Friday, February 21, 2003

Raising the Potemkin

Friday, 21 February 2003

I was a bit anxious when I visited the Potemkin today, and found instead a Blogger page telling me that my trusty old tub was scuttled. A quick visit to the Blogger main site was sufficient to raise her from the bottom of the harbour. So, if you've just discovered that your own blog is cactus, just do what I did - go to Blogger and publish it again. It's a pain in the bum isn't it?

A Short Memoir

Thursday, 20 February 2003

At the risk of writing an egotistical post about how wonderful I am, I'm going to tell you about something that happened to me a couple of years ago. It's a memory that keeps bubbling up to the surface when I think about the Iraq situation. It happened one Sunday afternoon while I was travelling home from Melbourne on the train.

For those who have never travelled on a Melbourne train, you need to know something about the rolling stock. Each carriage has a communicating door at either end which allows you, if you want, to walk through to the next carriage. Between the carriages there is an open platform, with a safety chain either side, at about waist height for the average adult human being. A sign over the door informs you that the platform between the carriages is for communication only and that you shouldn't ride on it. Nonetheless, from time to time people do.

It wasn't a crowded carriage - I'd say that there were no more than twenty people in it including, at the end furthest from me, three young boys. At a guess, I'd say the youngest was about seven, the oldest around ten or eleven. As soon as the train entered the tunnels of Melbourne's underground loop, they slipped through the connecting door and all three of them stood crowed on the "inter-carriage platform". This didn't strike me as particularly safe, so I was very relieved when they came back inside the carriage at the next station.

As the journey went on, a pattern developed: after the train left a station they went out into the gap between carriages and came back inside as the train approached the next station. And I became increasingly anxious: the youngest of the three was quite short enough to slip under the safety chains if he lost his footing, either due to an unexpected motion of the train or a little over-boistrous horseplay. As they became more self-assured about being out there, I realised that I was looking at an accident waiting to happen. I started to become angry too: there were others in the carriage who should have been able to see what I was seeing, and they were much closer than me to the problem. Why the hell wasn't anyone doing anything?


That question answers itself: if I thought something needed to be done, it was up to me to do it. I decided that the next time the boys were safely back in the carriage, I would give them a telling off calculated to nail their arses to their seats. Why did I decide to wait? Because I thought (rightly or wrongly) that this was the best way to deal with the problem: I didn't want to do something to precipitate the very accident I was trying to prevent. it wasn't a comfortable position to place oneself in, knowing that while you were holding back on acting something quite appalling could happen any second. But the boys did, eventually get back inside the carriage safely and, ignoring the nagging little voice which was telling me that everyone else was going to think I was an officious prick, I walked the length of the carriage and delivered a blistering dose of sarcasm, starting with the statement that they were taking a bloody stupid risk and that I didn't want to be three hours late getting home because one of them had fallen under the train and got himself killed. They indulged in a little indirect cheek - repeating what I had said to each other in a derisive tone but they were entitled to that. In any case I got what I wanted: they stayed inside the carriage where they were safe.

So I walked back to my seat at the other end of the carriage, past all the other adults who were with me in that railway carriage, all of them conveying, through shaking heads and sidelong disapproving glances, their judgement that I was an officious prick. I found the whole thing a little upsetting but, when I talked it over with various friends, they all said that I had done the "right thing". Of course their judgement on this point may have been coloured by the fact that, as leftists, they might have been a little too willing to accept the idea that it was OK to tell people off for their own good.

Obviously, I wouldn't find myself thinking about this in relation to Iraq if, at some level I didn't think it was relevant. To some readers the relevance will be obvious: I acted decisively in a situation in which I saw a danger but no-one else was prepared to act. But to me there is as much relevance in those agonised minutes while I waited, knowing that the worst might happen, because to act too soon, and ineptly, might cause the very thing I wanted to prevent.


Monday, February 17, 2003

Lost & Found

Monday, 17 February 2003

I've just noticed that Gary-Sauer Thompson mentions my witterings on just war theory in his post Just war theory is out of date?, where he takes the philosophical stick to Christopher Pearson's article on the subject in Saturday's Oz. The series has slipped off the front page today so here are links to the first three articles, bloggings or whatever they're called.

Part 1: A Long Overdue War Blog
Part 2: The Whackiest Little Constitutional Monarchy in the West
Part 3: When Meaning Well Is Not Quite Enough

Postscript: Gary also has a few things to say on the PM's 60 Minutes interview in Authoritarian Logic.

Just Another Slip of the Tongue

Monday, 17 February 2003

I don't usually watch Channel 9's Sixty Minutes - the picture quality on my AM/FM clock radio isn't really up to it - so I missed the broadcast of Charles Wooley's interview with Prime Minister John Howard last night. This part of the interview raised a bit of furore on our ABC this morning ("our" as in devotees of over-produced BBC adaptations of second-rate Victorian novelists and anyone well to the left of Mark Latham, of course. The rest of you have three commercial stations to choose from, so quit bitching. And don't give me that crap about paying for it through your taxes: where the hell do you think commercial TV advertising revenue ultimately comes from? There's something to think about next time you're wondering why it's costing so much at the bloody supermarket these days). Sorry about that rantlet - back to the interview:

CHARLES WOOLEY: Sure, but, for a leader of a democracy to go against the perceived tide of public opinion is still a considerable thing to do and it is true, to use the kind of vernacular that you use, "the mob don't like it".

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I don't think the mob, to use that vernacular, has really made up its mind on this issue and it can't really make up its mind until we know what all the alternatives are. Clearly, most people would like the general approval of the UN in some form. I don't know what the …
[My emphasis]

I've emphasised the grab that the ABC used. As I said, there's been much furore and the eminently fair-minded Jon Faine had to inform a couple of talk-back callers (who naturally objected to the Prime Minister's apparent reference to mainstream Australia as "the mob") that Mr Howard was simply adopting the words used by his interviewer. Fair-minded lefty that I sometimes try to be, I more or less agreed with him, until I read the transcript this morning.

Granted, the main topic of the interview was Iraq but, even so, I think it might have been better if the PM had repudiated the vernacular that Wooley put in his mouth. It wouldn't take much, just a prefatory remark like: "Well Charles, I don't think I'd call the people of Australia a mob. I don't think they've really made up their minds ..." That's all it would have taken for the Prime Minister of this country to demonstrate that, unlike Charles Wooley, he actually respects the intelligence of ordinary Australians. Is this too much to ask of a man who is so proud of defending mainstream values against out-of-touch elite opinion and political correctness?