'd have some sympathy for them. But now? Not a chance. They broke it, they can try fixing it. It's their responsability, not ours.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Wrong Wing?

Sock Thief is up to his usual tricks, this time accusing the left of hypocrisy over this week's Listener editorial ("Wrong Wing"). But the Listener wasn't denying that the Left had very clear ideas of right and wrong; it's point was that everyone thinks they're morally right, so it's neither useful nor informative of Brash to give such answers. We'd hardly expect him to promote policies he believed were patently immoral, would we?

Bush shrugs off UK Iraq protests

US President George Bush says protests planned during his visit to the UK this week do not worry him.

Of course not; that's why he wanted to bring a minigun.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Bush haters and the haters that hate?

Those (like Sock Thief) who don't understand why the "Left hates Bush" and can't see the difference between that and the VRWC (and conspiracy theories about murder, drug-running etc) against Clinton might want to read this post from Orcinus.

(For those who don't pay attention to him, Orcinus writes about fascism a lot - and in particular, the spread of explictly fascist memes from America's lunatic right wing militia fringe into mainstream Conservative thought. Frankly, the stuff he writes scares the shit out of me.)

Bush's attutude to protestors

The minigun thing reminded me of this old Victorian imperialist ditty (seen on Whiskey Bar):

Whatever happens we have got
The Gatling Gun and they have not.

Political protestors? "Mow 'em down"...

What the US wants from the UK for Bush's visit

A complete closure of the London Underground. Shoot-to-kill authority, plus diplomatic immunity in the event of a shooting - a literal license to kill for every one of Bush's 250 Secret Service bodyguards. US jets and helicopters patrolling the skies over London. A moving "sterile zone" policed solely by US agents and troops. Permission to use a minigun on "rioters".

These are not the requests of a visiting friend and ally; they are the demands of an Imperial state towards a client.

Giving in to the French

The Americans have announced that they will formally hand over power to an appointed transitional government in June 2004. The transitional government will then prepare for elections in 2005.

Isn't this what the French wanted all along?

Saturday, November 15, 2003

"We are behaving disgracefully."

Last month General Moshe Ya'alon, chief of staff of the Israeli army, launched a stinging attack on the policies of Ariel Sharon, saying that they were counterproductive and simply increased Palestinian resentment of Israel. This month, it's the turn of the intelligence services. Four former heads of Shin Bet (the bunch that does disappearings and assassinations, among other things) have called for Israel to end the occupation, evacuate the settlers, and withdraw to the Green Line. Highlights include:

Ami Ayalon, the Shin Bet director from 1996 to 2000, said: "We are taking very sure and measured steps to a point where the state of Israel will not be a democracy or a home for the Jewish people."

Yaakov Peri, the director of Shin Bet from 1988 to 1995, supported him, saying: "From whatever aspect you look at it we are going in the direction of decline, nearly a catastrophe.If something doesn't happen here, we will continue to live by the sword, we will continue to wallow in the mud and we will continue to destroy ourselves."


Mr Shalom said: "All the steps that we have taken are steps that are contrary to the aspiration for peace. If we do not turn away from this path, of adhering to the entire land of Israel, and if we do not also begin to understand the other side we will not get anywhere. We must admit that there is another side, that it has feelings and that it is suffering, and that we are behaving disgracefully."

The people who are (or have been) in charge of Israel's security think that Sharon's policies are a disaster, and that peace is not achievable by ever-escalating force and brutality. I wonder if Sharon will accuse them of anti-Semitism?

New Fisk

In a bookshop in Lebanon, I find this evil anti-Semitic tract and remove it from the shelf.

Doing the decent thing

Remember the Zimbabweans? About 2500 of them fled here to escape land seizures and oppression by Robert Mugabe's regime, and were granted short-term work permits or student visas. But now that their residency is set to expire, Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel has offered them a lifeline and pledged that they will not be kicked out when their permits expire.

This is the decent thing to do - we should be providing a haven for those fleeing oppressive regimes. At the same time, though, it does raise the question of why we are extending this treatment to Zimbabweans and not (say) Afghans, Kurds, or Somalis...

New Fisk

Why an Arab and a Jew Fought Hitler, Then Each Other, and Died as Friends

When did that happen?

Noticed just tonight through Sitemeter's referrer function: apparantly I was a finalist for "best personal blog" in the NetGuide Web Awards 2003. Not that I'm gloating or anything (OK, I am). I might even buy an issue and leave it lying around at the bottom of a box somewhere...

Kudos by the way to Public Address, the well-deserved winner, and to JamJar and Lukas Svoboda, the other two finalists.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Graphing the NZ blogosphere, part II

Yesterday's request for data has produced enough results for a graph, so here it is: how NZ bloggers score on Chris Lightfoot's Political Survey:

A note about the axes: As noted below, this uses axes based on statistical clustering in the questionspace. Left / Right is like the traditional L/R axis, and is about authoritarianism, nationalism, laissez faire vs interventionist economics, and the death penalty. Pragmatism / idealism is more difficult, mixing social, economic and religious issues. There's a fair amount of crossover between the axes, so for example wanting private provision of social services gives you both right and "pragmatic" points. More details here and here.

Actual numbers (again, from right to left):

BlogRight / LeftPragmatism / Idealism
Running Blog Capitalist3.45697.2996
Genius NZ-0.95792.9117
This Chick-0.08493.9244
Gareth Robinson-2.50002.1900
Justin Moore-3.40902.1424
Half Pie-4.88261.9654
David Zanetti-5.01381.5464
The Grey Shade-5.30680.9535
Face Left-7.1566-1.2450
Philosophy, etc-7.32513.5051
First Against the Wall-8.17040.3601
Greg Stephens-8.4001-0.0668
Left and Lefter-11.755-1.4817

As before, I'll add more data as it comes in.

Update (15/11/03): Added KiwiPete, Gryfon, and KiwiPundit.

Update 2 (16/11/03): Added Leto (our first blogger in the bottom half), and fixed Gryfon's name.

Update 3 (19/11/03): Added Running Blog Capitalist, Justin Moore and NoiZyBlog (who is practically on top of Half Pie).

Update 4 (24/10/04): Added Hans, Face Left, and Left and Lefter. Extended the right/left axis to fit Asher on.

Update 5 (27/10/04): Added GeniusNZ, The Grey Shade, Philosophy, etc, First Against the Wall, and Span.

Update 6 (09/01/05): Added Gareth Robinson, ObservatioNZ, and Greg Stephens

The Japanese aren't going to Iraq

Last night's bombing has caused the Japanese to "delay" their planned deployment of troops to Iraq until the security situation improves.

I expect there are unlikely to be any further contributions of troops to Iraq. The Iraqi resistance has just made clear how much it will cost, and its more than other countries are willing to pay to support Bush (especially when they get nothing in return).

Thursday, November 13, 2003

I feel another graph coming on

Several people have been advocating for this survey as an alternative to political compass. Rather than using preassigned axes, the survey designer has looked for statistical clustering of viewpoints in the questionspace, and used the two strongest ones. These represent (roughly) a traditional Left / Right axis about authoritarianism, nationalism and economics and an axis whose meaning is a lot less clear, but some of which is about traditional social liberalism.

(This is I think a better methodology than political compass, but it's also a lot harder to say what it means... the use of check questions as well makes the results clearer and more consistent)

I feel another graph coming on. As before, just email your results to me (being careful to unmunge the address), and I'll stick it up when I've got enough data.

(And yes, Tim Lambert is already on the case, but I'm interested in a subgraph for New Zealand).

They blew up the Italians

The Iraqi resistance have struck again, this time against the Italians. At least 22 dead (14 Italians and 8 Iraqis), and a lot more injured.

The scary bit is that this happened in Nasiriya, in British-controlled southern Iraq. The British zone has (until now) been more peaceful than the US zone, almost certainly due to better treatment of the local population (the British prefer to talk rather than shoot, and seem to have trained professionals rather than trigger-happy teenagers). But if terrorism is moving south in a big way, then it may only be a matter of time before the New Zealand engineers are targetted...

Clutching at straws

In the same post referenced below, RBC accuses me of trying to sneak the following meme in through the back door:

Universities (the more marginal departments, in particular) cannot survive without government funding. If you consider higher learning to be a value, you have to accept the existence of taxation to fund them.

Actually, no. As a case in point, the US has both private and state funded (to varying degrees) universities, and I'm fine with that. There are many different ways of building a functioning, fair and just society, each with its own balance of public and private sectors. What I am concerned about is that if the state provides funding, that it is done in a fair, open, equitable and politically neutral manner. And that's not "snuck in through the backdoor", but displayed in great flashing neon lights out the front.

Another step down the slippery slope, part VII

RBC has bitten the bullet, and answered my question in the negative; he thinks he'd still be free, and wouldn't complain. I admire his consistency, but the question remains: what the hell kind of "freedom" is that? If you can be "free" while effectively under house arrest, then the term is meaningless.

If we take RBC seriously, the sin of totalitarian nations who restrict people's movements lies simply in not being imaginative enough. If they used property law, rather than a blanket prohibition on movement or travel, then everything would be A-OK...

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

U.S. Seeks A Faster Transition In Iraq

Sounds like Bush is putting his re-election ahead of the Iraqi people. But is that really any surprise?

Yes, I want a handover of actual power to Iraqis. But I want it done properly, not in a rushed, half-arsed way driven by US domestic politics rather than the needs of the Iraqi people. If the Americans do this wrong, they'll be setting up a bloodbath. And unfortunately, given the way that they've handled things so far, I don't have too much hope that they'll do it right...

Playing at journalism

I went to Winston's big policy announcement today.

Partly this was an attempt to play at journalist and get some blog-fodder, and partly it was in the hope of scamming some free food. Unfortunately Winston doesn't cater, so I was left sitting in a room full of pensioners who'd been bussed-in from Wainuiomata or somewhere, half-listening to whispered conversations like "I've been following Winston since 1981. He was Rob Muldoon's favourite, don't you know". Ewwwww...

(In a weird case of synchonocity, the book I'd been reading on the train was Umberto Eco's Five Moral Pieces... and the part I was up to was his landmark essay "Ur-Fascism" (an abbreviated version of which can be found here). The cult of Tradition, rejection of the Enlightenment, fear of difference, appeal to the frustrated middle classes, xenophobia... spooky. But Winston doesn't have enough of the other bits to be regarded as truely fascist, which I guess is fortunate for all of us.)

As for the big policy announcement, you've probably already heard it by now: "[replacing] the present electoral tyranny with a system of direct democracy" and shrinking Parliament back down to 99 MPs. What was that Eco was saying about qualitative populism and opposing "rotten" parliamentary government...?

According to Winston, representative democracy is to blame for everything from "road tolls" to "social mayhem" to "gender-bending legislation". And of course he made a lot of hay out of the Supreme Court and the foreshore & seabed issue. Though he wasn't nearly so crass as to explicitly say that referenda were a way to keep those Uppity Maori in their place, his constant references to the "Treaty industry" and F&S issue left no doubt about what he expected it to be used for. And this is supposed to be the alternative party for Maori?

As for the substance, more later...

Another step down the slippery slope, part VI

Running Blog Capitalist accuses my reductio of being a "heinous lefty strawman" and claims not to believe in the premise that the State's property rights are identical to those of an individual. I think the following quote from this post is sufficient evidence that he does hold that view:

Frankly, if you fund something, whether you're a private individual, an organization or the state, you have expectations of what you're funding. If the state is going to fund/run/control education (which I, of course, oppose) and its expectations aren't met, it's only reasonable for it to withdraw funding.

(Emphasis mine. Note that while he opposes State funding, he's quite happy to treat it in exactly the same way as private funding - contra to his claims in the strawman accusation)

But on the other hand, if he now wants to deny holding it, then that's fine - because I don't need it. In fact, all I need to hoist him on his own petard is premise 2, which he expends a great deal of effort defending here.

The only question we really need to ask is this: If the government said to RBC "sorry, but you can't use the roads" (a benefit provided, however justly or unjustly, by the State), would he consider that his freedom had been infringed?

I suspect he would. In fact, I suspect he'd go on an extended rant about how the evil totalitarian government was enslaving him and stealing his TV or somesuch. The problem, of course, is that this would be grossly inconsistent with his stated position (which, I should point out, pays no heed to whether the benefit is provided justly or unjustly).

If on the other hand he bites the bullet and meekly accepts his house-arrest-by-Propertarianism as not infringing his freedom, it invites the question of "what the hell sort of 'freedom' is this?" Frankly, if the Libertarian definition of freedom means you are "free" while being effectively forbidden to travel, then that definition is inadequate.

And if on the third hand he just wants to stick his fingers in his ears and ignore the question because answering it would "ascribe legitimacy to the idea of government funding" (or property ownership), I'd point out that he has been answering the question in the negative for the entire thread, and ask what has changed to bring upon the sudden silence. I'd also question the relevance of his form of Libertarianism if it cannot provide answers to actual political or moral problems...

Inconsistency, inadequacy, or irrelevance - it's a tough choice...

Bringing freedom to Iraq, part II

From the Herald:

American soldiers handcuffed and firmly wrapped masking tape around an Iraqi man's mouth as they arrested him today for speaking out against occupation troops.

Asked why the man had been arrested and put into the back of a Humvee vehicle on Tahrir Square, the commanding officer told Reuters at the scene: "This man has been detained for making anti-coalition statements."

It seems the "freedom" the US has bought to Iraq does not include freedom of speech...

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Salem Pax has a video clip on the BBC!

Bush wants to shut down London

Bush's upcoming visit to the UK is already causing problems, with serious disagreements with Scotland yard over security:

American officials want a virtual three-day shutdown of central London in a bid to foil disruption of the visit by anti-war protestors. They are demanding that police ban all marches and seal off the city centre.

And all to avoid the risk that American TV cameras might see (or worse, show) how much Bush is hated outside of America. Fortunately the British are refusing to bow to American demands, and are standing up for freedom of speech and the right to protest (you know, those things the United States is suposed to stand for?). I'm not sure what will happen if the Americans don't get their way - maybe they'll cancel. Or maybe Bush will just avoid appearing in public at all...

(And OTOH, the vision of Bush being driven through eerily quiet streets which have been cleared of people to ensure that noone dares insult the hegemon is somehow... fitting)

New Fisk

A growing insurrection against the Saudi royals

Another step down the slippery slope, part V

Nigeal Kearney says it much better than I did:

What is the difference between the state punishing speech that it disagrees with, and the state forcibly taking people's money and using that money to subsidise speech that it supports? I would suggest there's not that much difference. One is a punishment for undesired behaviour and the other is a reward for desired behaviour. The effect is largely the same.

Therefore, a government that funds universities and respects freedom of speech, ought not to make funding conditional on viewpoint in any way. The system of life tenure in the U.S. works pretty well. An illustration of this is the way that tenured faculty members blog under their real name, while untenured faculty (especially the right-leaning ones) use pseudonyms.

Is there anything I can add beyond a "me too"?

Why Running Blog Capitalist is whack

Why don't I find Running Blog Capitalist's position on selectively withdrawing State funding from universities on political grounds compelling? Consider these premises (expressed by RBC in his posts on the subject):

1: The State has the same absolute property rights as an individual. It can fund things or assign benefits however it sees fit, and selectively withdraw that funding or benefit for any arbitrary reason whatsoever.

2: Withdrawing a benefit is not an "imposition" or a "penalty", and is not an attack on the former recipients freedom.

You can get to some very interesting conclusions from these premises. For example, the State provides an important benefit to all its citizens: the roads. However, according to RBC, it can selectively withdraw that benefit from whomever it chooses for any reason whatsoever. So for example, if it didn't like RBC, it could withdraw his right to use the roads. This would leave him confined to his own property, unless he had a helicopter or was able to persuade his neighbours to let him wander through their backyards.

This is a nightmarish scenario, but according to RBC's own premises, it's not any sort of attack on his freedom of movement. To paraphrase, he's still free to go whereever he wants - just not on the State's roads...

Another step down the slippery slope, part IV

Running Blog Capitalist has moved on from actually addressing my points, and is now raving about how the government is stealing his TV and shouldn't be funding universities anyway. That's all very well, but as NZPols so nicely points out in the comments, the problem is that they do - and we therefore need to have some way of ensuring that they do it properly.

Needless to say, I think RBC's answer that they can do it however the hell they want, and that this is no infringement on freedom, is inadequate. I'm also not so sure about NZPol's suggestions that funding be assigned explicitly according to political viewpoint. While I agree that there's nothing inherently wrong with doing so (provided it is done in a fair and equitable manner), it is I think missing the point a bit. We publicly fund election advertising in NZ in this manner because politics is the point of the exercise. But I don't think producing political views is the point of universities. While academics have a traditional duty to be a "critic and conscience of society", it's not what the job is primarily about. I think its far better to allocate funding for teaching and research, tell people "go off and be a critic and conscience of society" and leave them to their own devices. The rest is (memetic) evolution in action...

(Oh, but I do find the idea of conservatives - usually vocal opponents of affirmative action - demanding such action so that their own views have academic respectability to be highly amusing...)

It's official

"McJob: low paying and dead-end work." That's according to the latest edition of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. And boy, McDonalds is pissed...

Monday, November 10, 2003

Some States to Drop Presidential Primaries

Yes, you read that right - the World's Greatest DemocracyTM is cancelling elections. The purported reason is because of cost (!), but strangely it's only Republican-controlled states who are doing it. The real reason seems to be an attempt to deny media coverage to democratic candidates or to Republican primary candidates who may criticise Bush.

I've always felt that the US primary system was silly (yeah, each party has an election before the election to determine their candidates), but that's the way they've chosen to do things, and they shouldn't be changing the rules in the middle of the game in an effort to benefit one side or the other.


NZPols responds to my slagging off Labour's meanness on annual leave by pointing out that this shift to the center is what is keeping Labour in power, and that "ideological purity is a waste of time if you don't have your hands on the purse strings". I agree with that, but at the same time I also feel that there's very little point in holding power if you have to sell out so completely that you're not going to do anything useful with it.

The political choice at the moment seems to be between a "center-right" coalition which will rapidly make things worse, and a "center-left" coalition which won't, but won't really make them any better either. Yes, Labour has done some good things while in office - increased the minimum wage, reintroduced income-related rents for state houses - but they haven't done enough. They haven't rebuilt the government services that were gutted by underfunding, restored the welfare state to pre-Richardson levels, reintroduced a universal student allowance, addressed the problems of an increasingly casualised workforce, or done anything significant about student loan debt. Instead, they've run up enormous surpluses in an attempt to please the business community (and been far stricter on spending than National would have been, I suspect).

(One area where they have delivered is on social policy - they were too chickenshit to take a public position on decriminalising prostitution, but worked behind the scenes to make it happen. And I am pleased with their moves to put gay and defacto couples on the same legal footing as traditional married ones. But then, this doesn't cost the government any money...)

I have no doubt that things are better than they would be under National, but they're not better enough, and Labour seems to lack the will to make them so. Unfortunately my only real option to move a future Labour government in the desired direction is to vote for the Greens, and they have some unpalatable policies in other areas...

Blaming the US

In the same post referenced below, Running Blog Capitalist expresses amazement that I can blame America when Syria tortures a Canadian. It's only amazing if you ignore the fact that the United States deported him there. They deliberately chose to send him to a shitty despotism he hadn't seen for 16 years, rather than the country he actually lived in. I'd say that that gives them a certain amount of moral responsability.

Another step down the slippery slope, part III

Running Blog Capitalist is still trying to deny that the US government's plans to cut funding to universities that question administration foreign policy is any sort of attack on academic freedom or freedom of speech. His justification?

Withdrawing a benefit is not an "imposition" or a "penalty"

At some stage you just have to cry "bollocks" and be done with it. Withdrawing a benefit is a penalty, if it's done in an attempt to influence behaviour. And that's exactly why the authors of this bill are doing it - to pressure academics into refraining from publicly disagreeing with the administration. You'd think the old libertarian meme about coercion would be kicking in around here, but RBC seems to think that only applies if you shoot people and throw their bodies in a ditch.

If this was a case of a private donor withdrawing funding, then there would be no issue; an individual can fund only those who politically agree with them, and it would be an infringement on their rights to deny it. But the State is not an individual - it belongs to all its citizens. This means that it must act in a neutral and impartial manner. It must not discriminate on the basis of belief in the benefits it assigns, and it cannot apply political content tests to recipients of government funding. Its expectations in funding academic institutions can only be in terms of measures such as papers published, research done, or students graduated. Private donors can expect political agreement in exchange for funding, but the State (or rather, the government of the day) cannot.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Jam tomorrow

The government has agreed to give workers four weeks annual leave - but not until 2007.

I'm less than happy with the way they've handled this. Once upon a time basic working conditions were a core Labour party issue, but their entire attitude to this has been to wish that it just went away. And then when people refused to shut up and kept pressing it, to deny it to as many people as possible, and put it off until the far, far future. Sure, you need some leadtime to let employers psychologically prepare, but three and a half years?

This is a perfect example of the problem with the Labour party at the moment - that they are now more interested in cosying up to the business community than in standing up for their traditional ideals. And when they do do something that benefits ordinary people, it's done so grudingly you get the impression that their heart just isn't in it. While they haven't sold out as much as Tony Blair, they're well on the way...

New Fisk

How we denied democracy to the Middle East

Contracts Go to Allies of Iraq's Chalabi

I guess Cheney isn't the only one into crony capitalism...

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Abandoning Democracy

Via Daily Kos: The White House is limiting congressional questions from Democrats. This is akin to our government preventing opposition MPs from asking questions of it at Question Time.

The ability of elected representatives to demand answers from the executive is an essential part of the democratic process, and its a sad testament to the current state of affairs in the US that that once-great democracy is moving away from it.

Naomi Klein: Iraq is not America's to sell

Graphing the NZ blogosphere

The Political Compass test seems to be doing the rounds again, and Tim Lambert's nifty graph of where various blogs stand has inspired me to do a similar one for New Zealand bloggers.

Or, in case you want the actual numbers (from right to left):

BlogRight / LeftAuthoritarian / Libertarian
David Farrar10.0-6.15
Running Blog Capitalist7.00-2.77
Michael Green5.88-4.72
The Whig5.00-1.79
Cuba St Geek0.75-3.69
This Chick0.62-3.33
Gareth Robinson0.38-1.28
Damian Christie0.38-3.85
The Holden Republic0.00-3.69
The Sock Thief-0.38-3.13
David Zanetti-1.25-5.03
Big News-2.38-2.26
Half Pie-3.38-5.85
Che Tibby-3.50-5.44
Joe Mahoney-3.75-4.31
David Slack-4.00-4.92
Russell Brown-4.62-4.62
The Backyard-5.38-4.51
Philosophy, etc-5.38-5.74
The Grey Shade-5.62-7.28
No Right Turn-5.75-7.49
Justin Moore-6.4-4.51
Matt Nippert-7.25-6.56
Greg Stephens-7.38-6.72
First Against the Wall-8.12-6.46
Matthew Walker-8.12-7.69
Just Left-8.75-8.36
Bad Politics-9.00-8.72

I'll add more data as it comes in.

Update: I've added Michael Green to the graph, though he mostly seems to blog about cameras rather than politics.

Update 2 (9/11/03): I've also added DPF, who overtakes Darkness as New Zealand's most right-wing blog.

Update 3: Mea culpa Yes, the chart was originally labelled "Authoritarian / Libertarian". I changed it to "Authoritarian / Liberal" on the basis of a feeling that I'd gotten it wrong. Obviously I should have checked first and made sure of it, and it has now been changed back to "Libertarian". Mea cupla, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. The graph will change when I next update and upload it.

Update 4 (11/11/03): Added Russell Brown, Damian Christie, and Leto. I'm no longer alone in my own little corner!

Update 5 (11/11/03): Added Cuba St Geek, The Sock Thief, Joe Mahoney, and NoiZyBlog.

Update 6 (13/11/03): Added Half Pie, This Chick, and Malach (who used to run NewsBox).

Update 7 (13/11/03): Corrected This Chick's rating to her current views, not her past ones. Also, she points out that there is another political test at

Update 8 (14/11/03): Added David Zanetti and Justin Moore.

Update 9 (15/11/03): Added Gryfon.

Update 10 (16/11/03): Corrected Gryfon's results and spelled his nym correctly.

Update 11 (23/11/03): Added Matthew Walker.

Update 12 (01/01/04): Added Bad Politics.

Update 13 (24/05/04): Added Steve and Just Left.

Update 14 (04/06/04): Added Syringe, David Slack and Matt Nippert.

Update 15 (24/10/04): Added The Whig, Holden Republic, Hans, The Backyard, Span, and Asher.

Update 16 (26/10/04): Added GeniusNZ (the first in the top left quadrant), Big News, Che Tibby, Philosophy, et cetera, The Grey Shade, and First Against the Wall, and fixed a few typos in the table.

Update 17 (09/01/05): Added Gareth Robinson, ObservatioNZ, Tristan and Greg Stephens

Friday, November 07, 2003

We Hate America

According to a poll by the NBR, that is:

Two years ago most New Zealanders said they felt positively about the US (54%) but when asked that question now only 29% of people said they felt positively about the US, down 25 points.


...the number of those who had a negative perception of the US was only marginally less than those who disliked Russia.

This is Bush's legacy: turning a country that was once universally looked up to into an international pariah.

Kim Hill vs the Ambassador

Amusing show last night when Kim Hill interviewed US Ambassador Charles Swindells. She gave him a damn good bollocking - at one stage I thought she was deliberately trying to goad him into walking out - but somehow it didn't seem like it was enough. She didn't really press things home hard enough, didn't ask him where he got off on lecturing a democratic nation on our overwhelmingly popular anti-nuclear policy (or whether that was interfering in our internal politics), and she didn't question him about the Bruce Hubbard email at all.

Highlights: Swindells' floundering when asked "where are the WMD", trying desperately to spin the NBR poll about NZer's attitudes to America, and saying that the Senate's passing of the $87 billion package for Iraq showed the depth of their support for the president. Yeah, that's why they passed it on a voice vote...

Another step down the slippery slope, part II

Running Blog Capitalist accuses me of being a "fair-weather socialist" for objecting to the US government's attack on academic freedom. For some reason he conflates government funding with government control, but the real clanger is his claim that "this isn't an attack on any kind of freedom". Come off it! It's an explicit attempt to impose financial penalties on institutions that fail to toe the administration's line. If that isn't an attack on the freedom of speech of academics, then what is?

In a democratic society, government funding of academic institutions should not be subject to content-based tests. Private individuals can apply such tests, but the State cannot.

Thanks to America

A Canadian citizen who was deported to Syria while passing through the US has described his ordeal and reports that he was tortured while in Syrian custody.

"Atheist values"

The Independent has Q & A session with Philip Pullman. Among the questions was this one:

You famously criticised CS Lewis for incorporating Christian values into his books for children, and yet you do the same with atheism in your books. Isn't this a double standard?

Atheist values in His Dark Materials? Well, I guess it all depends on what you call Atheism. While God, angels and fallen angels all unquestionably exist in the books, the values are overwhelmingly humanist; it's all about us. Whether you think that this is atheism will obviously depend on which particular brand of Christianity you subscribe to, but there's no necessary incompatibility between the two, as any C14th Italian will attest.

Another step down the slippery slope

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill requiring university international studies departments to show more support for US foreign policy or risk having their funding cut. The main targets are Middle Eastern Studies departments, whose inhabitants tend to be less than enthusiastic about US policy for the region (perhaps because they actually know something about the place...)

This is about as gross an attack on academic freedom as you can get short of locking people up, but that's the way the United States is going nowdays. Academic inquiry must be patriotic and conform to the whims of the administration; if it refuses, it must be crushed. Joe McCarthy would be proud...

Steve Gilliard has a few harsh words for Ken Pollack, Christopher Hitchens, and all the other self-anointed "intelligent leftists" who provided ideological cover for America's imperial adventure in Iraq...

(No archives, so you'll need to scroll down to "How the left failed Iraq", the first post on November 5th).

Thursday, November 06, 2003

More on Darwinian Politics

Sock Thief has some further comments on the role of evolutionary psychology. On the ethical front, I agree that EP can shed some light, but if we accept the fact-value distinction (and most evolutionary psychologists do), then it cannot provide any sort of empirical basis - which is what we're ultimately after. We can however use it to explain the origin of our ethical impulses, and to modify our ethical codes so that their demands are more in accordance with our ability to fulfil them. To the extent that our political theories are grounded in ethics (and most high-level political theory is), then the effects will also flow on to those theories.

As for examples of politics being grounded in psychological assumptions, I can think of no better example than the Right's persistent belief that we are (and ought to be) rational utility maximisers, despite the existence of a large body of experimental data to the contrary.

How did I miss this?

From the Guardian:

This Wednesday Guy Fawkes will share his perch on bonfires with a man who, his critics say, poses as great a danger as the 17th-century conspirator once did.

Anti-war campaigners will prop grinning effigies of George Bush on to pyres around the country, hoping to stoke up opposition to his state visit to Britain this month...

It'd be nice to see the reaction if this made it on to US TV...

Listening to actual Iraqis

Salon interviews some Iraqi Shiites, and finds that they're not too happy with being occupied. Even the police think the Americans must be resisted - though "with ideas, not guns"... though only for the moment:

So how much time, I asked, should the Americans get before even the Iraqi police will turn against them? He replied without hesitation. "Two years."

And he's one of the patient ones. Other interviewees are either waiting for the Imams to call Jihad so they can start killing Americans, or quietly looking the other way while their friends organise resistance groups. This is not good news for the US...

Shiite anger can be directly traced to America's failure to adequately plan the occupation and deliver on their promises of a better life post-Saddam. Their patience is not infinite. Unless the Americans start seriously delivering on those promises, and fixing the basic problems of electricity, water, and security soon, then the Shiites will turn on them. And that will make everything up until now look like a cakewalk...

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Celebrating the 5-11 terrorists

Tonight I've watched suburbia celebrating Guy Fawkes night. Lots of not-rockets (you know, fireworks that shoot something in the air which explodes, exactly like a rocket, only its not), and even a few actual (illegal) skyrockets as well. Very pretty. Though I've never really been sure whether we celebrate because Fawkes was caught - or because he tried...

New Fisk

When Did "Arab" Become a Dirty Word?

Andrew has some thoughts on Stiglitz's Globalization and its Discontents...

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Thoughts on Darwinian Politics

The Sock Thief has a pointer to Dennis Dutton's review of Paul H. Rubin's Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom. Some thoughts in response:

Firstly, evolutionary psychology is a useful project. It is extremely useful to understand what sort of animal we are, and working out what psychological baggage we've inherited from our savannah-dwelling ancestors can inform our understanding of what makes us happy, what pisses us off, and what sorts of societies and political arrangements we might want to live in. Unfortunately, from the sound of it Rubin falls into the all-too common trap of using evolutionary pschology to confirm his prejudices - namely, that western democracy (and in particular, US democracy) is the best way to satisfy our inherited preferences. Why is this a mistake? Because Rubin's scheme of multiple inherited psychological preferences is a pluralistic scheme, and therefore has many possible solutions which balance the preferences in different ways. The best we can say about western democracy is that it is one way of balancing our preferences, which seems to work reasonably well; but that is not to say that it is the best way, or that there are no other solutions which would work as well, or better.

Secondly, while there's a lot of effort expended on investigating the nature of our inherited preferences, there seems to be a studious avoidance of the obvious question: "are those preferences good?" What comments there are along these lines (particularly on the topics of envy and "welfarism") take the position that our inherited preferences are irrational (standard question: under what axiom-set?) or blind us to the benefits of capitalist society. But judging from the conclusions there's no question that these preferences must be satisfied; there's no question of whether or not they are good.

Frankly, I'd expect a philosopher of Dutton's caliber to make more noise about the naturalistic fallacy and the fact-value distinction and the problems they pose for the whole project of evolutionary psychology. While we can establish facts about the way we are, facts do not imply values; the way we are is not necessarily the way we (morally) ought to be.

By way of example, imagine that evolutionary psychology showed that we had a deep-seated and evolved prediliction for racial discrimination - or for rape. Should we design our societies to fulfil those preferences?

This is a real problem for evolutionary psychologists (and Naturalists in general). Accepting our evolutionary heritage as a moral guide is effectively throwing your hands up at the whole moral project; it entails blandly accepting whatever facts prevail at the time as the moral state of affairs. But the other position - Dawkins' "that's very interesting, but is it really how we want to live our lives?" - subordinates evolutionary psychology to existing moral theories, and radically undermines its value as a tool for informing political theory.

In his comparisom with Pinker near the end of the review, Dutton claims that Rubin subscribes to the latter view; inherited preferences can never justify slavery or discrimination. But this undercuts his conclusion that western democracy is anointed by evolution as the perfect political system. At the same time, Dutton tries to have his cake and eat it too, by warning that "we ought not to try in politics to achieve the impossible". This is good advice, but at the same time, what happens if we have a serious clash between strong but undesirable inherited prejudices and the moral notions we judge them by? Should we give in to human nature, or struggle to overcome it?