Saturday, October 26, 2002

Looking Back On The Week - & A Bit Further

Saturday, 26 October 2002

On Wednesday this week, Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson made the suggestion that schools should start the day with a flag raising ceremony including the raising of the flag and singing the national anthem. You know, that song they sing before the AFL Grand Final, the one that starts with:

Australians all eat ostriches,
for we are young and free,
With golden soil and well fought oil,
'ow Rome is girt by sea;

Dr Nelson said "Flag raising in school was a everyday occurrence and I've got to say in some respects perhaps it was a better society at that time." And of course our Prime Minister concurred, saying "... it should never have stopped".

I am old enough to remember standing on a school playground in the sixties, reciting a pledge that I would "honour my country" and probably the Queen and the flag. I can't remember the exact words, but it finished off with a promise to "cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the law". Entirely thanks to this daily ceremony, thousands of Australian kids cheerfully ate their greens when ordered to at the dinner table, shut up and listened in class, and refrained from throwing bricks through windows or helping themselves to a five finger discount at the Coles lolly counter. With this solid basis of instruction in the civic virtues, I am entirely at a loss to account for my current cynicism when it comes to all matters patriotic. Maybe it was all that dope that I didn't inhale in the eighties.

Update: I am sure most of you have noticed the embarassing mondagreen in my quotation from the National Anthem. The third line should of course read

We've golden soil and whale foot oil;

I can only apologise most profusely for this lapse in scholarship.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Today's Age

Friday, 25 October 2002

There are a couple of interesting opinion pieces in today's Age.

Tony Kevin has a good article on the Select Committee into a Certain Maritime Incident and John Legge writes on corporate salaries. These articles are both well worth a look - I think Kevin is correct when he says that the issue of the SEIV X incident in particular is not going to go away in a hurry.

In keeping with the Potemkin's motto, I couldn't resist tracking down a story that was in the print edition, but doesn't appear on the web-site: that of the London Daily Mirror's "less than sincere apology" to US film producer Steve Bing. This is definitely in the realm of the inconsequential. In this first report "Bing gets grovelling apology", there's a definite note of triumph in Mr Bing's remarks on the case. A day later he's a lot less happy. Much as I dislike tabloids, especially the British variety, I can't help feeling that "certain sneaking admiration" for the way the Mirror handled this issue.

The Gun Issue: a Modest Proposal

Friday, 25 October 2002

Since the shootings at Monash on Monday, there has been a predictable outcry from gun-control advocates for tighter gun control and an equally predictable response from the right-to-shoot-things-or-at-least-own-a-gun-on-the-off-chance-that-I might-need-to lobby. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to stay out of the debate, such as that raging in the comment threads of John Quiggin's web-log.

The latest proposal from the Howard Government for tighter hand-gun controls and a hand-gun buy back looks reasonably certain to get up. Personally I am opposed to this scheme as a waste of public money and propose the following alternative.

Instead of a hand-gun buy back, we offer hand-gun owners an exchange - in return for their hand-guns they receive a penis gourd. The more guns they hand back, the larger the gourd, which they could wear proudly in public at any time, without the threat of criminal penalty. Personally, I lean towards making the wearing of penis gourds compulsory. The shooting clubs could continue on as penis-gourd clubs, where the members (no pun intended) could get together for a weekly spot of "mine's bigger than yours", and swap tips on penis-gourd care and maintenance.

I also liked the suggestion I heard on talk-back radio* this morning, that we should try to have pistol shooting removed from the Olympic and the Australia & Commonwealth Games to be replaced with another sport. That way we can avoid the long-term loss of Gold Medals that stricter hand-gun controls might entail. I think that if we start some serious lobbying of the IOC now, we might get Penis Gourd Fencing accepted as an Olympic Event in time for the Beijing games. Originally I had a couple of other new sports in mind, but I had to give them up when I realised that they wouldn't work too well as women's events.

* - Actually, it was ABC talk-back which probably doesn't count as the real thing.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Senator Overboard

Thursday, 24 October 2002

Senator George Brandis, a barrister, and deputy chairman of the Senate Inquiry into a Certain Maritime Incident (otherwise known as the "Children Overboard" affair) has produced this splendid bunch of sour grapes in the opinion pages of the Oz.

I was particularly taken by this paragraph:

Sometimes, private citizens (or, indeed, public servants and military officers) are used by senators as objects to score points off political opponents.

Obviously, this is not what Senator Brandis had in mind when he put the following question to Vice-Admiral Shackleton on the first day of the enquiry (25 March 2002):

In fact, it is the case, isn't it, Vice Admiral Shackleton, that when the Navy took over the primary responsibility for policing the Australian maritime borders from illegal entry vessels the Navy discovered quite soon that the use of children for the purpose of moral blackmail by asylum seekers--either by threatening to throw them into the water or by, as in the case of the event on 24 October, throwing them into the water or by, as in the case of SIEV10, deliberately sinking the vessel and carrying children into the water from the sunk vessel or by, as in the case of SIEV9, otherwise causing physical harm to children--was a practice that was routinely engaged in as a tactic? The Navy discovered that, didn't it?

And, without doubt, we can be equally certain that his extended questioning of Commander Norman Banks of HMAS Adelaide over the next few days of the enquiry had nothing to with trying to shore up this increasingly untenable position.

Senator Brandis is completely correct, when he says:

... witnesses are not fair game, in the same way as other politicians are, and they should not be used as objects for political point-scoring or as vehicles for the conduct of partisan debate.

Of course it would be scurrilous and churlish to suggest that he could have shown more respect for this principle during the enquiry itself.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Dredging the Web

Wednesday, 23 October 2002

There's nothing like a juicy quotation to add some much-needed gravitas to a web page. Take this cynical little gem from Alexander Tytler's Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic (1776):

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship."

I must confess that before I found this quotation while browsing the more crepuscular reaches of the web, I had never heard of Alexander Tytler. A quick Google search turned up some biographical details - Tytler was a Scottish barrister, law professor and later judge advocate of Scotland. To learn more about this remarkable man's achievements in letters, the law and the spending of inherited wealth, check out Significant Scots.

Of course the web has its limitations, so I was unable to locate an on-line copy of the book - it's something to keep an eye out for next time I'm hanging around my local library or the remainder bins. On the other hand I did find quite a few sites that gave prominence to Tytler's observation. Like Carl ("War is diplomacy by other means.") von Clausewitz, Tytler appears to be one of history's one-quote wonders.

With Tytler's evident cynicism about democracy it's hardly surprising that this passage turns up, in part at least, at this site devoted to arguing the case for a monarchical USA through scripture and poor page design.

Tytler's comment on fiscal policy make him a shoe-in for web-play on pages devoted to the iniquity of the tax system - such as this one which conveniently ignores the possibility that the politician who wins your vote with promises of lower taxes may be just as guilty of plundering the public purse as the politician who promises his supporters higher export subsidies for farm produce.

Tytler's evident popularity with some American conservatives is frankly, a bit of an emigma. Why you would prefer an 18th century Scottish aristocrat's opinion of democracy over that of say, George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, is quite beyond me.