Friday, June 20, 2003

Thursday, June 19, 2003

This One's for Stew



Stewart Kelly invites visitors to click on www.powergenitalia.com (but first you should try to guess what the site's about). After that, you might want to try www.onan.com

Argumentum Pedis Transfixus



John Ray has an interesting post on Left vs Right in the Tudor era:

[Cecil's] [Left] complacent eagerness to sacrifice the household goods of poor folk was backed by Bacon. The poor ought to be taxed as heavily as the rich: because, as he quoted in Latin, it was a right and ‘sweet course to pull together in an equal yoke'.

This smug hypocrisy brought Ralegh
[Right] to his feet. `Call you this an equal yoke, when a poor man pays as much as a rich? His estate may be no better than he is assessed at, while our estates are entered as £30 or £40 in the Queen's books -- not the hundredth part of our wealth!' His outrageous frankness over this unfair advantage given to his own class, shocked his opponents. His final blow demolished them: 'It is neither sweet nor equal.'

As I say, it's interesting, because I recall Raleigh's objections to Cecil being raised in modern times against Margaret Thatcher's Poll Tax and Victorian Treasurer Alan Stockdale's fixed rate property tax. By the Left.

Alarmed but not Alert(?)



Pursuing my morbid fascination with star committee performer Seantor Santo Santoro, I came across this fascinating little exchange from yesterday's Question Time in the Senate:

Senator SANTORO (2.08 p.m.): My question is to the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Alston. Will the minister inform the Senate of the next steps in the development of the Prime Minister’s proposed constitutional reform to ensure that elected governments’ efforts to act in the national interest are not unreasonably obstructed by the Senate? What evidence is there that this is a matter that needs to be urgently addressed?

Senator ALSTON: It is a very important question that Senator Santoro has asked, and the Prime Minister’s address to the Liberal Party convention a couple of weekends back really brought into focus what has been an ongoing problem with the Senate.

In many ways, the media and others get it wrong because it is not really the Senate that is opposed; it is Labor that is opposed. What the Prime Minister’s proposal involves is a sensible proposition supported by Gough Whitlam - in fact, proposed by Gough Whitlam amongst others - which would allow for a joint sitting of the parliament to be held when important legislation is twice rejected during the term of the parliament. There have been a number of constructive suggestions made about the proposal. Certainly Mr Lavarch has put something on the table which is well worth further consideration.

The next step in this process is to have a discussion paper circulated for public comment. We very much expect that we will get some sensible contributions, but that has to be against the background of understanding why these sorts of proposals need to be seriously considered. It is essentially because, whenever it comes to serious legislation, the ‘just say no’ party takes its orders from its trade union masters and blocks it in principle - if it ever had any principles - because that is what it is about.


When John Howard's proposal was first mooted the BlogGeist (or at least the leftist and moderate centrist portions of the BlogGeist) was pretty dismissive of the idea: John Howard was merely flying another kite and, if it came to a referendum, he'd find his string cut anyway (as happened with his comfortable and relaxed pre-amble to the Constitution). But, on the face of it, Senator Santoro's Dorothy Dixer, and Senator Alston's reply indicate that the Government is prepared to pursue this particular "reform" fairly seriously.

I don't think this should be treated as yet another attempt to intimidate the Senate and the Opposition: the Government's main political tactic there is to keep on bunging up the double dissolution triggers. This looks like a seriously intended proposal, aimed at bringing the Senate to heel [permanently]. And, while the Government argues that this is in the long term national interest, Senator Alston's remarks make it pretty clear which interests actually come first: the Government's short and medium term political interests.

Right now, there are two serious questions that need to be asked:

Just where the hell is this Government taking this country?

Do we really want to go there?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

For the Record



A quick calculation shows that today is the 187th day since the Government's ASIO Bill was rejected by Parliament. That's a little over half a year that our security agencies have managed to get along and protect us without the bill, which Daryl Williams assured us they would rather not have passed at all than passed in a diluted, unworkable form.

More Puzzlement



Apropos nothing in particular, here's a true story from English mathematician and puzzlist Henry Ernest Dudeney.

In China, during the Boxer Rebellion, a Colonel in the English Army was attending Sunday Service with his wife. When the congregation knelt to pray he fell asleep. He dreamt that he was kneeling before a Chinese executioner who was about to behead him.

At the end of the prayers, his wife resumed her seat and saw that her husband had fallen asleep. To wake him, she tapped him on the back of the neck with her fan. The colonel, taking this for the touch of the executioner's sword, promptly had a heart attack and died.

Sometimes, the human mind plays very strange tricks on itself.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Reading Matters



I finished Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem over the weekend. Regular readers will be pleased to hear that it made it through the reading without being hurled across the room even once. Nor did any more pages get torn off for the purpose of lighting cigarettes from the gas heater. I don't have a gas heater.

I've since moved on to Edvard Radzinsky's Stalin, a fairly weighty book which should offer plenty of upper-body exercise for the dedicated book hurler.

Word of the Day: Privilege



This report in the Melbourne Hun makes interesting reading:

A STATE MP yesterday sought to use parliamentary privilege to have his evidence against a friend thrown out.

Parliamentary secretary for innovation and industry Matt Viney appeared in the County Court as the key witness in a case against Frankston councillor Mark Conroy.

Cr Conroy has appealed against his conviction and $500 fine for divulging confidential information about a shopping centre development to Mr Viney in a September 2001 telephone conversation.

The prosecution case rests on the evidence of Mr Viney, Upper House member for Chelsea Province and Mr Conroy's friend.

After Mr Viney gave evidence against Cr Conroy, Mr Viney's barrister, Barney Cooney, told Judge Fred Davey that his client's evidence should be ruled inadmissible because it fell under parliamentary privilege.


A quick check of the MacQuarie Dictionary suggests that Matt Viney's understanding of parliamentary privilege might be a little eccentric to say the least. The MacQuarie has a fair bit to offer on privilege in general:

1. a right or immunity enjoyed by a person or persons beyond the common advantages of others. 2. a special right or immunity granted to persons in authority or office; a prerogative. 3. a prerogative, advantage, or opportunity enjoyed by someone in a favoured position (as distinguished from a right). 4. a grant to an individual, a company, etc., of a special right or immunity, sometimes in derogation of the common right. 5. the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities. 6. any of the more sacred and vital rights common to all citizens under a modern constitution.

It also runs to a definition of parliamentary privilege:

... the sum of the special rights enjoyed by each house of parliament collectively and by the members of each house individually, necessary for the discharge of the functions of parliament without hindrance and without fear of prosecution.

Finally, there's breach of privilege:

... an abuse of any of the privileges accorded to members of parliament.

Nowhere can I find anything which supports Matt Viney's understanding of parliamentary privilege, which I would render as:

on the parliamentary record but incriminating to a mate and therefore inadmissible in a court of law.

Perhaps Ken Parish or one of the other Oz bloggers with legal expertise might be able to explain where the MacQuarie got it wrong.

From Hansard


(House Hansard, 16 June 2003)

Mr RUDD (2.56 p.m.) — My question is to the Prime Minister and it concerns Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. I ask whether the Prime Minister recalls his statement of 30 May on radio when he said:

... they’ve certainly found and pretty clearly established to the satisfaction of the American agencies, that those trailers, two of them, were production facilities for biological weapons ...

Further, does he recall his statement on radio on 4 June when he referred to:

... those two trailers, which clearly were connected with biological weapons.

Is the Prime Minister now aware of a report in yesterday’s London Observer which said —

Mr Downer interjecting —

Mr RUDD — Settle down, Alex. The report said:

An official British investigation into two trailers found in northern Iraq has concluded they are not mobile germ warfare labs ... but were for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons.

Does the Prime Minister today still stand by the accuracy of his 30 May and 4 June statements to the Australian people that these two trailers were part of an Iraqi biological weapons program?

Mr HOWARD — I thank the member for Griffith for his question. I assume that the report attributed to the London Observer is of a piece with the report in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning which says the same thing.

Mr Rudd — Only more extensive, Prime Minister.

Mr HOWARD — It sounds as though it says the same thing. As a result of reading that report, I had some investigations made through the Office of National Assessments, and I have been informed as follows.

United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies have concluded that at least one of the three vehicle trailers found in Iraq is a mobile biological weapons production facility and closely matches the description given to the United Nations Security Council in February by the Secretary of State.

Let me take the opportunity of saying this to the member for Griffith and to all members of this House: I, and the government I lead, remain intensely proud of what Australia did in relation to Iraq. I do not in any way retreat from the justification that I provided on behalf of the government for our entry into the war against Iraq. The legal justification for that entry was, of course, the noncompliance by Iraq with UN Security Council resolutions. I also sought — to a lesser degree but, nonetheless, importantly — to justify our involvement in terms of the importance and the centrality of the American alliance.

I note also, relevantly, that yesterday on the Channel 10 program the member for Brand expressed the view that perhaps in the end evidence of weapons of mass destruction would be found, which seems to run a little counter to the cacophony coming from the current frontbench of the Labor Party. I go on to say that I remain confident that the coalition’s investigations will uncover the full extent of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs. Patience is needed as the process of investigating more than 1,000 suspect sites will take time. It will also require time to encourage the Iraqis involved in the program to come forward.

The intelligence community in Australia was firm in its assessments of Iraq’s WMD status. The Office of National Assessments remains confident in the judgment that there was a WMD capability in Iraq in the lead-up to the war and is continuing to assess the scope and the nature of that capability in the light of post-conflict investigations. Let me repeat: this country did the right thing in joining the Americans in waging war against Saddam Hussein’s regime. Those from the opposition who now seek to denigrate what this government and this country do are, in effect, calling for the restoration of Saddam Hussein as the ruler of Iraq.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Qu(ot)e?



This country did the right thing in joining the Americans in waging war against Saddam Hussein's regime and those members of the Opposition who now seek to denigrate what this government and this country do are in effect calling for the restoration of Saddam Hussein ...

John Howard on opposition calls for an inquiry into that intelligence. Someone should tell him where the plot went to.

Because I Can



Jason Soon at Catallaxy Files posted a link to this "good introduction to the IQ and genetics debate by someone who works in the field and is familiar with the literature" last Wednesday. Try as I might, I can't make head or tail of it, although it does make some rather worrying claims about how researchers in the field of race & IQ feel that they must resort to various forms of subterfuge in order to get research grants out of politically correct academia. More puzzling is, that though the post argues (very strongly) for a link between genetics (and implicitly race) and IQ, the links that I've followed all lead to on-line articles about the relationship between genetics and physiology.

On the whole, I'm not inclined to take it too seriously, especially after reading this:

... when push comes to shove, suddenly the sophistry fails and it becomes all-important to find someone of the same ethnic background to donate blood.

Of course, my knowledge of immunology is about 20 years out of date, but I do remember something about there being about 4 major human blood groups, plus the rhesus factors. There was also a set of antigens known collectively as the "HLA complex" (and I've forgotten what HLA stood for) but, as a rule, you'd only worry about those if you were planning a kidney transplant or something. The blogosphere is a puzzling place sometimes.

Insane Journos' Crime Beat Up



Yesterday's Melbourne Hun showed fine form yesterday, with a double forward turn in the pike position straight into the gutter. Beside a fine muck-rake on Red Symons, we were offered "Insane killers given leave", which informed us that:

CRIMINALLY insane killers are being released from custody to attend weddings, go shopping and take holidays.

Last year, 360 leave applications were granted to 39 inmates, most of them psychotic killers.


This shocking state of affairs has, of course,

"... outraged victims' groups and the State Opposition, which has called for the leave to be halted and the system overhauled."

On page 4, The Hun goes on to present a rogues gallery of inmates "at the state's highest security centre for the criminally insane, Thomas Embling Hospital in Fairfield", with short sketches of their offences naming the psychiatric disorders which got them into Thomas Embling Hospital rather than one of the state's general prisons. Finally, lest we be in any doubt on what the Hun's position is, there's the editorial "This lottery could kill" which concludes:

But the Sunday Herald Sun shares the concerns of many in the community, including advocates of victims and their families, over a scheme that has the potential to be a dangerous lottery. Some patients have disappeared for a day. Garden [a prisoner who escaped while on escorted leave], with a passport he renewed during an earlier supervised outing, one of 40 he had been granted, was on the run for four days.

The
[Forensic Leave] panel is gambling with the community's safety.

There are some interesting omissions in The Hun's report. Here are three I spotted:

1. None of the prisoners in their "rogues gallery" are explicitly stated to be included among the 39 included in the leave program. The Hun does report on the escape of "Convicted killer and paranoid schizophrenic Neville Garden" during an escorted visit to Southbank, and the abduction and molestation of a 5 year-old child by Darren Seiler, a patient at State Forensic Services. The Garden incident occurred in March 2001, however we should not underestimate the level of community concern it created because, as the editorial assures us, it is still "fresh in the public's memory". Most Victorians have probably been worrying about it at the back of their minds throughout the whole of the Gulf War. (The Hun is remarkably coy about the exact date of the Seiler incident).

2. The Hun makes no mention of the total number of inmates at Thomas Embling Hospital.

3. Beyond the Garden and Seiler incidents, The Hun produces no fresh cases of "things that have gone horribly wrong" in the administration of the program, or as a result of the program. Instead the focus is on the outrage of victim's advocates.

No mention either, of any of the celebrated crimes that have been committed by people fully in posession of their faculties over the past few years. But when you're a crusading journo, the last thing you need is balance. Nor does it do your case any good to remind your readers that, despite any fears you might be trying to foster, Victoria's crime rate is the lowest of any Australian state or territory.