Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Flame Warriors

It looks like another flame war has erupted at Troppo. Once again, it's over Keith Windschuttle and Tasmanian history. There's at least one Artful Dodger involved (with more than a hint of netiquette nazism) and a couple of tireless rebutters. Doubtless, as this over-lively discussion continues, other archetypes, such as the Ideologue, will manifest themselves until someone manages to perform the office of peacemaker.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Colostomy Ear Redux

Andrew Bolt has a lot to say about Pauline Hanson's jail sentence in yesterday's Melbourne Hun. He begins:

JUDGE Patsy Wolfe seems to have done more harm than good in jailing Pauline Hanson for three years.

In sentencing Hanson for electoral fraud last week, the Queensland District Court Chief Judge declared: "Those crimes affected the confidence of people in the electoral process."

Really? Given the widespread revulsion against the imprisonment of One Nation's founder, I'd say "the confidence of people in the electoral process" has been damaged far more by what Wolfe has done.
[original emphasis]

After I got over the initial gob-smacking impact of this opening, I thought I might suggest to Ken Parish, that he send Bolt a friendly e-mail, explaining the separation of powers under the Westminster system, or at least the difference between the electoral process and the judicial process. On reflection, I decided that it wasn't a good idea; I'm sure Ken can find much more productive uses for his time. It wouldn't be fair to Ken to ask him to put his patience at risk in that way.

Bolt goes on to describe the public outcry that the martyrdom of Pauline has generated:

More than 8000 Herald Sun readers have rung our Voteline to protest. And the letters of other furious readers explain why, denouncing Hanson's sentence as "crazy", "a travesty", part of a "witchhunt", "absurd" and an attempt to shut Hanson up by "the powers that be".

Which naturally has the powers that be running for cover:

The politicians, particularly those who fought Hanson hardest, have scurried for shelter. None want to be linked to any imagined plot to hound Hanson out of politics and into prison.

The Labor Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, said it would have been "more humane and more applicable" to make Hanson do community service, instead of three years in jail.

Well, perhaps not all of them:

"This is not a politically driven decision, it's a legal decision," Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer tried to assure angry voters.

Reasonable bloke that he is, Andrew is prepared to concede Alex this point:

HE'S right, of course. The judge - and jury - handled this case strictly in accordance with the law.

Hanson and One Nation co-founder David Ettridge have been found by three different Queensland courts to have lied - or recklessly told untruths - in registering their party in that state.

Don't worry; that vague hissing noise you're hearing right now isn't tinnitus. It's the sound of Bolt's razor sharp intellect gliding down the middle of a long hair.

Under Queensland's laws, One Nation had to give the electoral commissioner a list of 500 party members in order to be registered there as a party, given it had no MP in state parliament to give it automatic party status. Instead, Hanson and Ettridge in 1997 gave a list of 1000 members of the Pauline Hanson Support Movement -- not members of the party itself, as Ettridge was filmed explaining.

In fact, One Nation's only real members were Hanson, Ettridge and David Oldfield (who was not charged). This was to stop anyone -- particularly the far-Right nutters circling them -- from stacking the membership of their vulnerable young party and hijacking it.

It seems to me that the word "other" went missing somewhere in that sentence but, as Andrew's notions of rationality are no doubt as idiosyncratic as his understanding of our political system and his understanding of the nature of lying, it's probably best to move on:

As Judge Wolfe said: "Any advantage received for (Hanson and Ettridge) was not suggested to be any benefit for you financially. The benefit was you continued to control the allocation of electoral funding and how the party was run."

What's coming next is another breathtakingly original Bolt insight, this time into the nature of political morality itself:

Still, however pure Hanson and Ettridge's motives were, the jury in this case was right to find them guilty of electoral fraud. ...

Which leads Andrew to a question that will probably haunt Ken Parish's nightmares for months to come:

... But while the two broke the letter of the law, did they break its spirit?

We have laws insisting a registered party have 500 members -- or a sitting MP -- so we stop crackpots and nuisances from sneaking on to the ballot paper and confusing us with grand-sounding parties made up of no one but them, their dog and a crooked rule book.

Or perhaps no-one but them, their dog and a filing cabinet full of signed but undated unconditional resignations from the Party.

Indeed, prosecutor Brendan Campbell claimed that through their fraud, Hanson and Ettridge registered One Nation and gave it "a falsely claimed respectability".

Well, he would say that wouldn't he, but Andrew isn't having a bar of it:

Pardon? One Nation never had respectability -- or not with our political and media class -- and did brilliantly despite that. Or because of it.

No party has been so vilified. None have had their supporters so regularly threatened, spat on, abused and even punched. No party leader has been so viciously caricatured as a racist and a moron. Yet there's no doubt that in 1997, when Hanson registered her party in Queensland, that she had genuine support and deserved, morally at least, a place on the ballot paper for the coming state election.

She herself had already been elected to federal Parliament, which had allowed her to register One Nation, legally, as a national party, with the same party set-up and the same party constitution. Her support movement could name 1000 paying members in Queensland, and the polls showed many thousands of voters backed her, no matter how dumb her ideas or internally authoritarian her party.

IF Queensland's law was meant to stop such a party from offering itself to the voters, then not only is the law an ass, it's a dangerously undemocratic one.
[my emphasis]

This is Andrew at his most nuanced - Pauline Hanson may be dumb, but she's no moron. And once again there appears to be a missing word: "elite".

As it turned out, Hanson's One Nation went on to win a huge 23 per cent of the votes in the 1998 Queensland election, and nearly a million more in the federal election later that year.

The courts may insist One Nation was illegitimate, but many voters showed emphatically they disagreed.

If One Nation had been banned from standing in the state election, these people would have been robbed of the chance to vote for the party that most clearly spoke for them, whether a judge likes it or not.

Of course we can assume that most of the jury quite liked Pauline, on a personal level, and every juror no doubt felt heartbroken at having to bring in a guilty verdict against her. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of them don't end up needing trauma counselling as a result of Judge Wolfe's sentence.

How badly so many One Nation voters wanted that choice, after watching Labor and the Liberals agree not to disagree on so many issues -- whether on immigration, multiculturalism or the death of country towns. Or, ironically given Hanson's troubles, on tougher sentences.

Hanson, for all her sins, forced the big parties to stop treating these voters like mushrooms, and that has to have restored the "confidence of people in the electoral process".

Sins Andrew? Back here you were telling us how pure she was. Never mind, let's get to the sorry ending of the Hanson tragedy:

BUT she's been crushed since by her blunders and by legal action. She's already had to repay the $500,000 of public money her party got for winning 23 per cent of the vote in the 1998 Queensland election, while being falsely registered. And now this: three years' jail.

More of Bolt's nuanced approach: she's no moron, just dumb enough to make a few blunders.

To protect us from what? From having a ramshackle yet popular new party stand in an election, to the rage of those grown fat and complacent? Thanks, but that's more protection than I want. More protection than we need, if we want to encourage new parties, new voices, new ideas.

I just wish he'd make up his mind.

Yes, Hanson lied, but, heavens, she's been punished enough -- so much, that it's "affected the confidence of people in the electoral process". Let her go.

Ken, I know it's a big ask, but I've reconsidered on that suggestion I was going to make. Maybe when you can fin a free moment ...

Afterword: although I've occasionally been accused elsewhere of "fisking" a major columnist or writer, I'm pretty sure that this is the first time I've produced a full-blown example of the genre. It was fun, in a tedious sort of way.

The Ten Most Influential Australians of the Twentieth Century?

In what must surely be the most blatant troll for linkage in the shortish history of Ozblogistan (at least until the next one), Scott Wickstein has called on Australian bloggers to nominate their list of the ten most influential Australians of the Twentieth Century. It makes you wish that you'd thought of it first, doesn't it? Rob Schaap has already posted his list, as has Sam Ward. I've decided that I might as well put in a few minutes on a list of my own; as this is Scott's idea, there's a much better chance that I'll get a link from Scott out of it than I stood with my last attempt. Especially if I drop him an advisory e-mail.

In any case, here's my personal, off the top of my head, list of the ten mos influential Australians of the Twentieth Century (I've decided that it's probably best not to put too much thought into this exercise, otherwise it might take the rest of the year). Following precedents set elsewhere, they're in no particular order.

Mr Justice HB Higgins of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration: It was Higgins who delivered the 1907 Harvester Judgement which established the "basic wage" and the now rather moribund system of National Wage cases, the annual ritual in which Australia's trade union movement would appear before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission once a year to argue that Australian workers could no longer afford to live without a pay increase, the nation's employers, through their peak bodies would argue that hundreds of businesses would be ruined if the requested pay rise was granted and the Government would turn up to toss in their two cents, usually on the side of the employers, arguing that a wage increase of the size sought by the unions would devastate the national economy and roon the country.

DR HV Evatt: With my name, you could hardly expect me to ignore the man who defended the Communist Party of Australia's right to exist in the High Court now, could you? But seriously, Evatt's High Court challenge to Pig Iron Bob's Communist Party Dissolution Act was a bloody important event in Australian politics. So was his subsequent campaign for a "No" vote in the Referendum of September 1951 in which the Menzies Government sought the power to ban the Communist Party. Alteration Although Evatt is revered these days as a Labor Party saint, worthy to sit at the right hand of Chifley, it's worth remembering that his contemporaries and colleagues had supported the passage of the Act and were pretty pissed off with his defence of the Reds and their right to continue hiding behind the nation's chamber pots. It cost them a bloody election.

Barry Humphries: No list of the twentieth century's most influential Australians would be complete without its foremost Australian elitist. Although Humphries did not invent the cultural cringe, through his stage creations such as Edna (later Dame Edna) Everidge and Sir Les Paterson (Australian Minister for Culture) Humphries did much to popularise the view, both here and overseas, that Australia was very much a cultural backwater with a population largely consisting of vulgar housewives with too much fondness for showy floral arrangements and drunken buffoons with delusional aspirations to "Kulcha". Paradoxically, Humphries also gave us the ocker (who later degenerated into the yobbo (sorry Sam)), through his comic strip The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie, which first appeared in the pages of Private Eye.

Through most of the late twentieth century, Humphries was on a nice little earner in London, pandering to English snobbery by depicting his compatriots as barbarians and fools, with the occasional triumphant homecoming where he would do quite nicely out of mulcting middle-class theatre audiences who were happy to pay premium prices for the privilege of joining mass rituals of self-abasement and humiliation under the mistaken belief that this was satire. Humphries' visits to this country have become mercifully infrequent over the years as he has found more lucrative overseas markets to peddle his tired and outdated stereotypes of the suburban Melbourne of his precociously early middle age; in other words his late teens and early twenties.

Ma Trotsky, who has a mother's keen eye for children who have outgrown their footwear has never been impressed by him.

Barry Dickins: Who once appeared on an ABC television chat show with Barry Humphries. The show's host was that other overrated expatriate, Clive James. Dickins was subjected to a good ten minutes of patronising remarks from both Clive and his partial namesake, on the need to go overseas to broaden his intellectual and cultural horizons. One result of Dickin's appearance was a very bemused piece in The Age. The other is his listing here as a representative of all the writers and performers who came after Humphries who, for whatever reason, didn't swan off to the Old Dart to make a quick quid by sucking up to the middle classes and intellectual elite of the Mother Country, but stuck it out here instead.

John Grey Gorton and Sir William McMahon: As we now know, it was Gorton's casting vote in a Liberal Party leadership spill which made William McMahon Prime Minister. I'm not sure which of the two should be given most credit for Gough Whitlam's eventual electoral victory in 1972; while McMahon was obviously the public architect of Whitlam's win, Gorton must be considered McMahon's eminence grise.

Sir Phillip Lynch: Lynch's most famous, and significant, contribution to Australian politics was a remark he made as head of the Fraser Government's Expenditure Review Committee or Razor Gang: "There'll be a few less pigs swilling at the public trough." Thanks to this remark, and Lynch's malicious enthusiasm for cutting deadwood and greenwood alike, the overriding need to cut public expenditure became one of the new sacred cows of Australian political life.

Sir Garfield Barwick: whose major achievements in a long and distinguished career as a jurist were, firstly, persuading a pompous sot that he had the right under the constitution to sack an elected government and secondly, persuading a majority of his colleagues that it there were good legal grounds to exempt companies and trusts whose records had been lost in maritime accidents from taxation.

Senator Vince Gair: the first Australian politician to be offered, and accept, the Dublin option.

Evan Whitton: he edited the now defunct National Times during much of its existence. He fostered a lot of journalistic careers; the names Patrick Cook and David Marr spring to mind immediately.

Now that I've got started, it's pretty obvious that ten spots is not enough - sadly, Justice Jim Staples misses out on a guernsey (unless I bump someone else), likewise John Friedrich, talk-back shock-jock pioneer Derryn Hinch, former Age editor Greg Perkin, Dr Frank Knopfelmacher, Bob Santamaria, Doug "When you see a head kick it" Anthony, Sinkers, Kerry Armstrong, Dame Leonie Kramer, Joh and Flo Bjelke-Buffoon, that bloke who wrote the Saba commercials, Michael Kroger and a few of his former adversaries in student politics who would doubtless prefer to have their present obscurity preserved, the entire membership of the H J Nicholls Society ...

Cheap Shots Backfire

Commenting on the Family Court's most recent "shameful decision", that is, an order that five children from a family of asylum seekers shoud be released from detention, Bernard Slattery asks:

What on earth is the Family Court doing separating children from their parents? Haven't they heard of the Stolen Generations?

If he'd waited until this morning, he might have heard this report on the ABC's AM and spared himself a little embarassment. At the end of an interview with Tanya Nolan, Dale West, the director of Centacare (the agency looking after the children), said:

The Family Court, as I would understand it, has only jurisdiction at this stage, pending the High Court appeal, to release the children, not to release their parents. Now, the unique thing about this particular case for us is that the parents were absolutely adamant that they preferred their children to be free here in Australia, out of detention, than to be with their parents in detention. [my emphasis]

Bernard's post prompted Gareth Parker to pose a question of his own:

Kids stolen: have we learned nothing?

I'd suggest that anyone else thinking of taking a potshot at the Family Court along these lines had better check that their gun is clean and in good working order first. I've heard that powder burns on the face can be very painful.

Monday, August 25, 2003

A job for the boys?

(Slightly Overdue) Dummy Spit of the Week

Which, in a blatant demonstration of personal favouritism, I'm going to award to myself for this piece. Yes this one, the one you're reading now.

Via john Ray, I've just come across this vile little piece by Andrew Bolt or, as he's known in these parts, good old Colostomy Ears. It appeared in last Thurday's Hun. In it Bolt tips a fairly generous bucket on the Children's Book Council:

If you want to wipe the smile off your child's face, make the poor thing read the books that last weekend won the Children's Book Council awards.

It's true this year's winners at least aren't as horrific as the books of huge-selling John Marsden, who's won several CBC awards himself and was booked to give today's "keynote schools address" at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

Marsden, who had psychiatric care at 19, has written a score of novels that seem to confront his child readers with his personal demons, yet for some sick reason are critically praised instead of getting the treatment they deserve -- deep burial at the local tip.

This is Bolt at his sneering, anti-intellectual guttersnipe best - or worst, depending on your viewpoint, but it isn't his moralising disdain for critical opinion that bothers me. Bolt is entitled to form whatever opinions he wishesd of the books he reads and equally free, as a matter of respect for free speech to express them in whatever way he chooses. But in this case, he has chosen to do so in a way which does him absolutely no credit either as a book reviewer or a journalist.

I find it personally distasteful to read about the personal lives of friends - even distant and estranged ones - in the op ed pages of a major metropolitan daily, especially one so content with the gutter as The Melbourne Hun. It's one thing for Bolt to attack the merits of the books he criticises; his sneering attacks on the personal lives of the authors are something else entirely. Bolt has finally been washed from the gutter down into the sewer, in a stream of his own stinking urine.

Mediocre Monday Edition

I slacked off on the insomniac creativity over the weekend; all that's on offer to start this week is the third instalment of The Potemkin Museum of Antique Humour. Despite the fact that I consider this idea one of my better whimsies, the response so far has been a lot less than whelming. Now that the first three posts of the series are up in the chronological order I planned for them, there's no good reason to expect that to change. All the same, I'll continue with at least one more entry; now that I've located my copy of Paul Jennings Golden Oddlies, I can set about transcribing and posting the promised How to Spiel Halma.

Before the series finally tanks, I'd just like to remind readers of the original rationale for the Museum, espeially this part:

You'll find that some of the material is quite dated: re-reading some of the books, I wonder what I found so amusing that I was willing to shell out $2.00 secondhand or $5.00 remaindered for them. Still, one or two pieces might stand up, dated though they are and, as for the rest, they might have cautionary value. Looking at the society and blogosphere around me, I'm leaning towards the view that a few people might benefit from a gentle reminder that nothing gets old anywhere near as quickly as bad humour.

That said, I'm still disappointed with the reception Nicolas Bentley exhibit received: it's one piece that hasn't dated nearly as badly as you might think at first glance. That's because it isn't bad humour.

The Potemkin Museum of Antique Humour

Willans, R & Searle, G (England, Young Elizabethan/Early Television Era): Excerpt

Description: First published in 1956, Molesworth's Guide to the Atommic Age by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle is ostensibly a parody of English boy's fiction, in particular the public school "wizard wheezes" and "jolly japes" genre pioneered by Frank Richards in his Billy Bunter stories for The Magnet. Although not as pointed as the sports chapter of Willans & Searle's later How to Be Topp, the following excerpt illustrates how Willans manages to sneak in a few sly digs at his own generation, in the guise of a naive schoolboy affecting a rather charmless precocious cynicism. He also pokes a little fun at the literary canon along the way.

The text includes references to illustrations by Geoffrey Searle which could not be reproduced here. To preserve the flow of the text, no annotations have been provided however the curatorial staff will be answer any enquiries. Assuming that he knows the answers.


No one kno wot to do about anything at the moment so they sa the future is in the hands of YOUTH i.e. some of the weeds you have just seen. As if they kno wot to do about it at their age. All the same we are young elizabethans and it can't be altered - i expect drake felt the same way. Supose we had lived then, eh? i wave my ickle pritty fairy wand, slosh peason with it and the SCENE changes into something wondrous fair hem-hem i don't think.

Look at me coo er gosh posh eh? You wouldn't hav thort a pair of bloomers would make all that diference. fie fie - the grown ups canot kno what a privilege it is to be YOUTH in this splendid age of Queen Bess - when all are brave proud fearless etc and looking with clear eyes at the future. (Not so clear after some of those evenings at court, i trow, when all drink BEER.) All the same it is up to us boys becos the grownups hav made such a MESS of it all. So here i am looking like a hem-hem fule but fearing absolutely O. no one could be so brave. Hist! Hist tho! - i hear the headmaster advancing clump-clump with his huge feet encased in gooloshes. I had better begone like a scalded cat. The headmaster is not a young elizabethan he is an old conduct mark (swearing rude words general uncouth behaviour and letting down the tone of st. custard's .)


Drake, you know Drake who singed the king of spane's beard, he was the kind we ought to model ourselves on. With him he had a gay band of cut-throats who would make molesworth 2, peason, grabber gillibrand ect look like the weeds and wets they are. These cut-throats were very fond of Drake and when he was dead they kept calling to him.

CUTTHROATS: Captain art tha sleeping there below?
DRAKE: How can i when you are making such an infernal din?
CUTTHROATS: Drake is in his hamock -
DRAKE: i am not in my hamock curse you. All there is down here is sea-weed and shells it is worse down here than a bed in the skool dorm.
DRAKE: Wot is it? if you're going to sa 'art tha sleeping' i shall hav insomnia.
CUTTHROATS: Then you are not dreaming all the time of plymoth ho -
DRAKE: if i could dream at all it would be of marilyn mun-ro oh-ho that is a good one twig?

(the cutthroats go home in disgust to fill in their foopball pools)


next exhibit

Afterword: if anyone knows where to get hold of the Foopball section of How to Be Topp, the curator would be grateful for a copy.

After You ... No, I Insist, After You

I heard on AM this morning that there have been calls for John Howard to put pressure on Sir Allan Kemakeza, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, to step aside to enable a full investigation of corruption allegations against him. This strikes me as a splendid opportunity for Mr Howard to demonstrate that he has the capacity to lead by example. There are no doubt, a lot of people who will reply that Mr Howard has been leading by example throughout his term as Prime Minister. I am very happy to concede them this point.