Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Pulped Fiction: The Big Afternoon Nap At The Vicarage

(With apologies to Raymond and all his fans but none at all to Agatha and hers)

It is difficult to know where to begin this story, but I have fixed my choice on a certain Wednesday at luncheon at the Vicarage. It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid-October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the foothills.

I had just finished carving some boiled beef (remarkably tough by the way) and on resuming my seat I remarked, in a spirit most unbecoming to my cloth, that anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe would be doing the world a large service. I was wearing my powder blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it.

My wife said in a sympathetic voice: 'Has he been very trying?'

I grunted. Mary, who is in service at the Vicarage as a stepping-stone to better things and higher wages, set the greens on the table with a bang and proceeded to thrust a dish of singularly moist and unpleasant dumplings under my nose. Then she lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain.

'It is a pity that I am such a shocking housekeeper,' said my wife, with a tinge of genuine regret in her voice. Then she turned her body slowly and lithely, without turning her feet. She fell straight back into my arms. I had to catch her or let her crack her head on the tessellated floor.

My wife's name is Griselda - a highly suitable name for a parson's wife. But there the suitability ends. 'You're cute,' she giggled. 'I'm cute too.'

I have always been of the opinion that a clergyman should be unmarried.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Mr 59 0.44%

ABC Online reports that famously bent Banana Bender Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen is having another go at prizing open the cash drawer of the Queensland till, so that he can get his grubby little fingers in:

Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen has confirmed that the former Queensland premier Sir Joh will, for a second time, seek compensation for legal expenses from Fitzgerald Inquiry.

In October the Beattie government sought Crown Law advice and rejected his claim for almost $340 million in compensation.

Sir Joh is now seeking an ex gratia payment of $1.5 million for legal fees relating to the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the perjury trial that followed.

I think the Beattie government should show a bit of generosity at this stage. They could do a quick whip-round of parliament and hand the collection over in a brown paper bag without setting too many troublesome legal precedents. It's an idea that would probably enjoy a lot of bipartisan support - even the brown paper bag bit.

Update: AM have finally put their transcript up, which includes some information on the precedent under which Sir Joh is seeking his ex-gratia payment:

Family friend and advisor Geoff Moss insists a 1986 Cabinet decision allows for such a payment.

GEOFF MOSS: This is not a big sum of money, $1.5 million legal costs, stretching back since 1987, especially when most of the matters dealt with were Queensland Government business.

LOUISE WILLIS: How desperate is Sir Joh to see some of this money?

GEOFF MOSS: Sir Joh wants his name cleared. You see, Sir Joh has never been convicted, and quite frankly he's an innocent victim of injustice and I believe Sir Joh should keep fighting until he gets his name cleared.

LOUISE WILLIS: But that's not how others see it. Queensland's acting Premier Terry Mackenroth says Sir Joh's legal precedent is flawed.

TERRY MACKENROTH: It was actually the Cabinet decision taken in 1986 so that the Cabinet ministers of that time could take defamation actions against Labor politicians who spoke about them in the media.

LOUISE WILLIS: So does that apply?

TERRY MACKENROTH: I don't think that it's relevant at all.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Speaking of Dogs ...

Sad to read in this morning's Hun that one of the Queen's corgis had to be put down after being mauled by Princess Anne's bull terrier Dotty:

Pharos, one of six corgis owned by the Queen, had to be put down after he was savaged by Anne's dog, Dotty – the same animal that mauled two children last year.
Dotty launched the ferocious attack within moments of arriving at Sandringham, the royal family's traditional Christmas retreat in Norfolk.

As the door was opened by a servant, the Queen's corgis raced down the main staircase to greet Anne.

But Dotty, who was not on a lead, went for Pharos, clamping her powerful jaws on one of his back legs.

The report notes that this is not the first time Dotty has been involved in a spot of aggro:

Anne became the first member of the royal family to acquire a criminal record when she was fined $1170 after Dotty bit two boys, aged 7 and 12, in Windsor Great Park.

The children needed hospital treatment and the Princess was charged under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

She admitted Dotty had been out of control.

The magistrate spared Dotty but warned she would be destroyed if she ever launched a similar attack. He also ordered the bitch be kept on a lead in public until she had received obedience training.

That last sentence makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

So This Is ...

After a quick Google for "Saturnalia", I've decided that there might be something to be said for a more traditional approach to celebrating Christmas or, more precisely, the northern hemisphere winter solstice.

It is now the month of December, when the greatest part of the city is in a bustle. Loose reins are given to public dissipation; everywhere you may hear the sound of great preparations, as if there were some real difference between the days devoted to Saturn and those for transacting business....Were you here, I would willingly confer with you as to the plan of our conduct; whether we should eve in our usual way, or, to avoid singularity, both take a better supper and throw off the toga.

Seneca the Younger (allegedly).

I'm not so sure that I'd want to go as far as restoring the ancient druidic or celtic yule traditions though. Sacrificing young virgins on altars of stone sends entirley the wrong message about sexual morality. On second thoughts, maybe it's the right message.

Enjoy. I'll see you sometime after the traditional family visit to the vet to have the turkey bone splinter removed from the dog's oesophagus.

The Fine Art of Self-Indulgent Moralising (II)

Imagine this.

You live in a country governed by one of those despotic, totalitarian regimes with which no liberal democratic government would have any truck if it weren't for the fact that countries and nations have neither friends nor values but only allies and interests. One day, along with a group of your close friends, you are summoned to the palace of your ruler where you are presented with a choice. Either you go and arrest some poor bastard you've never even heard of and turn him over to the authorities or you will be executed. What, as they usually say when posing this sort of question, will you do?

This sort of thing has been going on for about as long as people have lived in organised societies, so it's not exactly a new problem:

... When the oligarchy came into power, the thirty Commissioners in their turn summoned me and four others to the Round Chamber and instructed us to go and fetch Leon of Salmis from his home for execution. This was of course only one of many instances in which they issued such instructions, their object being to implicate as many people as possible in their wickedness. On this occasion, however, I made it clear not by my words but by my actions that death did not matter to me at all (if that is not too strong an expression); but that it mattered all the world to me that I should do nothing wrong or wicked. Powerful as it was, that government did not terrify me into doing a wrong action; when we came out of the Round Chamber the other four went off to Salamis and arrested Leon, and I went home. I should probably have been put to death for this, if the government had not fallen soon afterwards. There are plenty of people who will testify to these statements.

the Last Days of Socrates, Penguin Clasics p 65.

Re-reading this particular passage set me thinking about a lot of things. Who were the Thirty Commissioners? Who the hell was Leon of Salamis? Who were the anonymous four Athenians who went off to Salamis and arrested him? Did Socrates get lucky, or what, that the government fell before they got around to executing him? And just what the hell was he thinking anyway?

One possibility is that Socrates was in the throes of a mid-life crisis, so that his thinking had gotten a bit woolly. It wouldn't surprise me; Socrates career and public life are a sorry indictment of the state of vocational guidance counselling in ancient Athens:

... one day [Chaerophon (a friend of Socrates) went to Delphi and asked this question of the god ... - he asked whether there was anyone wiser than myself. The priestess replied that there was no-one.
(op cit)

As we know, inspired by this prankish answer, Socrates embarked on a career of pestering men who had acquired a reputation for wisdom, cross-examining them mercilessly and generally showing them up as fools, much to the delight of the youth of Athens. The footnotes in my Penguin Classics copy of The Death of Socrates suggest:

The only 'natural' explanation about [the oracle's] reply about Socrates is that it was well aware of his true charater and ideals and thoroughly approved of them.

On the other hand, it's possible that the Oracle was having a lend of Chaerophon:

[Backstage at Delphi. Phyllis, the duty crone, returns to the dressing room she shares with her good friend, and fellow sybil, Beryl.

Phyllis: Well, that's that over. Another day, another drachma. Crack us an amphora, love.

Beryl: Busy shift?

Phyllis: Gods, yeah. The questions some of these tossers come up with. "Who makes the best shoes in Athens" ...

Beryl: That's an easy one. Everyone knows it's Blahnikos. Same old shit, then, basically.

Phyllis: Yeah, same old, same old. Did get one malaka asking if anyone was wiser than Socrates.

Beryl: Who's Socrates?

Phyllis: Fucked if I know. Some Athenian, I think. So I said no-one was wiser than Socrates. They can make what they like of that. Malakas.

By the time he was summoned by the oligarchs, Socrates had spent several years annoying people, so we can't rule a mid-life crisis out of the question. We tend to forget when we read Plato that when he wasn't pestering his friends with questions about the Good, Socrates had to live the life of an ordinary man like the rest of us. Little is recorded of this, beyond the fact that his wife, Xanthippe, is reputed to have been a termagant. Perhaps when Socrates heard the order of the Thirty, he had a serious attack of the middle-aged stuff-its and decided that enough was enough. Not simply because there are some things that we should fear more than death - although this was obviously a convenient way to present the issue at his trial - but because of a feeling that life hadn't delivered. Did he attempt to persuade the anonymous four not to go to Salamis? Or did their conversation after they left the Round Chamber go more like this:

Socrates: Stuff this. You blokes can go to Salamis if you like, but I'm going home.

Anonymous Athenian: You sure that's a good idea?

Second Anonymous Athenian: You'd be better off coming to Salamis with us. Xanthippe's going to give you a right bollocking when she hears about this.

Socrates: Right now, I couldn't give a bugger. With any luck she'll have gone round to her mother's place.

But what if she hadn't gone round to her mother's place?

Xanthippe: What are you doing back here so early? Couldn't you find any Sophists stupid enough to argue with you?

Socrates: The oligarchs wanted me to go to Salamis to arrest Leon.

Xanthippe: Who's he?

Socrates: Some bloke from Salamis they want to execute. Anyway, I've had it with the oligarchs and all their bullshit. I think I'll stay home today.

Xanthippe: If you think you're going to mope around here all day, you've got another think coming. It's about time you fixed up that shutter on the front window. You've been promising to do that for weeks.

Socrates: Oh, alright, but first I'm going to crack an amphora.

Xanthippe: Like hell you are. Every time I ask you about that shutter it's always "alright, but first I'm going to crack an amphora". I'm sick of it. Shutter first, amphora later.

Socrates: You know, the oligarchs could be sending someone to arrest me tomorrow. Not that I expect that to bother you, the way you're always going on about how you should have married Blahnikos.

Xanthippe: At least Blahnikos has done something with his life. Maybe if you'd turned your hand to a useful trade instead of getting carried away with the idea that the oracle called you the wisest man in Athens, you wouldn't be in this mess. God knows me and the children would have a better life.

It probably wasn't one of Socrates best or happiest days. It's also unlikely that the immediate sequel was a good time for him either. True, the oligarchs were overthrown so, instead of the execution he anticipated (and perhaps started to dread), Socrates lived on, with plenty of time to find a way to portray himself in a heroic light:

[Chez Socrates. Someone knocks on the door]

Socrates (from the broom closet): Gods, no! They've finally arrived. Tell them ...

Xanthippe: Shut up you bloody fool! I know what to tell them. [Opens door] If you're looking for that worthless husband of mine, he's not here ... Oh it's you Plato. So the Thirty have got you doing their dirty work now, have they?

Plato: Haven't you heard? The Thirty have been thrown out. Athens is free again.

Xanthippe: Did you hear that? You got lucky. Now you can come out of that closet.

Socrates: How do I know this isn't a trick?

Xanthippe (on seeing Plato's hurt look): Don't mind him, Plato. He's been like this for days. Soon he'll be telling everyone who'll stand still long enough to listen that he would rather have died than work for the Thirty. You know what he's like.

Socrates (opening the closet door a crack): Well, now that you mention it ...

Friday, December 19, 2003

Island in the Sun

I heard Alexander Downer on AM this morning, hosing down speculation that, in gratitude for the tons of petrified Nauruan bird-shit that Aussie farmers spread over their paddocks in the nineteen fifties and sixties, Nauru's entire population might be granted Australian citizenship:

Senior officials believe Nauru will not be viable after Australian payments to maintain detention camps for asylum seekers finish.

Offering citizenship to more than 12,000 Nauruans is one of the options under consideration. Other options include Nauru being granted an uninhabited Pacific island or a total restructuring of Nauru's finances and increased long-term Australian assistance.

On AM, Mr Downer said:

I think there would be some resistance to that in parts of the community. I think that's less likely than likely that we'd go down that path. The weakness of that proposal, which was the one canvassed back in the late 1960s, I think, is that you can't underestimate the fact that the people of Nauru love Nauru, and want to live in Nauru. So offering them citizenship may not, in any case, be a solution to their problems.

I don't know that the Nauruan's love of Nauru and desire to remain close to it should be too much of an obstacle; most of Nauru was washed into Australia's river systems years ago. Adelaide seems the ideal place for a Nauruan resettlement; it probably has the highest concentration of Nauru on the Austrailian mainland.

And I think Mr Downer might be overstating the problems this precedent might cause for immigration policy; they're more than adequately offset by having a nice empty Pacific island we can ship future illegals to. All up it strikes me as a win-win solution to a difficult problem.

Afterword: naturally someone else posted in this topic before I did. Tim Dunlop in fact.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Via Lean Left

Sometimes, blogging is just too easy:

And he spake, saying:

Yea verily, the lord has looked on the works of Dubya and the children of America and seen that they are good;

And he hath rewarded the children of America with proseperity and plenty, that they shall not forget that Dubya is their anointed President.

Friday, December 12, 2003

The Bounder of St Huey's

Episode 2: Hoo-Bloody-Ray for the Hols!

The Story So Far:
Unmitigated oik mark Latham has replaced Simon Crean as head prefect of Curtin House. Head prefect of Menzies House, John Winston Howard is determined that Latham will not take his place as Head Boy of St Huey's in the new school year.

Despite some falling out among the prefects of Menzies House, the prefects common room of Menzies House is solidly behind Howard's campaign to prevent Latham from becoming Head Boy of St Huey's.

There was jubilation throughout the halls of Menzies House; at last, term was over. No more nights of prep and construe for the next three months! As the other boys in the house gathered in the dorms to pack their things for the journey home, most of the prefects gathered for one last time in the prefects' common room, before going their separate ways for the summer.

"I say chaps," remarked Howard "have you heard Latham's latest silly idea? He wants to elect the headmaster! Nothing to say about the gyppoes camping on the rugger field of course."

Robert Hill, Captain of the St Huey's Cadet Corps giggled into his copy of Jane's Infantry Weapons. He was looking for an economical replacement for the Corps' one and only bazooka, which had become too antiquated to make a respectable showing when the St Huey's cadets went on combined exercises with the Washington's corps.

Costello burst into the room, his face blazing with anger.

"I say, this is really too thick!" he ejaculated, "Do you know what that bloody twerp Cadman is up to now?"

Around the room, faces looked to him in expectation.

"He says we should cut the cricket subs! I've worked bloody hard to get the cricket team into the black, and now he's got the bloody junior ticks thinking they ought to get some back."

"It's not that bad an idea," remarked Howard, his mind on the coming contest with Latham "We can't rule it out completely."

Friday, December 05, 2003

The Bounder of St Huey's

There was consternation in the prefect's common room of Menzies House, the leading house in St Huey's.

"I say you chaps!" said John Winston Howard, the senior prefect, "This Latham fellow whose taken over Curtin is simply beyond the pale!"

Heads nodded in agreement - Latham was beyond the pale.

"It's about time young Latham realised he's in the big school now." Howard went on. "Frankly I don't think he's up to it. God help St Huey's if he ever takes my place as Head Boy of School."

"Hear, hear." his chums muttered, even Costello, Treasurer of the school cricket team, who had once aspired to be Head of School himself.

"They won't like Latham at Washington's." muttered Sheridan Minor, today's duty fag, as he buttered another toasted muffin.

"Mind your own business, Sheridan!" expostulated Howard, irritated at having his thunder stolen by a Junior, "And do try not to burn the toast."

"They won't like him at Washington's." Howard continued, "They don't take kindly to having their head boy insulted by St Huey's chaps."

"Things could get damn sticky for St Huey's if we can't stop him becoming Head Boy." someone muttered from the back of the room. "Sheridan, you're skimping on the butter again, you loathsome little tick."

Howard's face darkened. "If I have anything to do with it, Latham will never be head boy of St Huey's," he said. "When I go up it will be one of you chaps who takes my place," he went on, looking at a point on the wall mid-way between Costello and Abbott.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

And He Spake, Saying ...

Be not in error.

Every Roman centurion in Jerusalem who has heard the preachings of Mark ben Latham hath no respect for this false prophet.

Yea verily, in the temples and the tribunals the Romans will say that they would as willingly have this Mark ben Latham rule Judea as Herod.

Yea verily, this is truth, but tke not comfort in it.

For I tell ye that if the Lord should turn his back on the children of Israel and allow Mark ben Latham to become king, no good shall come of it.

He shall go to Rome the least regarded of the Kings of Israel, since Gough.

Caesar would rather lose the use4 of his arm than look upon Mark ben Latham with favour.

From The Revelation of the Prophet Gregory the Gormless, reprinted in today's Oz

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

From The Potemkin Dictionary of Political English

howard (n.): (1) statement made for personal or political gain to which the facts are deemed irrelevant; (2) statement of questionable veracity whose veracity is not to be questioned.

A Big Hooray For The New Arthur Calwell!

Frank Devine shares his happiness at Mark Latham's victory in The Oz:

More important than winning next year's election is the restoration of the ALP as a leadership force in politics. It's not a matter of needing a strong Opposition, as more unctuous Coalition supporters proclaim (the Right can do that job just as well as the Left).

It's having Labor back on the rails, not some new conglomeration of progressives - probably tinged a hideous green. It's the ALP we want, our version of a Grand Old Party, nobly conceived as defender of workingmen's rights, daring and crackpot in turn, corrupt and shameless but good at renewal, suffering the indignities of factionalism to save itself from collectivism rampant. At the moment, though, it is a GOP distinctly tottery.

How did it get that way? Kim Beazley Sr, a more than plausible candidate for the leadership in his day, offered a well-considered diagnosis when he described Labor as being once composed of "the cream of the working class" but then in the hands of "the dregs of the middle class".

Every time I see that line from Kim Beazley Senior quoted, I start to wonder where the Coalition has been getting its dregs from.

Update: Over at The Melbourne Hun, colostomy lugs has come up with the best catalogue yet, of reasons why ALP supporters should get behind Latham. It surpasses his recent "Bob Brown is really a Brown Shirt" in green splutterings (not safe for those who drink coffee in front of their PCs).

Monday, December 01, 2003

PM Gets Tough on Trade (but not with the US) while Trade Minister Keeps On Going to Water (via Southerly Buster).

The Fine Art of Self-Indulgent Moralising

There's a well known ethical theory which holds that words like "right", "wrong", "good", "bad" and "evil" have no objective meaning; generally speaking, when people describe the behaviour of others as "good" or "bad", they're expressing no more than a personal opinion or attitude. Favourable moral judgements are merely elaborate compliments and adverse ones genteel forms of personal insult. It's going to be convenient later to have a name for this theory; subjectivism will do as well as any, If my copy of Morality, An Introduction to Ethics by Bernard Williams is any guide, it looks to be the standard one (When I say my copy, I mean the one which is currently in my possession, which has an old friend's name written on the fly leaf - I'd like to think it's a hand-me-down, but I'm not certain).

Subjectivism is at least as old as logical positivism. Hard-line logical positivism allegedly starts from the premise that there are two basic types of true statements: conclusions drawn deductively by applying the laws of mathematics and logic and empirical propositions derived from observation and experiment. Members of the logical positivist school put years of work into developing a philosophy on this foundation; anyone who has taken Philosophy 103 will be familiar with the standard 30-second refutation of the entire Logical Positivist enterprise.

There are a few commonplace empirical facts which can be advanced to support the subjectivist position: there are people who use the langauge of morality mostly as a surrogate for the language of insult; moral judgements are inherently statements of personal values; moral language is inevitably emotive; moral language is used by self-serving hypocrites with the same facility as the genuinely virtuous and so on. From examples such as these it is possible to arrive at the subjectivist position by two equally erroneous routes:

The Quick Way: the typical use of moral language is to express personal attitudes to the behaviour of others. This is all it is for.

The Pretty Way: people use moral language in ways which are typically self-serving, hypocritical and dishonest. We'd all be better off if we had the sense to recognise that and use more honest forms of language like simple compliments and direct insults.

I don't think I need to explain what's wrong with taking the pretty way in any great detail. So let's identify the error in taking the quick way. It's an error of omission.

What quick way arguments omit, or ignore, is the over-determination of most of our language use. Here's an example from real life. A few years ago, I was sitting in a cafe with interrupted a conversation with a friend whose knickers I had designs on. The conversation was fitful until, apropos nothing at all, I announced "I've got a killer toothache" or something like that. Not the world's greatest pick-up line, but I did have a killer toothache and it was pointless to continue pretending that I was having a normal day.

Philosophical analysis of this statement, in the analytical tradition, would probably focus on whether I had stated a fact (I had) and whether it would be objectively verifiable (the response "I thought you were looking a bit unwell" would tend to indicate that it was). Socially inept as it was, my remark had at least one other identifiable purpose: it explained to my companion why I wasn't exactly scintillating company that way. Cynics might suggest that it also served to evoke sympathy and gave me a pretext to demonstrate a manly stoicism (sooner or later I might get the hang of the idea that the things blokes do to impress themselves and other blokes don't impress women that much).

In the same way that telling someone you have toothache can serve personal and social purposes, as well as declaring a simple fact (similarly every blackmailer or windschuttler worth his salt knows that statements of objectively provable fact can serve other purposes), a moral judgement can serve the purpose of expressing a personal attitude and other social purposes as well. One of those purposes may well be to influence the opinions and attitudes of others - and usually is. That is, in the language of the cynic, moral language is used to express personal attitudes and manipulate others. However the pejorative use of the word "manipulate" takes us off the quick way onto the pretty way.

Subjectivism in its various forms seeks to discredit moral judgements; it's a convenient position to take if you can't be bothered with moral reasoning. It has obvious attractions as a debating tactic, if you can get away with it. But moral subjectivism involves the same fundamental contradiction as that involved in dashing off a paper denying the (provable) existence of an external world to make up the publications quota for your next tenure review. When push comes to shove, no-one consistently holds the subjectivist position.

What would be required of a consistent moral subjectivist? Obviously we can't impute any moral obligations to a subjectivist; subjectivists are Teflon coated when it comes to admonition and chastisement. Tell subjectivists what they ought to do, and their response will be obvious, particularly if they disagree with your admonition. Of course this may place them in an awkward position when they are moved to express moral disapproval of others; if we were all subjectivists, moral language would be useless.

At best, moral language would be a form of nonsense, useful for teaching children acceptable forms of behaviour and very little else. One purpose it wouldn't serve very well, for example, is adult discussion on the best way to educate children. It's not difficult to imagine how such discussions would go, in a community where everyone shares the belief that statements about how parents "should" raise their kids do no more than express the speaker's own preferences when it comes to child-rearing.

The various empirical facts which might be advanced to discredit the use of moral language actually identify difficulties that the moraliser has to deal with. They are obstacles to be overcome if we want to convince others that they should share our judgements on a matter of right and wrong. They are by no means insuperable. As for moral subjectivism, it is either folly or a blanket permission for hypocrisy. Both of these judgements may slide off the subjectivist's Teflon coating, but that's beside the point; that judgement isn't stated for the edification of the subjectivists, but for the amusement of those who believe that moral language is useful and that moral judgements can be made.

Update: via Virulent Memes again, this fine post from Orcinus to which this one is tangentially relevant.

Excuses, Excuses

A 17-year-old Melbourne schoolgirl claims her aspirations to study law at university have been jeopardised after the Australian Federal Police raided her family's home this year and confiscated her schoolwork.

Nosrat Hosseini finished year 12 this year but says her school performance was affected after the AFP took all of her Persian homework during a raid in May.

From ABC News Online.

Update: the ABC link doesn't work any more, so here's a report from The Oz.

Classic Smut

It's probably time for another cheap trick to restore the flagging traffic to this site. Apparently pictures of nekked and nearly nekked women are popular with a lot of punters, so here's Norman Lindsay's Spring's Innocence (1937) featuring a blonde wearing crotchless curtains.


Dan muses on border protection at Tubagooba. Wish I'd written that.

Via New Scientist, weltschmertz, 21st Century style.

Via Virulent Memes, nurture the health of your physical body (not safe for work).

Friday, November 28, 2003

New BlogInternists

I've been quietly expanding the BlogIntern over the past couple of weeks, as part of my insidious covert campaign to establish Potemkinist blogs throughout the blogosphere. There's no point trying to hide the new entries any longer, so here they are out in the open:

Chris Sheil, formerly of Troppo Armadillo finally got his Back Pages blog up and running, and I've finally made the linkt ot it official.

David at BARISTA has the good sense to write complimentary things about me on his blog occasionally, when he isn't blogging on Arts and Letters stuff and the working routinge of Japanese author Haruki Murakami.

Frequent commenter dj has had his own blog Even Dictators Have Friends for a while now.

And Tailor's Today got added (thanks to David of BARISTA for the link) because I like the writing.

You'd Better Watch Out ... (Redux)

I was Googling the news today, checking for op-ed pieces of the "Every kid has the right to a visit from Santa" variety. Apparently there's a push on to get this added to the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child. So far I haven't found anything, particularly not in Australia, but as the holiday season doesn't officially start here until the PM appears on talkback radio declaring his belief in Santa and castigating the slaves of political correctness who would deny children their Santa rights, I'm not alarmed about that, rather alert in a comfortable and relaxed way.

I did find a number of reports which led me to this guest column by Harvey Fierstein, in the New York Times. In it Fierstein announces that:

... tomorrow, to the delight of millions of little children (not to mention the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court), the Santa in New York's great parade will be half of a same-sex couple.

And guess who the other half will be? Me! Harvey Fierstein, nice Jewish boy from Bensonhurst, dressed in holiday finery portraying the one and only Mrs. Claus.

Macy's quickly moved to hose down Harvey's claim, pointing out that the official Mrs Santa Claus in their Thanksgiving Parade would be a real woman. World Net Daily, a site previously unknown to me, also covers this little kerfuffle, with a link to their on-line store where you can buy an old magazine exposing Harvey's secret agenda. There are some good stocking stuffers in their on-line Christmas Store too.

Whatever Harvey's secret agenda is, it doesn't appear to have caught the attention of too many of the kids in the crowd.

Update: The Australian has jumped the offical start of the holiday season with this report from Agence France-Presse on a partial Santa ban in the New Zealand "village" of Mosgiel.

Talkin' 'bout ...

With Don Edgar joining the "Don't blame us" chorus on the coming intergenerational conflict, perhaps it's time to look at what Ian MacFarlane actually said about baby-boomers in that infamous speech:

If we are not careful, there is a potential for conflict between generations. The young may resent the tax burden imposed on them to pay for pension and health expenditure on the old. This will particularly be the case if they see the old as owning most of the community's assets. Housing is the most obvious example, where people of my generation have benefited from 30 years of asset price inflation, while new entrants to the workforce struggle to buy their first home.

At the same time, people – retirees in particular – are likely to be feeling less secure as they may be disappointed with the rates of return they are receiving on their savings. It seems to me that the community has not yet come to terms with the fact that nominal rates of return on financial and real assets are likely to be much lower over the coming decade or so than over the previous two decades.
[my emphasis]

Afterword: the following post has nothing to do with this one.
... I feel that the balance between fiction and reality has changed significantly in the past decade. We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind - mass-merchandizing, advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identies within the realm of consumer goods, the pre-empting of any free or original response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent the reality.

J G Ballard, Introduction to the French Edition of Crash (1974)

Talkback Moments

The big talking point on ABC Melbourne Radio this morning was, of course, the ALP leadership and the future direction of the Australian Labor Party. There was a lot of support for Kevin Rudd as leader, with Julia Gillard as deputy leader. A few callers preferred the idea of a Carmen Lawrence/Julia Gillard leadership - even the mention of Carmen's convenient loss of memory in the Penny Easton affair wasn't enough to take the gloss off that idea.

One call was amusing enough to be worth reconstructing. I can't remember the name of the caller, so I'll call him Alf.

Alf: I just want to say that until the Labor does summat about its immigration Policy, I'm going to be keep for Australians Against Further Immigration. I don't need to say owt more than that.

Jon Faine: I'd like you to say more than that Alf. It's an interesting position and I'd like to know more about your thinking on this isssue.

Alf: Well I've always thought that Australia was overpopulated - it's got nowt to do with where you come from or who you pray to, we just don't need any more people coming into the country.

A later caller was inspired to some deep reflections on the world situation and national politics by these lyrics, which she quoted extensively in her call. I wasn't similarly inspired.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

MATSUYAMA -- A man who dressed up as a woman to infiltrate women's baths and stare at naked female bathers has been arrested, police said.


Police said Yamamoto dressed up as a woman and entered a bath in Matsuyama at about 10:40 p.m., and began staring at naked women as he soaked in the water.

However, other people in the bath became suspicious because of the way he walked, and alerted a worker. He was nabbed on the spot in the changing rooms of the bath.


From Mainichi Interactive. I used to be sceptical of that story about Japanese willies.

And, from the same source, here's another way to make money on the Internet.
There is no contradiction between Christianity and a piece of rubber.

And while we're on this subject, did you know that it's possible to catch herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis and AIDS on your PC? Really.

Objectively Pro-Saddam

Remember all those aid agencies, like Care Australia, who wouldn't get with the program of the Coalition of the Willing? Colostomy lugs shows, to his own satisfaction at least, that they're still too soft on terror:

THIS is easy for me to say, when no one is trying to bomb me.

But Care Australia's decision this week to pull its foreign staff out of Iraq after a grenade attack on its building is, it must be said, a victory for terrorists.

It follows the very script of al-Qaida's chief strategist, Ayman al Zawahiri.

Not that Care is the only aid group to show the terrorists and Saddam loyalists in Iraq that they win when they kill the innocent ...

Update: The Australian Government joins the list of organisations who have given Islamic terrorists reason to "take heart and gain strength".


Via The Road to Surfdom a good post from Arthur Silber.

Here's one philosopher on terrorism. Here's a better one (PDF format).

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Guns don't kill people, tomatoes kill people.

Oh Really?

Will Australia get a good deal on Agriculture?

Agriculture is a key part of this agreement for both sides. Australia has stressed to the US that we are seeking a good deal that includes sugar, beef and dairy, and we will be pressing for the earliest possible opening-up of access to the US market.

The exact details of how agriculture will be dealt with are still being negotiated, but it is worth noting that the US was able to cover agriculture comprehensively in its negotiations with Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and in its recently concluded FTA with Chile. While these agreements have transition periods of 5 to 10 years and even longer for eliminating tariffs and quotas for some products, Mexico is already benefiting from the removal of tariffs and quotas for most of its agricultural exports to the US.
[My emphasis]

DFAT, "Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement, Frequently Asked Questions"

Report Finds Few Benefits for Mexico in Nafta

As the North American Free Trade Agreement nears its 10th anniversary, a study from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concludes that the pact failed to generate substantial job growth in Mexico, hurt hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers there and had "minuscule" net effects on jobs in the United States.


The report seeks to debunk both the fears of American labor that Nafta would lure large numbers of jobs to low-wage Mexico, as well as the hopes of the trade deal's proponents that it would lead to rising wages, as well as declines in income inequality and illegal immigration.

Though sorting out the exact causes is complicated, trends are clear. Real wages in Mexico are lower now than they were when the agreement was adopted despite higher productivity, income inequality is greater there and immigration has continued to soar.

"On balance, Nafta's been rough for rural Mexicans," said John J. Audley, who edited the report. "For the country, it's probably a wash. It takes more than just trade liberalization to improve the quality of life for poor people around the world."

The Carnegie findings strike a much more pessimistic note than those of a World Bank team that concluded in a draft report this year that the trade accord "has brought significant economic and social benefits to the Mexican economy."


The Carnegie report argues that the growth in manufacturing resulting from the trade agreement was largely offset by lost employment among rural subsistence farmers, who were adversely affected by falling prices for their crops, especially corn — a problem intensified by the Mexican government's decision to lower tariff barriers to American-grown corn even more rapidly than the agreement required.

"This is a trade pact which opened the U.S. economy to Mexico very profoundly, including years when the United States experienced its best growth in decades," Ms. Polaski said. "Yet we can't see a clear net increase in jobs in Mexico. You'd expect strong growth. You wouldn't have expected to need a magnifying glass to find it."

The trade agreement also reinforced and magnified changes in Mexico's rural economy — brought on by a broad array of other policies — that are damaging the environment, according to Scott Vaughan, an economist who recently left Carnegie to head the environmental unit at the Organization of American States. For example, he contends that the agreement has accelerated the shift to large-scale, export-oriented farms that rely more heavily on water-polluting agro-chemicals and use more irrigated water compared with producers of similar crops for the Mexican market.

Celia Dugger, New York Times, 19 November

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Australia buying the Lincoln Memorial from the United States?

Purchasing the Lincoln Memorial from the US will link Australia more closely with the world's largest and most dynamic economy and lead to higher economic growth, better living standards and better paid jobs for Australians.

Purchasing the Lincoln Memorial could also minimise any competitive disadvantage Australian tourist operators might face as a result of the sale of other great US monuments to other countries, for example the sale of the Statue of Liberty and other major New York Landmarks, which involves major Latin American tourist destinations.

Will Australia get a good deal on Tourism?

Tourism is a key part of this agreement for both sides. Australia has stressed to the US that we are seeking a good deal that includes day-trips, weekends away and package tours, and we will be pressing for the earliest possible shipment of the Memorial to its new home in Canberra.

The exact details of how the memorial will be shipped to Australia are still being negotiated, but it is worth noting that the US was able to negotiate acceptable leasing arrangements for the Washington Monument with Mexico and the recently concluded sale of Mount Rushmore to Chile. While these agreements have transition periods of 5 to 10 years and even longer for eventual shipment of the monuments to the new host countries, Mexico is already benefiting from admission charges to the Washington Monument.

Will the Government still be able to erect and maintain significant Australian monuments?

Yes. The purchase agreement has specific exemptions for the creation of new national monuments.

Will buying the Lincoln Memorial mean US tourists can sue our Government?

Public liability insurance is nothing new. Once erected in Canberra, the Lincoln Memorial will be subject to the same public liability laws as other major tourist attractions.

Will the final purchase be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny?

Under the Australian Constitution, the power to make purchases on behalf of the Commonwealth rests with the Executive rather than the Parliament.

Any legislative changes required by the Memorial purchase would have to be passed by the Parliament and put in place before the Government can take the necessary steps to bring the Memorial to Australia.


"It was always the Government's view that we ought to broaden the Government's view to enable the best and brightest from around Australia to be chosen," [Mr Hulls] said.

"Having done that, I can now say to the people of Victoria that from the broadest possible pool of candidates, Justice Marilyn Warren is the best person to leave our Supreme Court."

Victoria's Attorney-General Rob Hulls announces that Justice Marilyn Warren has been booted upstairs (as reported by ABC News Online).

Update: they fixed it.

Friday, November 21, 2003

BLOGGER's Official Advice on what to do if your Mother finds your blog.

Some days, commuting stinks.

High Praise for Dubya

John Ray lavishes the highest possible praise on President Bush:

The point the letter makes about GWB’s relative inarticulateness reminds me of a similar phenomenon here in my home State of Queensland. Queensland was run for nearly 20 years by the very conservative Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. I was one of his party members. “Sir Joh”, as he was known, was universally condemned by the intelligentsia for his inarticulateness. He spoke like the ill-educated farmer he was. The media regularly said he made no sense at all. But he made plenty of sense to the ordinary Queenslanders who voted for him and in one State election (1974) his government actually got 59% of the popular vote -- a majority so large as to be almost unheard of in a Westminster democracy.


So I think that is a pretty good augury for GWB next time he faces the voters. I suspect that his “inarticulateness” is an asset to him with his voters too ...

So the Australian politician most resembling George W Bush is a notoriously corrupt State Premier who retained office for the best part of twenty years with the help of a rigged electoral system? I'm not going to complain that it's an inapt comparison. And if George Bush's post-Presidential career resembles Joh's in any way, I won't lose any sleep over it.

Afterword: summary results for Queensland State Elections throughout the Bjelke-Petersen years (1968 - 1987) can be found here (PDF File).

How Could I Have Missed This?

From The Economist:

OF COURSE, it is good to be polite. And, as a result, in most places these days it is impossible to know what someone is actually thinking when he meets or works with someone of another race. Politeness makes it unacceptable to express prejudice, even if those attitudes are actually there. How hard do people work to overcome a prejudice that they feel but are not allowed to express? That is the question Jennifer Richeson, of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, attempts to answer in this month's Nature Neuroscience.

Another report of the research also appears in The Sydney Morning Herald (plus the Taipei Times and the Glasgow Daily Record.

Of all the reports, The Economist is the least sensational, describing the actual experiment in some detail. Leaving aside the slightly sensational headlines elsewhere, which raise the spectre of using brain-scans to detect socially unacceptable attitudes, what Richeson found is that putting a lot of work into keeping up a polite conversation with someone whom you might detest for no good reason is so taxing to the brain that it impairs performance on subsequent tests of cognitive performance.

The finding hasn't gone uncontested but, if future experiments in this area produce similar results, it would bear out the common-sense belief that generally, bigots are pretty stupid. The only question remaining to be answered is whether people are bigots because they are stupid, or vice versa; Dr Richeson's results seem to indicate the latter.

Random Thought

A sissy-boy holding a Colt .45 is still a sissy-boy, but you'd be a damn fool to tell him that.

Curious Non-Event of the Week

When a Government holds back an independent report which more or less damns one of its major policies as a failure, you'd expect a bit of a ruckus, wouldn't you? Especially if were in the politically sensitive area of unemployment policy. So I'm at a bit of a loss to understand why the Melbourne Institute's report on Work for the Dole hasn't created more of a stir than it has.

Although it's usually described as a Liberal Party initiative, my admittedly unreliable memory insists that Work for the Dole was actually spawned by Channel Nine's Sixty Minutes. Sometime in the early 1990s (when the then ALP Government was once again in electoral shtook over unemployment) Sixty Minutes, in keeping with the fine Australian tradition of dole-bludger bashing, aired an item on the welfare system in the US, highlighting such desirable features of the US welfare system as fixed time limits on unemployment benefits and various "workfare" schemes introduced by forward thinking state governments. They may have done one of those studio debates on it too, a week or so later (but that may just be a confabulation).

Whether or not Work for the Dole was Coalition policy before Sixty Minutes ran this item, it was definitely a goer afterwards. At the time I was working as a contract programmer with one of those multi-national companies, on a project which involved a lot of contact with middle-managers. I remember being stunned by the spluttering indignation with which people on $50,000 a year plus fringe benefits and incentives would declare that of course people should work for the dole; they should have to earn their keep like the rest of us who have to pay taxes so that they can sun themselves on the Gold Coast. The only way to calm them down was to ask if you should pick Carlton or Collingwood in the footy-tipping this week.

How has Work for the Dole failed? Jeff Borland of the Melbourne Institute explained it on ABC's AM this way:

Probably we think the most likely explanation is that these type of programs have what are called lock-in effects. That is, while people are participating in these type of schemes they actually reduce the extent of their job search activity, put together with the fact that these type of programs tend to be fairly sort of minimal interventions in the sense of providing extra skills to enhance job finding prospects.

This is an interesting finding if you take the life-cycle view of poverty; i.e. that at some times in our lives we are all going to be relatively poor, but this usually ony a temporary setback between periods of relative affluence. If the Melbourne Institute report is correct, the effect of the Work for the Dole scheme is to interrupt the normal cycle from affluence to poverty and back again in the worst way possible; by trapping Work for the Dole participants in extended periods of welfare dependency.

The problem for the Government is that Work for the Dole has proven electoral appeal; Australians love to grumble about how the taxes they go out of their way to avoid paying are (or would be) wasted by the Government, particularly on welfare. Whether Work for the Dole scheme does anything for the unemployed, is beside the point; the point is to let the tax-paying voter in John Howard's rapidly shrinking Mainstream Australia know that their taxes, if not exactly at work, are at least being worked for. So it's no surprise that the Government is downplaying the report as outdated and prefers to play up another report by John and Ann Neville of Sydney's Centre for Applied Economic Research, which finds that Work for the Dole compares favourably with simialr programs overseas. The Nevilles made a number of reccommendations for changes to the scheme:

The report recommends the name of the program be changed to 'Work for the Community' and participants be paid more in training credits.

The report also recommends rural and regional participants be paid more to cover transport costs.

The Minister for Employment, Kevin Andrews, says the Government will consider all of the report's recommendations.

"I'll have a look at all of the recommendations but we would have to be convinced that a change from 'Work for the Dole', which has become well known, would be warranted in the circumstances," Mr Andrews said.

That's one reccommendation that won't be taken up; I wonder how the other thirteen will go.

Postscript: while I was writing this post, Meika got in first, with a reminder of how he got signed up for Work for the Dole.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Gloat of the Week

Christopher Pearson was a happy little vegemite on Saturday, and was all too willing to share his happiness with readers of the Weekend Oz. Recent events in the world of Oz Lit have brought him the sort of unalloyed happiness that demands to be shared with the whole world. After a brief historical survey of joyful literary events of the past, like the Ern Malley affair, Christopher starts his main story by introducing critic Peter Craven:

The most celebrated examples of the review as theatre-of-cruelty have come from Peter Craven. Craven is a former editor of Scripsi, a long standing rival of mine as a dispenser of literary patronage also a publisher/entrepreneur and a reviewer of distinction. He's feared and cultivated, by younger writers especially, bewcause at his best he's forensic, compelling in argument and capable of generosity to writers with whom one wouldn't expect him to have much sympathy.

If a first rate critic's aim is to be believed, loved and feared in roughly equal measure, Craven is one of our finest. There's no one I'd rather read on Martin Amis, Irish fiction ... He's often outstanding on film too ... and one of the few local poetry reviewers who doesn't have a tin ear.

Imagine falling from favour with such a protector ...

This is the ugly fate which has befallen writer Elliot Perlman:

The giddy rise in Perlman's stocks as a writer is hard for me to understand, except in terms of the author's attractive personality and oppressively politically correct views. Interviewed by the Good Weekend in August this year, he hesitated when asked if he missed Australia: "I'm not homesick but I have such an affection for the country, it's like a member of your family - no one can make you angrier."

Obviously, someone like Perlman, who can't make up his mind whether he misses his own country, isn't going to be much chop as a novelist. To add weight to his case that Perlman's success is due to his political correctness, rather than his writing style, Pearson quotes a passionate outburst from the same interview:

We had such promise, such great institutions. But I've seen terrible changes in the last 20 years, a rapid descent into inequality and insecurity barely known in the last 100 years. I've been saying in my fiction that Australia has undergone a profound social revolution. In a population of 20 million, 2.5 million are on social security, 1 million children come from homes where no one has work, 2 million people are precariously unemployed ...

And on it goes. As Pearson notes, with such impeccably politically correct opinions:

It was, I suppose, only to be expected that he'd win The Age short story award for The Reasons I Won't be Coming.

Pearson makes his opinion of that award clear by chiding Peter Goldsworthy, chairman of the Literary Board, for making the mistake of awarding Perlman's story his vote.

After his undeserved win in The Age short story award (which happened in 1994; no dates appear in Pearson's article), Perlman went on to write Three Dollars (1998):

... an exercise in social justice advocacy I couldn't bring myself to read. [It] won The Age Book of the Year. Craven described this as "against the odds and the heavyweights" but also said "Perlman's young, humorous, angst-ridden culture-vultures are raw and attractive ... Perlman is an engrossing writer who has such a tender sense of the place he comes from and produces a fierce denunciation of how economic rationalism can blight a nation's life."

Another undeserved award, for a book that no person of good taste could possibly bring himself to read. Although Pearson hasn't read Three Dollars, his opinion of Perlman's writing isn't entirley unsupported by evidence:

I met Perlman at a Goldsworthy Writers Week party some Adelaide festivals ago. He struck me as too nice to write outstanding fiction and probably better suited to law, his other profession ...

Pearson goes on to demonstrate, that on this score at least, he is much better qualified than Perlman to write fiction.

... I made the faux pas of criticising Craven in Perlman's hearing for engaging in heavy-handed boosterism of his proteges ... Perlman walked out of the function, declaring that he wasn't going to stand still and hear one of the great men of the culture defamed.

And finally, Pearson lets us in on why the cane-toad smirk in his by-line photograph looks a little wider today:

I wonder how he felt when he read the November edition of Australian Book Review, in which Craven dissects his new novel Seven Types of Ambiguity. The heading "A Blander Shade of Grey" must have made his heart sink, but there was worse to come:

"Everything seems to be issuing into the kind of varnished, epigrammatic sentences that aspire to the condition of wisdom ...
[Pearson's elision] Except that, in Perlman's case they don't. They're callow, they're silly, they have no generalising power of application and they seem to testify to nothing but the author's ignorance of life. Perlman's style filled me with such torpor that for many weeks I couldn't read on." And that was just for starters ... [my elision]

After some final speculation over what caused the "rupture" between Craven and Perlman, Pearson demonstrates his magnanimity by holding out this olive branch:

... When Perlman gets over "the novel as puppetry articulating an agenda phase", he and I might at last have a proper converstation.

Is it my imagination, or is Pearson hinting that he might be prepared to sling a little literary patronage Perlman's way, once Seven Types of Ambiguity has been given its just desserts and remaindered? A damn good remaindering might be just the incentive Perlman needs to get over "the novel as puppetry articulating an agenda phase".

Friday, November 14, 2003

A Father's Wisdom

During the arse-end of the industrial revolution, when I was living in a three-up-and-three-down in the arse-end of Manchester I loked through the front window one afternoon and saw a road laying crew at work. I wasn't much older than six or seven at the time.

I was impressed, and a little thrilled by the road laying machinery; particularly the machine that was pouring bitumenised gravel on the road surface. It was followed by a trail of smoking tarmac and flames occasionally burst out of the base of the hopper. Riding on the back of the machine were two men in donkey coats, and sometimes it looked like the flames might reached out to lick their boots and trousers.

"Ee," I said, "I w'u'n't 'alf like a dangerous job like that, when I grow up."

Dad looked through the window quickly and shot me a look of complete disgust.

"Don't be bloody daft." he said. He went on; "Gummo, there's people in this world as works wi' the' brains, and people as works wi' the' brawn. An' it's them as works wi' the' brains as gets al't' brass."

Then he went back to reading his copy of Reveille. He was stuck on page three. He always got stuck on page three of Reveille.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Real Men (III)

There's some very serious, soul-searching commenting on the two previous Real Men posts. I've been trying to come up with a more extended post on the topic but the soul can be a slippery little sucker when you try to get to grips with it. While I'm trying to corner the little bugger, you could always take a look at this article on why some people just don't deserve their dangly bits.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Real Men (II)

But most of all, I do this website because I love being a man. Amongst other things, I talk about guns, self-defense, politics, beautiful women, sports, warfare, hunting, and power tools -- all the things that being a man entails. All this stuff gives me pleasure.
Kim De Toit states his blog's raison d'etre.

By these standards I'd have to consider myself a failure as a man; sure I like beautiful women and I'd like to have more time to get seriously into them and I have difficulty ignoring politics. But I can live without the guns, warfare, hunting and power tools. Sports I'll happily ignore most of the time too. All I know if self-defence is that it's all in the posture; if you know how to walk down the streeet or stand at a bar looking like someone who shouldn't be fucked around with, you won't be fucked around with. You can learn this in a couple of hours, which makes all the extra time spent mastering Osoto Gari superfluous. By Kim's standards, I'm probably one of those girly-men and I doubt that my rusty ability to perform a calesita would do much to change his mind. Dancing the Tango doesn't appear to be something real men do.

I do know a couple of people who get a lot closer than I do to Kim's idea of real men. They're not much into guns - but few Australians are, so I think we might have to make allowances for local conditions and cultural differences there. Hunting doesn't grab them either, but they are into other outdoorsy stuff. They have a big serious real man's dog - an Alaskan Malamute, 30 odd kilos of pure muscle, with a set of jaws that could break every bone in your hand. The sort of dog that has to be put in its place firmly - and kept there.

Where my idea of a power tool is that it's something you borrow, or hire, when there's really no alternative to fitting new window locks, these are people who believe that power tools are worth owning. Because they use them. They build pieces out of real timber, not MDF hidden under a veneer of wood-grain Laminex.

Pick a fight with either of them, and you're likely to get an earful of Nike; they're serious about self-defence, but they don't much like warfare. Who does?

They've been following the rugby world cup pretty avidly; they barrack for the All Blacks.

They do volunteer work with the State Emergency Service. So, when it gets windy and rainy here in Melbourne, they're likely to get paged to go out to deal with a tree that's fallen through someone's roof or into the road. So they get to work with seriously heavy power tools, chainsaws, portable generators and pumps. And drive big trucks.

In short, they have a lot of the interests and qualities that Kim thinks it takes to be a real man. It's unlikely that they'll ever meet Kim. If they did, there'd be an interesting discussion of Kim's views on real men and the proper relationship between the sexes, but I don't think Kim would enjoy it.

They're both women.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Real Men

Thanks to Stewart Kelly for linking (indirectly) to this essay on what it means to be a real man. Makes me feel like getting out my Kinks' greatest hits CD, turning the volume up really loud, and listening to Lola for the next hour or two.

Friday, November 07, 2003

From the sizes blow

I couldn't resist posting one last poetic gem from the Google Translator. Thanks to boynton whose link to What Has Happened Recently Feline inspired this less than magnificent obsession.

usserhalb on wiley windy us makes firmly roll and fall in green.
They have had to soak as my jealousy:
Hotter, too more greedily too much.
How could you leave me when I had to possess itself?
I abhorred you. I liked you therefore.

Bad dreams the night.
They have me that I the fight will lose to blow vacation behind mine called,
which blows soufflant from the sizes.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Ooh it receives the darkness!
It feels only from the other side of you.
Pin I much. I find the Schicksalherbste through without you.
I return, love.
Heathcliff cruelly, my dream, my only main thing.

To long around-mad I the night.
I return to its side to place around it right.
I come to the house blow, blow, soufflant from the sizes,

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Ooh! Let it it have.
Let it your soul far seize.
Ooh! Let it it have.
Let it your soul far seize.
They know that it is me Cathy!

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!
Leave it in your window.

Heathcliff it is me Cathy.
Come to the house. I am so cold!

Where To Belong To Us

Another poetic gem from the Google translator

That which knows, which takes tomorrow
in a world, few hearts are the manner me,
if it is true, me hold my prayer

the road are alive are a long time
there mountains in our manner survive all
which I believe know,
but we assemble stages each day

love us raise yourself, where we,
where the eagles cry, belong on a mountain,
the loves high raise, where we belong
far the world we know in top,
where the free crane roasts

cases "used-to-be"
above saw very which
we sums have here and now is all our lives to find there outside
its lives which close with key the road being there
mountains in our manner a long time,
but we assemble stages each day

love us raise yourself, where we,
where the eagles cry, belong on a mountain,
the loves high raise, where we belong
far the world we know in top,
where the free crane roasts

Time does not suit you
until time to cry of the
lives is and I, alive, with baby

love us raise yourself, where we,
where the eagles cry, belong on a mountain,
the loves high raise, where we belong
far the world we know in top,
where the free crane roasts

love us raise yourself, where we,
where the eagles cry, belong on a mountain,
the loves high raise, where we belong
far the world we know in top,
where the free crane roasts

Afterword (how to do it yourself):

1. Copy and paste the lyrics of a popular song into a text file.

2. Copy and paste sections of the text into the Google Translator (You need to do it in chunks so that the translator can cope with the text).

3. Translate from English into another language.

4. Translate the result into yet another language.

5. Translate back into English, punctuate and layout to taste.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

You Can Your Hat Leave Above

A poetic gem from the Google translator

With baby to eliminate your true layer to slow down.
eliminate your shoes which I eliminate your shoes.
With baby to eliminate your behaviour.
They can leave, - you can leave your hat above -,
you your hat to leave above your hat capacity above.
the no all light goes there does not put above the light in circuit.

come here to be it on this chair yeah which is right.
raise your arms in the air agitate them now above.
They give me a reason of living - you give me with living a reason -
you give me a reason to living - you give me with living a reason.

Soft favourite -
you can leave your hat above -
you can leave your hat on the baby -
it to be able their hat to leave above you can your hat leave,
- you can leave your hat above -, you your hat to let above be able above.

speaking it east tries to violently break us separately one entendement being wary!
They do not believe that it is a love my - they do not know, that the love is
- how they do not know only what loves - they do not know, which the love is -
do not know it are, which the love is - me knows, which the love is!
There is not in manner - you can leave your hat above -
you can your hat leave above -
you can leave your hat above -

Update: prompted by a comment from David Tiley, I've added a link to the original.

Morning Flight

(A cautionary tale which demonstrates the pernicious effects of reading too much W E Johns as a child and too much J G Ballard as an adult)

It was the kind of cloudless summer day that I had grown to hate. I circled at ten thousand feet, with Ginger on my left wing watching Algy and Bertie getting into position below us. There were a few pleasure craft on the bay below me, most of them huddled in close to the shore. A few - most likely anglers - had found the nerve to cruise out further. I knew that they would be heading for the shore as soon as Algy started work.

Algy reached the start of his run and began on the first "C", with Bertie behind a little above him. Ginger and I circled, keeping ourselves between Algy and the sun as much as we could, our eyes peeled for Von Stahlein and his flying circus. Raymond had warned us to expect him at this morning's briefing. We didn't need the warning; on a day like this we couldn't expect to have the sky to ourselves for long. The best we could hope for was to get a good start on him and his flying circus.

By the time Algy got started in on the "O", the fishermen were well on their way back to shore. The vessels near the shore huddled even closer to the beach. I knew a lot of them were probably cursing us; I didn't go out much any more and when I did I was careful to avoid the topic of what I do for a living. Not that I cared this morning; people might curse us for ruining their day at the beach or on the water, but when Von Stahlein and his unsavoury crew turned up, none of them would be able to keep their eyes off the show.

Algy was making good progress - he was already at work on the second "C". Like a fool I let myself think that maybe today would pass without incident that Algy would get through all eight letters and the hyphen without Von Stahlein showing. Every time we flew one of these missions I thought that same stupid thought and every time I was wrong. Von Stahlein and his goons showed while Algy was lining up for the first "A".

I saw Algy lay down the first stroke of the "A" and looked ahead to see three Piper Cherokees coming straight at us. Ginger was already banking into a climb to gain height on them. A lot went through my head; a curse at my moment of inattention, relief that Von Stahlein hadn't replaced the pilot he lost in our last encounter. That was probably why we had found an empty sky when we arrived in the free flight zone; with only two spare pilots Von Stahlein had decided to stick to running us off, rather than trying to put his own employer's brand name up in the sky. I would have made the same decision in his place. One extra letter doesn't look a lot on paper but it can make the difference between life and death up here, on our front in the cola wars.

Von Stahlein and his goons went straight for Algy and Bertie; Ginger and I powered down after them. They were flying in vee formation; Von Stahlein usually took the lead plane. Bertie was coming up to meet them; Algy moved on to the hyphen. Algy had nerve; as long as we kept Von Stahlein's goons tied up he would carry on right to the final "A". Bertie started to zigzag, to avoid the tracer from Von Stahlein's wing-mounted 10-mm machine guns.

Their formation was starting to break up; leaving Von Stahlein to Bertie and his left-hand man to Ginger, I concentrated on getting Von Stahlein's right hand goon into my sights.

I put a burst of tracer through his fuselage; he broke off into a dive towards the bay below. A tight climbing turn brought me back into position above Algy, but no-one was bothering him. We had the sky to ourselves again. Looking down, I saw that my man hadn't pulled out of his dive; he was headed for the water. Two boats were already heading out from the shore. If ours got to him first there wouldn't be any rescue.

As soon as Algy finished, we formed up to head home. Raymond would debrief us, and congratulate us on a job well done and on Monday we would get a message from head office thanking us for our splendid efforts to hold market share against tough competition. Right then I didn't care; as usual I couldn't help thinking about the pilot who had gone down and wondering why I ever let Raymond talk me into this contract in the first place.

Marketing is hell.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Tram Stop

It's nearly midnight on a pleasantly cool night. The next tram is due in about ten minutes. There's not much traffic on Sydney Road and the pub on the corner is closed.

A tarted up late model Holden Commodore comes up Sydney Road from the south and someone yells something like "Gerragonigaggle". An empty Foster's long-neck smashes in the gutter at your feet then the car races through the nearby intersection in an orgasmic, seat-wetting roar of over-revving, narrowly beating the red light. There's a hand-written "4 Sale" sign taped to the inside of the back window but you can't read the telephone number.

Hoons. You'd notice them more if they weren't there.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Are You a Nazi Too?

Senator George Brandis' attack on the Greens in Federal Parliament has been getting a lot of blog-play, particularly at Troppo Armadillo, where Roop Sandhu is taking on all comers who want to argue the issue. He seems to be making some headway, having talked a few commenters down from an "of course Brandis is right - the Greens are Nazis" position to a more nuanced "They may not be Nazis but they're a hell of a lot closer to totalitiarianism than any other Parliamentary Party".

This is obviously one topic where Godwin's Law needs to be suspended; it's impossible to have any discussion of Senator Brandis' remarks without some mention of the Third Reich. Or more realistically, we might take the view that the whole discussion started out as a pointless one, from the moment Gorgeous George got up on his feet and started reading Andrew Bolt into the Senate Hansard. Still, as a public service to Ozblogdom, I've knocked together this short quiz which will allow you to make a quick qualitative assessment of whether the opinions you express in your blog place you at risk of an accusation of Nazism. All you have to do is note down whether you agree with each of the ten following statements, then follow the instructions at the end to score your results.

1. Most people believe everything they read in the press or see in other news media.

2. The press and media generally pursue a misguided "politically correct" agenda which undermines respect for important traditional values and institutions.

3. On many issues, the Left are the tools (witting or unwitting) of big business.

4. Businesses and their employees would both be better off if they worked together for their common interests, rather than indulging in bloody-minded industrial disputes.

5. A centralised system of wage conciliation and arbitration benefits the economy by providing a means to resolve industrial relations problems without costly and disruptive strikes.

6. On the contrary, the best way to promote industrial harmony and productive enterprise is not by collective bargaining and central arbitration, but by individual or enterprise level negotiation between employers and employees.

7. Some people are naturally more talented than others; they will naturally achieve higher social status than others. Society should not interfere with this.

8. All human progress is the result of individual creativity and invention; the best way to foster social and technological progress is to foster individual creativity.

9. Modern kids are unhealthy because they don't get enough sport in school.

10. The US has the world's most sensible system of immigration controls.

How to Score Your Results

Give yourself one point for each statement that you agreed with. If you scored ten out of ten, you're obviously going to have a hard time participating in on-line discussion groups or blog comment threads without inviting an accusation of Nazism. If you agreed with only one or two, you should probably be cautious in expressing such views publicly; you might consider changing your mind or alternatively, try to develop a more "nuanced" approach to stating your opinions that won't provoke immediate self-righteous outrage. It's unlikely, however, that outrage addicts will have much patience with your approach.

For those who are offended at scoring even one point on the quiz, here are some relevant excerpts from Mein Kampff to consider (link via Professor Bunyip).

1. ...Generally, readers of the Press can be classified into three groups:

First, those who believe everything they read;

Second, those who no longer believe anything;

Third, those who critically examine what they read and form their judgments accordingly.

Numerically, the first group is by far the strongest, being composed of the broad masses of the people ...

Vol I Chapter X, "Why the Second Reich Collapsed"

2. But what sort of pabulum was it that the German Press served up for the consumption of its readers in pre-War days? Was it not the worst virulent poison imaginable? Was not pacifism in its worst form inoculated into our people at a time when others were preparing slowly but surely to pounce upon Germany? Did not this self-same Press of ours in peace time already instil into the public mind a doubt as to the sovereign rights of the State itself, thereby already handicapping the State in choosing its means of defence? Was it not the German Press that under stood how to make all the nonsensical talk about ‘Western democracy’ palatable to our people, until an exuberant public was eventually prepared to entrust its future to the League of Nations? Was not this Press instrumental in bringing in a state of moral degradation among our people? Were not morals and public decency made to look ridiculous and classed as out-of-date and banal, until finally our people also became modernized? By means of persistent attacks, did not the Press keep on undermining the authority of the State, until one blow sufficed to bring this institution tottering to the ground? Did not the Press oppose with all its might every movement to give the State that which belongs to the State, and by means of constant criticism, injure the reputation of the army, sabotage general conscription and demand refusal of military credits, etc. – until the success of this campaign was assured?

3. Before the War the internationalization of the German economic structure had already begun by the roundabout way of share issues. It is true that a section of the German industrialists made a determined attempt to avert the danger, but in the end they gave way before the united attacks of money-grabbing capitalism, which was assisted in this fight by its faithful henchmen in the Marxist movement.

4. In place of this struggle, the National Socialist State will take over the task of caring for and defending the rights of all parties concerned. It will be the duty of the Economic Chamber itself to keep the national economic system in smooth working order and to remove whatever defects or errors it may suffer from. Questions that are now fought over through a quarrel that involves millions of people will then be settled in the Representative Chambers of Trades and Professions and in the Central Economic Parliament. Thus employers and employees will no longer find themselves drawn into a mutual conflict over wages and hours of work, always to the detriment of their mutual interests. But they will solve these problems together on a higher plane, where the welfare of the national community and of the State will be as a shining ideal to throw light on all their negotiations.
Vol II, Chapter XII "The Problem of The Trade Unions".

5. See previous.

6. National Socialist workers and employers are both together the delegates and mandatories of the whole national community. The large measure of personal freedom which is accorded to them for their activities must be explained by the fact that experience has shown that the productive powers of the individual are more enhanced by being accorded a generous measure of freedom than by coercion from above. Moreover, by according this freedom we give free play to the natural process of selection which brings forward the ablest and most capable and most industrious.

7. ... the struggle between the various species does not arise from a feeling of mutual antipathy but rather from hunger and love. In both cases Nature looks on calmly and is even pleased with what happens. The struggle for the daily livelihood leaves behind in the ruck everything that is weak or diseased or wavering; while the fight of the male to possess the female gives to the strongest the right, or at least, the possibility to propagate its kind. And this struggle is a means of furthering the health and powers of resistance in the species. Thus it is one of the causes underlying the process of development towards a higher quality of being.

If the case were different the progressive process would cease, and even retrogression might set in. Since the inferior always outnumber the superior, the former would always increase more rapidly if they possessed the same capacities for survival and for the procreation of their kind; and the final consequence would be that the best in quality would be forced to recede into the background. Therefore a corrective measure in favour of the better quality must intervene. Nature supplies this by establishing rigorous conditions of life to which the weaker will have to submit and will thereby be numerically restricted; but even that portion which survives cannot indiscriminately multiply, for here a new and rigorous selection takes place, according to strength and health.

Vol I, Chapter XI "Race and People".

8. Therefore not only does the organization possess no right to prevent men of brains from rising above the multitude but, on the contrary, it must use its organizing powers to enable and promote that ascension as far as it possibly can. It must start out from the principle that the blessings of mankind never came from the masses but from the creative brains of individuals, who are therefore the real benefactors of humanity. It is in the interest of all to assure men of creative brains a decisive influence and facilitate their work. This common interest is surely not served by allowing the multitude to rule, for they are not capable of thinking nor are they efficient and in no case whatsoever can they be said to be gifted. Only those should rule who have the natural temperament and gifts of leadership.
Vol II Chapter IV, "Personality and The Ideal of The People's State"

9. Our system of education entirely loses sight of the fact that in the long run a healthy mind can exist only in a healthy body. This statement, with few exceptions, applies particularly to the broad masses of the nation.

In the pre-War Germany there was a time when no one took the trouble to think over this truth. Training of the body was criminally neglected, the one-sided training of the mind being regarded as a sufficient guarantee for the nation’s greatness. This mistake was destined to show its effects sooner than had been anticipated. It is not pure chance that the Bolshevic teaching flourishes in those regions whose degenerate population has been brought to the verge of starvation, as, for example, in the case of Central Germany, Saxony, and the Ruhr Valley. In all these districts there is a marked absence of any serious resistance, even by the so-called intellectual classes, against this Jewish contagion. And the simple reason is that the intellectual classes are themselves physically degenerate, not through privation but through education. The exclusive intellectualism of the education in vogue among our upper classes makes them unfit for life’s struggle at an epoch in which physical force and not mind is the dominating factor. Thus they are neither capable of maintaining themselves nor of making their way in life. In nearly every case physical disability is the forerunner of personal cowardice.

Vol I Chapter X, "Why the Second Reich Collapsed"

10. At present there exists one State which manifests at least some modest attempts that show a better appreciation of how things ought to be done in this matter. It is not, however, in our model German Republic but in the U.S.A. that efforts are made to conform at least partly to the counsels of commonsense. By refusing immigrants to enter there if they are in a bad state of health, and by excluding certain races from the right to become naturalized as citizens, they have begun to introduce principles similar to those on which we wish to ground the People’s State.
Vol II Chapter III, "Citizens and Subjects of the State"

Private Sorry Day

(This one's for woodsy)

I think it's about time that I offered an open apology to a few people who work in the Australian Public Sevice. If you've been in the APS since around 1995 and you're thoroughly jack of it and wondering why you ever joined in the first place, I'm sorry. Because, at least in part, I'm probably to blame. If I hadn't made one very silly decision in my last year in the APS, you might not be in this predicament. They never would have recruited you in the first place. You might no be any happier, but at least I wouldn't be responsible for your present unhappiness.

I joined the APS in the early 1980s, a year after I graduated from University. My degree had passed its use-by date so, like several of my friends, I sat the clerical selection test at Melbourne University's Wilson Hall. I got an interview and a job early the following year. I thought then that it was a good way to save up some money for the overseas trip I'd been planning for years. I certainly didn't expect to find myself, ten years later, still in the APS contemplating whether it was finally time to face the fact that my career had gone as far as it could go - somewhere close to nowhere - and start wearing a cardigan to work.

I was saved from the cardigan by yet another round of cuts in the Department I worked for. I worked on one of the programs where the department was looking to cut staff, so I put my hand up for a voluntary redundancy. I received a letter explaining what the department was looking for in staff to cut, and a form to fill in, telling them why I thought they should cut me. The criteria for being bought out of your job were basically two-fold: you had to be surplus to the department's staffing profile at your level and you had to convince the cost-cutters that you were no longer capable of making a contribution to the department's goals in the future.

I was pretty angry when I saw the form; the decision to cut staff had been made by the Department Secretary and the Minister, the decisions of which areas to cut had been made by a number of high-level department committees in Canberra and now that I was actually coming forward to cop it sweet and leave (Admittedly with more ready money than I'd ever seen together in one place before), they wanted me to reassure them that I really was useless enough to be allowed to go?

It was a bit rich, especially as the department had a chronic problem deciding what its goals actually were. When the "mission statement" fad first hit the federal bureaucracy in the late eighties, the department's very first stab at defining its purpose blithely said:

Our mission is to make progress towards our goals by achieving our targets and objectives.

In the intervening years they hadn't got much further in working out what, exactly, it was that the department was supposed to do, besides "achieving efficiency dividends" by cutting programs that did have a pretty well defined and immediate purpose (I worked in the branch that did a lot of the department's research and publishing work). This was a time when the best path to career advancement in the Senior Executive Service of the APS was to find a program to cut. There was always the risk that someone else might cut your job at some stage but, if they did, as an experienced cost cutter you could always move on to another department and work the same trick there. The upper echelons of the APS were full of people who had demonstrated that they were effective managers by arranging to have fewer people to manage.

I was also in a bit of a bind ethically; one of the reasons I wanted to get out was to start a new career elsewhere (in IT) and the redundancy package would help keep the wolf from the door while I was job-hunting. I couldn't very well tell them that on the form; they might get the idea that I was the sort of person who could contribute to the department's goals in the future and I would be passed over for redundancy in favour of someone who was genuinely useless, rather than burnt out and pissed off. I didn't want to lie about it, nor did I want to tell them I was useless just to reassure them they were getting rid of the right bloke. In the end I was very terse. I wrote two short sentences; I forget the first, but the second was clear and direct:

I have absolutely no intention of contributing to the department's goals in the future.

It must have done the trick too; a couple of weeks after sending off the form, I got a letter back telling me I was in, or rather, out.

A week later, I got another letter, and another form. This was from the then Public Service Board It was a survey. The letter explained that, in order to improve public service recruitment, the PSB had decided to survey people who had worked long-term in the APS to build up a psychological picture, or profile, of the successful long-term public servant. I read it through a couple of times in amazement. They seemed to think that by getting a psychological profile of me (and others who had put up with working in the bureaucracy as long as I had) they expected to be able to develop a selection test that would select candidates who were just like us and who would, therefore, put up with the APS for at least ten years, if not longer.

After some thought, I decided not to return the survey. I figured if they started recruiting people based on my personal characteristics, they would end up with a lot of seriously burnt out and pissed off people in ten years time. Or possibly earlier; I'm fairly sure that ten years in the bureaucracy didn't do my personality a hell of a lot of good.

That was my silly decision and the one I have to apologise for. I overlooked the possibility that I might be in the control group; that the reason I got the survey was because I had been identified as the sort of person that the Australian Public Service should go out of its way to avoid recruiting. Both for the sake of the service and the sake of the candidate.

So, if you've been in the APS for the last eight or nine years, and you're finding your current job pretty appalling and the prospect of spending the next fifteen to twenty years turning up to work in a cardigan and keeping a careful eye on your super even more so, I'm sorry. I really am.