Saturday, November 02, 2002

"I Wish I Hadn't Said That"

Saturday, 2 November 2002

A bit of follow-up research on the "Code Base" item below, turned up this story on an unfortunately frank comment by George Soros on global politics and the Brazilian presidential election:

In Ancient Rome, only Romans voted. In modern global capitalism, only Americans vote, Brazilians do not.

The report makes it clear that Soros doesn't deny making the remark, although he does differ with Brazilian reporter Clóvis Rossi on how Rossi came by the quotation: Rossi maintains that Soros made the remark in conversation with him; Soros that Rossi indulged in a spot of eavesdropping.

For some reason, I'm starting to become quite fascinated by Latin American politics.

All Your Code Base Belong to Us

Saturday, 2 November 2002

I've been holding this item over for a quiet day, but as it seems that I'm not going to get one of those for a while, I might as well post it now. I was alerted to this story by a friend who does serious social research, as distinct from the quick trolls for a worthy piss-take that I prefer.

According to an article from Le Monde Informatique reprinted in PC World Malta, the Commercial Court of Nanterre convicted the world's most popular software giant of software privacy and fined their French subsidiary 3 million francs (US$422,000). A spokesman from the defendent's law firm said:

My clients do not wish to make any comment. We are confident and have decided to appeal the Tribunal's decision.

Although this item seems to have escaped the notice of newspapers in the major English-speaking nations (and Australia) it didn't go unnoticed in the Linux community (no surprises there) or in Peru. When a bill came before the Peruvian Congress requiring that all Government agencies use only open source software, Alberto Gonzalez of Microsoft* Peru, wrote to Peruvian Congressman Edgar David Villanueva Nunez, the bill's chief sponsor in defence of the rights of proprietary software developers everywhere. He claimed that the bill:

...imposes the use of open source software without considering the dangers that this can bring from the point of view of security, guarantee, and possible violation of the intellectual property rights of third parties ...

This earned the following riposte from Nunez:

The inclusion of the intellectual property of others in works claimed as one's own is not a practice that has been noted in the free software community; whereas, unfortunately, it has been in the area of proprietary software.

[An example is] the condemnation by the Commercial Court of Nanterre, France, on 27 September 2001 of Microsoft* to a penalty of three million francs in damages and interest for violation of intellectual property (piracy, to use the unfortunate term that your firm commonly uses in its publicity).

In July, according to Wired, Microsoft decided to put its taxes to work by enlisting the support of the US Ambassador to Peru.

Obviously, with the events of September 11 2001, and the year since, none of this could be expected to make the front pages. But you'd think the weekly IT supplements might have picked up on it.

* - You knew it was them all the time, didn't you?

One Small Step ...

Saturday, 2 November 2002

The Boston Globe and the Jamaica Observer report on how a threatened boycott of the Miss World pageant has forced the Nigerian government to act to prevent the stoning to death of a four women sentenced to this punishment under sharia law. Tony Delroy had a great deal of fun with this bit of news on the ABC last night, launching into an extended sequence of bad puns which I won't repeat here.

It's a pity that our local news outlets don't appear to be covering this story - after all, it's a clear triumph, however small, for western democratic values. And it's in no way diminished by the fact that it took a group of beauty queens to do it. It's the sort of clear, unambiguous and above all untainted victory that we can all be proud of. I'll have to stop now - I'm finding this uncharacteristic seriousness and sincerity a bit difficult to maintain.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Stop Laughing, this is a Matter of National Security

Friday, 1 November 2002

It was reassuring to read in this morning's Age that ASIO has conducted more home raids that the four publicised so far, and that

the only cases that had become public were ones where "someone wanted to make it public"

It's also good to hear that ASIO has "hard evidence" to justify its crackdown on Jemaah Islamiah. I have every confidence that in 30 years or so, when historians finally have the opportunity to examine that evidence, the suggestion that the raids were nothing more than a heavy-handed ASIO publicity stunt will be shown up for the cynical left-wing furphy that it is. After all we're only hearing about the raids because the targets have complained to the lefties at the ABC and Fairfax press who still have to come to terms with their new responsibilities in our rapidly developing Second Cold War.

There's only one thing that troubles me about this affair and that is that the government slipped up enough to allow the raids to be reported at all. These JI activists are obviously hostile to our democratic values and clearly don't understand that in a democratic society like Australia when armed police storm into your house looking for evidence of sedition, the done thing is take it on the chin like a bloody white man and, above all, keep quiet about it. The government should have foreseen that there would be complaints and press coverage and issued a D-Notice - or don't they have those any more? I hope that the Attorney-General recognises this serious omission and takes steps to ensure that it doesn't happen in future.

Update: Thanks to Ken Parish for bringing my attention to this piece of serious commentary on the raids by Alan Ramsey.

An Honest Concern for Free Speech

Friday, 1 November 2002

Janet Albrechtsen's use of the rhetoric of free speech to defend the right of right-wing academics everywhere to hound their opponents out of public life has come in for a lot of serious attention elsewhere in the blogosphere. John Quiggin and Don Arthur are rightly critical of Albrechtsen's defence of Campus Watch while the members of the Australian's op-ed claque demonstrate their usual reflexive approbation of conservatism's favourite pin-up girl (sorry Bettina). I often get the impression that some of these bloggers aspire to having a few column inches of their own on the op-ed pages of the Oz one day, and I wish them well. A limited talent for booing people off the stage may not be much use if your ambition is to star at La Scala but it's clearly no impediment to a successful career in journalism or politics.

A fair bit of the comment on Janet's spirited defence of Daniel Pipes' right to play the honourable and socially essential role of amateur informer and denouncer has referred to the Media Watch coverage of her playful inventiveness when it comes to background research. I don't know if this (admittedly very dated) citation of Janet's research skills has had a previous outing in the OzBlogosphere - if not I'm going to claim it as a cognitive achievement of the type poo-pooed by the likes of Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Coming Events

Thursday, 31 October 2002

Sydney's Hyde Park looks like the place to be on Sunday afternoon (thanks to Angela Bell for this item) where Free Bodies is planning a demonstration in support of the decriminalisation of public nudity.

I find it difficult to see how anyone - especially libertarians - could oppose this idea, especially in a political climate where our internal and external enemies are being castigated by many for insisting that their female adherents wear too much damn clothing. Still I have reservations. Despite all those marvellous pictures of healthy, young and 50% nubile bodies used to promote naturism in the pages of "Health and Efficiency", we must acknowledge the sad fact that young nudists inevitably grow into old nudists. I'm sure many Sydney-siders wouldn't be too thrilled to find Rundle Mall teeming with middle-aged naked civil servants every lunch time. As Rex Mossop famously remarked apropos nude beaches "Male genitals shouldn't be rammed down people's throats".

On the other hand, the Free Bodies campaign might be just what we need to promote a more peaceful society and world order. As English satirist Peter Cook once remarked "No-one's ever fought a war for nudism." So I wish Free Bodies well in their campaign but I doubt that I will be joining them. I'd rather keep this debilitated middle-aged body under wraps - at least in public.

I Wish I'd Said That

Thursday, 31 October 2002

Adelaide University economics lecturer John Whitley weighs into the gun debate with this opinion piece in today's Age. It's obvious that the gun-control debate hasn't gone away completely, so perhaps I can look forward to using this issue to exercise my limited talent for comic invention again. But I doubt even the best of my occasional brilliancies is a match for this gem from Whitley:

... as the Monash shooting demonstrated, it is law-abiding citizens who are most frequently called upon to stop crimes. Guns make this task easier, especially for physically weaker people such as women and the elderly.

And later there's this on a study of gun control (or the lack thereof) in the US:

The only policy found to be associated with a decline in multiple-victim public shootings was allowing the concealed carrying of firearms. States that passed such laws experienced an 84 per cent drop in the number of events and a decline of deaths of 90 per cent and injuries of 82 per cent. The reasons directly derive from what happened at Monash.

The shooters in these events generally desire to kill as many people as possible and often do not plan to live through the attack. Criminal penalties will not deter them, and it would be impossible to eliminate the possibility of them obtaining a gun. The only effective deterrence appears to be the prospect of failure.

Well, there you have it - what we need to get this country back on track is a chicken in every pot, a baby in every crib and a hand-gun under every armpit.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Silver Tonsils and Silver Linings

Wednesday 30 October, 2002

Although this post is at least a day overdue, I can't let the whole week go by without commenting on MediaWatch's latest stoush with Alan Jones and John Laws.

Thoug the facts appear to be depressingly sleazy, I couldn't help finding one small consolation - with both halves of the duumvirate (that's what you're left with after two members of a triumvirate assassinate the third) which currently rules the Sydney air-waves broadcasting fearlessly and objectively favorable comment on the improving performance of Telstra's mobile network, it's going to be much harder to blame bad mobile phone reception the next time a government minister wants to profess ignorance of facts he's been lying about. Unless, of course, the government switches to one of the other telecommunications providers.

Blast from the Past

Wednesday, 30 October 2002

The main editorial in today's Oz proclaims that All Australians are affected by demographics. There's nothing like starting the day with a good non-sequitur. The Oz goes on to warn us that:

As politicians scramble to find policy responses to the falling birth rate, academics, bureaucrats, health professionals and social commentators are trying to come to grips with its causes. But the more sensible observers are united on one point: if the demographic trend is to be reversed, or at least halted, community attitudes will have to change. Australians, as individuals, couples, families and as members of society have a choice. The challenge is to get enough people interested in an issue that affects us all, whatever our age or personal circumstances.

Reading on, it's pretty clear what the leader writer thinks that choice should be - Australia desparately needs more rug-rats. Otherwise, as other commentators on the issue have pointed out, our only alternative is to import a lot of funny brown and yellow people, some of whom are fanatically devoted to wearing towels on their heads, to ensure that the taxpayers of today will continue to enjoy an acceptable lifestyle when they become the pensioners of tomorrow. God forbid that anyone should be forced to sell up the family home in Double Bay or South Yarra because we can't afford to provide them with Retinol and Zoloft on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

So now we need to convince young couples everywhere that they should live on the edge once in a while and leave the condom in the packet. If this is true, I think we're cactus - unless we can manage a change of government at the next election. Changing community attitudes to encourage more procreation sounds a lot like an exercise in social engineering and we know that no-one on the conservative side of politics would dirty their hands with that.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

What I Read Last Night

(A small confession)

Tuesday, 29 October 2002

Despite Sunday's good intentions to persevere with Les Miserables, I got sucked in by Perseus Rim, an entertaining space opera by Julian May. It was lent to me by a friend. It's a rollicking good read and I knocked it off in a little over 4 hours. Back to Victor Hugo tonight.

Since I do most of my reading at night, often in a mildly hypnogogic state, I'm not sure that interspersing serious reading with the occasional foray into lighter stuff is altogether a good idea. There's a risk that I might get things a little muddled and start banging on one day about Hugo's lyrical description of Javert taking his ship into hyperdrive and plunging it into the core of an actinic blue giant, causing a supernova that wipes out a hundred inhabited planetary systems. That sort of thing can seriously undermine your literary cred.

Back to Basics

Tuesday, 29 October 2002

I've been thinking about national security lately - especially some of the criticisms that are floating around about ASIO spending too much money on high-tech surveillance and not enough on good solid grass-roots spying. As today is "Mutual Obligation Day", I suppose that it was only natural that my twisted mind should come up with yet another brilliant political initiative.

You probably know that those of us in the community who don't have salaried employment, financially viable businesses of our own or well-developed criminal proficiencies may be required to perform a range of Mutual Obligation activities to maintain our eligibility for our fortnightly stipend. It seems to me that gathering domestic intelligence could be added to the list of Centrelink approved activities, expanding our domestic intelligence gathering capabilities, at very little cost to the tax payer.

Most of the costs would be administrative - for example, Centrelink and ASIO would have to get together to design forms for reporting the intelligence gathered. It shouldn't be too difficult to design a simple diary, similar to the jobseeker diary, where participants in the "Spy for the Dole" scheme would record their incriminating observations of their friends and neighbours and any seditious remarks they might hear down at the local pub. Some additional funds might also be needed to provide training in the rudiments of spycraft, such as not standing too close to the glass when you're using the Zeiss 5X40s at your front window. Most of this stuff is pretty simple and a good half-hour training video is probably enough to put most of it across.

Let's face it, the threat of international mastermind islamo-fascist mega-terrorism isn't going to just disappear. It's up to all of us to do our bit in the global war against terrorism. This is a contribution every unemployed Australian should be proud to make.

For those who are interested, ASIO's annual report to Parliament is available (in PDF format) here.

Monday, October 28, 2002

All of Our Markets are Free

(but some are more free than others)

Monday, 28 October 2002

The subject of using ethanol in petrol has been getting an intermittent airing on ABC news and current affairs lately. This issue first surfaced on The World Today on September 16. Since then the issue has been covered on the 7.30 Report on September 30 and on AM last Thursday.

The story in a nutshell is this: Sydney company Trafigura Fuels and Neumann Petroleum in Brisbane had a lot of potential investors interested in marketing ethanol in petrol. Unable to obtain domestic supplies of ethanol for test marketing from either CSR distilleries (who produce ethanol mainly for export) or the other major domestic ethanol producer Manildra Park Petroleum (which refines 90 percent of Australia's domestic ethanol from wheat) these companies purchased a ship load of ethanol from Brazil. While the ship was being loaded, the government imposed an excise on ethanol. And re-introduced a subsidy at the same rate for domesticly produced ethanol. Neumann's have complained to the ACCC, calling for an investigation.

As usual, there have been grubby revelations that the Manildra group has made substantial donations to the coalition parties, but we are assured by our Prime Minister that what looks curiously like a blatant interference in the market to support a local monopoly was arrived at by a proper process, and

it was the right decision.

It's been widely applauded, I might say, by the cane growers of Australia.

Perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of a major shift in the government's economic policy direction, towards a more interventionist approach, aimed at developing and nurturing new industries. I wonder if it will be endorsed by the ACCC.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Urban Legend

Sunday, 27 October 2002

For some reason, reading the John Carroll article in the previous post, reminded me of this apocryphal story of an argument between two old diggers at their local RSL:

"We didn't fight the bloody war so that bloody long-haired ratbag bloody protesters could march up and down with bloody banners and burn the bloody flag."

"Well, actually Jack, we did."

I wanted it to appear at the end of the Carroll post but Blogger wasn't having any of that.

Fish in a Very Small Barrel

Sunday, 27 October 2002

This rousing call to arms from John Carroll first appeared in the Financial Review on October 18th. In it he draws two lessons from the Bali bombing - one for Australia, the other for the entire West. The article doesn't seem to have attracted a lot of attention in blogging circles - perhaps I am the only Oz blogger lacking the good sense to ignore it.

There has been a lot of talk about the Bali being "our own backyard". Dr Carroll finds this golden nugget of metaphor in the mud of cliche:

A landmine has been detonated in the backyard.

He goes on to excoriate John Howard's favourite people:

There are messages here for elites. The inappropriateness of pacifist tendencies in sections of the Australian left, and the churches, is exposed - this is not a moment to "turn the other cheek".

This will no doubt win back for Dr Carroll a lot of the intellectual brownie points his Meditation on Terror has lost him in some circles. I doubt that they will be too pleased by the lesson he wants the West to learn:

If the domestic lesson is for realism and toughness, the lesson for the West as a whole is that a war against Iraq is a diversion.

On the other hand, those lefties of pacifist tendencies who oppose war on Iraq for just this reason will probably find themselves grudgingly agreeing with Dr Carroll at this point. But don't get your hopes up kiddies:

Nevertheless, if the United States does invade Iraq, with or without United Nations authorisation, Australia has no choice but to provide support. Bin Laden has made sure that what we face is a war of civilisations. The West is the target. Consequently the West has to stick together, minimising internal dissension, for the sake of morale.

I'm not going to argue that the threat is not real - this is not Cold Comfort Farm and Al-Quaeda is more than Aunt Ada Doom's "something nasty in the wood-shed". Although you might be forgiven for thinking that a lot of the statements we have been hearing about the world becoming a more dangerous place have precisely the same purpose as Aunt Ada's "something nasty". To just what extent does Dr Carroll believe we should minimise internal dissensions? The least possible dissent you can have in any individual state is none at all, and we all know (from the example of Iraq, as it turns out) the kind of measures that are required to achieve a complete absence of dissent. Or at least its appearance.

What I'm Reading this Week (and for the Foreseeable Future)

Sunday, 27 October 2002

Victor Hugo's Les Miserables which (according to the blurb on my Penguin Classics copy):

with its breadth of vision and underlying truth, its moments of lyricism and compassion, is one of the great works of Western literature

It probably is all of those things - I can't tell yet. I do know that it took a little over a hundred pages for Hugo to get to the point where Jean Valjean makes off with the priest's dinner service. In the first movie version of the novel I ever saw, Michael Rennie had the silver stashed in his swag within twenty minutes of the titles - another ten minutes and a lap dissolve later he was Monsieur Le Madelaine, Mayor and pottery magnate. Now that's what I call narrative energy.

One point on which Hugo and the film are in agreement is in the character of Javert - reading Hugo's initial description of Javert's physiognomy, I said to myself "My god, this guy sounds exactly like Robert Newton!"

Anyway, until further notice, it's safe to assume that I'm ploughing my way through Hugo's masterpiece, with the occasional flick forward a few pages to reassure myself that the plot is actually going somewhere. I did a lot of flicking forward the one and only time I read Joyce's Finnegan's Wake end to end - there it was more in the vain hope of finding a more or less intelligible passage.

BTW, with so many people starting to link to this blog, it's probably time I returned the courtesy. I aim to have a blog list up in that empty decorative panel on the right of the page some time soon.