Digital Cabinet

Polevaulter Donkeyman's rants, raves musings and flame wars

Archive for July 2012

Illegal Immigrants = Giving a Drug Addict a Job = Buying a house in a red light district?

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This started with a tweet by Shashi Tharoor

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Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 31, 2012 at 00:25

Sexing up Sherlock Holmes

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Updated August 3, 2012

Due to the Copyright Act 1976 in the United States, a few of the later Sherlock Holmes stories are still under copyright. That has led the publishers to offer a slightly modified version. Changes include:

  • A Study in Scarlet — A Stud in Scarlet
  • Sherlock Holmes — Hemlock Bones
  • John Watson — Tom Hotson (Genius!!)
  • Baker Street — Laker Avenue

It also seems that due to the similarity in the names, trademark law will preclude the sale of this book in the US. Rest of the World, however, may breathe easy.

Update over


From Clandestine Classic’s Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet

Teaser:

When Dr John Watson takes rooms in Baker Street with amateur detective Sherlock Holmes, he has no idea that he is about to enter a shadowy world of criminality and violence. Nor does he anticipate falling in love with Holmes and having his sexual needs attended to in a way he had only previously dreamed about.

Excerpt:

In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army. It was a somewhat difficult time, being among so many men, with me being who and what I am. I suppose people may have guessed… I did not join in the rather ribald conversations regarding women, talking about their breasts and cunts as other men did, telling one and all I wished I had a buxom female to curl up to at night. It was a revelation, that time, learning perhaps what I should have been thinking about, what I should have wanted, and realising I wanted no part of it. Could not have any part of it. How could I explain that the softness of a woman did not appeal? That the swells on their chests were not something I wished to explore? That I preferred the flat planes belonging to a man, the smaller nipples that I longed to flick my tongue over? And their private parts… Those did not excite me either. I did not relish, as my fellow companions did, the thought of pushing my fingers inside a soft, wet slit. No, I found pleasure in the thought of grasping a cock, knowing exactly how it would feel having palmed my own every night. To bring another man to the brink, knowing he enjoyed my touch as much as I enjoyed touching him… That was what I wanted.


Would Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss please, please, commission a TV adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman?

Oh and one more thing, I hope Mrs. Hudson does not get involved in any hanky panky.


Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 19, 2012 at 12:43

Rev. Giles Fraser, a Believer in Collective Guilt and Imperialism?

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Giles Fraser, ex-Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral penned an article on why the ban on circumcision in Germany[1] is an affront to Jews and Muslims.


In the article he makes a risible allegation:

The philosopher Emil Fackenheim, himself a survivor of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, famously added to the 613th commandments of the Hebrew scriptures with a new 614th commandment: thou must not grant Hitler posthumous victories. This new mitzvah insisted that to abandon one’s Jewish identity was to do Hitler’s work for him. Jews are commanded to survive as Jews by the martyrs of the Holocaust. My own family history – from Miriam Beckerman and Louis Friedeburg becoming Frasers (a name change to escape antisemitism) to their grandson becoming Rev Fraser (long story) to the uncircumcised Felix Fraser – can be read as a betrayal of that 614th commandment.

The above passage can be interpreted to mean that the loss of Jewish identity caused by the denial of circumcision is identical to the deliberate systematic extermination of all European Jews. While one may legitimately question the strength of a religious identity which depends so intimately on 30-40 sq. cms.[2] of skin, the more serious implication here is that Rev. Fraser believes that the denial of circumcision is equivalent to the Holocaust and it is sinister that it is a German court, of all places, that would symbolically re-create the Holocaust 70 years later. He even alludes to it in a later tweet


Collective Guilt

Rev. Fraser seems to be mighty keen to impute anti-semitic motivations to the court. He seems to believe that because Germany under Nazi rule systematically exterminated Jews, all Germans, even those who may not have been born during the Nazi era, bear some guilt for the Holocaust and thus should be extra-sensitive to Jewish concerns.

But Rev. Fraser should be extra careful of tarring all Germans with the collective guilt of the Holocaust. The notion of collective guilt has not been kind to Jews.[3] Jews were collectively blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail, but rather that a tumult was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person. See ye to it.” Then answered all the people and said, “His blood be on us, and on our children!”

Matthew 27:24-25

It is this collective guilt, forced on the Jews, which contributed to the rise of European anti-semitism and ultimately to the Holocaust. As Martin Luther wrote[4] in On the Jews and Their Lies

[The Jews] grew wrathful, bitter, and hateful, and ranted against [Christ]; finally they contrived the plot to kill him. And that is what they did; they crucified him as ignominiously as possible. They gave free rein to their anger, so that even the Gentile Pilate noticed this and testified that they were condemning and killing him out of hatred and envy, innocently and without cause.

On the Jews and Their Lies was publicly exhibited in a glass case at the Nuremberg Rallies.[5]

The traditional Roman Catholic Good Friday Prayer for Jews goes like this:

Oremus et pro perfidis Judæis: ut Deus et Dominus noster auferat velamen de cordibus eorum; ut et ipsi agnoscant Jesum Christum, Dominum nostrum…

After WWII Pope Pius XII declared that perfidus in Latin meant unbelieving and not treacherous.

In a meeting with the Roman Catholic Bishop Wilhelm Berning of Osnabrück, on April 26, 1933, Hitler said:

I have been attacked because of my handling of the Jewish question. The Catholic Church considered the Jews pestilent for fifteen hundred years, put them in ghettos, etc., because it recognized the Jews for what they were. In the epoch of liberalism the danger was no longer recognized. I am moving back toward the time in which a fifteen-hundred-year-long tradition was implemented. I do not set race over religion, but I recognize the representatives of this race as pestilent for the state and for the Church, and perhaps I am thereby doing Christianity a great service by pushing them out of schools and public functions.

The Eastern Orthodox Church also refers to Jews as

the murderers of God, the lawless nation of the Jews[6]

Given what the notion of collective guilt has wrought on Rev. Fraser’s forefathers, one would expect him to be more circumspect in dishing out collective guilt to others.


Imperialism

Another point regarding this comparison of a ban on circumcision with a victory for Hitler. If the loss of Jewish identity due to a ban on circumcision is to be considered a victory for Hitler, what would one call the loss of tribal identity and traditions due to a ban on female genital mutilation among the Kikuyu as campaigned for by british missionaries? As Jomo Kenyatta, the first Prime Minister of independent Kenya said:

The real argument lies not in the defense of the general surgical operation or its details, but in the understanding of a very important fact in the tribal psychology of the Kikuyu—namely, that this operation is still regarded as the essence of an institution which has enormous educational, social, moral and religious implications, quite apart from the operation itself. For the present it is impossible for a member of the tribe to imagine an initiation without clitoridoctomy [sic]. Therefore the … abolition of the surgical element in this custom means … the abolition of the whole institution.[7]

Culture and tradition are about being a part of something wider than oneself … We are born into a network of relationships that provide us with a cultural background against which things come to make sense. “We” comes before “I”. We constitutes our horizon of significance.[8]


By Rev. Fraser’s logic the ban on female genital mutilation was thus an attack on the Kikuyu identity, an attack by the colonial administration and missionaries.[9] Thus any such continuing attack on female genital mutilation is a victory for imperialism. Thus the prohibition on female genital mutilation in the UK is a victory for the UK’s imperialist past. Is Rev. Fraser proud of the UK’s imperialist past? He sure does try to hide his support for imperialism behind feminist rhetoric


Male circumcision, in fundamentally the same way, is an act of physical abuse of defenceless male infants and the exhibition of the power of the priestly class but you will not hear Rev. Fraser say that.

Dear Rev. Fraser, given the UK’s imperialist history, especially in Kenya are you really happy for the British to ban what it is to be Kikuyu?[10]


P.S. If you haven’t, please read (including the footnote) the second paragraph from Mr. Kenyatta’s “statement” above.


Footnotes


[1] An issue on which I have blogged earlier

[2] Kigozi et. al. Foreskin surface area and HIV acquisition in Rakai, Uganda (size matters) AIDS. 2009 October 23; 23(16): 2209–2213 doi: 10.1097/QAD.0b013e328330eda8

[3] Of note: Rev Fraser’s father was jewish.

[4] On the Jews and Their Lies, Section VIII

[5] Noble, Graham. “Martin Luther and German anti-Semitism,” History Review (2002) No. 42:1-2.

[6] Metropolitan Kallistos and Mother Mary. The Lenten Triodion St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002, p. 589 (third stichos of the Beatitudes at Matins on Holy Friday)

[7] Mufaka, Kenneth. Scottish Missionaries and the Circumcision Controversy in Kenya, 1900–1960 International Review of Scottish Studies, vol 28, 2003.

[8] To be honest, these (this paragraph) are not Mr. Kenyatta’s words. They are Rev. Fraser’s (substitute “Culture and tradition are” with “Faith is” to get the original). But doesn’t what Rev. Fraser say, in the defence of male circumcision, eerily echo what Mr. Kenyatta said, in the defence of female genital mutilation, all those years ago?

[9] Thomas, Lynn M. ‘Ngaitana (I will circumcise myself)’: Lessons from Colonial Campaigns to Ban Excision in Meru, Kenya, in Shell-Duncan, Bettina and Hernlund, Ylva (eds). Female “Circumcision” in Africa. Lynne Rienner, 2000, p.

[10] Female Genital Cutting on UK Parliament Agenda

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 18, 2012 at 12:44

Bad Analogy

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The February 29, 2012 episode of the Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4 focused on the morality of sex-selective abortions. One of the panelists was Melanie Phillips and one of the guests selected to defend current abortion law over attempts to make it more restrictive to prevent sex-selective abortions was Kate Smurthwaite.


Smurthwaite drew an interesting analogy between denying a pregnant women an abortion and thus forcing her to carry a foetus until birth and forcing a person to donate an organ again their will to a recipient who will otherwise die without the donation.

For some reason I was not too satisfied with the analogy so I decided to explore a bit more:

  • In Smurthwaite’s analogy the pregnant woman is equivalent to the donor
  • The foetus is equivalent to the intended recipient
  • We don’t force donors to the donate organs to recipients who need them so how can we force pregnant women to carry their foetus to term?
  • But there is a difference:
    1. The natural course of action (without any intervention) in the pregnant woman’s case is that the foetus will be born. The natural course of action (without any intervention) in the organ donation case is that the recipient will die.
    2. The foetus will live if not interfered with. The recipient will die if not interfered with.
    3. The pregnant woman has to affirmatively make the choice for abortion. The donor does not have to undertake any such affirmative action.

Therefore I find Smurthwaite’s analogy a little unsatisfying. But what if we switch the analogy and consider the pregnant woman and the organ recipient as equivalent?

  • According to Smurthwaite the women suffers physically and mentally if the abortion is not carried out. In the same way the recipient suffers physically (and mentally, surely) if the organ donation is not carried out.
  • If the donor is someone like Terri Schiavothen is it moral to harvest an organ from them? Is such a donor equivalent to a foetus?
    • Obviously an embryo with no neural development is not equivalent to the donor.
    • What about a 30 week old foetus?
      • It is viable ( > 95%[1])
      • It can, if not aborted, enjoy a life. Unlike the donor who is in a persistent vegetative state
  • If the health[2] of the pregnant woman can be privileged over that of the foetus, can the health of the recipient be privileged over that of the donor who is in a persistent vegetative state?

One important question of course is at what stage of the fetal development do we consider it a person? Reasonable people can disagree. For some[3] birth is the marker. Others choose a different time point.[4]

A Digression Regarding Mental Health

Regarding the effect on the mental health of the woman, in case abortion is not carried out, can such fears for mental health be extended beyond birth? As Giubilini and Minerva[5] point out:

Actual people’s well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to be in short supply of.

Giubilini and Minerva also tackle adoption as an alternative:

Why should we kill a healthy newborn when giving it up for adoption would not breach anyone’s right but possibly increase the happiness of people involved (adopters and adoptee)? … On this perspective, the interests of the actual people involved matter, and among these interests, we also need to consider the interests of the mother who might suffer psychological distress from giving her child up for adoption. Birthmothers are often reported to experience serious psychological problems due to the inability to elaborate their loss and to cope with their grief. It is true that grief and sense of loss may accompany both abortion and after-birth abortion as well as adoption, but we cannot assume that for the birthmother the latter is the least traumatic. For example, ‘those who grieve a death must accept the irreversibility of the loss, but natural mothers often dream that their child will return to them. This makes it difficult to accept the reality of the loss because they can never be quite sure whether or not it is irreversible’

If mental health is a suitable reason for abortion can it also be a suitable reason for an after-birth abortion?

Eugenics

Melanie Phillips raised the issue that Smurthwaite’s position is identical to supporting eugenics. In my opinion Smurthwaite has it right when she says:

Eugenics is where the government decides what characteristics it considers desirable in the next generation and then forces some women to have children (often with men they don’t want to have children with) and others not to. What I’m advocating is the opposite of that, where the government butts the hell out and lets women choose for themselves. Of course individuals selecting for themselves what genetic traits they’d like their kids to have is as old as the hills. That’s exactly what is going on (subconsciously or consciously) when a woman looks across a crowded bar at a guy and thinks “nice eyes”. She’s picking traits that she thinks might help her offspring. But of course then she also gets to know the guy and is highly likely to change her mind if she finds him stupid or unimaginative. Of course he’s doing the same to her, checking out her genes. And great news – science is getting much much better at helping us do this. Increasingly we can actively allow wannabe parents to select embryos to be implanted during IVF to avoid hereditary diseases where it may not be obvious in the bar whether the object of your desires is a carrier of the gene. In a few generations, at least in the west, this is likely to mean much lower incidence of things like sickle cell anaemia and Huntingdon’s disease. It would be unspeakably cruel not to allow that sort of progress to be used to prevent suffering. And if it became possible to select embryos for hair and eye colour too then firstly – that would be pre-implantation IVF embryo selection – not abortion.

The question though does arise, would Smurthwaite be OK with pre-implantation IVF diagnosis which screens for homosexuality (if possible) such that parents can reject embryos which show markers for homosexuality (and thus the probability of the embryo growing up into a homosexual man or woman is high)? Based on her answers to the question of sex selective abortions I am guessing she would be OK. I don’t think I will (just like for sex-selective abortions).

Some more final points:

  1. Re: Honour killing and abortion. Honour killing and abortion are not comparable because honour killing is a crime? That is circular reasoning. Once can reasonably say that honour killing is a crime and abortion is not because the two are not comparable.[6]
  2. Just because one believes an act is foolish and that one wouldn’t do it, does it automatically follow that that particular act should not be made illegal? I may find reckless or drunk driving foolish and I wouldn’t drive recklessly or drunk, but does it follow that they should be legal?
  3. Melanie Phillips needs to work harder to understand analogies. Nowhere in Smurthwaite’s analogy does it make any sort of equivalence between the donor organ and the foetus.

[1] Information for parents of preterm babies less than 30 weeks gestation, p. 4

[2] Physical and mental. However while indications of threats to the physical health of the pregnant women are objective, is the same level of objectivity present in the evaluation of the mental health?

[3] 44 minutes into the video

[4] At around 24 weeks of gestational age a prematurely born fetus/infant has a 50% chance of long-term survival outside its mother’s womb. Cite.

[5] After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? J Med Ethics, 2012

[6] One involves killing a human teen/adult and the other may involve the termination of an embryo (though the later stages provide a more difficult situation to rationalise).

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 17, 2012 at 12:15

Posted in Uncategorized

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Bad policy begets bad policy

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An interesting post by Tim Harford on how the UK govt can boost house building and thereby stimulate the UK economy.

The chief obstacle to house building, according to Tim, is the planning system

The chief obstacle to house building in the UK is the planning system, which, 65 years ago, did away with the idea that if you owned land, you could build on it, and replaced it with a system where planning permission was required. Permission to build houses is severely rationed, and such rationing can be seen clearly in the gap between the value of agricultural land without planning permission (a few thousand pounds a hectare) and the value of such land once permission has been granted (a few million).

 

There are vested interests in keeping the planning system as it is:

  1. Parties who have already obtained planning permission (and who may have already built house on it) do not want more permits granted since the increased supply would lower the value of their assets. These parties are primarily also existing voters.
  2. The gain from obtaining planning permission is only enjoyed by the party who owns the land. Therefore other parties have no incentive to make the planning process easier, since they are not sharing in the gain.

Tim Harford points to work which attempts to get around this:

Tim Leunig, chief economist at CentreForum, a think-tank, has proposed a two-part system of land auctions to get around this problem. Local authorities would buy land at auction, grant planning permission on it and then sell the land on to developers — with some strings attached, if they so choose. The profits would be enormous, and enjoyed by existing residents in the form of lower taxes or better public services.

 

Off the top of my head:

  1. What is the guarantee that the profits made by the local authority will be used to fund general welfare programs benefiting everybody within the jurisdiction of the local authority equally? What is the guarantee that such profits will not be siphoned off to benefit local authority employees directly in the form of higher benefits which may become unsustainablein a less salubrious economic climate?
  2. Leunig’s proposal is essentially the 100%expropriation (taxation) of the increase in the value of the land due to the better use. One may argue that the increase in the value of the land enjoyed by the owner is primarily (solely?) because of the restrictions placed by the local authority. Therefore it does not belong to the owner in the first place. In other words bad policy (planning permission system and the rationing of permits) begets bad policy (100% taxation).
  3. As for the first auction, how seriously is competitive bidding envisaged, when the competitors to the local authority are at the mercies of the local authority for the granting of the planning permission? The first auction will have only one bidder, the local authority. Not really an auction then.

The solution in my opinion is:

  1. Let the local authority publicly draw up a set of guidelines and criteria, the fulfillment of which, will lead to automatic issue of the planning permission without discretion on part of the local authority. This criteria used could be the same as in the Leunig proposal where the local authority grants planning permission on land it sells to developers after buying it in a ‘rigged’ auction from the land owner (Interestingly Leunig and Harford are silent on the guidelines, if any, the local authority follows to grant planning permission on the land it buys)..
  2. Let the local authority impose a land value tax on the land or some sort of transaction tax on the transaction between the seller of the land and the buyer.

Of course my solution does not really address the vested interests of existing developers and house owners (and who are existing voters), the value of whose property will decrease with the increase in the supply of land. But the vested interest problem does not go away in the Leunig proposal. What is stopping the local authority from giving only a pittance to the land owner in the first auction, an amount so low that it does not meet the reserve price? And as I detailed above, who is going to bid against the local authority in the first auction?

Is the solution for this the breakup of the planning system at the parliamentary level? Or are there enough voters in the local authority level who can come together and force their local authorities to not ration planning permits?

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 16, 2012 at 18:37

Mr. Brigstocke, what’s wrong with free movement of capital and labour?

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Marcus Brigstocke on The Now Show of June 29, 2012 in a rant titled “Thank You and Goodbye!” (around the 20’40” mark)

…I’ve had it with bankers, multimillionaires and businesspeople and the rest announcing their imminent departure from the UK every time they are held to account by those of us who pay our taxes and vote. They are like teenagers who’ve had a row with their parents. <In an angry teen’s voice ranting> So for those threatening to leave when they are asked to pay their share of living here … GO. <Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive> Yes and once you’ve gone we will survive very happily. In fact I will happily drive any of you to the ferry terminal and push you off it. Here’s a thought, just so we don’t have to keep coming back to this tiresome discussion, its a simple honest decent proposal: <drumroll> Everyone has to live where their money is. See — easy! Now off you go …

If everyone has to live where their money is, what about people who have invested money in different places? Say they live in Manchester and have invested in a business in London? What if they live in Hull and their pensions are invested in e.g. BP? Mr. Brigstocke’s solution is simple enough.

Around the 25’30” mark:

I only wish that low income workers were able to hold the government to ransom by threatening to leave the country when they’re challenged. Just to wake up one day to a country where the only people at work spend their days moving fictional sums of money from one screen to another in the hope that the sums get bigger and they get a bonus. And somewhere in the distance as the streets lie unswept, unpoliced, shops shut, hospitals empty, schools boarded up, they hear “Goodbye Goodbye…<Some song which I cannot identify>

What is left unanswered is that if the current low income workers in the UK follow on their threat and leave, why would low income workers from other countries, whose income is vastly smaller,[1] not emigrate to the UK and sweep the streets, police the streets, open the shops, staff the hospitals and school?

Footnotes

[1] The UK defines poverty as income less than 60% of the median household income. In 2007-08, this was calculated to be GBP 115 per week for single adults with no dependent children. Source. In 2004-05 a fifth to a quarter of India’s population, around 200 M – 300 M (compare to UK population of 62 M in 2010) lived on less than GBP 2 per week. Source

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 10, 2012 at 11:07

Q. What is the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything? A. Capital Punishment

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  1. Randevouzz
    @ShashiTharoor according to me best Law = Saudi Arabia law. Behead the Killers and Rapists. Clean the country from filthy blood..best LAW..
    Sun, Jul 01 2012 17:26:59
  2. PolvolterDnkymn
    @Randevouzz And what if the executed person turns out to be innocent? Can we execute you then? @ShashiTharoor
    Sun, Jul 01 2012 17:27:37
  3. Randevouzz
    @PolvolterDnkymn Your question suites your ID name. Understand my Comment then use keyboard wisely dude. @ShashiTharoor..
    Mon, Jul 02 2012 13:59:26

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What’s wrong with Truck Nutz?

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Source

  1. How does one define abundant in “Everybody’s work rewards them abundantly”?
  2. If one defines “abundant” as the amount that allows one “to live in comfort and provide for their family” then how does one define “comfort”?
    • An abode big enough such that each kid has their own room?
    • An income big enough that allows each kid to have their own gaming console?
    • An income big enough that guarantees vacations anywhere one wishes to take them?
    • An income big enough that one can afford to eat out n times a week?
    • An income big enough that allows one to buy the latest technology whenever one wants?
  3. Should a person have a right to more than the value added by his or her labour?
  4. All goals sound worthwhile
    • From each according to his ability, to each according to his work[1]
    • Work will make you free[2]
    • Zhi sheng yige haizi hao : It is good to have just one child[3]
  5. But difficult question is how (or even whether) to achieve (or strive for) that goal[4][5][6]
    • If one carefully reads the strip nowhere in the strip does the top-hatted person specify how one is to work towards making the goal of “abundant income” a reality
  6. What’s wrong with Truck Nutz?
    • Presumably people buy them because they get some benefit out of them, in this case a laugh (or a smile).
    • Is making people laugh and/or smile a less than worthy endeavour?
    • If the person on the right had invented the Zipper[7] or the Safety Razor[8] or the Tampon[9] or the Heart Lung Machine[10] or the Pill[11]would his argument be worth taking more seriously?
    • As Deirdre McCloskey pointed out

Give a woman some rice, and you save her for a day. That’s the simplest form of what Christians flatter themselves by calling “Christian charity.” Give a man some seed and you save him for a year. That’s the plan of investment in capital, tried for decades in foreign aid, without much success. But give a man and a woman the liberty to innovate, and persuade them to admire enterprise and to cultivate the bourgeois virtues, and you save them both for a long life of wide scope, and for successively wider lives for their children and their grandchildren, too. That’s the Bourgeois Deal, which paid off in the Age of Innovation.[12]

 
Lest one misunderstands I am, otherwise, a fan of Wondermark.

 

Footnotes

[1] 1936 Constitution of the USSR Art. 12

[2] List of Political Slogans

[3] Chinese Political Slogans

[4] Mass killings under Communist regimes

[5] Arbeit macht frei

[6] One-child policy

[7] Whitcomb L. Judson

[8] King C. Gillette

[9] Earle Haas

[10] John Heysham Gibbon

[11] Gregory Pincus and Min Chueh Chang

[12] McCloskey, D. N., Bourgeois Dignity, University Of Chicago Press, November 30, 2010.

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 9, 2012 at 16:22

Mr. Gupta, have you met Mr. Gupta?

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Mr. Gupta, have you met Mr. Gupta?


Note:

  • Text on the right on green background is from Liberty is not libertinism by Kanchan Gupta, written on February 9, 2009. Text reproduced in the following table in the left-hand column.
  • Text on the left on white background is from Mini skirts, Jamaatis and their dark world by Kanchan Gupta, written on July 8, 2012. Text reproduced in the following table in the right-hand column.

 

Kanchan Gupta on[1] the Pink Chaddi Campaign Kanchan Gupta on[2] the dress code[3] called for by Jamaat
A … point that merits elaboration is the disdain which the charlatans who pose as emancipators of women … have for local community sensitivities, which are often casually referred to as local culture and tradition No less telling is the implicit worldview of the Jamaatis. The world they crave for is not splattered with colours and cultural diversity; it’s a joyless world where women are made to disappear …
There really is no need to fashion our lifestyle after Sex and the City. Recall … how faces were blackened of women who refused to don the burqa.
Just because … lip-locking …raises no eyebrows in the West does not mean the East must ape the mating game. Frivolities apart, there’s something darkly and deeply sinister about the Jamaat’s attempt to impose a dress code …
What is material and important is whether those around the individuals … are comfortable with it; if they feel discomfited or outraged, then their sensitivities must over-ride the presumed right to make a spectacle of yourself in public. … what is being sought is to titillate the imagination of the lowest common denominator of Kashmiri society, the rage boys of Islam … in the guise of protecting faith-based, culture-centric sensitivities.
By idolising deracinated men and women who have scant regard for moral values … we are promoting everything that is antithetical to our culture, our tradition. In the absence of that resistance[4], time will come when Jamaatis – whatever their organisational loyalty and affiliation – will demand that women be barred from wearing “mini skirts and other objectionable dresses” anywhere in the country as it hurts Muslim sensitivities

 

Alternative titles considered for this post:

  • That was then, this is now
  • Gupta vs. Gupta
  • On Miniskirts and Pink Chaddis

Note: I am, in no way, implying that Mr. Gupta supported the Sri Ram Sena. He in fact refers to them as “a bunch of goons masquerading as soldiers of Sri Ram Sena” and states that he does not defend “Pramod Muthalik’s hooliganism”. The question however remains: why give more importance to one community’s sensitivities compared to another community’s sensitivities? Of course, it could be that his opinions on the issue of personal liberty vis a vis community sensitivities have evolved. However I received no answer when I asked him that.

  1. PolvolterDnkymn
    @KanchanGupta Great post. Have you repudiated “What is material … is whether those around … are comfortable” http://v.gd/VqSvni
    Sun, Jul 08 2012 11:52:14

 

Footnotes

[1] Gupta, K., Liberty is not libertinism, Feb 9, 2009

[2] Gupta, K., Mini skirts, Jamaatis and their dark world, Jul 8, 2012

[3] “Some tourists, mostly foreigners, are seen wandering in mini skirts and other objectionable dresses which is quite against the local ethos and culture. We have simply requested foreign tourists moving around to respect Kashmiri culture.” — Jamaat spokesman Zahid Ali said (emphasis mine).

[4] … the political will and courage to call [the Jamaat’s] bluff and stand up to [the Jamaat’s] bullying …

FPTP is just as bad!

with 14 comments

  1. PolvolterDnkymn
    @sabhlok All the ills described in the linked article happen in India which uses First Past The Post

Sanjeev Sabhlok excerpts from an article in The Australian by Janet Albrechtsen[1] on why proportional representation (PR) is bad (for Australia). He uses this article as to why India should not adopt PR for elections. I counter that all the evils of PR as propounded by the article happen in India too which uses the first past the post (FPTP) voting system

Albrechtsen’s salient points are:

  1. PR ensures extremist (I read as non-major)[2] parties get representation
  2. No centrist party gets a majority and thus has to enter coalition government with the smaller extremist parties
  3. Thus these smaller extremist parties hold the balance of power
  4. Policies not desirable to the greater centre have to be adopted so as to placate the extremist party.
  5. Under PR, voters cannot know, when they vote, what the future governing coalition will look like
  6. It takes months of horse-trading and backroom deals to form a new government

Refutation of Sanjeev Sabhlok’s contention

Each of these above scenarios occur in India too which uses the FPTP system

Table 1. Tally of Seats won by INC and BJP 1989-2009
Lok Sabha[3] INC BJP Total/% of seats
Ninth (1989)[4] 195 89 Not calculated[5]
Tenth (1991) 252 121 373/68
Eleventh (1996) 140 163 303/56
Twelfth (1998) 142 183 325/60
Thirteenth (1999) 118 189 307/56
Fourteenth (2004) 159 147 306/56
Fifteenth (2009) 210 117 327/60


  1. Non-major centrist parties get elected to the Indian Parliament.
    • The major parties in India closest to the “centre” are the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The last time the INC ever had a majority in the lower house of the Indian Parliament was in 1984.[6] The BJP has never achieved a majority on its own (it was formed in 1980)
    • Thus even with FPTP 40-45% of the seats go to the non-major parties
  2. Thus the smaller parties hold the balance of power
    • In 1999 the governing coalition was brought down by a minor partner[7]
    • But it is not the smaller parties only which are guilty. In 1991 and 1997, the INC which was supporting the coalition from outside withdrew support resulting in elections
  3. Smaller parties in India have also forced the government to adopt policies at variance with the major party.
    • The Indian government’s policy to allow foreign direct investment in the retail sector was derailed by the TrinaMool Congress (TMC) which has 20 (4%) of seats in the Lok Sabha and is a member of the current governing coalition.
    • The Indian government barely survived a confidence motion in the Lok Sabha after the Left Front[8] having 60 (11%) seats withdrew support over the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement[9]
  4. It is laughable to say that under PR voters cannot know, at the time of voting, what the future governing coalition will look like. Such phenomenon occur in FPTP too.
    • In the UK general elections in 2010 no party had a majority resulting in a coalition between the Tories and the Lib Dems. At the time a tory voter or a lib-dem voter voted, s/he had no idea that there would be a future governing coalition (let alone what it would look like).[10]
      • Voters who voted for the Lib Dems, after the party pledged not to raise tuition fees, wouldn’t have known that the Lib Dems would vote for a tuition fee increase when in government as a coalition with the Tories.
      • Voters who voted for the Tories, believing its manifesto promise to be tougher on Europe, wouldn’t have known that the Tory PM Cameron would make a U-turn on his campaign promise to support a campaign by the European Parliament to reduce its monthly “travelling circus” to Strasbourg.
    • In India, due to the emergence of non-major parties on to the national scene, parties usually contest elections as part of larger coalitions, which one may think gives the voter an indication of what the future governing coalition would look like. However such coalitions are extraordinarily fluid and regularly lose and gain members.
      • The United Progressive Alliance (of which INC is the major member and which is now in power) has regularly lost members.
      • The National Democratic Alliance (of which BJP is the major member and which is now in opposition) has also regularly lost members.
      • In fact most of the smaller parties keep switching between the two major parties. Thus even in an FPTP system voters cannot know, when they vote, what the future governing coalition will look like.
  5. The last objection to PR is that it leads to months of horse-trading and backroom deals to form a new government. Such horse trading and backroom deals are nothing new in India.
    • Aaya Ram Gaya Ram politics in India have been going on for decades.
    • Horse trading in Uttar Pradesh has a long and (un)distinguished history.
    • In 1993 certain MPs of a small party were given “donations” of money to vote for the government and against a no-confidence motion (which the government survived).[11]

Thus given the above evidence I believe, unlike Sanjeev, that India does not need to be wary of proportional representation because any “ills” it has are already manifested in India with its FPTP system. Sanjeev’s position therefore stands refuted.

A Theoretical and Philosophical argument againt Albrechtsen

Turning to a more theoretical and philosophical discussion regarding PR and FPTP, I wonder why Albrechtsen is hostile to small parties. Is it because as a supporter of one of the major Australian parties (the Liberals) she is does not like the feeling of having to negotiate and compromise with other duly elected representatives? It seems to me that the article is arguing that the centre should be allowed to ignore the non-central opinions, that the 60-70% of the electorate has the power to ignore the remaining 30-40% which does not agree with them.

Turning to the issue of smaller parties preventing the adoption of good policies by the centrist parties, what is preventing the centrist parties to come together in support of the good policy and freezing out the smaller parties. e.g. in a 11 seat legislature let’s assume A has 5 seats, B has 4, and C and D have 1 each, with C and D being the non-centrist parties and A being in a coalition with C. If A is pushing a policy opposed by C with C threatening to leave the coalition why doesn’t A solicit support from B? If it is a reasonably centrist (and thus desirable according to Albrechtsen[12]) policy then I don’t see why B and A cannot negotiate some sort of acceptable compromise legislation. It is a failure of the major parties to come together to pass centrist policies and this failure is being disguised, by the likes of Albrechtsen, as the unreasonableness of the smaller parties.[13]

As for smaller parties forcing through undesirable policies, who is letting them? The major parties should be blamed for kowtowing to the smaller parties in their lust for power. If the policy is undesirable to the major party what is stopping it from telling the smaller party to take hike? The fear that it will lose a no-confidence motion? So is staying in power more important to the major party than opposition to bad policy? And instead of blaming the major parties Albrechtsen is blaming the small parties?

Australian Context

One point that should be made is that Albrechtsen wrote this piece in the Australian context. In Australia the upper house is elected by a PR system incorporating a single transferable vote with an “above the line” system. In this system a voter instead of individually ranking each candidate, ranks slates of candidates (each slate comprising of all the party candidates). Since the parties are in possession of these preferences they can then trade them with each other. While such trading agreements are published in advance, they are complicated enough such that it is difficult for the average voter to easily determine the fate of his or her preferences. In such a context parties get enormous power on how to direct the individual voter’s vote. Thus it makes the parties powerful and also it abrogates the link between the elected official and the voters and weakens accountability. I agree with Albrechtsen and Sanjeev that such a system which gives so much power to parties is bad for democracy.[14]

Personally I prefer the Instant Runoff Voting System. This allows voters to show their support for smaller parties without the risk of a major party losing because of a divided vote. Given that the Freedom Team of India (FTI) is a fringe party I am surprised Sanjeev[15] would not be in favour of a system which will allow people to vote for FTI without fears of a wasted vote.[16]

A Note on Language

The last important point I want to note is the language used by Albrechtsen. She uses the word “extremist” and “fringe” to denote the non-major parties. This a point worth noting. By labeling the non-major parties as extremist and fringe Albrechtsen is attempting to confine them to beyond the pale. However what is left unexplained is on what basis should the major parties be respected? Because they are supported by a majority of the public? The smaller parties are to be ignored because they are not supported by the majority? That logic is no different from one justifying the tyranny of the majority; so why constrain[17] the power of a government duly elected by a majority? But is being extremist wrong? In a polity dominated by major parties which do not believe in free trade[18] a position supporting free trade is by definition extremist. In a world where mainstream policy favours protectionism support for free trade is extremist. In a polity where the major parties do not believe in personal liberty[19] a position believing in personal liberty and autonomy is by definition extremist.

Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.[20]

A corollary to the above is the combination of Australia’s compulsory voting system with Albrechtsen’s view that fringe parties are not worthy of representation. It is akin to forcing people to go to the voting booth and then making them choose between alternatives which are both repulsive (one may be slightly less so than the other): “You must buy a car and it could be any colour you want as long as it’s vomit green or feces brown.”

By Albrechtsen’s (and by extension Sanjeev’s) logic parties such as Lok Satta and FTI that are fringe (and extremist given the pro-statist ideologies of both the INC and the BJP) do not deserve legislative representation.[21]

And the very last point. Majority government does not magically provide good policy and governance. A majority government is just as likely as a coalition to promulgate bad policy. It even finds it easier to ride rough-shod over individual freedom and liberty because there is no party in the legislature to challenge it. The only good government is a small government (whether minority or majority), constrained by a constitution with enough space for economic freedom and personal liberty to unleash the power of the free markets and free minds — the surest engine of human growth and progress.

Footnotes


[1] The Australian is the newspaper of the conservative establishment in Australia. Albrechtsen is a columnist for it. It is no surprise that the article is a paean to the establishment.

[2] This is a major point which I will come to later. As of now I will restrict myself to pointing out that the label of “extremism” is used to delegitimise the smaller parties.

[3] As of now its strength is 545 members

[4] The second largest party in that election was the Janata Dal which thereafter split repeatedly

[5] Because the INC and BJP were not the two largest parties

[6] 426 seats; The BJP had 2 seats.

[7] The minor partner was the AIADMK which had 18 MPs in a house of 545 (3%). It withdrew its support to the governing coalition because certain demands were not met e.g. dismissal of the then Tamil Nadu government run by AIADMK’s arch rival DMK

[8] A conglomeration of communist parties

[9] The said agreement is a most complicated agreement and on which I am not an expert. However it goes to original anti-PR point that small parties have a disproportionate influence on policy. My point has been that such disproportionate influence exists in FPTP too.

[10] One may object to this argument on the basis that it is not an apt analogy because in PR voters know that there would be a coalition, they only don’t know what it would look like and that this was not the case in the UK, since the voters expected their party to win (not the lib-dems surely?). However final polls before the start of voting show that no major party was close to getting a majority of the seats, thus raising the spectre of coalition.

[11] See also It’s official; political bribery is tax-free. Ask the taxman,

[12] Coalitions comprising of fringe parties produce “lower-quality policy and politics”. Supra note 1

[13] The issue of FDI on retail in India is the example of such failure by the major parties. As has been detailed above the TMC held the governing coalition hostage. The BJP could have supported the governing coalition as it had supported the policy when in power. Of course needless to say it dropped such a policy when in opposition.

[14] One rationale for why above the line voting was adopted is that since Australia enforces compulsory voting it behoves the administration to make voting as easy as possible. However above the line voting is an attempt to mitigate the impact of a bad policy viz. compulsory voting (based on the same rationale as conscription) by another bad policy such that the net result is even worse.

[15] He is a member and supporter of the FTI. His writings on FTI.

[16] Some may object that IRV denies the “one person one vote principle” but I disagree. While it may seem that the voters whose first preference candidate loses get to vote a second time for another candidate, nobody is preventing any voter from ranking any number of candidates. If a voter declines to choose any candidate apart from his/her first preference, it is no different from an eligible voter abstaining from an election in an FPTP system.

[17] Courtesy Sanjeev Sabhlok.

[18] Only 25 members of the US House of Representatives in the 108th Congress voted consistently in favour of free trade Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the 108th Congress

[19] The House of Commons passed, by large majorities, the Health Act 2006 which banned smoking in pubs. A private member’s bill to exempt pubs from the 2006 ban was defeated in 2010

[20] This is a paraphrase. The actual quote is “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

[21] I have purposefully referred to Sanjeev’s writings on the two major parties of India given that his endorsement of the Albrechtsen’s viewpoint would lead to their entrenchment in the Indian polity.