Saturday, March 08, 2003

Legal Challenge

Saturday, 8 March 2003

At the moment, it's personally annoying that John Quiggin's blog is proving such a source of inspiration. Anyway, I was thinking about this post and I'm wondering, with so many of the alleged child dumpers now in the country, whether there's any possibility that they could take action under our defamation laws on the whole "Children overboard" lie. Not all of the allegations and comments on the affair were made under the protection of Parliamentary privilege - I'd say, offhand that anything said on either Tonsils' or the other fellows talk-back shows would be fair game for an action, if there was basis in law to bring one. Over to you, legal bloggers.

Update (Sunday, 9 March): Oops, silly me. I meant to canvas the possibility of a class action for defamation.

Update Too (Tuesday, 11 March): not a snowball in hell's chance of such an action winning according to Ken Parish. There goes my John Gresham style legal thriller, all three paragraphs of the first chapter of it. Bugger!

Bullshit Tactics (and How to Use Them) Part 2

Saturday, 8 March 2003

Today's bullshit tactic is:

2. Maintaining that, because major libertarian reform is at present politically impossible, it is nonsensical to explore and evaluate the desirability of such reform. Libertarianism is unrealistic.

In my view, this is an imprecise description which covers two distinct possible situations:

A: Your libertarian interlocutor is wittering on about how much better off everyone would be after a program of complete, radical libertarian reform.

B: An argument is being made for a significant, but specific reform in which libertarian principles are being invoked to justify the repeal of laws which "unnessarily" restrict personal liberty: perhaps a liberty which your interlocutor wants herself.

In the first case, the best bullshit tactic is to ask how your libertarian proposes to achieve the program of reform which will lead to the libertarian utopia. This is a significant challenge as she cannot, as a rule, appeal to the usual fantasy of devout Marxists, that it will happen as an historically inevitable and natural result of the collapse of capitalism. But, like a devout Marxist, she is living in cloud-cuckoo land. Point this out tactfully and courteously and don't forget to make the comparison with Marxist fantasies about life after the revolution.

In the second case, you face a more arduous task: you have to show, by careful application of the techniques you should have picked up from reading The Euthyphro and a little argument of your own, that the extension of her own personal liberty will result in a loss of liberty for a lot of other people. For example, if allowing more people to own guns results in more fatal shootings, the "right" of gun ownership is exercised at the expense of the total loss of liberty for everyone who gets shot as a result of easing restrictions on gun ownership (there is no liberty in the grave). You can't always sustain this line of attack successfully: there are going to be times when using it will put you on the wrong side of the argument. No one person or political philosophy can be right all the time. It's much more common to be persistently wrong through unrepentant pig-headedness.

Call for Nominations

Saturday, 8 March 2003

Reading this post at John Quiggin's blog reminded me that I'm stuck for a "Dummy Spit of the Week" to start next week's blogging. I'd like to keep it as a more or less regular feature (at least for the next few weeks), so if anyone can remember any likelty candidates from the last weeks events in politics, please post a comment (preferably with a link, of course).

By the way, John's bloody lucky to be getting mentioned in this context after this post on the strange silence that has descended on his little corner of Ozplogistan, where yours truly doesn't rate a mention as one of the bloggers who have been "busy and interesting" this week - evidently, nothing I've written since Tuesday has been up to scratch. I wouldn't have mentioned Mr John Bloody Smart-Arse Quiggin at all if he weren't consistently one of my own top 5 referrers. Still, Tim Dunlop remains way out in front by miles, which says something about the relative good taste of his readers compared to sodding Quiggin's.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Sharp As Blu-Tack™

Friday, 7 March 2003

I found this article by Boris Johnson (Bojo to his fans) through the site of a certain self-styled "journalist, commentator and oppressor". It's about Iraq. In it Boris explains the rationale for the war in Iraq in terms one of his characters could understand:

You know how it is when you are a teenager, and you have a hot date with a chick on, say, Friday. It has taken a lot of guts to organise, and you feel sure that, if you play your cards right, it could be your lucky night. Like the world at the end of the Cold War, you are in a state of pleasurable excitement, not unmixed with anxiety. And then round about Tuesday of that week, you notice something worrying. Somewhere on your left cheek - roundabout the place where Iraq is on the globe - something begins to throb. There is no getting away from it. The thing is a zit.

Boris canvases how you might deal with this problem, and arrives at the conclusion that, if you're really serious about getting your end away, you'll just have to put aside your worries about collateral dermatological damage, bite the bullet and squeeze the damn thing. And the global community has to do the same with Saddam Hussein: he's a zit that has to be squeezed.

This just leaves two questions:

What's the geopolitical equivalent of getting your end away on Friday night?

How come the Eton and Balliol educated Mr Johnson has never heard of Clearasil™?

Update (Saturday, March 8): in the comments thread, dj provides an alternative, folk remedy for facial suppurations. It's not hard to see where this discussion is going to go.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Bullshit Tactics (and How to Use Them)

Thursday, 6 March 2003

I found a list of "Bullshit Tactics Used Against Libertarians" at the Australian Libertarian Society site yesterday. Most of them are pretty good so I decided the list would be a good basis for a series on how to really piss off the libertarian in your life. There are 14 tactics in all - we'll just have to see how far I can get through the list before I get bored and move on to something else. Here's number one:

1. Pointing out that there are gray areas between voluntary and coercive action, and pretending that the existence of gray areas destroys the distinction and, hence, the very idea of liberty. Libertarianism is illusory.

This is obviously inadequate, and needs a little fine tuning. I suggest you begin by reading the Euthyphro from The Last Days of Socrates, to get an idea of how a master would handle things. Then, rather than pointing out those grey areas, just put this simple question: "Just what do you mean by liberty?" Don't take "Oh come on that's obvious" for an answer: insist on a definition.

If you get something like "Freedom from tyranny", you're on an easy winner - just follow up with "OK what's tyranny?" If you can't lead your libertarian adversary into a circular argument, you're just not trying hard enough. On the other hand, beware of asking the question "What are the responsibilities of consciousness?" You're very likely to get a long lecture on the importance of recognising that a straight line is a straight line and not, say, a parabola with the equation f(x) = 0x2 + bx + c.

Your goal, by the way, is not to show that "Libertarianism is illusory": it's to show that your adversaries idea of libertarianism is naive because it relies on an unquestioned and ill-defined conception of liberty. If you're dealing with someone who has a more developed notion of liberty, from reading John Stuart Mill's essay On Liberty for example, you may have to put in a lot more work to reach the point where your exasperated libertarian says the magic words "You're full of shit!" I think we'll save that for the advanced course.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Welcome Light Relief?

Wednesday, 5 March 2003

With all that's happening in the world at the moment I felt desperate for a little humorous reading last night, so I resorted to my Penguin Classics copy of Dante's Inferno, translated by Dorothy L Sayers, noted medievalist and author of several books of detective fiction including "The Nine Tailors, a fascinating novel about campanology."

Dotty's translation of Dante's immortal work is notable for two things: her truly appalling terza rima and her equally appalling explanatory notes, which make up the bulk of the text. I've been told by friends that the subsequent volumes of The Divine Comedy are also worth reading (if only to get the whole of Dante's allegory rather than just the sordid first third) but the idea of ploughing through another two volumes of questionable rhymes and didactic endnotes that belabour the patently bleeding obvious doesn't appeal. Except for one thing - quite unintentionally, Dotty gives us fascinating glimpses into the psychology of a Cultural Conservative with two Ps and a silent Q. Here for example, is the conclusion of her description of Dante's Universe (which is basically your standard medieval geocentric, or Ptolemaic universe, with the planets mounted on transparent spheres revolving around a fixed Earth):

The Ptolemaic universe is the universe we recognise, as we recognise a photograph or picture of the house in which we live. It is inferior to the Copernican in that its mathematics, even when corrected by modern knowledge, would be too complicated for ready calculation; but it is superior as a description of what the heavens have to show us, because it is a direct transcript of the observed phenomena.

Reading this passage, with its nostalgia for a simpler world where eternity was only a few thousand miles away, beyond the sphere of the Fixed Stars, you can understand why CP Snow got grumpy about the "two cultures". It's not merely that Sayers is woefully ignorant of the science, or even the history which resulted in the Ptolemaic view being replaced by the Copernican view. It's that she prefers to be ignorant and seems, at some level, to prefer that the rest of us were ignorant too, happily living in a glittering snow-dome cosmos with God on the outside peering in through the Primum Mobile. It reminds me of certain contemporary cultural conservatives who wring their hands over what we have lost in the inevitable cultural decline that followed the disbanding of the Doobie Brothers. There's something seriously weird about people who are nostalgic for times and places outside their own experience.

Today's Strikes

Wednesday, 5 March 2003

Angry loggers have backed down from their threat to disrupt this weekend's Grand Prix, contenting themselves with leaving 100 timber trucks parked around Victoria's Parliament House. That's a bitter blow for those of us who hoped to see a Mack prime mover take the chequered flag this year.

Victoria's screws are also taking industrial action, over the possibility that one of their number might face criminal charges for discharging his firearm at an escaping prisoner. The prisoner, Garry Whyte, 39, a remand prisoner, was attempting to escape from St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne. According to a screw's union spokesman on ABC local radio this morning, the fact that criminal charges have been laid against a screw who exercised the authority given to him by Parliament to discharge his firearm to prevent an escape creates uncertainty for other screws. Until they receive a clear indication that they still have authority to discharge their firearms at escaping prisoners the screws won't be carrying firearms or undertaking escort duties where they might be tempted to discharge their firearms in the wrong belief that they have been authorised to do so by government regulation when in fact they might still be liable for the results of a discharging of firearms under criminal law. Got that? If not, keep an eye on this page for the next couple of days: they might put the audio of Jon Faine's interview with Julian Kenelly up. It's worth a listen if you have a robust sense of humour.

Word of The Day: Homonym

Wednesday, 5 March 2003

Which, according to my usual source, the Macquarie Dictionary means

a word like another in sound and often in spelling, but different in meaning, as meat and meet.

Or say, John Howard and great Australian Prime Minister. What brought it to mind was a report on AM this morning where the reporter kept talking about a small West Australian town called "New Nausea". Right now, New Nausea has a monastery and will soon be getting a European Space Agency tracking station. I'm waiting for the transcript so that I can get the correct spelling.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Dummy Spits of the Week

Tuesday, 4 March 2003

Time to brush the carpet fluff off the Trotsky dummy and resume blogging after a weekend of fear and loathing somewhere near Syracuse (that's the ancient city in Sicily, rather than any contemporary US namesake). The big dummy spit in Oz politics was produced by ACT Treasurer Ted Quinlan who, according to the ABC's AM, was one of four signatories to a letter to Federal Stealth Treasurer Peter Costello saying that there was no way that mr Graeme Samuel was acceptable as the new chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Why? Because

... Graeme Samuel has not only a pedigree at the big end of town, but he also has the image of a pedigree at the big end of town, and both those things I think mitigate against it being an appropriate appointment.

Mr Quinlan also expressed his hope that Mr Costello would display more maturity than himself and that the ACT would not lose Commonwealth funding as a result of this ... principled stand.

But the soft patter of silicon rubber hitting the carpet was loudest from Washington this week. On Saturday, Whitehouse spokesman Ari Fleischer dismissed Iraq's decision to destroy its Al-Samoud missiles as

... propaganda, wrapped in a lie, inside a falsehood.

Fleischer continued this dismissive line in his press briefing of 3 March: as far as the Bush administration is concerned it's too little, too late. The optimist in me wants to believe that this is a case of the US government talking tough to get the result it wants (Saddam disarmed) but the pessimist doubts it. Still, I'm determined to look on the bright side - as soon as I can scrape a few thousand dollars together I'm investing in Brie futures. They're bound to go up once this whole thing is settled, one way or the other.