Friday, August 15, 2003

I Get (Search) Requests

But nowhere near as bizarre as those James Russell, undisputed meister of the bizarre search request, gets.

Note: The first two of these were jettisoned in the great "Oh shit, my blog has finally gone under" panic of Monday.

We usually manage a few, now and again.

Sicko. Please pursue your Randroid sex fantasies elsewhere.

If you hear any good ones, please let me know.

They have their own dictionary now?

The answer is: probably.


You just can't keep a good malapropism down, can you.

Sorry, no Canucks here.

Must get a maitre d' for the "wardroom"

I don't? Bugger!

The only surprise is that this is my first hit from a "Janet" search.

Belated Thanks

To Professor Bunyip for drawing my attention to this article by Phillip Adams in The Australian [2 August, 2003]. At the risk of inflicting damnation with faint praise, it's the finest piece of writing I've read from Adams this year.


I'm not so sure that it's in keeping with the Fair and Balanced theme, but the posts from the life-raft are finally back aboard this little vessel. Comments to be transferred soonest.

Your Say

Preface: After I wrote the question which ends this post, I realised that I had bugger all else to say on the topic. So I'm stealing John Quiggin's Monday Message Board idea (I prefer to think of it as an unauthorised borrowing, and I'm prepared to swear on a bloody high stack of copies of Philosophical Investigations that it's done with no intention to permanently deprive him of it) and leave the topic open to discussion in the comments thread.

Friday was a good day for new blog topics. Besides the immediately personal subject of my new Preparing for Work Agreement, I remembered a quote that I read somewhere, from someone who was troubled by the fact that something like 60% of Americans want the biblical account of creation taught in schools and that in George Dubya, they have a president who is happy to go along with them. Unfortunately I don't remember where I read this, or who said it but I don't think that matters right now. The thing is it got me thinking.

It occurred to me that if the remark was accurate, then the whole debate over the scientific justification for the Kyoto Protocol is, as far as the US is concerned, completely moot. Especially if, as some have inferred, the current US President is a closet creationist.

The only bit of evidence I could turn up via Google, is an often repeated quote from the 1999 election campaign, which doesn't come from the man himself, but from a spokeswoman:

"He believes it is a question for states and local school boards to decide but believes both ought to be taught," a spokeswoman said.

I think it would be hard to find a better example of dog-whistle politics: if you're a creationist, it's easy to conclude that Dubya is on your side, at least to the extent that he believes that creation should be given equal time in the science curriculum. On the other hand, leaving it to local communities is eminently in keeping with a grass-roots apporach to democracy and, if anyone actually wanted to make a serious issue of Dubya's position on the relative merits of creation science and the real stuff, there's not much of a peg there to hang anything on. The crowning touch is to have the statement delivered through a spokeswoman so that if push comes to shove, you can always maintain that, regrettably, your actual position was inadvertently misquoted.

So there's plenty of room for some of the President's supporters, and just about every one of his detractors, to assume that Mr Bush is a closet creationist although there's bugger all evidence to satisfy a balance of probabilities standard of proof, let alone establish the case beyond a reasonable doubt. But what the hell, this is a blog, not a court of law, so let's proceed on the quite explicit assumption that President George W Bush is a creationist and see where it leads us.

The first conclusion it leads me to is that, as far as global warming is concerned, any scientific arguments based on the fossil record or events occurring on geological time scales beyond the date of creation estimated from the biblical chronology aren't worth a damn. I can't remember the exact estimate of the age of the Earth from biblical "data": i think it's somewhere around the 6,000 BC mark with one estimator settling on the first day of the Michaelmas term at Oxford University as the actual day of the year.

Most of what I wrote in my post on the work of Veizer and Shaviv goes into the bin on these grounds: any cosmology that supposes that the Earth has spent 450 million years travelling around the galaxy has to be a load of cobblers if there are in fact only 7,000 or so years of terrestrial history to account for. This is one of the reasons I'd rather talk about this in terms of creation science versus the real stuff, rather than creation science versus evolution: it's not just Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, or its modern derivatives that's at stake here, it's the whole of modern science.

I think it might be best to skip the jeremiad about the coming dark age of religious unreason, at least for the time being. While it might be fun to write, it will probably go over better if I do enough research to give it a little verisimilitude. For now let's stick to the topic at hand - what if George W Bush is a creationist? All relevant comments are welcome but I'd be especially interested in what you think the consequences for world politics and other big picture issues might be.

Afterword: I doubt that anyone's going to believe any protestations I might make that in no way do I consider this equivalent to asking if George W Bush is an idiot but all the same I'm going to insist that no imputations are intended about his cognitive functions, regardless of whether your preferred measurement standard is Spearman's g or Adorno's F Scale. Difficult as I might personally find it to conceive of such a person, I'm prepared to concede as a matter of courtesy that there are intelligent creationists in the world. And yes, the preface is one of those self-subverting ones beloved of post-modernists.

There's No Damn Bird in the All Green Hand*

I got a pleasant surprise the other night, of the kind which will be familiar to anyone else who is in the habit of hiding money from themselves. No-one hides money from themselves consciously of course - at least I don't think they do, but if, like me, you occasionally tuck a five dollar note given in change into a shirt pocket instead of putting it straight into your wallet with the bigger denominations, the effect is pretty much the same. A few days later when you're feeling a bit strapped, you remember the note and a quick search of the dirty laundry turns up the shirt, and the money. One dollar and two dollar coins can also be effectively hidden in the upholstery of lounge furniture by allowing them to fall out of your trouser pockets when you sit down. It's a way to lighten up dull days with a little of the festive spirit of Easter (even the secular commercialised version which I subscribe to).

The surprise about the Mah-Jongg set is that it used to be community property and I'd forgotten I had it. When my marriage went belly up, the divvying up of the chattels wasn't exactly done with a lot of care and attention: neither of us had the stomach for big arguments over who got the Bohemia crystal and who got saddled with the Selangor pewter. There wasn't too much argument about the two-pack epoxy resin anniversary presents: we arrived at a civilised agreement to each tell the donors the other had them, and put them out for the next scheduled hard rubbish collection. I think a lot of hand-me-down Tupperware went the same route: look, if you've got a house full of unwanted junk that you can't get rid of without offending friends and rellies, a messy break-up and divorce is probably the way to go. A rowdy argument with lots of throwing of crockery will take care of the willow pattern and the Franklin Mint collector plates and a lot of other "treasures" can be disposed of, to the satisfaction of both parties, by setting out a few sensible rules of engagement before you start the screaming match.

It doesn't even have to be real: once you've done with the property damage you can both "come to your senses" and realise that you're better off with each other. If some third party does get shirty about the fact that the heirloom Tupperware got blow-torched as payback for the chain-sawing of the Shaker reproduction television cabinet, you've got the upper hand, morally speaking: what really matters is that you were both able to forgive each other these acts of vandalism because you realised that the important thing about your relationship was the underlying love and trust which was strong enough to prevail in the end.

There's only two other things I need, now that I've found the Mah-Jongg set - which might still be nominally community property by the way. Although I currently have posession, I think it's on the understanding that there are borrowing rights, just as I have visitation rights with the cats. Of course the cat population has changed since the break up - of the three originals, only Csl is still alive. As far as the other two are concerned, I'm just this bloke who turns up occasionally, and can sometimes be harassed into tossing them a few pellets of kibble. As far as Csl is concerned, I'm still the bloke who lets her climb on his shoulder and wrap herself round the back of his head which, given her declining attention to personal grooming, is sometimes a big ask. The only reason it's still tolerable is that she's at least keeping her bum clean: expecting her to do that and take care of the body odour problem is a much bigger ask, too big to be fair. I've seen this before when Csl's nephew Duffy was in his terminal decline: eventually he didn't have the energy to keep his bum clean at all. The dog was usually eager to do it for him, a kindness which he didn't always welcome with appropriate gratitude.

What I need to go with the Mah-Jongg set (there's no graceful way to segue back from the cat digression to the Mah-Jongg set, so to hell with it) is an intelligible set of Mah-Jongg rules and three other players. That's actually one thing and three people, which provides a perfect excuse for a Wittgensteinian philosophy of language digression, but I think the cat digression was probably bad enough.

I'm still trying to track down my copy of Golden Oddlies, a collection of articles by the English humorist Paul Jennings. There's one that I'd like to post in The Potemkin Museum of Antique Humour called, if memory serves, "Halma is a Fine Game Damn It". It's about Jennings' attempts to learn Halma from instructions in German which came in a Halma set presented to the Jennings family at Christmas. The other Jennings classic which I consider required reading is the Report on Resistentialism, which has been put on-line by quite a few people. The problems in learning to play Mah-Jongg from the instructions in English provided mith most Mah-Jongg sets match the difficulties of learning Halma from German instructions. Here for example, is an extract from the Directions of Playing Mah-Jongg that are included in the set I have:

Director of the four players are as follows :-
East is the direction of BANKER or Chief of a game.
West is the direction of the person who sits directly opposite to the BANKER.
South is the direction of the person who sits to the right of the BANKER.
North is the direction of the person who sits to the left of the BANKER.

This is followed by a description of the three suits (bamboo, numbers, circles) and the various honours (the three dragons and four winds), flowers and seasons etc. I think fisking the instructions would be a rather pointless exercise: I hope it's clear that I don't need instructions for myself, I actually do know how to play the game. It wouldn't be too hard to get three experienced players together either. The problem is, without intelligible instructions, you don't know the scoring system. It's the scoring system, with its complex rules for doubling the value of hands, special limit hands and all the rest that turns what would otherwise be an overly elaborate version of Gin Rummy (actually, like Canasta, a westernised and extremely simplified version of Mah-Jongg) into a genuine strategic challenge.

Normally a winning hand in Mah-Jongg consists of sets of three of a kind (for example three matching eights of bamboo) or three tiles in the same suit and numeric sequence (for example 4-5-6 of circles), plus a pair of two matching tiles. Some pairs, such as a pair of winds, or a pair of dragons score points. The game may also include a number of special limit hands, which automatically score maximum points, no questions asked. There are ten traditional limit hands, which are usually included (unless you've decided to exclude limit hands entirely) and several others which may be included by agreement between the players. The American version of Mah Jongg, which includes four extra "Joker" tiles among other innovations (such as an inflated scoring system which makes it easy to produce thousand point scores) includes a frankly bewildering number of limit hands. I've heard that in association play, limit hands are changed on a regular basis, to spice up the competition and keep things interesting.

For most social purposes, the ten traditional limit hands and maybe a couple of the more memorable common limit hands (such as the "All Green", the "Seven Pairs" and the "Great Snake") are quite enough to maintain an interesting game. There are also a few potentially entertaining sheer luck hands, such as "Moon from the Bottom of the Sea" which is going out on the last wall tile or discard, that tile being the One of Circles. Lest anyone think I've got a phenomenal memory for Mah-Jongg limit hands, it's time to admit that I'm getting this information from the help file of my copy of one of those PC Mah-Jongg games, of which more later. If I was up against some seriously heavy Mah-Jongg players, I'd be dumb enough to toss the One of Circles (or the Five Circles or Two Bamboo) as the last discard and end up paying out some seriously heavy points to winner of the hand.

One of the traditional limit hands is the "Thirteen Orphans" hand which consists entirely of what, to a Canasta or Gin Rummy player, would be rubbish: it includes a 1 and a 9 from each of the three suits, one each of the winds and dragons, and an extra tile which matches any of these thirteen to make a pair. It's a pretty devastating piece of showmanship to quietly build a crap hand into a 500 point winner, while everyone else is franticly competing for pungs (three of a kind) and chows (sequences). If you start the game with at least 10 out of 13 of the required crap tiles, it's often worth trying for the Thirteen Orphans. Here's how it's described in the instruction book:

Except 2 to 8 of the "Bamboo" the Circles and the "Numbers" cards the winning cards can be formed by constitution or 13 different cards of each of the remaining varieties. (See Figure 10).

In having such a form of cards in hand the player in order to win has to wait for any 1 of the corresponding cards so as to form a pair of "The head of the Bird" ...

You can see what I'm up against here: the explanation of the scoring system is completely unintelligible. So tracking down something better is essential. Because I have a hankering to play Mah-Jongg again. As enjoyable as the occasional game of Mah-Jongg on the PC might be, it's no more a substitute for sitting down to a table with four other people, shuffling the tiles and building the wall, than on-line porn assisted self-help is a substitute for a more sociable approach to prostate care. For some things you just have to get real. Especially when the AIs are routinely kicking your arse.

* The All Green Hand consists of sets composed entirely of Green Dragons, and all-green members of the Bamboo Suit - anything but the 1, 5, 7 and 9. The 5, 7 and 9 of Bamboo commonly include at least one red stick of bamboo in the design, while the 1 is traditionally represented by a bird. As a matter of fairness, the All Green Hand shouldn't be included if one of the players is red/green colour blind**, as they're at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to recognising the Bamboo tiles which don't qualify as "all-green". In a good quality set, the designers really go to town on the bird, as well as the Flower and Season tiles which aren't used to form sets, but do provide very handy points bonuses.

** As it happens, red/green colour blindness is a sex-linked genetic trait, which is more common in men than women. I wouldn't give much for your chances of getting a fair game of Mah-Jongg if you were a colour blind male taking on a game of Mah-Jongg with three of those man-hating-politically-correct-lesbian-separatist radical feminists who have done so much over the past twenty years to make western civilisation a living hell for the average bloke. Call me callous or a sexual quisling, but I don't much care what might happen to anyone who would be stupid enough to get into such a game.

The Potemkin Museum of Antique Humour

Bentley, N (England (1907 - 1978(?)), Young Elizabethan Era): Clerihew & Vignette

Description: Whether cartoonist and writer Nicolas Bentley (a non-smoking anti-anti-vivisectionist) properly belongs in a museum of antique humour is open to question. Although consistently amusing the quality that stands out most in Bentley's work is his wit, which is of the very driest kind. I'm not sure that Bentley set out to be funny; rather he produced the sort of sharp, insightful satire which often just happens to be funny.

Two works are presented in their entirety: first a clerihew Cecil B. de Mille and secondly a vignette Historic Moment which tells the story of a collision of minds between a stuffy Cambridge Don and "a healthy-looking girl called Myrtle, who in some strange way managed to give an impression of chic and yet remained unquestionably English."
Both pieces are from How Can You Bear to Be Human, which you might be able to track down, second hand, in Penguin. It's worth it, if only for Historic Moment which shows how a genuinely intelligent writer can take down intellectual snobbery without resorting to sneering anti-intellectualism.

Finally a couple of minor notes. Firstly a heartfelt plea from the curator that no-one dobs him in to the Berne Convention Copyright cops: I considered presenting Historic Moment in an excerpted form, but there was no way to do so without losing the richness of the characterisation or the brilliance of the ending. Just how rich this seemingly sparse piece is in fine detail became very clear after I decided to bite the bullet and transcribe it complete, rather than presenting an arbitrary selection of highlights. It's one continuous highlight from beginning to end. Secondly the colloquial sense of "rooted" in England in the 1950s has very little in common with the Australian colloquial usage of "rooted" but I admit that I nearly had a bit of a guffaw when I got to it during the transcription.


Cecil B. de Mille

Cecil B. de Mille,
Rather against his will,
Was persuaded to leave Moses
Out of The Wars of the Roses.


Historic Moment

We were sitting so that we faced each other across the table. He was a Cambridge man, name of Cedric Cudham, a minor don. He had a florid face and a hairy neck and his eyes were small and myopic. He was full of history and had that air of invincible superiority that is so often a sign of a second class intellect. At forty-odd he still retained some of the deliberate gaucheries of the undergraduate - there was a bright bandanna sticking out of the pocket of his dinner jacket - only now they had become the deliberate eccentricities of a conceited chump. he spoke quickly and authoritatively in a harsh voice that cut through conversation like a buzz-saw. He was every inch a don, of the crass, self-opinionated type, and with each mouthful of the souffle that he shovelled in (his table manners were none to good) I longed to kick his teeth in. He had a good strong set and I could imagine a heavy briar clamped between them as he sprawled in his airless rooms scribbling away at some erudite paper on the Diet of Worms.

They had put him next to a healthy-looking girl called Myrtle, who in some strange way managed to give an impression of chic and yet remained unquestionably English. With what intention they had been paired off it was hard to say. Clearly he hadn't much interest in women of later date than Madame de Maintenon or with less politicalacument than she must have had. Myrtle looked as though her political acumen began and ended with the knowledge that Daddy always votes Conservative.

Having listened with a slightly dazed expression to a short lecture on Napoleon's strategy at Austerlitz, Myrtle deemed it the right moment to shove in her tiny oar.

'I thought Marlon Brando was awfully like him in Desiree, didn't you?'

'Who is Marlon Brando?'

It was just a little too brusque. A lesser fool than Cedric would have seen how far calculated indifference towards a girl like Myrtle could be carried without giving her the needle. This time she felt it.

'Oh Mr Cudham surely you must have heard of Marlon Brando?'

'Must I?'

'Oh well, I mean - well one must be rather an oyster in a cloister not too.'

She knew exactly how to swing it and did so with a sweet reasonableness that took the blunt edge off but made the point a little sharper.

'He was absolutely Napoleon,' she said. 'I mean, he really was, really. Oh, he was wonderful!'

'You are alluding now to Napoleon?'

Myrtle - and I don't wonder - seemed rooted for the moment by this shaft of academic irony.

'Not to Napoleon. The only thing I know about him is that ludicrous hat.'

'He did possess other attributes of course,' said Cedric, dry as ginger ale, though not as sparkling.

'Yes, but actually this film's all about his sex life.'

'I'm afraid that I don't often go to Hollywood films,' Cedric said. His tone put Hollywood, and in fact the whole industry, exactly where it belonged - beyond the pale.

'Oh do tell us, what do you go to?'

Myrtle, in spite of appearances, seemed to be nobody's fool, but she knew somebody else's when she saw one, and at twenty paces a blind man could have spotted Cedric as being Acton's or Macaulay's or in fact the dumb disciple of any historical sage who had been dead long enough not too offer any competition.

'You adhere to the concept of perpetual motion, Miss Hesketh, like a good many of your generation, if I may say so.'

Myrtle rolled a round and startled eye in my direction.

'But do say so. Or does that mean something I oughtn't to know about?'

'The desire for movement per se, or shall I say the desire for what they call in the United States "going places", doesn't necessarily exert an equal attraction on succeeding generations. You "go" to the cinema; I "go" - at least in so far as I may be said to "go" anywhere - in pursuit of the University beagles.'

He gave a broad, bland, and rather fleeting smile to show that (a) as she wasn't worth more than a moment's consideration he bore her no rancour, and (b) the subject was now closed.

'Is that fun?' the flat innocency of Myrtle's tone seemed to imply that of all sports none sounded more of a deadly bore than beagling.

'Indeed it is. And it is also a considerable test of stamina.'

'You should come with me some time, Cudham' I said, 'on the Monte Carlo rally. That's a pretty good test of stamina. You'd enjoy it.'

He turned his tight-lipped smile on me and his little eyes glittered behind their heavy lenses.

'Would I? I doubt whether you would, though.'

He was wrong there. I knew what those ice-covered bends are like going over the Col du Fau. In a low-slung sports job like the one I drove in '54, and given a patch of mist, with him on the outside edge it would have been money for old rope.

'What's wrong with the cinema, though, Mr Cudham?' Myrtle wasn't going to let him get away with it.

'What indeed?'

'Well, for my money,' I said, 'there's Hollywood.'

Myrtle looked faintly disappointed.

'Well, yes, but I'm against vesting authority in the lower apes.'

'Our friend has put it in a nutshell,' Cedric said, smug as a bishop. I didn't care for our being classed as friends, but I let it ride.

'Well I don't care what you say,' Myrtle said brightly, 'I think Desiree's a jolly good film and I adore Marlon Brando.'

'Chacon a son gout,' said Cedric with a hint of a shrug, just to show there was some Gallic blood as well as soda water in his veins, at the same time watching me to see whether I appreciated how delicate was his irony.

'Well what's your taste like then, Mr Cudham?'

'In what?'

'I mean in film stars.'

'Well, I've told you, I seldom go -'

'Oh, yes. But I bet I know exactly the type of woman who attracts you, Mr Cudham.'

He tried a deprecating snigger which didn't quite come off.

'Then I congratulate you on your percipience,' he said.

We seemed to be swinging well outside his conversational orbit, which I've no doubt left the relationship of the sexes where it was when Herbert Spencer fell over it. But the man's vanity was too strong for him; he stuck his neck out a little further.

'For example?'

'Oh, well, someone like Marilyn Monroe probably,' said Myrtle.

Cedric sniggered again. Then the prig in him, never very far from the surface, came to the top and leant over.

'I don't think Miss Monroe and I would have much to say to each other.'

'That would be one time, Mr Cudham,' said Myrtle, 'when what you have to say wouldn't matter.'


Next Exhibit.

Life as a Cliche

I noticed, on a quick visit to Meika, that he's got himself in a spot of bother with his Preparing for Work Agreement. It's as good an excuse as any to have a bitch about my own, and maybe slip in a few general gripes about the whole cock-eyed system while I'm at it.

I got a new Preparing for Work Agreement on Friday. Apparently I come up for another new one in a fortnight or so, when I'll spend another 45 minutes with my Job Network Service Provider person nutting out the things I'm going to agree to do so that I stay on CentreLink's good books for another fortnight. It's getting to be a pleasant relief to wake up in the mornings to discover that, despite all the indications that it should happen sometime soon, I didn't turn into a giant cockroach while I was sleeping.

To tell the truth, I don't know, or care, whether the new arrangement is because I've been identified as a client requiring special attention, or it's part of some general revision of the whole system of Mutual Obligation. Back when Droning David Kemp introduced this nasty piece of cant into our political vocabulary, I was still making a comfortable living as an outsourced computer programmer, so I wasn't immediately affected by it, beyond being outraged at the breathtaking hypocrisy of the concept. Show a list of the basic "Mutual Obligation" requirements to anyone who worked, as I did, in the CES during the 1980s and they'll quickly tell you that most of them were already included in the "Work Test" which was applied to dolebludgers back then. The only thing that has changed is the name, which is a flat out lie.

There's something very insidious about the whole concept of the Preparing for Work Agreement. Most of the requirements are easy to meet - such as the one about keeping my Resume up to date - so it's easy to take the position, as some mo doubt will, that the requirements are by no means onerous: all I basically have to do is stuff that a rational person would do for their own benefit anyway. Perhaps these people might like to explain why then, is it necessary that each new agreement has to be signed by me and, to make assurance doubly sure, each individual point on the agreement has to be initialled, to indicate that I have actually read it. This strikes me as, at the very least, petty.

But there's a more worrying possibility. Anyone who's been in the contracting labour market knows just how much legal weight can attach to putting your signature on a piece of paper with the word "agreement" in the title: just enough to land you in court if you're not careful. The whole procedure reminds you that there's someone with the big stick out there and if you're not careful, they'll be coming after you to administer a few whacks. Whatever the reason, someone has just raised the hoops I have to jump through to remain at least homeful, so I hope you'll excuse me if I'm feeling a little pissed off about it and slightly paranoid about the possibility that the whole point of the exercise is to produce plenty of documentary evidence to support a suspension of my Newstart Allowance on the basis that I in breach of my Mutual Obligation or whatever the cant phrase is.

To add insult to injury, I also learnt on Friday that a little bit of assistance that would have been very welcome, can't be provided. At our first meeting my Job Network Provider person (who I quite like - she's sensible enough to realise that the system isn't) raised the possibility that we might be able to get some business cards printed, to help promote the small business I'm currently self-unemployed in. It turns out that it's not a goer: the relevant assistance program is only available once you're off NewStart, which reminds me very much of that famous novel where the hero couldn't get out of flying bombing missions on the grounds of insanity, because the fact that he didn't want to fly any more missions showed that he wasn't insane. And, once again, it's based on some thinking about employment and the nature of unemployment that's at least twenty years old.

Just as much of "Mutual Obligation" is identical to the "Work Test" of the Seventies and Eighties (and possibly earlier), the definition of "work" used to determine whether you are "actively seeking suitable work" hasn't changed either. Work is still defined as "permanent, full-time employment": basically, despite all the changes in the labour market since 1980, the only way to qualify for the dole is to look for a job working for someone else. It's interesting, to say the least, that a government that prides itself on being a reformist government, especially in the area of Industrial Relations (or as Tony Abbott would perhaps prefer it Workplace Relations or Employee Relations), is still using this definition to determine eligibility for the dole. If they're really serious about freeing up the labour market, you'd expect that some attention might be paid to freeing up the Mutual Obligation System, so that the unemployed have a little more freedom to find their own way back into the labour market, rather than relying on a single, fairly restricted route.

When you look at the definition of "suitable" for the purposes of Mutual Obligation, the whole game is exposed for the sordid, punitive little exercise it really is. Once again, it's a very old definition: it's work that you can do, subject to a few caveats about general community standards, and which pays at least the award rate. The community standards caveats are there so that, for example, devout Catholics can't be breached for turning down the offer of a job as receptionist at the local massage parlour, licenced or otherwise. Quite what the concept of an award is doing in this definition in the bright new world of Individual Workplace Agreements is beyond me, but no doubt the wording of the regulation has been changed to reflect current industrial relations law. If this is reform, give me reaction any day.

Since I've raised the issue of alternative ways to get off the dole queue, a few words about the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) are in order. This is the scheme under which the government supports the unemployed to set up new businesses and their have been quite a few NEIS success stories. So you'd think that me and my business partners would be applying for NEIS wouldn't you? We looked at that: but to qualify for NEIS, we would have to set up an entirely new business.

What we had when I first signed onto the dole, was an existing business with quite a bit of client goodwill, a good reputation and, thanks to our participation in one of those business ideas contests, a fair bit of interest from some of Australia's more monied suits. Look, we've tendered for jobs with major corporate clients interstate and knocked out the local competition for God's sake. You think we're going to throw away our existing business name, with all the cachet we've managed to attach to it, to qualify for government assistance knowing that when we go in to tender for jobs the first question customers will be asking is "Just who the bloody hell are these people?" Nor would it help our business reputation any to declare the business bankrupt, just so that we could start another one with government backing. I remember I nearly wept when I was signing on and friendly CentreLink guy told me that under the Social Security Act I might not be considered unemployed unless the business was formally declared bankrupt. Catch-22 does that to you.

Afterword: there's bound to be someone out there who is going to say, on the basis of what I've written here, that I've effectively chosen to be unemployed because I'm too proud to go work for someone else or something similar. All I have to say on that score right now is that there's a small grain of truth in that, even if saying this does concede a point which might be gleefully ceased upon by bloggers looking to score a few points with their blog-claques by getting in a few cheap shots at a soft target. All I'm going to say on the subject of permanent full-time employment for now is been there, done that didn't like it. For every permanent full-time job that I don't particularly want to take up if I can possibly continue to put off re-entering the happy little world of middle-class office politics, there are six other people who might have a less jaundiced view of the prospect than I do.

A Physics Exercise for the Lead-Footed

Larry is driving his Holden Commodore V6 along a residential street at 60 kph. A child runs out into the road 10 metres in front of him: although Larry attempts to brake, he still hits the child.


The total mass of Larry's car, including mag wheels, spoilers and sound system is 0.5 tonnes;

No more than 10% of the car's kinetic energy (energy of motion) will be transferred to the child in the collision;

The child weighs 20 kg;

An average building storey is 5 metres high.

How tall a building (in storeys) would Larry have to throw the child off to produce the same level of injury to the child?

Solution next Monday.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The Secret Life of a Book Browser

Scott Wickstein reccommends Michael Jennings' post on bookstores as a must-read. Generally I try to ignore must-reads (I can come up with quite a few of my own) but in this case, it was worth the plunge down the hyperlink; it's a fascinating and illuminating piece. As you would expect from a site whose logo uses the motif of the eye in the pyramid.

In his post, Michael muses on some of the annoyances of shopping in large bookstores, and the over-defined categories they use to classify books. I often have the same problem making sense of the Dewey Decimal System: When you see a classification number like 271.82818284590452353603 or 314.15926535897932384626433 it's pretty obvious that someone has been a little overzealous with the decimal places. But the thing that really caught Michael's eye - in the anti-globalisation section of his local Books Plus outlet, was some of the staff reccommendation cards, which Michael reproduces in his post:

If you like Michael Moore then try John Pilger. He's [herder goly/harder going] but well worth it

[Michael] Ugh.


[Michael] Save me.

Michael goes on to tell us:

... in the chance that there might be anyone walking through the bookshop who might have discovered Michael Moore but not Pilger or Chomsky, I thought I had a duty to save them from this (and also there was a Samizdata post in it) ...

Michael's idea? Quite a good one really; why not prepare some reccommendations of his own, and sneak them into the shop while no-one's looking? Such as:

Anything by F. A. Hayek. Hayek was the great original thinker of anti-collectivism. If you've read Ayn [sic [sic - after checking the cover of my copy of For the New Intellectual I've discovered that I've been mispelling Rand's first name for years*]] Rand and want to know more, try Hayek.


If you like Bjorn Lomborg then try Julian Simon. He's right wing and American but well worth it

I find the hint of self-parody in the first note quite charming, espeically the suggestion that Noam Chomsky is to John Pilger and Michael Moore as F.A. Hayek is to Ayn Rand and, well, Ayn Rand I suppose. I'm not sure why Robert Nozick was omitted; perhaps it was an oversight, or perhaps Michael couldn't make up his mind whether he should list Ayn Rand as Michael Moore to Nozick's John Pilger or vice versa.

There's a fair bit of overly earnest commenting under the post, mostly on the question of whether Michael's appropriation of the cards counts as, well, stealing basically. I think much of this should be taken with a grain of salt. Michael's offence, if any, probably belongs in the same ethical territory as the process by which office pens migrate from the office supply cupboard to the top drawer of the study desk at home. No one actually sets out to steal office pens, of course: more usually, they just get tucked into your pocket so that you can finish off the cryptic on the train home from work and just find their way into the desk drawer after you took them out to scribble down a telephone number, or something similar. The office Post-It notes are a slightly more problematic case, so I think we might just pass over that and as long as nobody takes too many liberties we won't make a big issue about it. In any case, Michael's removal of the cards is perfectly in keeping with the libertarian principle "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours until you take your eyes off it (or [until you] are gullible enough to hand it over to me)" which is a much more rational and moral basis for a system of property rights than the collectivist's "What's yours is mine and what's mine is mine also."

The only quibble you might have with Michael's assessment of the morality of his appropriation of the reccommendation cards, is that he might be a little too sanguine about the effects on the bookshop staff and the effort required to replace them. Granting Michael's argument (in response to a commenter) that, thanks to the wonders of computerisation, it is actually a viable commercial proposition for a big international bookstore chain to run stores which are run by the sort of functional illiterates who are more likely to read Michael Moore et al than sensible, right-wing writers, he has seriously underestimated the amount of work that went into preparing the reccommendations: many spare-time hours of composing and editing might well have been required before the staff members were ready to write out a fair copy with a grown-up's pen and everythink.

Michael finds a final irony in the fact that Books Plus is a subsidiary of Borders, a major international corporation doing much, under the aegis of globalisation, to spread good bad and indifferent writing throughout the Anglosphere. (Look, what is it with this Anglosphere shit anyway? A quick Google Search for several other linguospheres produced nowhere near as many results as Anglosphere, and most of those looked to be ironically intended. Except possibly for the Francosphere, which seemed to be the most common of the lot). As he says:

What this means is that the salaries of the people recommending the anti-globalisation books are being paid by a rapacious global bookshop brand, that is ravaging and homogenising the world (or at least the Anglosphere), destroying local cultures as they do so.

Of course, as they're so seriously challenged in the cognitive functions area, it's unlikely that they'll ever work this out and recognise the fundamental contradiction in their position. Unless they happen across Samizdata while they're surfing the web but that seems an unlikely proposition as well.

All up, Michael's post is a fun read, especially if you're looking for empirical evidence on the question one commenter raised, "... why are libertarians so much wittier than liberals?" And equally, why are they so much wittier than humourless lefty ideologues? There's a silly question, which is answered as soon as it is posed.

* - I'm not sure how the "Ayn" part of "Ayn Rand" should properly described, in deference to Rand's Objectivist philosophy; "christian name" is obviously out, and so too would be "given name" which still has a hint of collectivism or charity about it. "Assumed name" won't do as, of course Rand's original name was "Alice Rosenbaum", so the whole of the name "Ayn Rand" should be deemed assumed. Of course there's nothing wrong with this: an Objectivist is perfectly free to take whatever damn name they like, although if the Objectivist paradise ever does arrive, I'm not sure how they're going to cope with living in a world where half the population want to call themselves "John Galt" and the other half all insist on being "Dagney Taggart".

Update: Alex Singleton, also of Samizdata, offers the following answer to the question "... why are libertarians so much wittier than liberals?"

The answer is that the sense of humour comes from a libertarian understanding of the world. Statists see a world of oppression and pain, and get depressed because of global warming and evil multinationals. Libertarians see the world in a different way, seeing the bad in the world, but also seeing the great advances that humankind has experienced over the past few hundred years. They have greater confidence in humanity, progress and the future. So they can afford to not take life completely seriously. The sense of humour is profoundly libertarian.

There you go then.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Fair and Balanced Friday

Thanks to Stewart Kelly fo alerting me to the fact that this Friday is Fair and Balanced Friday. maybe we could follow up with a Windows Wednesday sometime next week, and no doubt there enough ordinary words and phrases that have become registered trademarks of idiotically litigious corporations, that we could run an entire week of registered trademark days sometime in the near future.


This is the madness of narcissistic minority politics. Parity of rights is not enough for gays. Having marched through most other institutions, the Left's militant foot soldiers, the anti-establishment intellectuals, gay activists, social-engineering judges and politicians, now have marriage in their collectivist sight.
Janet Albrechtsen in today's Australian taking a strongly pro-anti-gay-marriage line.

The article also includes the remarkable assertion that anti-homosexuality laws might actually promote community tolerance for poofters and lesos:

But the easy route is not always the best route. After the US Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting sodomy in Lawrence v Texas in June, polling revealed that Americans became less tolerant towards homosexuality.

Visceral Responses

Pete Lawley at forcryingoutloud and the proprietor of tubagooba have both written very thoughtfully about the Amrosi death sentence, without going down the "What the hell, let's boil him in lard and have done with it route." Now that I've pointed you to two pieces of good, well-considered writing on the issue, perhaps I can relax and write a piece of my own, which I suspect will turn out to be a lot more visceral.

To start with, I'm against the death penalty, even in Amrosi's case; I was thinking about possible alternatives last night, and I did come up with one which manages to avoid the equally unacceptable, in my view at least, "throw the bastard down a dark hole and forget about him solution". But first let's get the visceral responses out of the way. They're a rather personal collection, and definitely not in line with prevailing community opinion, but frankly I don't give a rat's haemorrhoid about that, let alone any other part of the relevant orifice.

I wasn't personally affected by the Bali bombing; I lost neither friends nor family in the event so I'm not going to pretend, this far on from the event, that I have any deep seated feelings about it, one way or the other. For the victims, it isn't over and won't be for a long time but I'm not going to waste any time on a pointless attempt to convince anyone that I feel a lot of compassion for these people, I really do, honest to God. Rightly or wrongly, the Bali bombing is long since over for me, and I'm heartily sick and tired of all the humbugs who insist on telling me how I should feel about it. If you want to maintain your rage, go ahead: mine wore out around November 11, 1980 when I finally realised how damn silly it was. For the victims, there won't be any getting over it and moving on, but to everyone who, like me, was personally unaffected by the event, but continues to confect outrage on behalf of the victims: get a life!

Especially anyone who has argued that the Amrosi death penalty is justified, or even necessary, to give some "closure" to these people: say what you like about Brian Deegan, he's at least one person who won't get any sense of closure from the execution, and there's no reason to suppose he's on his own. The "closure" argument has to be the most canting argument in favour of capital punishment ever to come out of the US: I'd like to ask its proponents who they would propose we execute to give "closure" to those wrongfully executed as the result of miscarriages of justice? Maybe we could start with the crusading DAs who withhold evidence from the defence to improve their chances of getting a conviction, and work our way on from there. This is beside the point in the Amrosi case, of course: Indonesia isn't the US, and Amrosi hasn't made any serious claims of innocence, unless you're prepared to accept the "I was really after the Jews and Americans" defence. Yes, what he did was wrong but that doesn't make killing him in turn right and that's the nub of the issue as far as I'm concerned.

To everyone who's rung up talk-back radio, or posted a comment on a blog anywhere with yet another stupid suggestion for the creative use of bacon or lard in the execution: get real! The whole "Muslim fundamentalists are mortally afraid of pork, it's like kryptonite to them" story is an urban legend, probably arising from some fundamental misconceptions about the standard of British infantry weapons at the time of the India Mutiny and the fact that the Mutiny was caused (so the story goes) by rumours that the rifle cartridges were greased with either pig fat or mutton fat, depending on whether the rumour was circulating among Muslim or Hindu troops. Hello people: the "cartridge" was a paper or cardboard packet with a pre-measured amount of gunpowder, which the trooper had to bite open before he poured the contents into the muzzle of his gun.

And while we're on the topic of what is, essentially, pig-ignorance, anyone who has taken the "wrap the bastard in bacon and fry him in lard" line has taken at least one step too many down the road of conceding that Amrosi's cock-eyed view of the world is actually true. Unless you share his belief in the 72 virgin paradise, taking special steps to make sure he doesn't get in is stupid. Maybe you should take a look at why you're prepared to concede so much ground to a terrorist's superstitious beliefs.

Where Ken Parish deplores the left's rush to the high ground on the Amrosi execution, I haven't been too impressed by either of Simon Crean's or John Howard's rushes to nowhere in particular. I think it's giving both men far too much credit to assert that their declarations of respect for Indonseian sovereignty are intended for overseas consumption. Both are playing to the local audience, especially Howard, as his recent call for a nationwide debate on the death penalty shows. This is dog-whistle politics at its sleaziest and in no way worthy of the "Burkean Conservative" Howard purports, or aspires, to be.

On one view a Burkean Conservative isn't much more than a carping time server, complaining that his electors won't stay bought; of course this is not the view that Burkean Conservatives take of themselves. Burke's most important claim, in his Address to the Electors of Bristol is simple: an elected representative must be trusted as a man of good conscience who will exercise his public office in the best interests of his electors, or what he pereceives their interests to be in the longer term. It is up to the electors to elect such a representative; once elected, if they have chosen wisely, he may, and should, be trusted to exercise his office responsibly, even if his actions are not immediately popular.

While this view of the representative's role doesn't require of politicians anything like the saintliness that is required to make a totalitarian dictatorship an acceptable form of government, it does impose one significant requirement; the representative must at least be honest enough to disclose his* conscience to electors. Also, at least implicitly, Burkean Conservatism assumes the representative to be a man of independent conscience, independent enough at least to act against public opinion when the public good demands it.

So where is John Howard's conscience on the Amrosi sentence? On the basis of his conduct to date, nowhere in sight seems a reasonable conclusion. Howard has looked to the polling, seen that 60% of Australians are in favour of the death penalty and made a fairly obvious play for their support. Howard's supporters assert that the other 400 or so people in the polling sample, obviously came from the educated, out of touch elites who, on the subject of capital punishment, are happy to abandon their democratic principles in favour of their effete personal consciences. But the overall results don't support this view: all that can be said on the basis of the 60/40 split is that 60% of Australians (most of whom, no doubt, are normal and decent with perhaps a small fraction of the degenerates and perverts) support capital punishment and the other 40% don't. And, in the end, this has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of capital punishment; it's as relevant to the issue as the level of community support for slavery would be if anyone proposed to re-introduce that.

John Howard's suggestion that state oppositions should adopt the re-introduction of capital punishment as part of their policy platform to promote a national debate on the issue has nothing of Burkean Conservatism in it; a Burkean Conservative would, I think, be forthright enough to declare his principled opposition to capital punishment, on all the usual grounds (the most telling being that our justice system is fraught with the risk of human error, and that a wrongful execution is an injustice that simply cannot be undone) and on that basis declare that, as their elected representative, there is no way he will support capital punishment if it is ever put to a vote of the parliament. He might even, as the current parlance has it, attempt to bring the voters along with him. But for a self-styled Burkean Conservative to declare his principled opposition to a measure which isn't even his to legislate on, then promote the idea that his own party should adopt it as policy when contesting elections for other levels of government is, to say the least, a bit bizarre.

Like John Howard, I have a few friends who are neither vengeful nor vindictive, but nonetheless support capital punishment on the basis that anyone who takes a life should face the ultimate penalty. I have very few among the lard-boiling extremist supporters of capital punishment. It's actually possible for me to sit down with one of the more moderate supporters of capital punishment and have something like a reasonable discussion: in the end, many will acknowledge that it might be best left alone until the human fallibility problem is solved. Or we simply agree to differ on this point. But Howard's statements on capital punishment aren't intended for these moderate supporters of capital punishment - they're intended for the lard-boilers. Once more he's shoring up his political position by appealing to extreme opinion in a way that, in the long run, does great harm to the Australian polity. I repeat, hardly the sort of behaviour you would expect from a Burkean Conservative.

To finish, let's get back to that alternative to the death sentence for Amrosi. It's pretty simple really and old-fashioned enough to work as a compromise with those who long for a return to the good old days of the lex talionis, while managing to retain at least a touch of lefty humanitarianism. I'd outlaw the bugger.

I'd have him taken into a hospital, anaesthetised and, under proper medical supervision and care, the mark of Cain would be tattooed on his forehead. A proclamation would be issued that anyone seeing a man weraing this mark is to shun him and have no commerce with him. On the other hand, I'd make it quite clear that no violence was to be done to his person: he's just been thrown out of civil society.

Because I am a soft-hearted lefty, I'd make one small concession: one day a year he would be allowed to front up before a tribunal and given the chance to show that in his life to date he has done enough good to others to wipe the stain off his reputation. If he manages to do this, it's back into hospital for laser removal of the tattoo, and he would be able to pick up the rest of his life as a member of the community, albeit a slightly despised one.

It's fanciful, I know, but it does have at least one virtue: if it could be made to work, there would be no martyrdom for Amrosi, neither the immediate martyrdom of death nor the ongoing martyrdom of being jailed for the cause. Only many long years of community contempt which might actually serve as a deterrent to other would be heroes and martyrs. There's no martyrdom in living out your life as a pariah.

Afterword: this rant actually started on Saturday and put aside until I decided to complete it last night in a fit of pique. It's probably been overtaken by more recent blogospheric events and not a lot in it that hasn't been ranted about already elsewhere, but sometimes a man's just gotta rant what a man's gotta rant.

* Since John Howard is obviously a bloke, I think we'll skip the politically correct non-sexist language for the time being.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Instant Classic

I've just seen my first promo for The Italian Job, on a friend's TV. It looks like there's a lot of interesting and original stunt work and some good chase sequences in it. No doubt, thanks to advances in film technology in the past 30 years or so, it will be vastly superior to any film made in, say, 1969.

Back (and Pretty) in the Pink

Once again, Blogger has succeeded in inflicting serious embarassment on yours truly. Over the next couple of days, I'll look at getting the posts (and comments) from the life raft back aboard the main vessel, and repost some of those weird search requests that were jettisoned in yesterday's "Oh my God we're finally sunk!" panic. In the meantime, I've revamped the colour scheme to more accurately reflect the political colours of this scurrilous little tub. I think the new coat of paint quite suits her.

Monday, August 11, 2003


It looks a lot like Blogger has done for this little tub at last. After an overly prolific weekend, I posted four new posts of varying quality, which Blogger simply won't publish. As the error message refers to insufficient spce on the device, I think it's time to recognise that the Tug Boat Potemkin may finally have sunk under the weight of her pretensions. While I sort out the problem of raising her in a more seaworthy state, the crew have taken to the life-raft.