Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Keith & Jacques & Glen & Jack

Tuesday, 31 December 2002

Glen Milne finished his year at The Australian yesterday with this op-ed piece on the coming review of the National Museum of Australia (NMA). When I first read the reports of the review in The Age, which referred to the review as an inquiry into excessive "political correctness", I was a little skeptical, but according to Milne too, the committee's brief means "that the committee would be justified in going to questions of ideological balance."

Milne's report relies very heavily on an address by Keith Windschuttle to a conference at the NMA in December 2001. Milne gives this summary of the museum's problems and their source:

The Australians who wander into the museum to gawk at Azaria Chamberlain's torn nightie and share a Christmas Cornetto with the children would probably be amazed to know that what they're looking at is now the centre of a fierce dispute that goes back to the establishment of postmodern philosophy under the French deconstructionist, Jacques Derrida. But what might sound remote is also intensely political. And all politics is local. What this debate represents is a battle for the hearts and minds of middle Australia. The way they view their history will affect they way they vote.

What has now been joined at the NMA is a fight for ownership of the past in the sure knowledge that whichever side of politics owns the past will also own the future.

Derrida's theory rests on the claim that the British empirical method of establishing facts and recording them is inadequate because such history is polluted by existing class values. Therefore, says, Derrida, history should be revitalised using contemporary values. Within Derrida's world view, "facts" in the old sense cease to exist.


It's a frightening picture: thousands of innocent Cornetto gobbling middle Australians, unaware that behind the popular spectacle of Azaria's torn nightie lurks the evil menace of postmodern deconstructionism. Instead of a National Museum of which we can all be proud - we are one, and that's it, thank you very much - we have an ideological travesty, designed to seduce middle Australia with a view of history concocted according to the formula of the evil French mastermind Jacques Derrida.

There are two difficulties I have with Milne's account of the struggle over the ideological bias of the National Museum. The first is with his characterisation of middle Australia, the second with his representation of Derrida's philosophy.

It would be easy to be misled by the sneering tone of Milne's description of some museum visitors as "The Australians who wander into the museum to gawk at Azaria Chamberlain's torn nightie and share a Christmas Cornetto with the children" and conclude that Milne is something of an intellectual snob, who believes that the sort of people who want go into a museum to see Azaria Chamberlain's torn nightie with an ice-cream grubbied kid or two in tow simply have no business being there. But clearly this is not the case: Milne's remark is aimed at the debased spectacle of Azaria's nightie, which is not befitting a proper museum.

Nor should we be misled by Milne's assertion that the intellectual battle over postmodernism is a battle for the hearts and minds of middle Australia, which will be won by the side which gets to shape their view of history. As a TV journalist and newspaper columnist it is inconceivable that Milne would believe that middle Australians will be largely passive specators in this dispute, content to let the big intellects slug it out, then passively accept the view of history that is presented to them by the winners, whether it is in the history books or in the galleries of the NMA. Milne is not stupid so there is no reason to conclude that he believes the people are stupid, whatever the textual evidence may suggest.


The problem I have with Milne's summary of the theories of Jacques Derrida is more substantial: it's not just a matter of a few unfortunate lapses in style. I admit that it is nearly 20 years since I studied Derrida's theories, so my memory may be faulty and I'm certainly not up to date with Derrida's latest work. However my memory of reading Writing and Difference and Of Grammatology, plus what was said of Derrida's theory in lectures and tutorials simply doesn't match Milne's summary.

If memory serves, Derrida makes a lot out of Western philosophy's habit of creating binary oppositions in which one term is privileged over the other: Essence and Existence, for example. This usually results in a lot of argument about which is more important: should Essence open the door for Existence, or is it the other way around? In Of Grammatology he doesn't concern himself directly with this most enduring of philosophical dualities (philosophers have been tossing it around in one form or another since the Pre-Socratics), but some more apparently ordinary ones: language and speech (or for Saussurians langue and parole) and speech and writing. He also writes a lot about supplementation and the supplement, an idea which he has a lot of complicated fun with. The text he uses as the springboard for this discussion is Jean Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, in particular a passage where Rousseau uses the word "supplement" as a euphemism for masturbation.

You could easily get a joke out of this, to the effect that Of Grammatology is a big book about wanking, written by a French wanker, for a lot of other wankers. If that's your idea of satirical humour, you're welcome to it. It doesn't in any way detract from the main point of my quick snap-shot of Derrida's work: there's sod all about the British empirical method or class values in it. Whatever his virtues as a journalist and columnist, when it comes to Jacques Derrida, Glen Milne doesn't know Jack Shit.

There's still a lot to be said on Milne's article: it's one of those irritating pieces that is so damn wrong, you wonder where to begin and just how long to go on. However, now that the National Museum's presentation of history has been put on the culture wars agenda, along with the Windschuttle vs Reynolds et al stoush, its another subject I can come back to later. And later. And later.

- *** -

Update: the comments threads for the first two parts of this post are well worth reading.

Monday, December 30, 2002

My Predictions for 2003

Monday, December 30 2002

With only a day or two to go before the New Year, it's probably time for bloggers everywhere to start thinking about their predictions for 2003 (if they haven't already done so). Here are mine: I hoped to have twelve (one for each month) but fell a little short. Only by seven, but a miss is as good as a mile in the prediction business.

1. A major manufacturer of women's shoes will arouse controversy (and a few other things) with a promotional campaign of billboard advertisements featuring photographs which suggest impending cunnilingus or recently completed triolage.

2. The return of the ABC's Media Watch with new presenter Piers Akerman will signal the end of the left-wing hegemony in ABC News and Current Affairs.

3. In line with government policy on raising terrorism awareness, Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Amanda Vanstone and Attorney-General Daryl Williams will jointly announce the government's new Community Espionage Program which will be run along these lines. I won't get a consultancy fee for coming up with the idea.

4. A few English "society madams" will make discrete attempts to recruit some of Australia's better women cricketers to service the whims of a growing clientele of upper crust English masochists whose preferred form of humiliation is to be clean bowled or hit for six by an Australian cricketer.

5. After an extensive review which takes into account the need for an efficient mechanism for ensuring the free flow of water between different sectors of the rural economy, Murray Darling irrigation water will be listed on the Sydney Futures Exchange. This will inevitably described by someone, somewhere (and probably a member of the National Party at that) as floating the Australian water.


Monday, 30 December 2002

(With heartfelt apologies to Ray Davies and Kinks fans everywhere).

I went to the local library yesterday. It was a good place to get out of the heat, with the added benefit of plenty of reading material, some of which I was allowed to take home.

One tomelet will be going back to the library as soon as possible, before I'm tempted to use it for the sort of amateur studies of book ballistics which pretty much wrecked my copy of F F Armeste's Truth etc. It's one thing to destroy your own books but quite another to destroy those that belong to the community or merely, as I found in one of the books I brought home, cut out a favourite illustration to paste in your scrapbook.

Irritating as the tomelet is, I did find one curiously inspiring passage which I've posted below, followed by the curious fruits of the inspiration.

... A craving for the Dreaming funds the passion that is our life energy. It drives. We seek it here, we seek it there ...

The only cure,
For our despair.
It will make or break us so we've got to have the Truth,
Yes it's the one and only long-lost Western Dreaming.

As we endure,
Our daily grind,
With heavy hearts,
And empty minds.
Every day we're falling for more mindless fads and trends,
We need the one and only long-lost Western Dreaming.

Oh yes we do.
[Oh yes we do].
Oh yes we do.
[Oh yes we do].
Our lives are filled with emptiness and yearning,
But when we're struck by holy inspiration's blinding light
We'll find the one and only long-lost Western Dreaming.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Coiffeuses sans Frontieres

Saturday, 28 December 2002

In a provocative post, Bernard Slattery asks who really makes a difference: idiots who write letters to editors, idiots who dress up as Santa Claus to rob toll booths, idiotarians who create inflated conspiracy theories, or wonderful people who take stock of what they have, no matter how humble, and use it to improve people's lives. People like Debbie Rodriguez a hairdresser from Holland Michigan, who is raising money for a non-profit beauty salon in Afghanistan. The salon is to be called the Hope Salon, and it is being set up as a training venture to assist Afghani women to reclaim their right to look beautiful, a right that was cruelly denied under the Taliban regime. Ms Rodriguez needs a total of $200,000 in goods and cash for her venture and has so far raised about $40,000, mainly in the form of beauty products.

It's the sort of story that really ought to warm the cockles of your heart, especially after they've been chilled by the examples of human idiocy Bernard cites. I've been struggling valiantly for two hours now but I still can't get my cockles much above the temperature of liquid nitrogen. This is despite the fact that the story of Ms Rodriguez quest to bring beauty back to Afghanistan is only superficially silly and underneath is the story of a good, honest woman bringing some brightness back into the lives of previously oppressed women, not to mention a little colour back onto their cheeks. Ms Rodriguez work is as important in its own way as the continuing effort to clear the countryside of Afghanistan of the large quantities of undetonated mines and other munitions, any one of which could give you a terminal bad hair day.

This report from the UN Agency IRIN gives a pretty good summary of progress so far. Here's an excerpt:

Mine clearance was in progress in the central regions of Afghanistan, where more than 920 de-miners from various implementing agencies were also carrying out awareness and survey work, he [Richard Kelly, of the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan] said. In the western regions, including the historic city of Herat, more than 200 de-miners were busy with mine clearance, awareness and surveys, while 150 de-miners were waiting to go in after they obtained security clearance for road travel.

By my addition that's 1270 de-miners, quietly getting on with the job of clearing the country's soil of undetonated high explosive. If I knew who they were I'd finish this post by naming them all. I think the cockles have warmed up to the melting point of dry ice.

Friday, December 27, 2002

Broken News

Friday, 27 December 2002 (7:44 pm)

From The Age Breaking News page.

Raelians claim the birth of the first cloned human being: a girl, who was delivered on Thursday (presumably December 26th) by Caesarian section. As the cloning program was carried out in more or less complete secrecy there's no independent scientific confirmation that this is the immaculate conception claimed. Am I the only one who detects an indecent air of haste about the scheduling of the delivery?

Cntrlnx 2 tx l33t bljrz: after a successful trial in Adelaide, Canberra and Bathurst, Centrelink is extending a trial scheme where jobseekers are reminded of appointments by SMS messages on their mobile phones. The trial has been extended to Southport, Queensland and will be evaluated to see if the scheme should be introduced nationally. 

More Bilge

Friday, 27 December 2002

Apart from a brewing internal brawl at Australia's National Museum, there's little to pick up on in today's news, so I'm taking this opportunity to post the second draft of The Pro-Bilge Manifesto. I'm hopeful that this draft will take the manifesto a lot of the way towards a final version because, frankly, the joke is already wearing thin and won't bear another repetition. In a blatant attempt to pitch the manifesto at an international market, I've eliminated specific references to Australia and Australians.

The Pro-Bilge Manifesto

(Alternative Titles: The Bilge Manifesto, The Bilgist Manifesto)

We, the undersigned, as free citizens of a nation with a nominal tradition of free speech, declare that:

1. It is the right of every author to write bilge.

2. It is the right of any newspaper or magazine to publish a wide variety of bilge in order to attract as wide a readership as possible.

3. Similarly it is the right of every television channel and radio station to broadcast bilge for identical commercial reasons.

4. It is the right of every book publisher to publish bilge for exactly the same reasons.

5. In relation to the right to publish bilge we accept that this is a commercial imperative and a legitimate way of doing business in a free market economy.

6. It is the right of every citizen to read, listen to, or watch the bilge of their choice, without interference or hindrance from others.

7. We recognise that the practice of pissing in the bilge to lend weight to our complaints about the stink is an egregious self-indulgence.

8. We accept that the production of a large quantity of bilge is an unavoidable consequence of the exercise of free speech and that the preservation of public morals through the prevention of writing is properly the business of government appointed professional censors, not amateurs like us.

Mindful of these principles we hereby renounce amateur attempts to suppress bilge and swear to defend to a point which is as close to death as we find personally congenial our right to continue the production of bilge. This we swear by the dirt on our keyboards and the hairy grunge that gets stuck to those rollers inside our mouses. It shall not have gathered in vain.

Monday, December 23, 2002

An Evening at the Bolshoi

Monday, 23 December 2002

Bargarz wonders what I will have to say of this report that Harpo Marx was a communist for the FBI. Well, not quite: in 1933, Harpo was asked by the US Ambassador to Moscow to carry some "diplomatic mail" home in his socks and evidently J Edgar Hoover (well known for his satiric cross-dressing party turns as "Mrs Beatrice Banal", doyen of Washington society) learned of Harpo's service to his country:

One letter from the FBI archives, signed by Hoover in 1949, congratulates Harpo on his "loyal past services" to his country.

Hoover hoped they might meet in the near future, saying: "There may be ways that you can help your country again."

Loyal as Harpo's service may have been in ferrying his country's official correspondence around in his socks, I suspect it pales into insignificance beside that of the unsung hero who had the thankless task of dealing with the correspondence when it arrived at its destination (assuming that the state of Harpo's socks after his travels was anything like the state of the Trotsky socks after a long day in the wheelhouse). I hope that the "diplomatic mail" didn't take the form of one of those "microdot" things that are usually concealed in a book as the fifth full stop on page 135, because the thought of some hapless State Department employee having to subject Harpo's dirty laundry to a thorough microscopic examination before clearing it to go to the laundry is not a pleasant one.

Until we see the actual documents we can only speculate on what future services Hoover thought Harpo could provide for his country: perhaps he was just looking for a few pointers on physical comedy to sharpen up his Beatrice Banal act.

To close this post, thanks to Bargarz for his seasonal gift of the opportunity for a little comic invention. I hope that you consider the gift adequately repaid. And a Merry Christmas to you too mate.

Update: Much as I would like to remove the struck through passage, I'm stuck with it now and it's probably too late for this feeble protestation that no sarcasm was intended. D'Oh!

Bah Humbug Blog

Monday, 23 December 2002

I'm going to make one last try at getting this Christmas blog thing more or less right, before heading off for the family homestead where Christmas will be celebrated with a pork roast cooked in the Weber barbecue out in the back yard. On the way I might squeeze in a personal commemoration of childhood's Boxing Day lunches by slipping a Plumrose tinned ham into the Salvation Army collection box at Safeway (Plumrose seem to be the only company left producing those oval tins of the better quality stuff). The pork roast, by the way, isn't an annual fixture: some years when the hunting's been good we tuck in to good piece of her Majesty's venison, provided by my brother-in-law who is both a responsible gun owner and a responsible fishing-rod owner, among other things.

On a purely administrative note, I've decided to make a few additions to the blog roll, before I retire it in its present form. I'm not sure what the new form will be: I'll deal with that after Christmas. In the meantime, to stop John Howard getting lonely as the only intentional humourist I've added James Russell's Hot Buttered Death to this category. Simon Crean has been relegated to the Accidental Humour category for the foreseeeable future and I've made a few additions to the serious category. The whole classification system is eccentric to the point of self-indulgence, which is why it's up for revision in the new year, but I thought I'd try to wring a last bit of value out of it before I replace it with something more wildly eccentric and self-indulgent.

One corrigendum is slightly overdue, for anyone who decides to browse the archives: in the post Just Don't Fire the Thing please read "Andorra" for "Liechtenstein", "France" for "Austria", "Spain" for "Switzerland" and "Krupps" for "Krupps" throughout. I finally tracked down the book (George Thayer's The War Business) where the story originally appeared as a short footnote. I have tried to correct the original post accordingly, but this is Blogger after all.

So with one final, token "Bah Humbug!", it's time to go off and enjoy the keeping of Christmas as it is done in the Trotsky clan. One thing I won't be worrying about, and that's self-indulgent Canucks who think it's a good idea to put up billboards decrying the whole tradition. They don't contribute anything to a reasoned consideration of how Christmas should be kept but that debate is pretty well over for this year. It's time to get on with the serious business of enjoying ourselves for a few days.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Culture Crime

Thursday, 19 December 2002

It's probably time for me to take a break from blogging, at least until after Christmas. So, on the general assumption that this is going to be my last post for a little while, I though that I'd try and finish on a positive note, rather than the last dreary post.

I've just been reminiscing, privately, about the teacher I had for English Literature and 18th Century History in 1972. The whole school knew him as the Doc. After the school acquired an orchestra, thanks to the organising work of a dedicated music teacher, weekly assemblies began with [a march past of] the senior academic staff in mortar boards and black academic gowns [to the strains of Mendelsohn's Academic Festival Overture]. The Doc, who was merely an ordinary teacher but an old and respected one, brought up the rear, in the soft cap and red gown of a Doctor of Philosophy. The Doc's degree was in history, but we are talking about the old days, when scholars were real scholars and a Ph D in history stood for something more than a licence to lie. Even if the Ph D in question was an avowed leftie.

How I came to study Eng Lit and 18th Century Euro under the Doc is another story in itself, but one for another blog. For now, it's enough to say that it was at night school, in the year I took off from study of any kind, to work and save up a few readies before I went on to University. It was the Doc who reccommended to me, and a classroom full of adult students (I was only 17 at the time), that we all read this. In the light of one blogger's suggestion that this represents the sort of world class international best practice we need to adopt to restore the integrity of the academy, I thought I'd finish the year with a small culture crime and quote a so called "key passage" out of context.

We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living labours of publick men, how we spill that season'd life of man preserv'd and stor'd up in Books; since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdome, and if it extend to the whole impression, a kinde of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elementall life, but strikes at that ethereall and fift essence, the breath of reason it selfe, slaies an immortality rather then a life.

Now go and read the whole thing. Please.

Life in the Professional Underclass

Thursday, 19 December 2002

[This is another of those long posts that I've had to split into several sections to cope with blogger limitations. This time I've resorted to ellipses at the end of the individual posts and as titles to provide the links. The last in the series is also marked with a suitable typographical device].

About six months ago, I had to attend the Residential Tenancies Tribunal. I was behind in my rent and the bank which had the dregs of my superannuation in its grasping clutches was playing silly buggers about the severe financial hardship I needed to prove so that I could get back enough money to settle my back rent and fund a move "down market".

I was at the bottom of a declining spiral of not quite having the money or time to move and knowing that staying in the present place was slowly driving me broke. In a situation like that your thinking can get woolly and the efforts to find work take on a desperate edge. The flawed logic is that if you can just get your landlord to carry you for the week or two it will take to get back in work, you can put enough by to cover the bond on a new place and the moving expenses. It doesn't help if you have the experience of having pulled the same trick off a couple of times before to help support the delusion. You hit bottom hard and it's time to put an end to the denial and self-delusion of genteel poverty.


The estate agents and I finally decided that the best way to shove things along so that I could afford to move to cheaper digs was to get an eviction order from the Tribunal. Seriously.

Just before my hearing, a legal aid lawyer collared me, saying that she'd been told I might need some legal advice. We talked about how things had come to this pretty pass and she told me my situation was pretty invidious and advised me on how best to secure the eviction order I needed to get from the tribunal so that I could pay the rent and hence, leave the property voluntarily rather than being evicted.

She knew a little about the lives of unemployed computer programmers too: she was married to one and now they were living on wife support. The employment market for computer professionals took a nosedive on January 1st, 2000 when a lot of businesses and government departments discovered two things: firstly, that the whole Y2K thing had been the biggest panic since the millenium fever of 1000 AD and secondly, that they'd been so thoroughly mulcted by the mob of Y2K consultants and contractors that there was no money left in the kitty for useful system development projects.


I'm proud to say that I wasn't one of those consultants or contractors. Mainly because there's only so much boredom you can tolerate before you want to chuck the whole thing in disgust, regardless of the ridiculously inflated hourly rate. There isn't much to be said for doing work that you don't really want and don't believe should be done in the first place, just because the money's good. Even the much maligned common prostitute has higher professional ethics than that. I made it clear to the agencies I worked through that I wasn't interested in it and most never bothered to ring me about it after being told the first time.

There was one exception: an agent who told me that the job on offer definitely was not Y2K work after I'd given him the usual spiel. The interview didn't last long. After the employer described the work: running a test program that identified potential Y2K compliance problems in other programs, fixing them, testing again and so on, until the program came up clean. I told him that the agency had wasted both his time and mine by sending me over, then went back to the agency for some forthright post-interview feedback. I never heard from them again.

It's difficult not to miss the days when I was a sought after professional with a considerable degree of cachet but most importantly, in the modern Australian labour market, raw market power. The main differences between working on the factory floor or building site and working up in the office, is that in the office the money's better, you start and finish later in the day and you don't get dirt under your fingernails. Everything else is snobbery.

It was a very friendly hearing: the estate agency's rental manager told the Tribunal arbitator what a good tenant I was, and I told the tale of all my calls to the bank's Sydney call centre. The tribunal member asked if an order to pay up or quit within 28 days would help me out in my negotiations with the bank. I said it couldn't hurt. Two days later, I got the eviction order in the mail and faxed it to the bank, thinking that this ought to be it. Any fool ought to be able to see that without my money I'd be looking for a friend's sofa to sleep on in 4 weeks time - or a slightly hyperbolic bridge to sleep under. I hadn't reckoned with the fools they employ in banks. They wanted to carry on playing silly buggers. It's their right under the legislation.

I decided that enough was enough and contacted my local Member of Parliament. I made some phone calls to a couple of those busybody regulatory authorities that governments create in the mistaken belief that interfering in business is sometimes necessary for the benefit of the polity. I finally got a call from the bank asking me an account number so that they could credit the money to it. With that sorted out, I was able to get on with the serious business of packing my souvenirs of upper-middle class life into cardboard boxes and moving out of the pleasant little rental unit I could no longer afford.

If I'd had more time to look I doubt that I'd have settled on my new place quite so quickly. You don't open the windows, you take them out of their frames. They're a bugger to get back in. But the rent is the lowest you can find in this part of the world: the only way to get anything cheaper is to break my "mutual obligations" by moving to an area of high unemployment. I've got together with some friends so that we can tender for serious programming projects and build up a business. It beats leafleting the local milk-bars and pie-shops letting people know that you're an experienced computer professional who can help them out with those egregious features that riddle a certain popular operating system. I saw someone doing just that once, when I was buying a pie. A less jaundiced vision than mine would probably have seen enterprise and initiative where I could only see a sad and familiar desperation.
- *** -

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Post-Modern Nation

Wednesday, 18 November 2002

This is something which shouldn't go unremarked, especially for those who are concerned about the intellectual health of the nation. Listening to AM this morning, I learnt that the traditional notion of a nation state - you know, a more or less fixed area of geographic territory inhabited by a bunch of more or less similar people who get to vote for a democratic government every so often (even if it's at the point of a gun and there's only one political party to vote for most of the time) - has undergone a little post-modernist deconstruction. Over the weekend, alarmed by the possibility that a small vessel spotted in Australian waters was carrying asylum seekers, the Government quickly removed four islands from Australia's Immigration Zone. Now that it has been learnt that the boat was just an illegal fishing vessel, the Government is faced with putting them back in.

It's a pretty clear indication that the opponents of post-modernism might as well throw in the towel and turn to other intellectual disputes. The traditional nation state is no more: in its place is a shifting ambiguous something-or-other whose main defining feature is that it can be redefined at will, with the usual playful irony. Post-modernism has finally penetrated the halls of Parliament. Not, as you might expect, through the ALP or those pernicious Greens but through the Government itself. When even the nation's established boundaries are up for the occasional spot of post-modernist revision and re-revision, the cause of traditional values is well and truly lost. The Government's action has made it official: we're all post-modernists now so we may as well start learning to live with it.

Private Hells

Wednesday, 18 December 2002

I've been trying for some time to devise a suitable hell for Charles Dickens, but it's a knotty problem, devising a suitable eternal torment for Victorian literature's most ruthless sentimentalist. I did come up with one for James Joyce, which is a little disturbing, because I like most of Joyce's works and enjoy reading them once every few years. Nonetheless, there's something fitting in the idea of Joyce chained to a desk in the nether reaches of some dark pit, condemned to spend eternity trying to correct misprint-riddled first proofs of Finnegan's Wake, entirely from memory. Now back to Dickens - there's got be a lot of winsome orphans in his hell, that's one thing I am sure of.

Update (Thursday, 19 December 2002): Don Arthur has made a brief, but welcome, return to the blogosphere to solve the problem. He's come up with a hell for Dickens and it's a beauty. Check it out in the comments thread. I may have to lift it to a more prominent position to preserve it for posterity, if that's OK with Don.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Another Boring Lefty Rallying Cry

Tuesday, 17 December 2002

Tim Dunlop yesterday issued a rallying cry for all Oz bloggers to come together on the issue of the Howard Government's ASIO Bill. I agree with Tim on this issue, so I am hesitant to detract from his campaign by issuing a rallying cry of my own. But in the light of recent events in Ozblogistan, such as the recent hacking of Robb Corr's Mentalspace and this, I have decided that it is needed. It's a mistake in political debate to let an important issue slide because we believe something else is much more important. And in this case I'm not asking for much of your time and energy anyway - just your support.

Like any good stereotypical political agitator, I have decided to issue my call to arms in the form of a manifesto, along roughly anti-idiotarian lines. This is only a first draft, so please feel free to make comments and suggestions for changes: the more people who are prepared to sign up for this trivial campaign, the happier I will be.

The Pro-Bilge Manifesto

We, the undersigned, as free citizens of a nation with a nominal tradition of free speech, declare that:

1. It is the right of every author to write bilge.

2. It is the right of any newspaper or magazine to publish a wide variety of bilge in order to attract as wide a readership as possible.

3. Similarly it is the right of every television channel and radio station to broadcast bilge for identical commercial reasons.

4. It is the right of every book publisher to publish bilge for exactly the same reasons.

5. In relation to the right to publish bilge we accept that this is a commercial imperative and a legitimate way of doing business in a free market economy.

6. It is the right of every Australian citizen to read, listen to, or watch the bilge of their choice, without interference or hindrance from others.

Mindful of these principles we hereby renounce the twin follies of pissing in the bilge and complaining about the stink, and amateur attempts to suppress bilge. We accept that the production of a large quantity of bilge is an unavoidable consequence of the exercise of free speech and that the preservation of public morals through the prevention of writing is properly the business of government appointed professional censors, not amateurs like us. This we swear by the dirt on our keyboards and the grunge that gets stuck to those rollers inside our mouses. It shall not have gathered in vain.

I know this is a big ask: I'm asking you to rally in defence of bad writing and the publication of offensive opinions you really can't stand. All I've got to say in support of this proposal is, if you're not prepared to stand up on this issue don't come bitching to me when the "l33t hxrs" get to your blog, or the hate-mailers start bombing your E-Mail account. If you're not prepared to respect my right to write rubbish don't expect my unquestioning support when the time comes to defend your right to write excellent, insightful commentary. You won't have earnt it.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Who Owns George Orwell?

Sunday, 15 December 2002

I've been thinking (this is something I do from time to time, believe it or not) about this question, on and off, for most of the weekend. Does he belong to the "left" on the basis that he was, after all, a socialist or does he belong to the "right" because he was, first and foremost a decent bloke who was opposed to totalitarianism in all its forms? Is the proper use of his literary corpus to dress up bad leftist writing with some of the good stuff or is it to dress up bad right wing writing with some good dirt on Stalinism in the 1930s and 40s?

The answer is he "belongs" to John Pilger, Tim Blair, Gummo Trotsky the pseudonymous captain of a fictitious clapped-out tug boat and to Professor Bunyip, a mythical Australian animal inhabiting a metaphorical billabong. He belongs to everyone who has the price of a copy of Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1984 or Animal Farm. He belongs to anyone who has membership in a Public Library. He belongs to everyone who can read. And he belongs to no-one.

So I'm going to resign from the game of defending Orwell's ghost from those who would abuse his writing by quoting him out of context regardless of which side of the political spectrum they want to place themselves on. Orwell's writings are there for anyone who can get a hold of them and that is the way it should be. Professor Bunyip has read Orwell and so have I. In my case it helped form an attitude and a set of political opinions that make me identifiably "left-wing". In Bunyip's case it seems to have done the opposite.

Right now, that's my position on Orwell. I've read him, extensively but years ago. His writings have informed a lot of my political opinions. But no hyperlinks and above all no quotes: I'm well and truly sick of that part of the fight over the Orwell heritage. Read him for yourself. Form your own opinions. You'll get no "I understand Orwell but you obviously don't" from me. I'm sick of that too.


Sunday, 15 December 2002

We seem to have lost access to the Potemkin's archive temporarily. They're still there, just not accessible on the site.

This might be a good time to put the blogging in abeyance for a short time, while I write some system specs (never my favourite task) and cut some Perl code. I might start with a functional spec for a new blog site.

Update: no, they appear to be back again. Double bugger, because now I'll have to spend the next few days doing something productive.

Give 'em Muck

Sunday, 15 December 2002

Before I learned that it was not correct line, I used to annoy my lefty acquaintances of university days with remarks about how funny I had found last Sunday night's Benny Hill Show. There's one skit of Benny's that I've recently remembered: in it, he plays a television producer on the telephone to a writer called Will. We never see Will, just Benny responding to Will's story ideas which he rejects one after another because the viewers might not like them. Such as the one about the black war hero who is married to a white woman, whom he kills at the end of the story. This is an idea that the viewers are definitely not ready for, but above all, they really want to see a happy ending. Which rules out the plays of William Shakespeare as television fare.

Which makes you wonder why Will ever wrote them in the first place: surely he knew that all those plays, (technically known as tragedies) where all the stars are dead at the end of the show with only a minor character or two to provide a eulogy, weren't going to play in Stratford-On-Avon (Elizabethan England's Peoria) no matter how many bits of comic business he inserted to get the groundlings through the box-office turnstiles. Apparently he woke up to himself at some stage in his writing career, because he seems to have turned out a lot of comedies too. Including The Merry Wives of Windsor which (so I read somewhere) was written at the behest of Good Queen Bess herself.

I can only speculate about how Will might have felt about this: did he ever have a quiet bitch to Anne Hathaway or Mr WH about how the punters only ever wanted to see the bloody comedies, never the serious stuff? Were there ever any stand-up rows with other members of the company about changes to the script to make them more acceptable to the populace? I don't know, nor I suspect does anyone else, because this is the kind of stuff that rarely makes it into any sort of written record. Although there are signs that this is changing, as this page that I found via Catallaxy shows.

Yes, this post is about that article by Fiona Scott-Norman and her allegedly elitist slur against the producers of Cabaret and popular culture in general. Because there are some serious points in here article and Scott-Norman's final question is a serious one: what sort of culture do we want? And is the assumption, made from Dame Nellie onwards, that we want muck true? Asking questions like these doesn't strike me as an elitist position, nor is making the assertion that we don't want muck. This bricklayer's son certainly doesn't.

A Quick Lesson in Lit Crit

Sunday, 14 December 2002

The Bunyip has noticed the existence of the Potemkin, which is hardly surprising, since we've sailed up the Biliousblog a couple of times to ram it in the snout. The Professor asserts, correctly, that I disapprove of his take on Orwell. This is because I reckon the "take on Orwell" is not about Orwell at all, but a take on Margo Kingston, dressed up as a defence of Orwell's decency against misappropriation and abuse by naughty incompetent and above all lefty journalists.

Today, the Bunyip links to this article by Fiona Scott-Norman in the Melbourne Age. It's made him very grumpy, particularly this sentence:

But though McCune doesn't overly register on stage, her wholesome star power makes her the engine room: she's able to attract that mythical, most desired audience demographic - people from the suburbs who don't know anything about art but are willing to fork out $85 to see someone from the telly live on stage. [my emphasis].

The words I've emphasised are conveniently elided in the Bunyip's blog on the article, where it is quoted as:

But though [leading lady Lisa] McCune doesn't overly register on stage, her wholesome star power makes her the engine room: she's able to attract ... people from the suburbs who don't know anything about art but are willing to fork out $85 to see someone from the telly live on stage.

I pass over in silence a number of other misrepresentations of Ms Scott-Norman's review. Dishonest intellectualism? I suggest that you take the Professor's advice apropos Orwell and read all the material for yourself before you decide.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Word of the Day: Ad Hominem

I haven't done a "Word of the Day" for a while, so I thought I would indulge myself. As ususal I shall introduce it by citing the Macquarie Dictionary definition (which, in light of the comment I've made here might lay me open to charges of hypocrisy, but I can live with that. That wouldn't be an ad hominem argument anyway, but straight out vituperation):

1. appealing to a person's prejudices or special interests, instead of to their intellect: an argument ad hominem. 2. relying on personal attack.

Now, anyone who can count will notice that the Macquarie gives two distinct senses of the word. Unfortunately, a lot of people who should really know better confuse any personal abuse during the course of intellectual debate with an argument ad hominem, overlooking the much more prevalent and devious use of the first type of ad hominem argument. Personally, I can see nothing wrong with giving the original thinking of the hypocrite and the creativity of the liar the acknowledgement that is their due, as long as you can demonstrate them. Let's not confuse the icing with the cake.

Song for Saturday

Saturday, 14 December 2002

In the early 60s, this little ditty was revived on BBC radio and became the number one hit on playground of the primary school in Manchester where I started my education. Looking back on it, there's something slightly comical about a bunch of schoolboys trying to sing baritone, which is what the song really requires. It goes to the tune of Merle Travis' Sixteen Tons which is not too surprising, because that's what it is.

Sixteen tons
Words & Music - Merle Travis

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said "Well, a-bless my soul"

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin', it was drizzlin' rain
Fightin' and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake* by an ol' mama lion
Cain't no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin', better step aside
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

Yes, We Now Have Comments

Saturday, 14 December 2002

So feel free to bucket any posts you don't like. It all washes out of the scuppers eventually anyway. Of course the occasional spot of praise for the rare post you do like is always welcome too.

Maybe It's Just Xenophobia

Saturday, 14 December 2002

Trying to mediate a ceasefire in the Ozblogistani civil war over allegations of racism, Ken Parish refers to the Macquarie Dictionary and its definition of racism as:

the belief that human races have distinct characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others. [my emphasis]

It's that "usually" that I think creates the problem for Ken's position: if we're going to debate the topic on the basis of this definition then the notion that one's own race is superior is not a necessary condition of racism, or even a sufficient one, merely incidental (this is the sort of argument you learn to make after you quit the study of economics in favour of the study of philosophy). The sufficient condition for racism is the first part: the belief that human races have distinct characteristics which determine their respective cultures. It's a bugger really, because as Ken says, it puts a lot of issues off the political agenda as per se racist and it creates some uncomfortable questions about a few of the scientific theories kicking around the place. And even more uncomfortable questions about the social theories which maintain that, for example, differences in average wealth between races (i.e. economic dominance) are due to those distinct characteristics which determine the cultures of different races.

On the subject of John Howard's racism, I'm prepared to accept Ken's argument that most of the time he is playing wedge politics: except for that remark he made apropos the child overboard affair that "we don't want people like that in Australia". I think the lesser charge of xenophobia is more likely to stick in this instance, just as he never lied to the Australian people once during the whole affair, he merely passed on the lies that were told to him. I don't know how that defence would hold up in an action for libel but as no specific individual suffered damage to their reputation as a result of the PM's remark, that last point is moot anyway.

Who's Abusing Whom?

Saturday, 14 December 2002

Ken Parish and I have very different tastes when it comes to blogs: he likes Wog Blog and Professor Bunyip some of the time. Most of the time, try as I might, I don't.

In an extended rant, the good Professor takes Margo Kingston to task for "abusing" George Orwell nee Eric Blair on this Web Diary page. You'll actually have to search the page to find it, which is perhaps why the good Professor neglected to provide a hyperlink. You'll also discover that the springboard for the Professor's launch into blustering outrage is not, as the Professor's presentation of it might suggest, an extended article by Margo but a short response to a reader's post. And finally, the Orwell quote Gudgeon accuses Margo of abusing occurs within the context of Margo's own quoting of the article she offers as suggested reading.

There's also this quibble:

While Zmag requires a subscription, it's online incarnation, Znet, charges exactly what Cromwell's tosh is worth, which is to say not a cent.

Which is true, just as it's true of the New York Times. But a lot of people, myself included, get irritated with those huge on-line subscription forms that you need to fill out to access NYT articles and I think it's more reasonable to assume that this is what Margo might have been referring to even if you're disinclined to go the whole hog and give her credit for some intelligence.

I had intended this post to be about the widespread conservative appropriation of Orwell as a rich motherlode of juicy anti-left wing quotes, and the bizarre irony this presents, especially when you read Orwell's largely approving descriptions of the way POUM was organised: POUM officers were elected by the troops for example. But I can't be bothered - Bunyip's bile doesn't warrant it. The last time I saw intellectualism this dishonest was when my rampantly Hayekian economics lecturer dismissed the whole of Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by citing his tongue in cheek proposal that the government create employment by burying 5 pound notes in bottles and giving the unemployed spades to dig them up. She omitted to mention the next sentence in which he went on to say that it would probably be more useful if they did it by investing in public works.

Beating the BlogGeist

Saturday, 14 December 2002

Tim Dunlop links to this post by Gene Healy speculating that Al Qaeda has more or less shot its bolt. Well, this time I got there first a whole two days before Gene, the blogging equivalent of the Paleolithic era.

Just felt like blowing my own trumpet.

The Courage of a Modern President

Saturday, 14 December 2002

AM this morning aired a report on the latest US moves to counter terrorism by scaring the shit out of the population: mass vaccinations of front-line military personnel to counter the possibility that terrorists might use smallpox as a biological weapon against the US. Apparently there's one of those credible possibilities that some of the Russian stocks of the smallpox virus may have found their way into the hands of said terrorists. President George W Bush is to be vaccinated too, because he cannot in all conscience ask others to take a risk that he is not prepared to take himself (or something like that: as I write this today's transcript is not yet available).

So, what are the risks? According to Australia's Commonwealth Medical Officer, if the entire US population of around 200 million people were to be vaccinated, you could expect 200 to 400 deaths from the vaccine. In other words, there's a chance, somewhere between 1 in a million and 1 in 500,000 that President Bush might die and the chances that he might have some other adverse reaction to the vaccine are higher: at a rough guess, somewhere around the 1 in 10,000 mark. So, with the risk that he is taking, no doubt the White House will keep us posted on the President's health with regular bulletins.

I think the vaccination itself will provide Mr Bush with a perfect opportunity to lead by example, with extensive media coverage of the President smiling bravely as the White House's chief doctor pricks his upper arm with a sterile lancet before introducing the vaccine. Later press briefings will inform the broader public that the President's vaccination site has formed a nice clean scab and the prognosis for a complete recovery is good, as long as he keeps it exposed to the air and refrains from picking at it. And finally, there will be great relief when we all learn that the scab has finally dropped off, leaving a small white mark. Sadly, this small area of skin on the Presidential bicep will be a permanent blemish on the Presidential sun tan, but this is a small price to pay when the safety of American democracy is at stake.

Only one thing bothers me: the US didn't end it's program of routine smallpox vaccinations for the entire population until 1972, a mere 30 years ago. President Bush was born in 1946. So why isn't he vaccinated already?

Update (Friday, 20 December 2002): since this item has started to attract comment, It's probably time I posted this link to the AM transcript.

Friday, December 13, 2002


Friday, 13 December 2002

Ken Parish has picked up on the posts by Gary Sauer-Thompson and me on Paul Krugman's "two cultures" account of the conflict between humanities scholarship and economics. He footnotes the listings as a "challenge for John Quiggin, Jason Soon et al". So far the gauntlet hasn't been taken up so I've been spared the necessity of writing one of those weaselling "What I really intended to say was ..." posts on the issue. Still the time may yet come.

By the way, I thought it was very kind of Ken to volunteer his services as second for Gary and myself in this affair. It shows remarkable gallantry.

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash

Friday, 13 December 2002

I've just been checking out the introduction to Virginia Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies (link via Tim Dunlop). It starts with an extended meditation on the revamp of the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland in 1998. I've been to Disneyland; it was fun. For most of the day anyway. When it's evening and you're jaded from six hours of sensory overload, pissed off at having to pay for a two-pack of Tylenol to ease the pain of your companion's dysmenorrhea and looking at a three hour bus ride back to central Los Angeles the romance dies. Your attention drifts from the gorgeous scenery of the rides to the cleverly concealed industrial technology that drives them and the mind turns to thoughts of Taylorism. I had nowhere near as much fun as John Safran did in his Race Around the World segment, asking the guide at the Walt Disney Museum awkward questions about Walt's alleged fascist sympathies and sneaking a Saddam Hussein doll into the "Small World" ride.

Postrel doesn't share my crap-coloured glasses view of Disneyland:

Disneyland was dedicated to what Walt Disney called "plussing": continuous improvement through both new ideas and changes to existing attractions.

The notion of continuous improvement through both new ideas and changes to existing "attractions" (in the world outside the theme park we're probably better off speaking of institutions and technologies) is the basis of Postrel's dynamist vision of the future and, like many polemicists, she offers us a simple choice:

How we feel about the evolving future tells us who we are as individuals and as a civilization: Do we search for stasis — a regulated, engineered world? Or do we embrace dynamism — a world of constant creation, discovery, and competition?

Postrel places herself firmly on the dynamist side of this divide: the domain name of her site is "www.dynamist.com". My first impression is that Postrel's core argument is that there are basically two kinds of people in the world: smart people and stupid people. Dynamism is progressive and smart: stasism, a position embraced at both ends of the political spectrum, is reactionary and stupid.

There's a wealth of potential for argument and satire here, especially as Postrel's thesis has a lot of features which pretty much guarantee its success as the next big intellectual fad. Too much for one post really so I'm looking forward to returning to this topic in the future. It looks like being more fun than the Indiana Jones ride.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

What I Expect to be Throwing Across the Room in Disgust Very Soon

Thursday, 12 December 2002

I've decided to give Felipe Fernando Armeste's irritating tomelet Truth: A History and a Guide for the Perplexed one last chance to make sense before it's off to the second hand shop like last Christmas's unwanted puppy getting packed off to the Lort Smith Animal Shelter. For a short time Armeste's historical, anthropological, philosophical and every-other-thingical survey of the concept of truth, starting with "the truth that you feel", through "the truth that you are told", "the truth you think for yourself" to "the truth you perceive with your senses" seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people who really ought to know better, as the deepest work on major philosophical themes since The Tao of Pooh.

Armeste apparently is an Oxford don but reading the book and his frequent folksie remarks about how little he learned at school I sometimes suspect his major field of scholastic achievement has well-trimmed grass and chalk lines on it. When discussing thinkers like Kurt Godel and Werner Heisenberg he quite frankly admits that he doesn't understand most of the issues and it's far from endearing: the resale value of my copy would be much higher if he'd taken the time to do some reading and research instead of dismissing the whole topic as the sort of high-falutin' stuff that's only of interest to girlie swots who are no good at rugger.

The first time I tried to read Truth etc I gave up shortly after Armeste started getting stuck into post-modernism and relativism. There's a lot of relativism in his own historical treatment of the four types of truth and he shows a strong tendency to treat them as equally valid: as long as you have some concept of the truth it doesn't too much matter whether it's grounded in personal intuition, religious authority, right reason or empirical observation. In my view the classification is too restricted anyway: it ignores a lot of the other forms of truth that are common currency in modern society, such as the truth that is shouted in your face, the truth that you overhear on the bus, the truth that's just between you, me and the doorpost and Armeste's apparent personal favourite, the truth that is explained to you in condescending detail with a patronising sneer.

Torn Between Two Cultures ...

Thursday, 12 December 2002

Gary at Public Opinion has an interesting post on a 1992 article by US economist Paul Krugman. Krugman uses C P Snow's notion of the "two cultures" as the springboard for an attack on humanities intellectuals who just don't get economics because they can't handle the mathematics. Gary quotes Krugman's article extensively, and it seems a little one sided: in his fixation on the mathematically benighted humanities scholars, Krugman ignores the humanities benighted "hard" scientists who, for converse reasons, also regard most economics as a load of old rope.

I did two years of economics when I decided to supplement my B Sc with a BA. I didn't study the course under the best conditions: the first year lecturer in Micro was a rampant free-marketeer and some of the prescribed texts appeared to have been dumped on the Australian market after failing to find favour with the academic staff of US colleges and universities. But I have to admit that my jaundiced view of the subject was mostly informed by the naive prejudice of the "hard" scientist that if you're going to apply mathematical models, it generally helps if you occasionally try running some actual numbers through them. The most complicated mathematical problem I encountered in the whole two years was calculating the depreciation of the value of an asset over time. That's a straightforward exercise for anyone who learnt about geometric series in high school maths. As for all the diagrams and graphs, well the classical supply/demand curve is a piece of mathematical junk used to give a spurious pseudo-quantitive gloss to a priori qualitative analyses of how markets determine prices. They don't improve any from there either.

A lot of the time, I felt that the whole subject was Hume's is/ought fallacy writ large: somewhere between the lecture where a number of "simplifying assumptions" were introduced to allow us to develop a workable theory of market behaviour and the last lecture, the notion that trade works best when it's free was quietly dealt into the game from the bottom of the intellectual deck. There seemed to be a hell of a lot of this going on and it's become one of the mantras of the free marketeers: markets work if only they are left alone. On one level it's like the physical chemist's recognition that Boyle's Law starts to fail when the temperature of a gas gets low enough for it to start condensing - but chemists generally don't insist that government policy be shaped by the need to preserve the experimental conditions required for the application of Boyle's Law. Most of them understand that the really interesting stuff happens where Boyle's Law starts to break down, and instead of bitching about it, actually study the process.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Suspicion, Mistrust, Malice ...

Wednesday, 11 December 2002

.. but the greatest of these is malice. That seems to be today's slogan at the Billablog, if this by-blow in one of Stanley Gudgeon's rants on the subject of Tony Kevin and SIEV-X is anything to go by:

Forgive Al-Sobbi for prefering to believe that some sinister force made those nails spring from the tortured planking. He's a grieving father who needs someone other than himself to blame for the death of his daughter, who would still be alive if he had not risked her life by attempting to jump the queue of law abiding immigrants standing in line for an Australian entry visa.

While I share the good Professor's preference for strong spirits over spirituality (make mine a Laphroiag), there are limits you know. Even for godless topers.

Last Words on Rolah McCabe?

Wednesday, 11 December 2002

Despite the fact that the Court of Appeals has overturned Justice Eames' ruling in McCabe vs BAT, it's not all over yet. Commenting on these remarks by BAT spokesman John Galligan on the conduct of Melbourne law firm Slater & Gordon yesterday, Peter Gordon indicated to Jon Faine that he would be seeking legal advice on one or two of Mr Galligan's comments which weren't reported in yesterday's Oz. In the Melbourne Age, Jonathan Liberman (a lawyer who advises the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control and Quit Victoria) puts his view of the Court of Appeal's decision which, unsurpringly, is pretty much the opposite of Janet Albrechtsen's "Rah, rah justice at last for the poor oppressed corporate lawyers of the world" take on the issue. If the thought of polluting your mind with an article printed in the Fairfax press is too ghastly to take, try reading Ken Parish's considered post on the case or Matt's at Bright Cold Day.

Meanwhile, BAT's claim for costs against the McCabes is going through taxation (the process where costs are examined by the court to ensure that the amounts claimed are fair and corect), which is expected to cut the costs bill by a mere $2 million or so. Although Jonathan Liberman raises the possibility of a further appeal to the High Court with $2 to $2.5 million in adverse costs already clocked up, I suspect that the McCabe family might feel it's wiser to heed the words of ex-Animal Alan Price, in one of his songs on the sound-track to Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man:

We all want justice, but you've got to have the money to buy it,
You'd have to be a fool to close your eyes and deny it.

It's a great album, I've got it on vinyl somewhere. I'll have to get it out and play it again soon.

Walking Through Wills

Wednesday, 11 December 2002

I've just been up to Sydney Road to buy a new pair of shoes. The shoe store is one of those factory-direct discount places (actually like a lot discount clothing outlets it's more shipping-container-direct but it's still cheap) in a strip of Sydney Road that also has (in no particular order):

One of those oriental rug shops;

A lebanese supermarket;

A halal butcher;

A vietnamese owned discount cigarette store;

A sandwich bar run by a Filipina called Lily;

A corner milk bar full of strange islamic groceries from Turkey;

A Salvation Army Red Shield store;

A Pakistani pharmacist next door to an Egyptian doctor.

I'm not sure I got all the ethnicities right, but in any case, I think you get the picture. The little corner of the Federal Electorate of Wills where I live isn't exactly John Howard's mainstream Australia. No part of Wills is. Mainstream Australia did come visiting once, shortly after Bob Hawke decided that giving photo opportunities in a white towelling bathrobe was more suited to his dignity as Labor's new elder statesman than sitting on the Keating back bench. That triggered the Wills bye-election, which brought mainstream Australia here for a short term visit in the person of a Pauline Hanson's One Nation candidate who did a lot of door-knocking and leafleting, trying to convince the Greeks, Turks, Vietnamese, Chinese, Lebanese and assorted Anglo race-traitors like myself who infest this neck of the bricks and bluestone cobbles that the basic problem with Australia is too many bloody immigrants. Some might call this political courage; I call it stupidity.

Going the other way down Sydney Road from my street, there's plenty of evidence of the infiltration of that dangerous Islamic fundamentalism stuff into Australian society too, like the Arabic bookstore with The Evolution Myth prominently displayed in the window. I must be desensitised to it: I can't see the difference between a fundamentalist Islam that rejects the theory of evolution and a fundamentalist Christianity that rejects the theory of evolution. And along with it, the other precious cultural heritage of secular humanist society, like Danielle Steele novels, heavy metal music and gay liberation. Despite my best efforts, I still haven't managed to spot the AK-47s and other weapons of small-scale personal destruction hidden under the voluminous chadors you see on some of the women who shop in Sydney Road. It's hard enough working out where they keep the tits.

Champion of the Oppressed

Wednesday, 11 December 2002

If Angela Shanahan is a wrong not even Superman can right, who's left to deal with Janet Albrechtsen? Having already given us hero judges, Janet today introduces us to another curiosity from the judicial bestiary:

... what Tennyson called the "wilderness of the single instance" judge.

The object of Janet's indignation is Justice Geoffrey Eames, the Victorian Judge whose decision in the Rolah McCabe case was recently overturned by Victoria's Court of Appeal. There's been a lot of commentary around Ozblogistan about this decision. Here is an excerpt from one of the more sensitive ones:

Her family has lost her. And their major memory of her last moments with them is of a dying woman playing the innocent in a court room. Surely she was made of stronger stuff than that.

Besides Eames, the media who reported his original decision with such hoop-la come in for a fair bit of stick from Janet:

HAD the media read Eames's judgment, it would have found that his findings against Clayton Utz were based on a mixture of incorrect findings and an unerring belief that advice Clayton Utz gave to BAT in 1985 and 1990 was for the purpose of "devising a strategy" – Eames repeats these conspiratorial words over and over again – for the destruction of documents.

Not only that, but infatuated with the David vs Goliath romance of the victimised smoker taking on the big bad tobacco companies and their lawyers and winning, the media dismissed as "self-serving" law firm Clayton Utz' denial of wrong-doing. Well, the media would, wouldn't they? But, in the end justice prevailed:

... the Court of Appeal vindicated the lawyers, left the media dupes looking like, well, dupes and delivered a few unspoken lessons on the justice system.

A short footnote to the article makes it clear that Janet is well placed to offer insightful and objective comment on this case: her husband is a partner of the law firm that acted for Clayton Utz senior partner Brian Wilson.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

More Russian Fiction

Tuesday, 10 December 2002

From FrontPage via Wog Blog comes the story of how the Russians broke the threat of Chechen terrorism by making sure that the terrorists knew that they would die by being shot with a bullet dipped in yesterday's bacon drippings and buried in a shroud of caul fat and chitlins. This technique for dealing with muslim terrorists was allegedly pioneered by Pershing in the Phillipines around 1911.

What I want to know is, why the Russians bothered with this rigmarole when they have direct access to hell via that secret hole in Siberia that an over-enthusiastic team of geologists drilled in the 1980's. They could have saved themselves the trouble by just tying the buggers up and dropping them down the hole. The wog in Wog Blog believes that:

To win this war on terror we will need creative thinkers. And I do not mean Judy Davis and Tom Kenneally.

I can agree with that - most of this stuff sounds more like Danielle Steele Anne Rice and Stephen King to me.


Tuesday, 10 December 2002

In Saturday's post Death and Resurrection I described Prince Felix Yusupov's account of the death of Rasputin as being:

... widely regarded as the finest piece of short fiction in twentieth century Russian literature.

In the light of the recent High Court ruling in Gutnick vs Dow Jones, I think it may be wise to retract this statement, given that I don't know where it may eventually be read and that it may be hurtful to Prince Yusupov's descendents and God only knows what the current Russian laws on this sort of thing are. What I meant to say, of course, is that Prince Yusupov's account of the death of Rasputin is widely regarded as an accurate eyewitness report of a major historic event, by one of the key participants in that event. No that won't do, that's only digging myself in deeper - what I meant to say is if any one makes any trouble about that post it's gone, and just you try to prove that it ever existed.

Towards Totometrics

(A Preliminary Statistical Analysis of Mug Punting)

Tuesday, 10 December 2002


Despite the inroads of other forms of gambling, such as casinos and the pokies, horse racing still plays an important role in Australian cultural and leisure activities. The issue of racehorse performance is of keen interest to many Australians, however, despite the hours of study and analysis which have been devoted to the subject, punting remains by and large a mug's game with most of the economic benefits accruing to the totaliser operators. This is largely due to a lack of systematic scientific study, an omission which the new science of totometrics seeks to address. Totometrics aims to replace our current inadequate understanding of the "art" of race-course betting with a properly grounded scientific approach to the problem. This first study lays the groundwork by undertaking a quantitative statistical analysis of race-horse performance.


A sample of typical races at a major Melbourne venue was analysed for correlation between pre-race TAB dividends and final placings of the horses run in each race. Pre-race tote dividends were obtained from the Victorian TAB and complete final race results from AAP. Final placings were plotted against pre-race dividends at 15 minutes before the race (-15 SP) and 1 minute (-1 SP) before the race for 5 selected races (the races included the final sample all had fields of between 7 and 10 runners after scratchings). Correlation coefficients were calculated over all runners in all races sampled.

Results and Conclusions

Correlation of -15 SP with finishing position: 0.533
Correlation of -1 SP with finishing position: 0.548

This shows a high degree of correlation between both -15 SP and -1 SP and the eventual placing of all runners. Removing a couple of obvious donkeys outliers revealed by the scatter diagrams (horses number 2 and 3 in race 5) gives the following correlations:

Correlation of -15 SP with finishing position: 0.626
Correlation of -1 SP with finishing position: 0.627

These correlations are very close to those which are claimed to demonstrate that national average IQ is the key determinant of a nation's GDP, confirming that -15 SP and -1 SP are strong predictors of a horse's race performance and that SP generally is the most likely determinant of a horse's final placing than nebulous, unquantifiable factors such as "form", "track conditions" or "who's on the take". Further research will be required to establish whether SP is genetically determined and to identify differences in SP between standard bred and thoroughbred horses.

Onward with Johnson

Tuesday, 10 December 2002

Zeppo Bakunin has been pestering me for anagrams all week - don't ask why, it's too complicated to explain. Anyway, that's one up there. Politically it's at least thirty years out of date which is why I think it's so appropriate to its subject. And it's much better than the only other I've been able to come up with so far: "Whose bugger?".


Tuesday, 10 December 2002

I don't know what the bloke at the local milk bar is up to. When I went there this morning he had the newspaper banners out: on the left, the Melbourne Hun: "SEX BEAST HUNT" and immediately next it on the right The Age: "BASHIR'S PLAN FOR AUSTRALIA". He usually puts them the other way round, with a bit of distance between them, so I suspect he's playing silly buggers.

Update: I think the subbies at the Oz are feeling a bit playful today. How else can we explain the headline on their opinion page "Angela Shanahan: A wrong not even Superman can right"?

Monday, December 09, 2002

Defending Family Values

Monday, 9 December 2002

I haven't seen former sexologist and latter day advocate of family values Bettina Arndt get an outing for a while, so I was pleased to see this piece in this morning's Age. Once again, Bettina has issued a rousing call for Australians to rally to the defence of the family against its traditional enemies, those irresponsible young females who conceive children out of wedlock, usually in the back of a hotted up Holden Commodore and, to add insult to injury, without achieving a decent orgasm along the way. That's right, we're talking about the modern scourge of single mothers and their children, who are

... five times as likely to be poor as those in two-parent families. Growing up in a single-parent family also roughly doubles the risk that a child will drop out of school, have difficulty finding a job, or become a teenage parent.

Next best off are children living with "cohabiting partners and in stepfamilies" and best off of all children are (you guessed it) "those living with two married, biological parents". And, as almost one Australian child in three is born out of wedlock, Bettina seems very confident that all these adverse effects of the US epidemic of illegitimacy can be expected here too. So it's time for more "pro-marriage" government policies. here's one US initiative that Bettina cites:

Most US states have reduced marriage disincentives in their welfare systems, with some introducing family caps that deny additional welfare payments for children conceived while a mother was receiving welfare.

That's one way to deal with the poverty related problems of the single parent child - make sure that Mom knows that producing any more of them is going to make the poverty worse. In the face of this financial disincentive, she's bound to realise how important it is to keep those all-too-welcoming legs firmly closed. If not, well it still helps keep the main problem under control: the effects on our welfare budget.

However, Bettina seems to be a bit confused on this issue: on the one hand she wants the budget brought under control by cutting the amount of welfare support we give to single mothers on the other she wants financial disincentives for single mothers to reconcile with, and ultimately perhaps marry the fathers of their children, removed. No doubt once they're married, they'll be well on the way to rejoining mainstream Australian society, with a nice little brick veneer on a quarter-acre block somewhere in the outer suburbs, a Hills hoist in the back yard and multiple female orgasms every second Saturday night while the kids are on a sleep-over at a friend's place.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Death and Resurrection

Saturday, 7 December 2002

Anyone who survived the disco craze of the 1970's with their sanity intact is probably familiar with the legend of the mad Russian monk Grigory Efimovitch Rasputin as told in the Boney M song. Rasputin's evil sexual influence (so we are told) over the Tsarina Alexandra so incensed the Russian nobility that a small cabal led by Prince Felix Yusupov finally decided that enough was enough and the mad monk had to go. Prince Yusupov's own account of the deed - in which Rasputin is drugged, poisoned and shot and finally shoved under the ice of the River Neva wrapped in a carpet, where the demonic will which has kept him alive through this ordeal is finally overcome and the mad monk drowns - is widely regarded as the finest piece of short fiction in twentieth century Russian literature.

A lot of the talk about Osama bin Laden's Al Quaeda reminds me of the Rasputin legend. Maybe it's just the beards. But what evidence do we have that Osama really is still alive rather than quietly mouldering under a plie of rubble somewhere in Afghanistan? After the events of September 11, we had the video tape, which clearly showed (bin Laden's denials notwithstanding) that he was involved in planning the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Since then the quality of the bin Laden sightings has declined steadily: first a voice tape plus a few E-Mails, some of which US intelligence agencies regard as "credible". It's at least possible that the Bali bombing and the recent terrorist attacks in Nigeria are the actions not of Osama bin Laden's Al Quaeda, but plain old Al Quaeda, and an Al Quaeda that is very much in decline at that. Much has been made of the conscious symbolism of the World Trade Centre attack but to me it is starting to look like this was Al-Quaeda's best shot. Much of what has happened since, obscene as it is, has been pretty much a business as usual sort of terrorism directed at the usual targets.

It may be a little premature to suggest that the Global War Against Terrorism® is already over. Still, it would be a sad irony if we allowed what might basically be a spent force to frighten us into dismantling ourselves the very society that the islamo-fascists are determined to tear down.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Pre-Emption Revisited

Friday, 6 December 2002

John Quiggin has asked why so far no-one has made the obvious point on the new Howard Doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against terrorism. This has caught me a bit on the hop, because I've been meaning to post this E-Mail from the other 50% of my regular readers, Ross M, for the past couple of days. He wrote:

G'day Gummo,

seems John Howard has the biggest kid in the school-yard on his side now, and if'n anyone has their usual attempt at pinching the iced Vo-vo's from his lunch he's gonna clobber'em first.

I'm old enough (that makes me one of those reviled boomers)...to remember shock horror stories and pictures of secret Ustashi training camps here in Oz...of course that was also before it was perfectly understandable that Yugoslavia could come in and take them out, and punish us for not exerting due diligence in rooting them out ourselves. Hell, come to think of it, the old yellow peril could take out some Falun Gong... Now if we can only get some nation to recognise the terrorist cells of Jehovah's Witlesses and Scientologists....

regards...Ross M

The only name I can think of to add to Ross' list is Aum Supreme Truth, the bunch of whackos who were responsible for the Tokyo Subway Sarin Gas Attack. (See Underground by Haruki Murukami if you want an account of how this event affected the victims, but be warned - I've had my copy for two years and I still haven't got through it. It's that kind of book). Shortly after the Tokyo Subway attack there were reports that Aum had set up shop in Australia, so under the Howard doctrine we could have had Japanese forces swooping in to deal with a very real terrorist threat to their country. I can't see that going down too well with the RSL.

More on that Bill

Friday, 6 November 2002

ASIO has long been one of the Left's standing jokes, along with the Spartacist League whose Australian branch was so heavily infiltrated by both ASIO and the Federal Police that the membership was fairly evenly split between both organisations, with perhaps one or two naifs who thought that joining an organisation dedicated to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism was a good way to get back at daddy for being a bank manager. After the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, the topic of one's ASIO file enjoyed a brief vogue as a lefty conversation topic. The general consensus was that firstly, requesting your ASIO file under FOI would ensure firstly that if you didn't already have one you soon would have, and secondly that it would be damn humiliating if it turned out that you didn't have one.

Which shows that the alleged paranoia of the Left, when it comes to our national security agencies, is tempered with a good dose of humour as well. Yes, I'm cynical about the trenchcoat mob. It's hard not to be, when the major sign of an effective intelligence effort is that nothing much happens: it's like the joke about the old eccentric sprinkling "elephant repellant" on the Collins Street pavement. When told that there are no elephants in Collins Street his entirely logical response is "See, it works, doesn't it!". So we are encouraged to assume that our intelligence agencies' spectacular failures and gaffes - such as the failure to prevent the Hilton bombing and the gung-ho embarassment of the Sheraton Hotel ASIS "training exercise" are to be weighed against a sterling history of mostly secret achievement in protecting the safety of ordinary Australians.

Pace Ken Parish, I don't believe that Labor sold out on the ASIO Bill - I believe that on this issue, as on the issue of asylum seekers, they rolled over and played dead. And, as Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams has indicated that he is unlikely to accept the committee's reccommended changes to the Bill, the attempt to reach a compromise - even the second rate compromise of a "detention for questioning" model - looks set to fail. This will leave Labor with an embarassing choice between finding some backbone or caving in to the shock jocks whose idea of defending civil liberties is to abrogate them as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Of course we will be promised that, once the current crisis is over, normal legal protections of citizen's rights will be restored as fully as possible - just as most of the regulations imposed under the 1914 War Protection Act are no longer in force. This is the way it goes with temporary measures to meet current crises: there are always one or two that governments decide they want to keep after the crisis is over.

Bonk, Bank ... Bloody Idiot

Friday, 6 December 2002

A visit to my parents turned up this item in the December 3 edition of the International Express (the international print edition of Britain's Daily Express).

A cheating husband is to sue the Halifax bank that exposed his nine-year affair by sending a statement to his marital home - for an account he held with his lover.

Car repairer Barry Stevens, who was thrown out by his wife Janet after she found the incriminating statement on her doormat is blaming the Halifax for wrecking his marriage.

"I'm not the only man in the world who has played around," Barry, 50, said "But you can get caught by yourself - you don't need any extra help from the Halifax. Their cock-up has really landed me in it."

He said his wife Janet, 48, was seeking a divorce and he now expects to lose half of his 300,000 pound bungalow in Whitstable, Kent. He's now demanding 20,000 pounds compensation from the Halifax and is threatening to sue if they don't pay.

The mechanic has enjoyed an on-off relationship with mistress Gwen Weedon, 39, since 1993, becoming so close that they set up a joint savings account together.

Mrs Stevens first found out about their affair five years ago but forgave him. But his continuing deception unravelled when he visited his Halifax branch for advice on remortgaging the family bungalow and filled in a form giving his home address.

In a clerical error, that address replaced Gwen's on their joint account and a statement posted three weeks later was picked up by Janet.

I don't think that this requires any additional comment from me - in any case I'm too busy catching up on Ken Parish's prescribed reading on the ASIO Act (with the occasional detour into the history of the War Precautions 1914-1916 and other totally irrelevant past events).

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

The Lessons of History

Wednesday, 4 December 2002

Today brought the news that the Federal ALP has finally arrived at a firm, principled stance on Attorney General Daryl Williams' proposed extension of ASIO powers. The ALP position is that basically it's OK, as long as the government appoints some retired judges to keep our lads in trenchcoats from running totally amok. It led me to do a Google search which turned up this page, at the Australian Archives web-site, covering events and issues that dominated cabinet discussions during 1951. One of these events was Dr H.J. Evatt's successful High Court challenge to the constitutionality of the 1950 Communist Party Dissolution Act. In 1951 the Menzies government put the issue to a referendum

seeking Commonwealth powers to enact laws dealing with communists and communism

The referendum was put to the Australian people on September 22, 1951:

The Federal Executive of the ALP decided to support a 'No' vote. This was despite having directed Labor Senators to allow passage of the government’s original legislation the previous year. The new opposition leader, 'Doc' Evatt, who had represented the Waterside Workers Federation in their High Court challenge, campaigned vigorously for a 'No' vote, warning that Menzies wished to establish a police state in Australia. How voters reconciled this dire claim with Evatt’s equal insistence that hysteria was Menzies stock in trade is unclear. Menzies himself encountered some of the rowdiest and most violent meetings in federal campaign history. It did not help that he also made heavy weather of presenting the 'Yes' case. He had particular difficulty explaining how denying the civil liberties of otherwise law-abiding citizens simply because they held different political beliefs protected the basic freedom of all. That some Liberal Party members and conservative Anglican churchmen openly disparaged the government’s proposals did not help his case either.

As Dr J W Knott, author of the page remarks:

One of the cherished myths of the ALP is that against all predictions and through tireless effort, 'Doc' Evatt won the 'No' case. A more likely explanation is that faced with a proposal for constitutional change a majority of the electorate (as it nearly always has) took the safe option and voted 'No'.

Clearly our modern ALP has decided to view these events in a more realistically historical light, rather than pursue Evatt's quixotic and electorally damaging idealism on the issue of civil liberties. Every little bit helps to maintain Labor's credibility as an alternative government.

I'm Telling You Why ...

Wednesday, 4 December 2002

Right now there's a danger of this blog turning into the central clearing house for the Australian branch of the Ebenezer Scrooge Fan Club. I've had two more E-mails on the topic: Rob Corr of Mentalspace has alerted me to this ugly little report from yesterday's Oz of death threats against staff at a child-care centre that has "banned" Santa, while Darren from Adelaide wrote to alert me to this Daily Telegraph report of the misguided headmaster of a Sydney Christian school who shocked parents and shattered the beliefs of his students by issuing a school newsletter reaffirming the school's strong stand against the fantasy of Santa and other sacred symbols of Australian childhood. Doesn't this man realise that he is playing into the hands of the politically correct and the Muslim extremists who are determined to tear down the foundations of our democratic society?

Now that our PM has made it official that any deviation from an unwavering belief in the reality of Santa is a thought crime punishable by social ostracism at the very least, it's not surprising that the language of unbiased reporting is so careful to reflect the PM's general community attitudes. The Oz report's opening line makes no concessions to the misguided thinking of the politically correct Santa abolitionists:

A CHILD-care centre that bans Santa Claus has received a death threat.

Similarly the Telly is at pains to distance itself from any taint of political correctness:

NOT only does western Sydney school principal George Glanville not believe in the spirit of Santa, he is trying to destroy the magic of Christmas for hundreds of his students.

It may be egregious to suggest that this particular beat-up by the PM and the Murdoch press is a pretty damn stupid and irresponsible exercise which has created a lot of unnecessary divisiveness and petty hatred purely for the sake of self-indulgent gibes at imaginary political enemies. As both reports show, despite their worst intentions, there are many good reasons of conscience and consideration to support a Santa-free Christmas celebration or at least a mature approach to the myth that allows children to have the fun without the pretence that Old Nitty-Whiskers is actually real. Just why the PM and the Murdoch press regard this as a positive threat to society is beyond me. Perhaps they're worried that Santa might not be putting any nice defence goodies in the community Christmas stocking this year if we're bad little boys and girls and don't at least pretend to maintain the faith.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Victorian Voters Stuff It Up

Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Alan Woods has offered his considered evaluation of the Victorian state election in the Oz. Alan sounds a cautionary note, saying that now that Steve Bracks finds himself in the position of "the dog that caught the car" the restraint that the Legislative Council imposed on "the wilder fringes of Labor" places Victoria in peril from (shudder) the Greens and (shudder) the trade unions.

Alan takes Labor to task on two fronts - the proposed reforms of the Legislative Council, including the introduction of preferential voting (to replace the current 22 provinces each based on 4 Legislative Assembly electorates) which runs the risk of handing the balance of power in the upper house to (shudder) the Greens and the Bracks' government's labour market agenda which "is driven by Labor's close connections with (shudder) the unions" (my shudder). Under the guise of protecting lower paid workers - such as outworkers in the clothing industry the governemnt is (according to Alan) promoting (shudder) union control of industry in a way that can only damage the state in the long term by driving investment out of the State. Worse, the government could be pushed into re-introducing a state industrial tribunal with "all the regulations and interference that goes with it" (syncope).

Finally, waiting in the wings, is the awful prospect of a return to the worst days of (wait for it) the Cain-Kirner government:

There are plenty of disgruntled Labor activists who think the Bracks Government owes them. As the Cain-Kirner years showed, once policy drift starts it can be impossible to stop, even if it takes voters a while to react.

It makes you wonder what the hell the 8% of the Victorian electorate who swung to Labor were thinking, doesn't it? Perhaps we allowed our distaste for the handling of the Dean affair and the obvious fact that the Liberal Party appeared to be out of touch with their own natural allies (such as the corporations who dissociated themselves from the Liberal scare campaign on the very issue of business investment in the state) to momentarily blind us to the political dangers of allowing the Labor party to gain control of the upper house. Unlike the Liberal Party, who know how to use unchecked political power wisely and for the benefit of the whole community, as they so ably demonstrated during the Kennett-Stockdale years.