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) 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.

You'd Better not Shout ...

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

As an avowed Scroogist I doubt that anyone will be surprised that I disagree with Angela Shanahan's op-ed piece in the Oz. Angela joins Prime Minister John Howard et al in decrying the politically correct thought police who intend to deprive kiddies in about 50 Australian child-care centres and kindies of their natural birthright of a visit from Santa (or to be more precise, someone's dad dressed up in traditional Santa kit, including the obligatory pillow stuffed into the red trousers) and a nice singalong around the nativity scene (preferably hand built, with cotton wool sheep and lambs with blackened pipe-cleaners for legs - although these days pipe cleaners are probably hard to come by so maybe they have to make do with black plastic twist ties. It's another sad example of how social and technological progress has destroyed traditional crafts). According to Angela:

The message that Christmas-deprived children get is that they are allowed to have a party and sing songs, but they are not allowed to sing about the birth of the baby or the fun of celebrating it.

The idea of having a party and singing songs without the central message of the nativity does sound a little gloomy but kids are generally considered to be pretty resilient - at least when we're trying to calm our misgivings about the neighbour's fairly strict application of the biblical maxim "spare the rod and spoil the child" - so I'm fairly sure that most of them will get over the undeniable trauma of a Christmas party without the Christmas message. Australian adults have been coping with this for years.

While we're on this subject, I doubt that we'll get through the holiday season without at least one of those pious little suggestions that we might all temper our hoop-la over the annual shopping spree with a little though for the "less fortunate among us" for whom Santa's little helpers usually turn up dressed in Salvation Army uniforms. I sometimes suspect that there are a lot of people who believe that Christmas would be better if we left this seasonal tradition out. Especially this year, when:

we all have to contend with terrorism that is the absolute anathema of Australian values of inclusion, harmony and multiculturalism

Which no doubt makes it essential that we all get behind Christmas and show those nasty terrorists that nothing they can do is going to make us abandon our sacred tradition of offering sincere thanks to those senile distant rellies who have given us yet another year's supply of socks that stopped being big enough when we were twelve years old. After all, it's the thought that counts. Even if the thinking is being done by someone who has totally lost the plot.

Responsible Reporting

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

News Limited's main site is downplaying unspecified reports of a secret training camp for islamic extremists in "remote forests outside Melbourne". This is highly responsible behaviour in the current climate of generalised uncertainty when we are enjoined to be "alert but not alarmed". The last thing we need is casual panic-mongering based on the claims of "well-placed intelligence sources" and other nebulous sources. Anyone who is interested in reading the original report will find it here, at the web-site of that eminently responsible journal of public record, the Melbourne Hun.

In Hiding

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

I've just learned that my friend with the obnoxious neighbour has checked into casualty with a few broken bones and contusions. The official story is that he tripped and fell down an embankment while walking the dog. I'm a little skeptical of this explanation as he doesn't even have a dog.

As soon as it gets dark, I'm going to slip out to the supermarket and stock up on packet soups and frozen dinners. As long as I stay fairly quiet and keep the electricity consumption to a minimum I should be able to avoid "falling down an embankment" or "walking into a doorpost" myself over the next couple of days. I may not be able to do too much blogging, as the light from the monitor showing through the blinds might be a dead giveaway that I'm actually home.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Regression of The Mean

Monday, 2 December 2002

I came across a newish term today, while I was browsing those regions of the blogosphere inhabited by people who believe in the scientific truth of Mr Sax Rohmer's classification of the human race into 3 basic types: wily orientals, such as the fiendish Doctor Fu Manchu and his devious daughter the lovely (and slightly oversexed) Fah Lo Suee; slightly less intelligent, but nonetheless decent whites, such as Nayland Smith, Doctor Petrie and Shan Renfrew; and the rest of the human race whose intelligence, in general, is inversely propotional to their degree of skin pigmentation. The (newish) term is Regression to the Mean and I say newish, because in my chequered academic career I did study a year of statistics (did pretty well too, if I say so myself) so I may have come across it before, even if all I remember of the section on correlation and linear regression these days is my lecturer's frequent reminders that correlation is not causation.

John Ray of Dissecting Leftism, offers this statistical artifact as an explanation for poor academic performance by black students as reported in the New York Times and commented on by Razib at Gene Expression. Dr Ray obviously knows his statistics, so I think that his suggestion that the observation of generalised poor academic performance in american black students is a merely an accidental quirk of statistics, rather than an indicator of underlying genetic differences in IQ, has some merit.

Time to Stop Pussy-Footing Around

Monday, 2 December 2002

There's been a lot of umbrage at Prime Minister John Howard's statement that he would consider pre-emptive action to deal with a potential terrorist threat to Australia. Speaking on Channel Nine, Mr Howard said:

It stands to reason that if you believed that somebody was going to launch an attack against your country either of a conventional kind or a terrorist kind and you had a capacity to stop it and there was no alternative other than to use that capacity, then of course you would have to use it

Predictably, there's been a chorus of condemnation from a number of our so-called neighbours, saying that the PM should perhaps show a little more consideration for their national sovereignty and international law. Most of this stuff can be safely ignored: these states don't have our long experience with western style democracy and a lot of the governments making these statements are obviously a little behind hand in coming to terms with their responsibilities to their citizens. Maybe when Indonesian citizens are under threat, the Indonesian government might change their tune and see the benefits of having Kopassus ready to deal with the threat of terrorists based in other countries. Of course we will insist that they have the courtesy to at least inform us first, before they undertake anti-terrorist operations on Australian soil.

Our Foreign Minister clearly understands the nuances of the situation, commenting:

If people misinterpret what the Prime Minister has said well then you know they have to live with the consequences of their misinterpretation

So there's clearly no question of the Prime Minister's remarks being in any way intemperate. If the political leaders of other countries insist on wilfully misunderstanding his essentially moderate position, that's their problem, not ours.

I wasn't watching Channel 9 on Sunday as it happens - I had to go and help a friend out with some trouble he's been having with his next-door neighbour. Well, more precisely, his next-door neighbour's brother-in-law, who apparently goes round there every Sunday afternoon to drink himself into that belligerent state that some people seem to think is not merely a normal social state of drunkenness, but positively desirable. My friend has been convinced for weeks that this guy is a danger to him (my friend) and everyone else, but will the police deal with the problem? Of course not: as usual it's left to the ordinary citizen to deal with the potential criminal behaviour of the misfits in our society. Anyway, we gave the bugger a good dose of pre-emptive medicine and I don't think my friend will be having any more trouble from that quarter.

The Big Wash-Up

Monday, 2 December 2002

The time has finally arrived for my pontificating post-mortem on the result of Saturday's Victorian State Election.

Saturday's result shows that the Liberal Party to reshape itself as a modern, responsible, democratic conservative party, in much the same way that Labor has grudgingly recognising the need to abandon the socialist dream and reshape itself as a modern, responsible, socially democratic party. It's time that the Liberal party recognised that while slogans like "We stand for choice, Labor stands for the closed shop." (to paraphrase a remark of Ted Baillieu's on Saturday Night) may have instant appeal with the party faithful, elections are not won in the lounges of the Melbourne Club, any more than they are won in the public bar of the John Curtin Hotel. Tony Abbott may be respected as Federal Minister for Workplace Relations and even liked in some quarters, but the people of Victoria have made it pretty clear that they don't want him as State Premier. Kicking the rusty old union can is no longer a ticket to instant electoral victory.

There's been some predictable scape-goating of Robert Dean since Saturday and no doubt we're in for more. It's also been said that Mr Doyle wasn't really given a fair chance to establish himself as leader: a less complimentary way to put it was that he didn't have enough lead time to the election to establish his public image as a basically decent fellow, rather than the ambitious, self-serving career politician who rolled Dennis Napthine. Robert Dean deserves his fair share of credit for Saturday's result but the Dean affair did not occur in isolation. Mr Doyle's attempts to recover from the situation on the weekend of the Liberal campaign launch by spinning it as "yesterday's news" did little to salvage the Liberal's chances. If anything it did the opposite, reinforcing the powerful symbolism of the Dean affair.

Afterword: I've just taken a look at Glenn Milne's article in the Oz. I love this bit:

... they [Victorian Electors] did not have the time or energy to put his Government under hard scrutiny. Nor were they prepared to assess Doyle with any degree of enthusiasm.

As usual, it's a case of the electorate being too dumb, or too lazy, to weigh the issues up properly. Of course, as someone who forgot that on Saturday I would be voting in the Legislative Council as well, I'm in no position to refute this view.