Future of Feminism on Display in WNBA

By Elisabeth
Carnell

If you want to see the future
of feminism, throw out the tired tracts and rants by Gloria Steinem and
Susan Faludi. Instead plant your butt in front of the television on Saturday
as the Women’s National Basketball Association starts its inaugural season.

There are certainly a lot
of highly talented women playing on the eight initial teams, but none
is a better role model and all around player than New York Liberty center
Rebecca Lobo. Not only does Lobo play for a team that easily has the best
name in the history of sports teams, but she has achieved the sort of
success that anyone, male or female, would envy.

Lobo was the star of the
University of Connecticut team that went undefeated in 1995, spurring
interest in women’s basketball to new heights. Last summer she won an
Olympic gold medal as part of the USA Women’s Olympic Team in Atlanta.
During the brief WNBA season she is likely to be the dominant player in
the league.

Lobo and her fellow WNBA players
have done all of this without the help of the sort of government intervention
in the marketplace which feminists at organizations such as the National
Organization for Women constantly claim are needed in order for women
to succeed.

To be sure, Lobo and other
women athletes have benefited from Title IX, but Title IX is the sort
of legislation that even diehard free market types love. After all, the
crux of Title IX is merely that the government shouldn’t be handing out
money to schools and programs which discriminate against women. The success
of women athletes under Title IX in fact goes a long way to proving the
point that feminists seem to have forgotten — it is largely the government,
and not the market, which is the major cause of discrimination.

Somehow, for example, a woman’s
basketball league was created without resorting to the host of discriminatory
affirmative action programs which groups such as NOW constantly whine
for. Players like Lobo or Sheryl Swoopes never sued the National Basketball
Association for sex discrimination even though that league hasn’t had
a single female player in its entire history. Women didn’t ask the NBA
to lower its extraordinarily high standards for both athleticism and skill
to allow women into its ranks.

In fact, as Lobo all but
concedes, it is extremely unlikely that a woman will ever play in the
NBA. Despite her abundant talents, for example, Lobo wouldn’t stand a
chance of making an NBA squad. But as she puts it, “We don’t need to [worry
about the NBA] anymore, we have our own league, and we shouldn’t have
to compare ourselves to the men.”

And that league exists for
one reason and one reason only — pure, unbridled capitalism. The NBA
thinks interest in women’s basketball is finally at a point where it can
generate enough advertising revenues to support the costs and perhaps
even turn a profit eventually.

Competition and capitalism,
freed from onerous government regulations such as those which promoted
sexual discrimination, are the key to improving the lives of women. Already
8 million women own their own businesses, employing almost 16 million
people according to the Independent Women’s Forum.

As Lobo sums it up, “…all
we’re asking for is an opportunity to play.” Just give women an equal
opportunity to get the ball, and forget all of that nonsense about special
favors, affirmative action and similar efforts which only serve to perpetuate
women’s social inequality.

Wendy McElroy – Bibliography

Editor. Freedom, Feminism, and the State : An Overview of Individualist
Feminism.
Holmes & Meier, Publishers, Inc., 1991.

Liberty, 1881-1908 : a comprehensive index. Michael E Coughlin.

The Reasonable Woman; A Guide for Intellectual
Survival.
Prometheus Books, 1998.

Sexual Correctness : The Gender-Feminist Attack on Women. McFarland
& Company, 1996.

XXX : A Woman’s Right to Pornography.
St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

What If Censorship Were Impossible?

Today the debate over censorship centers around when, if ever, a state can
censor publications. Does the First Amendment protect even child pornography?
Should people who write and publish books that are little more than how-to guides
for murder be held liable by civil juries when real people follow those instructions
and commit real murders? These are interesting questions which test the limits
of even the most libertarian of individuals, but what if censorship were impossible?
Would this be a good thing?

The world is about to find out. Sometime in the next month or two a group of
hackers with a strongly anarchist bent are going to unleash a new computer network
that, assuming it doesn’t get shut down right away by private lawsuits or government
decree, will make it practically impossible to censor information. The system,
appropriately enough, is called Freenet.

Freenet is, in many ways, not all that different from the Internet. To reach
this web page, the reader needs to enter a universal resource locator (URL),
which the network of computers that make up the Internet then use to retrieve
the web page or other information. The major difference is that the Internet
uses a centralized model whereas the Freenet uses a distributed file model.

The centralized model is relatively easy to understand – the essay you are
reading exists on a server. Anytime someone wants to read it, he or she gives
a URL that includes the address of the server, the directory and finally the
file. In this system it’s generally relatively easy to track both readers and
publishers. If a court ruled this file obscene, to remove it all a government
would have to do would be to find out who owns this server and then seize it.

The distributed file system used by Freenet is a bit more complicated. There
are still URLs, but the URLs don’t include the address for a specific server.
Rather the URL is a unique name for the file. This file’s Freenet URL, for example,
might be called http://brian.carnell/censorship_impossible.html. Rather than
rent a server in a physical location, I simply submit the file to any number
of Freenet nodes (essentially each node is a separate computer). Then the Freenet
protocol decides which of the many nodes available to it, it will store the
file on. The Freenet has a number of technical advantages – if lots of people
in Europe request this essay, the Freenet notices this and can make sure the
essay appears on one or more European servers (thereby cutting down transmission
time and costs). If lots of people request the article the Freenet can put the
file on many servers, whereas if very few people request it, it can put the
article on just a handful of servers or delete it from the system altogether.

When a reader types in a request for this file, the Freenet starts a process
of finding the nearest server to the reader that has the file and delivers it.
So how does this make censorship impossible? Because its developers have built
strong encryption into the inner workings of the Freenet. The short version
is this: neither I nor anybody else knows exactly on which computer(s) my essay
is stored. Even the folks who run a particular Freenet node don’t know what’s
on their server (and this also means if I choose too, I could have total anonymity
– I could write something and no one would have any practical way to trace it
back to me).

Moreover, the Freenet is designed to put into practice the common, but incorrect,
aphorism that the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around
it. In fact, the traditional Internet is highly susceptible to censorship. The
Freenet is specifically designed, however, so that if a government does manage
to find a copy of this essay on a server and remove it, the Freenet will then
propagate my essay even further on the Internet. Like a hydra, every time you
delete a copy of a file, two or three other copies pop up.

Of course, this does not mean that censorship is literally impossible. But
once hundreds and thousands of nodes get running around the world, censoring
any file would be extraordinarily difficult.

But is a world where censorship is impossible a good thing? Certainly it has
its upsides. Numerous governments around the world – even liberal democracies
– try to keep their citizens from having access to certain information. That
job would be incredibly more difficult – once it gets onto the Freenet, getting
information off it will be impossible. The obvious workaround that states will
try is to limit citizen access to the Freenet, but since it will be possible
to offer Internet gateways to the Freenet, this is not likely to be a viable
option. Like strong cryptography, which makes it much harder for states to monitor
their citizens communications, once the Freenet is out there and in widespread
use, the jig will be up.

The Freenet is not, however, necessarily an unmitigated good and the problems
– along with the Freenet designers’ failures to grasp the issues involved –
presents the biggest obstacle to the Freenet. If public opinion against Freenet
is strong enough in Western industrial countries, the whole system could die
before it gets off the ground.

Why should anyone hate a system that makes censorship impossible? Because
sometimes, believe it or not, even hard core free market libertarians have a
good reason to want information removed from the marketplace. Most free market
types, for example, still see value in laws which punish libel. Freenet allows
anyone to make libelous statements that are not only completely anonymous but
are impossible to remove from the system.

Even worse is the situation with child pornography. Ian Clarke, the primary
creator of the Freenet system, anticipates the argument about child pornography
but misses the extent of the problem. Clarke defends his system’s ability to
spread child pornography by claiming “it is impossible to state categorically
that any given piece of information is “safe” to censor,” including child pornography,
and moreover that “child abuse is already illegal (and pictorial evidence of
it can obviously be used in court to obtain convictions), so censorship is not
really required to prevent distribution of material depicting actual abuse.”

This, of course, is nonsense. Child pornographers don’t take pictures to document
their crimes for evidentiary purposes, but rather for current and future sexual
(and possibly financial) purposes. While such pictures might aid in a prosecution,
once on the Freenet the pictures are available essentially forever if the system
works as Clarke envisions it. Of course what Clarke leaves out is that the pictures
themselves are an ongoing violation of the child depicted. In Clarke’s world,
a criminal could videotape his rape, digitize it and post it on the Freenet,
and Clarke’s major response is there’s no proof such a videotape will cause
any other men to go out and rape women. Fair enough, but what about the real
live woman depicted in that video completely against her will. Or take these
scenarios a step further – suppose someone decided to commit a murder specifically
to film it and distribute it on the Freenet.

Similar, though not quite so extreme, cases have already been a problem on
the Internet – in a high profile case, for example, illicitly recorded videos
of athletes in locker rooms were distributed over the Internet. In a world without
Freenet-style protections, the state uses its monopoly on violence to arrest
anyone who tried to widely distribute such materials, but would find it impossible
to suppress such information on the Freenet, nor establish who uploaded or downloaded
the material.

Which is not to say that Clarke’s suggestion to “abolish all forms of censorship” is not a good idea. I happen to think it is, but the case against it is a lot
stronger than Clarke even begins to imagine. There is another reason aside from
all of the high-minded one’s Clarke offers, however, to go along with the good
and evils a system like Freenet will create – it is inevitable.

No, it is not inevitable in the sense that death is, but it is inevitable in
the sense that the only way to suppress it would be to resort to methods that
would produce far more evil than Freenet ever will. Maybe if the United States
and Europe decided tomorrow to start regulating and restricting Internet access
much like China and Vietnam do, Freenet could be stopped. Maybe if liberal democracies
were to require computers to be hardwired to only a small band, much as radios
in North Korea are hardwired to only receive state approved stations, Freenet
would never make it off the ground. But today the same freedom that makes the
Internet work almost guarantees that the Freenet will soon spread like wildfire
across the world with thousands of nodes.

Alexander Cockburn, Left Wingers, Right Wingers and Libertarianism

As a former leftist who now considers himself a libertarian, I was fascinated to read Alexander Cockburn’s musings on whether the whole Left/Right dichotomy makes any sense any more. Cockburn’s article, “Life and Libertarians: Beyond Left and Right,” was occasioned by an invitation to speak at Antiwar.com’s recent national conference. Antiwar.com is, as the name suggests, an anti-war organization that is decidedly libertarian in orientation.

Cockburn reports that he got some angry e-mails from some Leftists folks who didn’t approve of Cockburn speaking at an event that Pat Buchanan (who opposed both the Kosovo intervention and the Persian Gulf War) was speaking at. Cockburn’s reply to one of these critics is a succinct, “I don’t mind sharing a conference schedule with someone who opposes war on Serbs and on Iraqi kids.”

Cockburn’s article is interesting because he is the exception to the rule that currently plagues much left (and right) politics – he is an independent thinker who doesn’t blindly insist on separating everything into these silly categories. Even I was surprised, for example, to see Cockburn lending support to the Fully Informed Jury Association, which believes juries have the right to judge the law as well as the facts of a case. As Cockburn notes, most people on the Left tend to see jury nullification as a tool of white racists, although it has a long history supporting freedom and liberty going back to before the existence of the United States and played an important role allowing northern juries to set fugitive slaves free (the juries rightly deciding that regardless of the merits of the case, fugitive slave laws were simply wrong).

Cockburn could have just as easily added that most conservatives also aren’t very fond of FIJA because they see jury nullification as the tool of liberal extremists who want to avoid sending young men and women to jail for years for possession of an outlawed chemical substance.

An anecdote Cockburn tells of wanting to go see a weekend event called “Gunstock” a few hours away from me in Detroit reminds me of what originally alienated me from much of the Left. A friend of Cockburn’s described Gunstock as people who hate the United Nations and are in favor of guns, and was horrified that Cockburn still wanted to visit the show. When he wrote a column for The Nation suggesting Leftists take to gun shows with their copies of The Nation and talk to these folks, the idea wasn’t very well received to say the least.

One of things I most vividly remember about protesting the Persian Gulf War was the rather general arrogance of my (then) fellow Leftists students and others who basically believed they had the Solution and could not understand why others disagreed with them. I remember distinctly a fellow protester explaining to me that he believed our protests were all futile – nothing would change until some sort of apocalyptic act brought down the entire capitalist structure. No wonder nobody was listening to us.

But the issue I really want to address what Cockburn says toward the end of his article – just how far can libertarians and leftists unite on the anti-war platform.

So, my libertarian friends, at what point do you get off the train? You say, ‘we like corporations, the right for people to associate and form a corporation and issue publicly held stock and maximize profits. This is part and parcel of the economic package we favor.’ Then you have to do battle with leftists, those who say corporate greed will lead to war and waste.

Libertarians will leave the Left precisely where they leave the Right – when the conversation turns to using the power of the state to interfere with free association. The Right insists on using the power of the state to enhance some corporations at the expense of the rest of us. This is wrong. The Left, on the other hand, wants to the use the power of the state to render corporations largely impossible. This is wrong, also. Despite what many Leftists seem to think, most libertarians don’t want to become faceless drones working in enormous corporations. We believe that the current system of corporate/government control is due precisely to the failure of the government to remain a neutral party in associations, and many of us suspect that in large measure the corporate system wouldn’t survive a return to true neutrality, but would be replaced by something better that none of us can foresee. But we’re not prepared to use the power of the state to force that vision down the throats of Americans.

Take Pentagon spending. Is the economy basically underpinned by Pentagon spending, defense spending, and has been ever since 1938-roughly when the New Deal failed, which it did, effectively.

On Pentagon spending, your friends on the Left tend to be bald hypocrites. On the one hand Pentagon spending is supposed to be an unmitigated horror. On the other hand, people like Barbara Ehrenreich throw out the creation of the Internet, motivated in large measure by military needs, as conclusive proof of the need for government programs. Which is it? Is massive government spending a panacea or is it an unmitigated disaster”? It would be nice if the Left could make up its collective mind. For libertarians, the answer is relatively straightforward. Pentagon spending should be chopped to the bare minimum needed for defense of the country. We shouldn’t be financing a globe trotting army and wasting billions to starve children in Iraq.

On this and a wide range of issues, in fact I think there is possibility for a lot of cooperative working together , but it will require overcoming a lot of misconceptions and, occasionally, animosity. A couple years ago, I was part of a group at the university I work at that held a hugely successful daylong protest in favor of marijuana legalization. To pull the event off required a coalition of libertarians, environmentalists and leftists. There was certainly no love lost between myself and the environmentalists groups as we had clashed repeatedly over various issues for several years. Yet we were able to put those animosities and disagreements aside for this cause. (On the other hand the Free Tibet student group, run by leftists, wanted nothing to do with us libertarians.

Before I end, let me suggests another area where Leftists and libertarians should have a lot of agreement – speech issues. Unfortunately, the idea of free speech is under constant assault by both the right and the left. A few years ago I saw a protest on campus that confirmed my worst fears. There was the most prominent lefty professor and many of his students walking hand in hand with conservative right wingers to protest ads for a local strip club that appear in the student newspaper. They were chanting, “You say free speech, I say free woman.” More and more I see leftists turning away from the free speech absolutism that attracted me to left wing politics in the first place, and instead justifying restrictions on speech provided they harm only corporations. I keep reading ridiculous claims even in magazines like The Nation that associations of individuals, such as corporations, simply don’t have free speech rights (one wonders how these folks will react when conservatives propose restricting the speech of Planned Parenthood on precisely these grounds).

So why not more alliances between libertarians and independent-minded leftists? After we’ve made the world safe from Pentagon spending, corporate welfare, censorship, capital punishment and a whole host of other issues, then we can happily move on to fighting amongst each whatever issues are left over.

Does Anybody Believe In Free Speech Anymore?

       Once in awhile somebody sends
me an e-mail asking something like “what made you become a libertarian?”
My answer is simple – libertarians are the only group I know who actually
take the idea of free speech seriously. For the traditional left and the
right, supporting free speech often seems to be largely a political act
– to be against freedom of speech is like being against Mom or apple pie,
but in the end neither group has much of a problem compromising free speech
for their own ends.

       On the right, a prime example
of this is the regular efforts to abridge the First Amendment by making
it illegal to deface the American flag. At the moment I have two flags
squirreled away in a closet – one I received at the death of my grandfather,
who served in World War II, and the other I received at the death of my
father, who won a Silver Star in Vietnam. They fought for freedom, not
to treat those whom they might vehemently disagree with as criminals.
To ban the burning or other defacing of the American flag is so absurd,
it is something that reads like a scene out of Alice In Wonderland.

       Not that the left tends to
be any better. Having finished college not too many years ago and working
at university at the moment, IÂ’ve been always been a bit shocked at left
wingers who like to pretend that “political correctness” is a right wing
myth that doesn‘t exist outside of the minds of paranoid conservatives.
The recent McCarthy-like treatment of an University of Oklahoma professor
amply illustrates the Cold War-like persecution of any sort of dissenting
views from the right on AmericaÂ’s campus.

       This controversy started after
a female student wrote an opinion column in the student newspaper saying
that, “Easy access to a handgun allows everyone in this country . . .
to quickly and easily kill as many random people as they want.” In response
to this, David Deming, associate professor of Geology and Geophysics,
replied in a letter to the editor that “[The female writer’s] easy access
to a vagina enables her to quickly and easily have sex with as many random
people as she wants . . . and spread venereal diseases.”

       For his reductio ad absurdum,
students filed more than twenty sexual harassment complaints against Deming
and the Dean of the College of Geosciences, John T. Snow, blasted Deming
in a letter that accused him of, among other things, lowering morale in
the department and upsetting the university president. In typical politically
correct form, that very letter urged Deming to “show due respect for the
opinions of others.” Apparently Snow, like some of the students at Oklahoma,
is unable to actually consider the arguments he uses but rather just repeats
them as simple platitudes.

       The Supreme Court recently
made both left and right wing activists happy ruling that a ban on nude
dancing does not violate the First Amendment. According to the Supreme
Court, a law requiring erotic dancers to wear pasties and a g-string doesnÂ’t
interfere with the conveyances of their message and so is not inconsistent
with the First Amendment when such a ban also serves an important public
interest (in this case reducing crime and other problem associated with
such establishments).

       The error is the same whether
the limitation on speech is made in the name of the left, the right or
a vague “public interest.” Free speech is a fundamental human right,
not some building block to be tinkered with and limited and expanded as
the state may see fit. The only time speech should ever be limited by
government is when it is necessary to do so to prevent direct, immediate
physical harm to people (such as ordering a trained guard dog to “kill.”)
If it canÂ’t meet that test (which bans on flag burning, reductio ad absurdum
arguments, and completely nude dancing all fail), no interference with
speech should go forward.

The FDA Should Bring More Choice to the Prescription Drug Market

Should it be illegal to sell
cars because some drivers will inevitably choose to drive while intoxicated?
Should the government force glue manufacturers to withdraw their products
becomes some people will hurt themselves sniffing glue to get high? If
the Food and Drug Administration had jurisdiction over cars and glue,
these scenarios just might happen — so far this year, the FDA already
removed two popular, effective drugs because too many doctors and patients
were not using the drugs according to the instructions provided by manufacturers.

Rezulin, a drug produced by
Warner-Lambert, helped patients regulated their diabetes. Patients who
before were injecting themselves with insulin several times a day could
reduce their injection schedules to nice a day. Unfortunately, Rezulin
has a well-documented serious drawback — it can cause liver damage. To
prevent this, the materials Warner Lambert ships with Rezulin and which
it and the FDA have sent to doctors repeatedly, recommends all patients
get a baseline liver screen and then monthly liver monitoring at least
through the first six months of taking the drug.

The result — by and large
the instructions have been ignored. An FDA study found that fewer than
10 percent of patients taking Rezulin were given the full regimen of liver
monitoring. As a result the FDA concluded that the drugs risks more than
outweighed its benefits and forced Warner-Lambert to remove the drug from
the U.S. market.

Much the same thing happened
with Johnson and Johnson’s heartburn medication, Propulsid. LIke many
medications, Propulsid’s label lists a variety of side effects and warns
about potential risks when the drug is taken by people with various medical
conditions. Again, though, these warnings were largely ignored. An FDA
study of 270 adverse events involving Propulsid, including 70 deaths,
found 85 percent of the adverse events occurred in patients with medical
conditions mentioned as risky in the label. As with Rezulin, the FDA decided
to take Propulsid off the market.

The FDA did something similar
last year with a powerful analgesic designed for use in operating rooms
after surgery. The drug in that case was extremely effective, but if taken
for any long period of time could cause kidney failure. The instructions
with the drug clearly stated the drug was to be prescribed only for short
one to two week intervals. Instead doctors ignored the warnings and wrote
6 month and even year long prescriptions. After several people died from
prolonged use of the drug, the FDA pulled it off the market.

Is this a sensible way to manage
the regulation of prescription drugs? In effect, the FDA is setting the
risk threshold at the lowest common denominator of patient behavior. The
satisfied, responsible users of Rezulin, Propulsid and other drugs are
largely ignored while those who choose to ignore FDA and drug manufacturers’
warnings are allowed to drive the drug approval process. What sort of
screwy system denies some patients important medications due entirely
to the recklessness of other patients and doctors?

       The optimal solution — get
rid of the FDA and rely on private agencies to certify medications —
is politically untenable at the moment, but there is another option to
increase patient choice while relying on government to protect folks from
themselves. Although the situation varied widely decades ago, today all
the major Western industrial nations rely on very similar methods to certify
drugs as safe and efficacious. Today the main factor that keeps a drug
approved from being approved in all countries is not differing safety
and efficacy data, but rather different ways of interpreting that data
and judging risks and benefits.

Americans should have the best
of both worlds — the FDA should allow the import and sale of any prescription drug approved for sale in modern, industrialized nations.
There’s no reason an American citizen should have to travel to Europe
to buy a drug that’s approved for sale there but not here. To appease
the public health folks, the government could require that all patients
prescribed such medication be informed by both a doctor and a label on
the prescription bottle that the medication has been approved by a foreign
drug agency but not by the FDA.

Thankfully, in the United States
people have relatively more choice over health care than anyplace in the
world. Don’t want to be revived by extraordinary measures if you’re on
the verge? Just fill out a do not resuscitate order. Want to donate a
kidney to the next door neighbor kid who needs a transplant? Not a problem.
Surely if healthy people can decide for themselves to give an organ or
decide not to receive life saving treatment, those some people can decide
for themselves whether the risks of taking Rezulin or Propulsid outweigh
the benefits.

If the FDA really wanted to
improve American’s health, it could start by giving them more choice over
the prescription drugs they can take.