Friday, May 30, 2003

You Drop It, You Pay for It reports that:

Australia is to be billed several million dollars by the United States for bombs dropped on Iraq.

Weeks after George W. Bush's public thank you to John Howard, the bills are due to arrive – including the cost of US food eaten by some Diggers.

What has me puzzled is this section of the report:

The Australian Defence Force is now being asked to share the costs for its part in toppling Saddam Hussein under the "user-pays" principle of modern warfare.

Australian jet fighters fired a number of US laser-guided bombs – each worth a five-figure sum.

The F/A-18 Hornets flew 350 combat missions, dropping 122 precision-guided weapons.

ADF officials will not specify the types or quantity of bombs dropped.

But defence analysts believe they include US-owned MK84s and GBU-series 220kg and 907kg weapons, worth $28,800 and $35,900 respectively.
[My emphasis]

Does this mean that we're being billed for US-owned bombs that the RAAF dropped for the US military, or that we got them on one of those "90 Days Interest Free" deals or what? It's obviously too late to argue about the cooling off period but, given the amounts involved we should at least insist on having the cost of any unexploded bombs that we may have dropped taken off the bill.

For the Record: James Russell beat me to this item by a good two days. Excuse me while I go wipe the egg off my face.

Gubernatorial Speculations

I think it's well past time that I put in a comment or two on the Hollingworth debacle. There's not much I can say on the conduct of the various players in this political spectacle that hasn't been said repeatedly elsewhere, so instead I'll just jump into the general speculation on who the next Governor-General will be, with maybe a comment or two on the constitutional issues, which are being canvassed around the place, sometimes where you'd least expect it.

There's been some comment that the way Peter Hollingworth was hounded out of the job will make it difficult to find a successor. The idea is, that given the level of scrutiny that the next Gubernatorial appointee's past life will be subjected to, no prominent Australian in his (or her) right mind would go near the job. To be nominated as the next Governor-General, it is argued, is as good as being handed the chalice from the palace. Or was it the vessel with the pestle? The flagon with the dragon perhaps. Whatever - I'm getting side-tracked. Personally I'm indifferent on this score: anything that helps to prevent Rene Rivkin or Rodney Adler from taking up residence at Yarralumla is fine by me. Still, in the interests of putting this behind us, it would be best that the next Governor-General be someone who won't be shifted from the office in the way that Peter Hollingworth has.

I doubt that John Howard will take up the other suggestion that has been floated, that the new Governor-General should be endorsed by a two-thirds majority of Parliament. As a constitutional monarchist, I'm sure that he will recognise this for what it is: an attempt to sneak in the minimalist republic, rejected at the 1999 referendum, through the back door. It's more likely in my view that he will take one of those bold steps forward into the past that typify the Howard style of politics.

Let's not forget that John Howard is, as George Bush said, a man of steel. He showed, in taking us into the war with Iraq that he is prepared to go against public opinion when moved by personal conviction so it's reason able to expect that he will be equally firm and resolved when it comes to the much less difficult issue of appointing a Governor-General. My tip is that, in line with his monarchist beliefs, John Howard will give us a Governor-General who truly represents the Queen. An English Governor-General, to represent our English Queen. Very soon, Australia will have an Iron Lady to match our Man of Steel, Baroness Thatcher herself.

You may call this idea far-fetched, but it has a lot going for it, both from John Howard's point of view and the Queen's. History will remember John Howard as the first Prime Minister to appoint a woman to the job of Governor-General: this might make up for his failure to put his personal stamp on the Constitution with the new "comfortable and relaxed" preamble. The idea that Lady Margaret could be hounded out of office by the media is, frankly, laughable. And for the Queen there would be some payback for all the scoldings she allegedly received from the Baroness back in the days when she was a mere Prime Minister.

Afterthought: if you're wondering why the Stalin joke is missing, it's because plenty of other people have used it already.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Thanks to Stewart kelly for this illustration of human stupidity:

A Florida woman is preparing to sue the producers of Jim Carrey's new film "Bruce Almighty" after being inundated with calls from people seeking God at a phone number given in the movie.

It's about time that somebody was held to account for the number of dickheads there are in the world.

Minor Quandary

News that boynton's trivia team is between venues has brought on a small personal dilemma. Like blogging, the pub trivia quiz is a valuable outlet for formidably bright people who coast through life under-utilising their intellectual resources, and I know from personal experience that prolonged periods of trivia withdrawal can be as difficult to endure as those occasional periods when you desperately want to blog on something - anything - but can find little intelligent to say. Yes that's obviously a petard so go ahead, hoist away.

Here's the problem: I do the trivia thing once a week myself (with the occasional week off when I'm feeling totally disgruntled with the other members of the team - working out how it hangs together at all, let alone well enough to win occasionally would make a good doctoral research project for an up and coming group psychologist) and the generous, sympathetic thing to do would be to fire off an e-mail in Ms Boynton's general direction with details of my own trivia venue. On the other hand, the competition is already pretty stiff (especially when the big prizes are on offer) so self-interest and team solidarity (such as there is of it) weigh against doing the Mr Nice Guy bit. It's probably too late for tonight's quiz anyway, so I've got another 7 days or so to think it over.


Mark at infiniteBabble serves it up to Phil Ruddock.

Where There's Muck (3)

There's just time to correct a minor omission in Where There's Muck (1) before I start serious work for the day. Take this exchange between Senator Santoro (Liberal, Queensland) and Russell Balding:

Senator SANTORO: Thank you. Are you aware that Mr Uechtritz is on the board of the CEW Bean Foundation, which was established to honour CEW Bean and to commemorate Australian war reporting?

Mr Balding: Yes.

Senator SANTORO: If in fact you find out that it is Mr Uechtritz’s view that the military are lying bastards, do you believe it is appropriate for him to be on the board of the CEW Bean Foundation?

Mr Balding: Again, I would like to look at that in the context of those comments and what was said.

Senator SANTORO: If you found that they were as offensive as some Australians find them, would you think -

Mr Balding: It would not be my decision; that would be a decision for the board of that foundation.

So I need to add "Max Uechtritz holds offensive opinions which make him unfit to hold a position on the board of the CEW Bean Foundation" to Senator Santoro's charges against Max Uechtritz. I'm not sure what this has to do with ABC finances or the Budget Estimates process - offhand I'd say bugger all. I suspect it was introduced into the committee's business under the long-standing bipartisan convention that unsubstantiated personal smears are normal business for any Parliamentary session.

Update: you can check out the CEW Bean Foundation here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Where There's Muck (2)

Putting together a precis of Senator Santoro's various charges and innuendos about bias at the ABC is turning out to be more work than I realised I was getting myself into. Take this little exchange between Senator Santoro and Russell Balding:

Senator SANTORO: I am grateful for your assistance. I want to perhaps take up the challenge of my esteemed colleague Senator Conroy and talk about other issues relating to bias and balance. On the issue of balance and objectivity in ABC news and current affairs, I would like to get your comments on a number of issues. On 15 April last year, Four Corners ran a story that it headlined "To deter or deny." The program aired allegations that electric cattle prods had been used in a detention centre. What evidence did Four Corners have that cattle prods had been used on detainees? Did the ABC verify this allegation with the relevant authorities? Does the ABC today stand by that allegation?

Mr Balding: Can I take that on notice.

Of course I couldn't resist taking a look at the program transcript, where you will indeed find allegations of the use of electric batons, but not in detention centres. The precise allegation, made by a number of asylum seekers, was that they were used by the Australian Defence Forces during Operation Relex:

MAN 4 (translation): When the commandoes came into the ship, they covered their faces.

They put electric batons against the badges on their shoulders.

When the wires touched them, there was a spark so we could see they were electric batons.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: This family refused to leave.

They say they were hit with an electric baton.

WOMAN 3 (translation): It was like a black stick.

About this size.

(Indicates a point up to her elbow.)

When they pulled it out, they first hit the shoulders.

They had badges on their shoulders.

When it hit, it gave off electricity.

Immediately after this segment, the program included these remarks from Defence Minister Robert Hill:

SENATOR ROBERT HILL, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: At your request, I asked the Defence Force whether they use such equipment and I have been advised that they neither have it nor use it.

As for the ABC's current position on these allegations, there's this update page on the 4 Corners web-site.

I'll have to be disciplined about this, otherwise even the most perfunctory background checks on Senator Santoro's allegations are going to seriously interfere with my inadequate work ethic. Still, there's a certain perverse pleasure in finding a senator who's a worse committee performer than George Brandis who played such a memorable part in the Senate Inquiry into a Certain Maritime Incident.

Where There's Muck (1)

Bias in the ABC looks like being the hot topic for the next couple of days, at least as far as the Ozbloggeist is concerned. If you're wondering just what goods Senator Alston has to back up his claim of anti-US bias a good place to start looking is page 32 of this transcript of Monday's proceedings of the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Committee [PDF file]. It's all in Senator Santoro's "questions" to ABC Managing Director Russell Balding.

In yet another cheesy and insultingly obvious attempt to get linkage, I've gone over the earlier questions, to collect together all the muck that Senator Santoro has raked up on Max Uechtritz, the ABC’s Director of News and Current Affairs. I'm even going to try to present it without comment.

At the second annual Newsworld Asia conference in Singapore last August, Uechtritz remarked, "We now know for certain that only three things in life are certain: death, taxes and the fact that the military are lying bastards."

Uechtritz also said, at the same conference, "The lessons of war? So much technology, so many outlets, so much ignorance."

According to Senator Santoro, Uechtritz’s predetermined view about the military being lying bastards found a loud echo in the ABC’s coverage of the Iraq war.

According to a November 2001 bulletin of the Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Mass Media project, Uechtritz attended a session at a Barcelona conference which examined

... the extent to which the rights of asylum-seekers, internally displaced people and refugees are catered for by the media, and consider how broadcasters can communicate the complexities of their amazing stories without losing audiences or exacerbating internal and international tensions.

In a report on the Barcelona conference The Guardian said:

Max Uechtritz, director of news and current affairs at the ABC network in Australia, pointed out that at least 1,000 fewer people had died in New York than perished in Srebrenica, when "people were taken out and shot" in an even more horrific manner than the instant deaths on September 11. "Because it was a western capital, the scale seemed bigger," he said.

Uechtritz also attended the Eurasian Media Forum 2002 held in Almaty, Kazakhstan in April 2002. He was also listed on the program as a participant in a session titled "The role of media in international conflict."

Uechtritz weighs the same as a duck therefore he must be made of wood.

This is Plain Ridiculous

Over the weekend I decided it was time to take a break from reading the sort of crappy books that others insist that you must read before your opinions on current issues are worth considering and refresh my memory of an old favourite On Certainty by that Wittgenstein bloke. It seemed like a good idea at the time: I was less likely to have one of those waspish fits of bad temper that end with the book cringing in the corner of the room, fearful that you're going to fling it at the wall again. Also, as it's my copy of On Certainty, it's free of those irritatingly cryptic marginalia like "!!", "??" "How true!" and pointless random underlinings that some idiots feel compelled to add to the text of library books for the edification of later readers. I was having a good time, till I got to this bit:

102. Might I not believe that once, without knowing it, perhaps in a state of unconsciousness, I was taken far away from the earth - that other people know this, but do not mention it to me? But this would not fit into the rest of my convictions at all. Not that I could describe the system of these convictions. Yet my convictions do form a system, a structure.

A couple of pages later, Ludwig is musing on whether anyone has ever been on the moon. Now, while Wittgenstein is, or at least used to be, my favourite philosopher there are limits to how much slack I'm prepared to cut even a favourite philosopher in the interests of a so-called fair-minded reading. While he might be on the money on the subject of the impossibility of anyone ever being on the moon it's difficult to read the remarks I've cited above without calling to mind all the solid anecdotal evidence that sometimes unconscious people really do find themselves far away from the earth, suffering painful and humiliatingly intrusive physical examinations. So while Ludwig's scenario might have appeared ludicrous in the 1950s, to be skeptical that one might be taken away from the earth while unconscious makes as much sense in the modern world as clinging to the belief that crop circles are the work of human beings.

It's disappointing, because I was hoping that reading Wittgenstein might give me the opportunity to produce one of those more cerebral posts which I'm apparently capable of. Or at least occasionally. I might even, so I mistakenly thought, have a chance to say something favourable about a book for a change. Instead I'm left with the conclusion that as a philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein would have made a very good hospital porter. Perhaps I have an attitude problem or something.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Help Wanted

I spent this weekend off-line, with only the rainforest edition of The Age for company. So I was a little nervous this morning when I took my first plunge into the blogosphere: if Tim Blair or Stanley Gudgeon had picked up on this crie du coeur from Hugh Mackay, all I'd be left with to start the week's blogging is the mystery of why I have 3 referrals listed from the ABC News Home Page.

It seems that Hugh has had one of those unpleasant moments of self-discovery that confront us all eventually, and he's not too happy about it. He's realised that there may be people in the population who are more intelligent than himself. Here's what he has to say about them:

But there's another payoff from genetic roulette that is too often confused with achievement: intelligence. One of the craziest features of our culture is the way we rate intelligent people as superior to unintelligent people. We treat intelligent people as elite creatures needing to be "developed" and "accelerated"; we speak disparagingly of unintelligent people as "stupid", "brainless" or "losers".

By definition, more than half the population has "average" intelligence or less. Unfortunately, many people of above-average intelligence are not quite smart enough to realise that their intelligence was handed to them, just like their height.

The issue is not how intelligent you are, but what you do with what you've got. Formidably bright people who coast through life, under-utilising their intellectual resources, squander a valuable genetic gift. Unlike beauty, it's a gift that could be used to benefit those who, because of their more modest intellect, find it tough just coping with the demands of everyday life.

If you're a formidably bright person who coasts through life, under-utilising their intellectual resources, you could probably do worse with your abilities than to ghost-write Hugh's future columns for him. Unfortunately, there's no E-Mail address at the bottom of Hugh's article, but you can probably reach him (eventually) here.