Friday, June 06, 2003

Own Your Own Tomahawk

The ultimate do-it-yourself project:

Some time ago I wrote an article in which I suggested that it would not be difficult for terrorists to build their own relatively sophisticated cruise missiles using off-the-shelf components and materials.


... in order to prove my case, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and build a cruise missile in my own garage, on a budget of just US$5,000.

I like to think of this project as the military version of "Junkyard Wars".


A detailed level of documentation will be provided to those who qualify and are willing to pay a small subscription for full access to the project diary.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Low Gudgeon in High Dudgeon

One of the great things about being of the right is the franchise it grants on misrepresentation. If you want an example, consider Stanley Gudgeon's recent piece on Pamela Bone. In Monday's Age, under the unfortunate headline "When support for a cause smacks of a new imperialism", Bone wrote:

An email going around contains a petition to the Government of Nigeria, asking it to rescind the death sentence imposed on a young woman, Amina Lawal, for adultery. The email says Lawal (whose baby is proof of her crime under the Sharia law of her state) is to be buried up to her neck and stoned to death this week, the execution having been postponed until her baby was weaned.

There are reasons not to sign it. Another email from Nigerian human rights group Baobab respectfully asks international "friends" to stop the letter campaign. It advises that the information contained in the petition is not only inaccurate but may be damaging this case and others like it.

In bunyip-speak, this translates to:

... Pamela Bone's most recent piece in the Age, in which she pleads for people to stop writing letters in support of Amina Lawal, the Nigerian woman sentenced to death by stoning for the "crime" of adultery.

Too many annoying letters, Bone explains, and the likely result will be that the savages get even more upset, their resolve will stiffen and, if the pleas really get their goat, authorities may even bring forward the date of the execution in order to grind a thumb in the eye of civilised sensibilities. We must be cultural attuned, the columnist preaches, allow Sharia law to have its way and hope for the best. No women have yet been stoned, so Bone reckons Lawal has an excellent chance of winning her appeal and escaping unscathed. The problem isn't Lawal's persecutors, its those yapping Westerners raising such a fuss. To support her point - at least that is what the Professor thinks she's trying to do, because the column is even more illogical than it is disjointed - she cites the $15 billion the United States is making available to combat AIDS in Africa. Apparently this could be a bad thing - quite possibly "cultural imperialism", which may be even worse in Bone's eyes than burying women up to their necks and whacking them with big rocks.

As paraphrases go, this is one of Stanley's more accurate: he at least manages to cover most of the major points in Bone's article, even though he is viewing it through crap coloured glasses. To show how well the Professor has captured Bone's argument, here's the section of Bone's article dealing with Ms Lawal's current situation:

"Although the stress on Ms Lawal is obviously considerable and awful, she is not in immediate danger of being stoned," Baobab says. Her legal process is still several steps away from the final option of appeal to Nigeria's Supreme Court. So far, not one such appeal taken up by Baobab, with the support of women's groups in Nigeria, has been lost.

If there is an immediate danger to the women under sentence of stoning or flogging, says Baobab, it is that local politicians or vigilante groups will carry out the sentences to defy international opinion. In one case in which a woman was flogged, despite an appeal pending and despite an international letter-writing campaign, the local governor boasted of his resistance to "these letters from infidels".

Besides, the human rights groups do not want pardons for the women; they want the convictions and sentences imposed by local religious courts to be overturned by higher courts, to show they are wrong in law.

Bone's position, the Professor assures us, represents a complete back flip from the position she took in this article, published in The Age on November 16, 2002. Here Bone says:

Islamic fundamentalist groups are angry about having the Miss World pageant in Nigeria, branding it a "parade of nudity". Well, let them be, because however ideologically unsound beauty contests might be to some (they don't bother this feminist), this represents a great victory by women over religious fundamentalism.

Yet on Monday, according to the Professor's precis, she's taking a typical lefty post-colonialist, post-modernist, post-macchiato position on the same issue. Perhaps he overlooked this paragraph:

Culture is not sacred. And as Doris Lessing observed recently, customs are never as strongly valued as when they are about the subjection of women. There are many progressive men and women in Africa who know that cultural practices have largely been dreamed up by men to suit men, and must be changed, not only to stop the AIDS pandemic but because justice demands it.

And Bone's muddled position on the US funding to combat AIDS? Here it is, more or less:

Yet the difference between support and cultural imperialism can be difficult to judge. The US Senate recently passed a $US15 billion($A23 billion) bill to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa, which included funding to teach "feminism" to African men. The money will be used, in part, to fund programs to reduce sexual violence and coercion, child marriage and polygamy.


The Bush Administration's commitment to the empowerment of women would have more credibility, however, had it not been cutting funding to any programs that might give information about abortion as part of their service. The fact that a large part of the new money is to be used to promote sexual abstinence also gives rise to suspicions that its main interest is in pursuing its own conservative social agenda globally.

Many African men do need to be taught feminism. But perhaps it is African women, rather than men in Washington, who are best suited to teach them.

In support of his case against Bone, Stanley links to where he found this description of the rioting which forced the Miss World pageant to be moved out of Nigeria: outbreak of violence between Muslims and Christians (triggered in part by opposition to the Miss World content, which has been characterized by fundamentalist Islamic groups as a "parade of nudity" likely to undermine the fight against AIDS) spread to the Nigerian capital of Abuja -- planned site of the beauty pageant -- and left over 100 people dead and several hundred more injured, the Miss World pageant organizers moved the event to London instead, thereby eliminating one of the Nigerian federal government's prime motivations for preventing the execution of Amina's death sentence. Without a reversal of the ruling by the Sharia court ... preventing her execution will require intervention by force, an act that has the potential to plunge Nigeria into civil war.

Don't be bothered by the little dots: Stanley isn't playing silly buggers with elisions this time. On the other hand, it appears that Stanley stopped reading at the end of that paragraph. Here's the next paragraph:

Would sending letters to the Sharia appeals court in Katsina (the one which has already heard her appeal and rejected it) help? This is even more unlikely: Muslim fundamentalists deeply resent Western interference of any sort at any time, so telling them the world will be angry with them unless they reverse themselves isn't going to be the carrot that will inspire this particular donkey. They believe the teachings of the Koran and their interpretations and applications of them are entirely above matters of world opinion -- to them, they are answering to God, and nothing may be placed ahead of that.

And an update from the bottom of the page:

Update: A revised petition circulated in mid-2003 claimed Amina was due to be executed by stoning on 3 June 2003. This information is wrong: 3 June is the date Amina is next scheduled to appear before the state Sharia court of appeal. For now, her death sentence remains suspended until January 2004 to give her time to raise her child until it is old enough to be weaned.

Perhaps in his haste to get to the meaty bits, he also overlooked this while scrolling down the page:

Will signing a petition help the cause? In all likelihood it won't. The person to whom the missive is being addressed, Olusegun Obasanjo, the President of Nigeria, is both opposed to the sentence and almost powerless to do anything about it. He has said that under Nigeria's federal system of government the mainly Muslim northern states have every right to reintroduce the Sharia code into their penal law, and that while he will weep for Amina and for Nigeria itself if her execution is carried out, he will not overturn the finding of that court.

And also the link to this page on why Internet petitions in general are a waste of time.

Finally, let's look at some information from Baobob, the Nigerian human rights group Bone refers to and which the Professor cites, after his enthusiastic discovery that Baobob clearly speaks Bone's language. Here's the Professor's quotation from their web-site:

Dominant colonialist discourses and the mainstream international media have presented Islam (and Africa) as the barbaric and savage Other. Please do not buy into this. Accepting stereotypes that present Islam as incompatible with human rights not only perpetuates racism but also confirms the claims of right-wing politico-religious extremists in all of our contexts.

And here's something he skipped - an example of how an international letter writing campaign led to the flogging of another Nigerian woman under Sharia law:

Dangers of Letter Writing Campaigns?

However, if there is an immediate physical danger to Ms. Lawal and others, it is from vigilante and political further (over)reaction to international attempts at pressure. This has happened already in the case of Bariya Magazu, the unmarried teenager convicted of zina (extra-marital sex) and sentenced to flogging in Zamfara in 1999. Ms. Magazu’s sentence was quite illegally brought forward with no notice, despite the earlier assurances of the trial judge that the sentence would not be carried out for at least a year. She was told the night before that it would be carried out very early the next morning (and thus had no way of contacting anyone for help even if this unschooled and poor rural teenager had access to a telephone or organizing knowledge and experience), whilst the state bureaucracy had been instructed to obstruct and was physically refusing to take the appeal papers from BAOBAB’s lawyers. The extra-legal carrying out of the sentence was not despite national and international pressure; it was deliberately to defy it. The Governor of Zamfara State boasted of his resistance to "these letters from infidels" – even to sniggering over how many letters he had received. Thus, we would like you to recognise that an international protest letter campaign is not necessarily the most productive way to act in every situation. On the contrary, women’s rights defenders should assess potential backlash effects before devising strategies.

I think further comment from me would be superfluous.

Getaway with Mark

Gareth Parker has posted a short excerpt from this cheery travel piece* by Mark Steyn. Here's a bit of local colour from Mark's visit to the town of Rutba:

But just what exactly was deteriorating? As my groaning table and the stores along Main Street testified, there was plenty of food in town. Was it the water? I made a point of drinking the stuff everywhere I went in a spirited effort to pick up the dysentery and cholera supposedly running rampant. But I remain a disease-free zone.

Obviously, Mark is a traveller, rather than a tourist. A tourist looking to catch cholera or dysentary in Iraq would have done a little preparation, perhaps checked out a couple of brochures at the local travel agent, rather than swanning off to a foreign country totally unprepared on the basis that this is the best way to learn about the country. Had he done so, he might have saved himself the pointless sojourn in Rutba, charming as it might have been, and gone straight to Basra where, if this MSNBC report is correct, he could have had a very satisfactory cholera and dysentary experience:

The Iraqi city of Basra made headlines recently when a deadly wave of cholera swept the area. But it was only the first problem in a summer health-care crisis that will get worse in the coming weeks. Even before the war, water filtration plants across the nation were in a state of disrepair. Patched up with second-hand parts, they chugged along with machinery purchased in better days. The war delivered the coup de grace. Many of those that survived the bombing and the fighting—and quite a few didn’t—were crippled by looters after it. In recent days, as the heat has crept up into the low 100s, so has the reliance of locals in towns across the country on the ancient, sewage-choked waterways of the Tigres and Euphrates rivers. The impact on Iraq’s children has been devastating.

The border city of Usaybah, on the banks of the Euphrates up by Syria, is typical. “There is no water except from the river and there is nobody to help me,” said Jossa Jamel as she sat with her infant son, who was stricken with diarrhea and started vomiting five days ago. “What should we do? There is no other way.” Each day in recent weeks, Hamdi al-Aloosh’s staff at Usaybah Hospital has treated as many as 30 cases of dysentery. And almost every day, he loses a child. “Everything is destroyed and the pumps are 25 years old,” al-Aloosh explained. Lately, his doctors have begun to notice another disturbing trend: cases of typhoid, another deadly water-borne killer, may soon rise to epidemic proportions.

* - registration required.

Update: I just found this page on Rutba. For what it's worth:

Rutba is a dirty little desert town which has grown up around a border post. Because although it lies some 60 km inside Iraq, the open desert roads mean all traffic in and out of Iraq to Jordan pass through Rutba.

Make of that what you will.

Santoro Watch

Last week I developed a bit of a fascination with Senator Santo Santoro's performance in Monday's sitting of the Senate Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I did intend to go through every piece of evidence [of ABC bias] that Senator Santoro presented but, as usually happens, the BlogGeist has moved on to other things. In the interests of wrapping up the Where There's Muck series, I've gone through the rest of last week's Hansards for the committee, to prepare a summary of the good Senator's contributions to the committee proceedings for the rest of the week.

On Tuesday, when the committee dealt mostly with matters relating to Telstra, Senator Santoro put the following questions to witnesses:

On Wednesday when the committee heard from the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Sports Drug Agency, Senator Santoro offered the following insightful comments:

On Thursday, it was the turn of the Department of the Environment and Heritage [to come] under Senator Santoro's microscope:

And finally, on Friday, Senator Santoro finished up a brilliant week with a few light-hearted interjections:

Ken's Back

Ken Parish is back on line, with a third incarnation of Troppo Armadillo. Go visit Ken's new blog so that he can get lots of traffic and feed some of it through to me.

Locally, comments are back too, but for how long is anybody's guess.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

US Senate opens Iraq weapons probe.

No comment.

Bummed Out

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm beginning to find this page a real downer:

You don't have permission to access /troppoarmadillo/ on this server.
Apache/1.3.27 Server at Port 80

This one too:

You don't have permission to access /infinitebabble/ on this server.
Apache/1.3.27 Server at Port 80

What's really depressing is that Ken came round commenting today and I suspect (perhaps a little immodestly) that, if Troppo was on-line, I'd be getting some much needed linkage. So today, at least, I have a purely self-centred reason to hope that the cyberfuddle domain is back on line soon.

There are one or two other blogs that have gone strangely quiet lately, but I'm not going to name them. It might be tempting fate.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Read this, then this and finally this (permalinks bloggered as usual - scroll down to: "One of the great things about being of the left is the franchise it grants on inconsistency ...").

No Comments

Haloscan appears to be down again. I've taken comments off-line for now, so that pages will load within a reasonable time.

Update (Tueday, 3 June): they've buggered off again. Bloody Haloscan!

More ABC Bias Revealed

A quick trawl of last Firday's AM archives turned up this example of anti-American bias that Senator Alston may have missed. At the end of a report on the latest Chinese government initiative to control the spread of SARS, John Taylor said:

JOHN TAYLOR: China knows a lot about executions. It leads the world in killing its own citizens. Many human rights groups say it annually kills more people than the rest of the world put together, and not only people convicted of capital offences are executed.

This is scurrilous. As we know, there are plenty of State Governors, District Attorneys and Judges in the US who are proud of their willingness to execute some of the citizenry to discourage the rest from killing each other. But, according to John Taylor, rather than the world's greatest democracy being the world leader in this area, it's one of the world's few remaining communist regimes. This is not merely anti-American: it's anti-democratic.

Of course I may be wrong about this. It may be that we currently have a round of trade negotiations going on with the Chinese. If so, I'm prepared to withdraw the charge of anti-American bias unreservedly: Taylor's endorsement of China's leadership in this area of human rights is consistent with the nation's best economic interests and probably just the sort of responsible reporting that the Federal Government wants to see more of from the ABC.

Double Backflip With a One and a Half Twist

I've reconsidered my position on the bill that the US Government has presented for the RAAF's use of its bombs during the recent war. I think, on the whole, it's quite reasonable that our government should pay for them.

The situation is analogous to one that some parents may have faced: you send your brat round to play with the neighbour's ankle biter and then get news that, in a moment of over-enthusiasm, the little bugger dismembered his host's GI Joe and melted an entire battalion of plastic soldiers into a scorched green blob. Under such circumstances I think any decent, responsible parent would feel constrained to make good the neighbour's losses and lay down some firm guidelines on how junior was to behave when playing with other kids' toys.

So it's time to stop complaining, and stump up the money. And time for Defence Minister Robert Hill to get onto the RAAF and let them know that, next time the US Air Force invites them over to play with the heavy ordinance, they're to make sure that it all gets returned in good working order. As a true friend, it's the least we can do.

I've also reconsidered my post on Hugh Mackay's call for our community's intelligent people to recognise their obligations to society, get off their arses and do something for the benefit of their fellow Australians. It was brought on by a story Zeppo Bakunin told at last Thursday's trivia quiz.

Way back in his misspent youth, Zeppo worked at the Tramways for a while. One day, while he was on a break, one of his colleagues - a gnarled senior trammie of many years experience - turned to Zeppo and said: "You went to Uni didn't you?"

"Yes" Zeppo confessed.

"Y'do Physics?"

"Only first year." answered Zeppo, a little apprehensive.

"D'you study any Relativity?"

"A bit." Zeppo answered, a little more apprehensive.

"Good. Perhaps you can help me out." His interrogator said, and produced a sheet of paper on which he scribbled out a string of incomprehensible equations of the

dt = {2L/c}*{1/[1-(v^2/c^2)]^0.5}

variety. Pointing to one he said: "The thing is, I don't understand this transformation here."

I think this bloke is a good example of the sort of person Hugh was complaining about. If he'd gotten off his arse and done something with his intellectual resources he might have made something of his life. Instead, he was content to waste his life as a trammie, occasionally pestering the better educated with pointless questions about the Theory of Relativity. What a waste.

Local News

I did a bad thing on Saturday night: I stole the front page of the Moreland Leader from the local fish and chip shop. The front page story was about a local planning dispute that may end up in Victoria's Supreme court, thanks to the intervention of Planning Minister Mary Delahunty:

Minister blocks plan

A RARE 11th hour amendment by Planning Minister Mary Delahunty could signal the end of a five-year battle to stop a controversial townhouse development in Brunswick East.

Last Friday Ms Delahunty allowed Moreland Council to amend its planning scheme just hours before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal was to consider an application for a second townhouse at 42 St Phillip St.

The site-specific amendment prevents a second building on the property.

"The Bracks Government does not intervene lightly in the planning process," Ms Delahunty said. "In this case it became necessary to take action ... the matter raised issues of fairness and public interest, which are grounds for intervention."

The decision ends five years of protesting by affected neighbours Steve and Ronnie Whitmore.

The wrangle began when the council refused an application for a dual townhouse development. The tribunal upheld the decision on appeal in 1999.
[my emphasis]

This is where the fun really starts, if the events that followed can really be described as fun. I'm not going to comment more than that at the moment: Victorian property developers can be a touchy lot. Just ask that pensioner couple who had to spend $10,000 or so on an advertisment in The Age apologising to a property developer for various comments they made in the objections they made to their local council to one of his developments. It was either that or face the cost of defending a libel action in the Supreme Court. On with our story:

Property owner Vito Bartucca then changed the property title from two to one, which allowed him to build a two-storey townhouse on part of the site. Under planning laws single dwellings can be built without a permit on lots greater than 300 sq m [my emphasis]

You can probably guess where the Mr Bartucca put the townhouse. Here's how the Moreland Leader describes it:

The townhouse was squeezed on to one half of the block closest to the Whitmores, overshadowing their 140-year-old Victorian cottage.

It infuriated the Whitmores, who camped on the front steps of Parliament HOuse but failed to persuade then Planning Minister John Thwaites to intervene.

The next section doesn't really require any comment from me either. If you sussed out that the first townhouse was going to be placed according to the original development plan, it's likely that you've already more or less worked out the next bit too:

The current application, lodged with the council last May, was for a single storey dwelling on the vacant half of the block. It was on appeal because the council took more than 60 days to process the application Outside the hearing, Ms Whitmore said she believed justice had been done.

The Whitmores may be (more or less) happy, but the same can't be said for Mr Bartucca. After reporting that he might pursue costs against Moreland Council, the Moreland Leader sounds this ominous note:

The Bartuccas [sic] can also appeal the legality of Planning Minister Mary Delahunty's decision to the Supreme Court and ask for the tribunal hearing to be reinstated.

For some reason, the whole thing reminds me of the "Wade House" case. Well, now that I've blogged it, I suppose I'd better see what I can do about sneaking the purloined page back into the fish and chip shop, where it belongs.

What I'm Reading This Week

I picked up Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil at the local library yesterday. It's incomplete: there are a couple of damaged pages early in the book. Here, for example is the first paragraph of Chapter II as it appears in my library's copy:

n of Karl Adolf Eichmann and Maria nee Scheefer-
a suburb of Buenos Aires on the evening of May 11,
Israel nine days later, brought to trial in the District
alem on April 11, 1961, stood accused on fifteen
er with others" he had committed crimes against the
, crimes against humanity, and war crimes during
riod of the Nazi regime and especially during the pe-
Second World War. The Nazis and Nazi Collaborators
nt) Law of 1950, under which he was tried, provides
erson who has committed one of these ... offenses ...
to the death penalty". To each count Eichmann pleaded:
guilty in the sense of the indictment."

Reading on, it's pretty obvious that there's something crucial missing on the torn off corner of paper - so if anyone can provide me with the full text, I'd appreciate it a lot. Well, a bit anyway. What has me stumped is how, short of someone running out of matches and needing to light their cigarette off the gas heater, that big a corner can get torn off the page of a book in the first place.