Friday, April 11, 2003

Personally, I Blame the Parents

Friday, 11 April 2003

Unlike Marxist ideology, which can be picked up through cultural osmosis, acquiring a knowledge of sciences such as biochemistry and physiology actually involves attending the occasional lecture and reading the occasional text book. One Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s when I was busily cramming for a physiology exam, my desparate attempts to pound an understanding of action potentials into my thick skull were interrupted by a knock on the door. I was living in a shared house but no one else was at home. I thought the polite thing to do would be to answer the door, in case it was a friend of one of the other degenerate pinkoes I was cohabiting with. This was my first mistake that afternoon.

When I opened the door, it looked like there was no one there. Then a thin piping voice from about waist height said "Want to buy a magazine, Mister?" I looked down and saw a copy of The Watch Tower and, attached to the raised arm that was vainly thrusting it in the general direction of my face, a boy of about seven or eight. I was pretty annoyed, so I told the little bugger to piss off in no uncertain terms. This was my second mistake that afternoon.

After I closed the door on the little sod, I went back to the text books but it took quite a while - a good five minutes at least - before I was able to concentrate on study. I felt like a complete turd, until I realised that it wasn't really me who was ultimately responsible for the hurt look and the quivering lip I glimpsed before the door banged shut, but the dickhead parents who had come up with the sleazy idea of sending their kid out on a Sunday afternoon to flog religious tracts. In fact, I had done something which, in the long run, would turn out to be a good thing: I'd sent them a clear message that I was prepared to do whatever it took to protect the peace and quiet of my Sunday afternoon. If enough others were prepared to do the same, perhaps the message would be driven home and he might get to enjoy his Sunday afternoons, instead of being used in a cheap game of evangelism by moral blackmail.

Compared to this, that's a pretty trivial story. All the same, looking back on it, I think that a simple "No thank you" would have been quite enough to deal with the situation.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

We Were Wrong ... Sort Of

Thursday, 10 April 2003

Thanks to Gareth Parker, there's yet another addition to the blogroll - David Robert Weaver's Trenchant Lemmings. Under the title Is it that hard to admit?, Gareth takes various lefty bloggers to task for not exactly welcoming the end of the war, and goes on to praise David Robert for an "honest assessment of the left's wrongness":

As we all know, Iraqi civilians took to the streets yesterday and gosh darn it was great to see 'em. [...]

This watershed this early in the Baghdad end-game means those of us who believed there would be a bloody and protracted finale to this bullshit war were wrong. Not wrong to fear it; but dead wrong to expect it. I don't know how other pessimists feel about this failure of prediction, but I was simpering with glee as I watched BBC footage of Saddam city residents ripping off Ba'ath Party office supplies and pelting Saddam's visage with shoes. When you fear the worst, it's good to be wrong. Pro-war visitors are now encouraged to view my post of 19 March and hoot with derision. Hoot away, it's music to my ears.

Fine stuff, and a brave admission but perhaps Gareth should have read on a little:

Those of us peaceniks who never bought the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" casus belli du jour are now better placed than our pro-war colleagues in embracing such optimism. Intelligence experts have been covering themselves by suggesting the possibility of dire surprises to come, but I don't see much chance of same. If Saddam had the WMD option, he's left it very late to use. I think we all know what the reason for that is, and it's not because he's a big fan of The Wrath of Khan. Perhaps he's a chronic hoarder. In any case, I'd rather believe the best, than hedge my bets in hope of the paltry consolation prize of being right when something godawful comes down.

Gareth has a point - the lab reports came in, and it turned out to be not much of a war after all. But if he'd occasionally take the trouble to read his opponents' blogs, instead of cherry-picking them for things he can be outraged and disgusted by, he might have learnt that the anti-war case was never solely about the conduct of the war. For what it's worth, my position is that we done wrong but at least we can thank our lucky stars that it didn't go too badly. More later. Maybe.

What Westminster System?

Wednesday, 9 April 2003

A visit to Amax sent me off a-googling to see what I could dredge up about the Westminster system. What got me started was this statement:

this country has been governed as a federation of states generally following the Westminister system since 1901, with all of the advantages and disadvantages of that system of government.

A quick visit to the House of Lords Home Page and a perusal of the historic material there confirmed a suspicion I've had for a while: Australia's system of government predates the current British version of the "Westminster system" by a few years. Our system of Federal Government dates from 1901: the current British Constitution, in its present form, dates from 1911, when [Parliament passed] The Parliament Act which removed the right of the House of Lords to reject legislation. If you're wondering why the House of Lords passed the bill which removed its powers, the answer is simple: the then Liberal government of Lloyd George threatened to stack the house with new Liberal Lords if the bill wasn't passed.


Wednesday, April 09, 2003


The cornerstone of the Westminster system is supposedly the separation of the three branches of state power - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. It doesn't necessarily include the separation of Church and State, although the Australian Constitution does prohibit the government from making provision for an established church. Our legislature and judiciary are separated to the extent that (unlike the House of Lords) the Senate does not include any sitting judges among its members. In 1900, the House of Lords still included the 4 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary or "Law Lords" - an aspect of the then Westminster system our founding fathers decided not to reproduce. Nor did they provide for any "Senators Spiritual" in the membership of the upper house. Of course that hasn't stopped a few Senators Spiritual from entering Parliament from time to time, but at least they had to stand for election like anyone else.

In summary, because I've only time for a quick blog on this topic right now, it's time to drop this historical fiction of a "Westminster system" at least as it applies to Australia. What we have is a federation of states governed under our very own, home grown, Canberra system. Perhaps if we started recognising it as a piece of do-it-yourself genuine Aussie handiwork, instead of a precious heirloom handed down from the mother country which just had to be given a bit of a touch up here and there to make it presentable, we might start to recognise that not only is it possible to improve it, but there's nothing stopping us from doing so if we want to. We can bugger it up if we want to, as well. Because it's our bloody system of government [and nobody else's].

Postscript (Thursday, 10 April): if you're wondering why this post is split over two days, it's because I had to split it to fix up the errors that have been annoying me for the past 24 hours.


Brad De Long on the Tenant from Hell (link via Pedantry).

Another Silly Tug Boat Potemkin Comp

Wednesday, 9 April 2003

In last night's enthusiastic rush to get Luddite No More started, I forgot to spell out exactly what I was looking for when I asked for suggestions for Senator Richard Alston's introductory blog.

Basically, I'm being lazy, and asking for someone to write Senator Richard Alston's "first" blog for me - the customary, "about myself" post where a blogger introduces himself to the blogosphere and sets out his ambitions for his blog. Why would a Minister for Communications, Information and the Arts (and Luddite in recovery) start a blog? All you need to do to win nothing except the glory of ghost-writing for Senator Alston is answer this question. Try to think of it as fun, or if that doesn't grab you, think of the challenge.

As the blog is hosted on Blogger "free" there are some technical limitations. You'll need to keep it short - no more than about 2000 characters. That includes any HTML mark-up you decide to use, including hyperlinks. My post "Short, Ugly and Annoying" down the page a little is a good indication of where your maximum length is. Beyond that, the only requirement is to make it witty, insightful and funny. I think that Monday is a little tight for a deadline, so how does next Wednesday sound?

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

New on the Blog Roll

Tuesday, 8 April 2003

I've decided to copy meika and switched my blog roll to blogrolling. I'm hoping this will make it easier to keep the blog roll up to date.

If you look closely (but by the time you finish this sentence, you won't need to), you'll notice a new entry for Richard Alston who, as you are no doubt aware has got himself into the news again, due to a modest cost-overrun on his Department's web-site.

It might appear that, in the interests of cost-effective delivery of government services, Senator Alston has chosen Blogger as the preferred supplier for his own personal web-page. This isn't quite correct, but it's close enough for present purposes.

As Senator Alston is a busy man, he's also going to need a little help from time to time with keeping his web-log current. Right now he needs a good introductory statement, to let all the folks out there in cyberspace know why the man The Register described as the World's biggest Luddite has started a blog. If anyone has any suggestions, please E-Mail them to me (via the Contact the Crew link) and as Senator Alston's self appointed guide into the world of blogging, I'll post the one I consider the best on Monday (judges decision final, no correspondence etc).

Short, Ugly and Annoying

Tuesday, 8 April 2003

Ken Parish's disappointment that the blogosphere hasn't yet developed into a sort of Neo-Athenian democratic forum is attracting a lot of comment, both in his own comments thread and on other blogs. James Russell suggests that it was ever thus in the blogosphere. Gary Sauer-Thompson and John Quiggin also have a few things to say. And now, here I am, jumping onto this latest blogwagon, before it disappears over the next rise in the road.

Personally, I suspect that Ken might be idealising Athenian democracy a little too much. There's really no good reason to believe that Athenian democracy was any less fractious than the modern variety, or that political debate (in the Agora and elsewher) was any more civil than modern political debate. The special thing about Athenian democracy, at least for a short time, was a short, ugly, annoying man who had the good sense to realise that, when the Oracle said that there was no man in Athens wiser than he, it didn't mean that he was the wisest man in Athens. If his good sense had been a little more self-regarding he might not have translated this into a sense of religious mission, which is best described in his own words:

When I heard about the oracle's answer, I said to myself what does the god mean? Why does he not use plain language? I am only too conscious that I have no claim to wisdom, great or small; so what can he mean by asserting that I am the wisest man in the world? He cannot be telling a lie; that would not be right for him.

After puzzling about it for some time, I set myself at last with considerable reluctance to check the truth of it in the following way. I went to interview a man with a high reputation for wisdom, because I felt that here if anywhereI should succeed in disproving the oracle and pointing out to my divine authority 'You said that I was the wisest of men, but here is a man who is wiser than I am'.

To his disappointment, this man of high reputation, and several others who he interviewed later turned out to be a poseur: in the process of exposing them as such, he became very unpopular but not with everyone:

... A number of young men with wealthy fathers and plenty of leisure have deliberately attached themselves to me because they enjoy hearing other people cross-questioned. These often take me as their model, and go on to try to question other persons; whereupon, I suppose, they find an unlimited number of people who think that they know something, but really know little or nothing. Consequently their victims become annoyed, not with themselves but with me; and they complain that there is a pestilential busybody ... who fills young people's heads with wrong ideas.

Now we can't all be short and ugly - these are nature's gifts. But, with persistence and practice, we can all learn to be annoying, especially to those who purport to be our betters. If we do, there may be hope for Ken's Neo-Athenian dream yet.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Gummo Trotsky
is a
Fruit-Eating Killer Monkey

...with a Battle Rating of 7.8

To see if your Food-Eating Battle Monkey can
defeat Gummo Trotsky, enter your name:

(link via James Russell whose sorry arse I just kicked).

Snob of the Week

And the Winner Is ...

Monday, 7 April 2003

... up to you people. Yes, you damn it!

I was hoping to use one of those Bravenet mini-poll things to give Snob of the Week a sort-of structured interactive reader-interface thingy. I'm having trouble with getting registered (I think it's something to do with living outside the US or Canada and hence in a State/Province not in their comprehensive list of the world's regional government areas). So, instead, we'll just have to use the comments thread for voting on my two nominees from Saturday's Weekend Australian. You'll find them below (permalinks dudding again). Feel free to throw in your own if you've noticed any other worthy contenders, or any come up during the next 4 days (voting closes on Friday, when I post the winner).

Snob of the Week

And the Second Nominee Is ...

Monday, 7 April 2003

Christopher Pearson's piece "Left misconstrues its right" is this week's second contender for Snob of the Week because of the deep vein of intellectual snobbery running through the article from beginning to end.

Pearson starts of with a quick resume of how those insidious reds came out from under the beds in the seventies and eighties and re-invented the Marxist agenda as a "Broad Left" agenda for social reform within progressive movements such as feminism, gay liberation, green "fundamentalism" and "the Australian version of Black Power". Thanks to the naivete of other members of these movements, the Marxist agenda became standard left-wing dogma:

To varying degrees they [the commies] were also able to colonise the the social movements and embed in them what might, for convenience sake, be called "a broad Left agenda".

It is most insidious when absorbed uncritically, almost unconsciously, in a form of cultural osmosis.

Pearson then segues, using an idiocy-by-association argument involving the appearance of "Madam Saddam and her Weapons of Mass Seduction" at Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, into a sustained attack on Senator Bob Brown for his continued opposition to the war on Iraq. Pearson argues that Brown and other gays should be supporting war on Saddam Hussein because, as well as everything else that is nasty about the Ba'athist regime, it isn't exactly friendly to homosexuals, or sodomites as they are known in that part of the world. He finishes:

By March 31 he [Bob Brown] had stooped to the most shameful of rhetorical tricks, insinuating an element of moral equivalence between Hussein and those trying to disarm and dispatch him. "The terrorism of war is not unilateral," he said.

The depressing thing is that Brown and much of his constituency are too morally obtuse to understand why that proposition is so deeply offensive.

These two paragraphs carry an implicit claim that Pearson has the moral acuity that Brown and his supporters lack (blinded as they are by the "Broad Left" agenda they have unwittingly absorbed through too long an association with those perfidious Marxists who have really been running the "progressive" social agenda all these years). Pearson's snobbery is a little more insidious than the more overt variety shown in Alison Crosweller's bravura entry, but I find his article is still worthy of consideration for this week's award.

Snob of the Week

And the First Nominee Is ...

Monday, 7 April 2003

There really is a cultural divide between the inner cities and the outer suburbs (or inner country if you get outer suburban enough), at least when it comes to restaurants. The average trendy inner city restaurant is basically a portion-control purgatory, where lost souls in search of gastronomic salvation toy listlessly with a few morsels of beef, glazed with a so-called jus that has been simmering on the back of the kitchen stove long enough to qualify as a genuine biohazard, accompanied by a julienne of carrots, parsnips and celery - the last included I suspect to promote dental hygeine by making the whole meal "self-flossing". Out on the city fringes, value for money at a restaurant still means a good slap-up feed. As it should.

The Weekend Australian's restaurant critic, Alison Crosweller obviously hasn't been getting out of the city centres enough. Here's how her review of Eleonore's Restaurant in Saturday's Review section starts:

Maybe I have a warped imagination. Or perhaps I am just ignorant. But when my salmon arrives, I am dumbfounbded. The menu is detailed enough. I ordered shiitake scaled fillet of salmon with an oyster and pancetta tart on a bed of pureed spinach and red wine glaze.

The dish sitting in front of me looks nothing like I pictured. The salmon, which I imagined to be the centrepiece, is well hidden by mushroom scales and spinach. When I get to the tart I am even more surprised to find several oysters hiding under the pancetta. The tart itself is almost a meal rather than a delicate accompaniment.

The restaurant is named after a woman

... who was reputed to be a refined and sophisticated host.

I wish I could say the same for our hosts on this night. We're still removing our coats as the server reeels off pre-dinner drink options - beer, spirits or perhaps champagne.

The regulars aren't much chop either - basically they're rich-raff:

Across the room from us sits a table of six, three couples who are Chateau Yering's target clientele. It might be extremely rude to listen in on other people's conversations, but when the women at the table are speaking at the top of their voices, talking about "Mumsy" and the "brand-new Audi I got for Christmas ", it's hard to tune out. it goes without saying that in the winter some of Melbourne's more upwardly mobile types feel quite at home landing the helicopter on the back lawn for lunch before heading towards Mt Buller to ski.

There's really nothing I can add except it's a very fine entry and one which will be difficult to top.