Saturday, December 31, 2005

C'mon Huey, Shift Your Bloody Arse

We've just turned on the air-conditioner for the first time in two years. There's enough airflow through the ceiling vent in the lounge to stir the cobwebs; after I finish here I'm going to go lie on the couch to see if under-powered air-conditioners produce a placebo effect. I went out into the back yard for a ciggie a few minutes ago, barefoot on sun baked concrete. Fire walkers are wimps. There were a few promising little clouds on the western horizon; if they actually get overhead before evening, I might shoulder the laundry bag and head up to the laundromat. Based on past experience it ought to start pissing down when I'm about halfway there.

Still, I'm not going to cite this hot spell as evidence of global-warming; that's a false induction, an example of confirmation bias and all the rest of it. All the same, I'm willing to bet that there are quite a few bloggers out there who're shaking their heads over the blizzards and record low temperatures that Europe is experiencing and asking, as usual, if global warming is real, how come this is happening? Don't expect an answer from me - all I want to do right now is get away from all the waste heat being pumped out by the PC's cooling fan.

Oh, and best wishes to all and sundry for the New Year. Hope your 2006 is, in every way, an improvement on your 2005. Actually there are few sundries for whom I'm inclined to wish the opposite but it's probably better not to mention that. Oops, too late.

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Survival Machine of Colin M Turnbull (III)

(Part I, Part II)
A lot of the difficulties in producing a synopsis of The Mountain People come from its novelistic construction so it might be helpful, at this point, to treat it as a novel. Viewing it this way, we see the book as the simple story of Colin Turnbull, anthropologist, who journeys to a remote part of Africa to study a fairly typical tribe of hunter gatherers. During the time he spends with them, he discovers that they are nothing like the obligate noble savages he imagines them to be; instead the Icien way of life turns out to be a grotesque caricature of the advanced western society he has left behind. The story is told in the first person, with three narrative threads running through Turnbull the author's straightforward plot; Turnbull the narrator's slow awakening to the realities of Icien life, the reflections this prompts on human nature and human societies and finally, the simple facts of Icien life as he has observed them. That may sound like a very post-modern take on a work of anthropological research and reporting but it has its uses. Such as, in this installment, finally moving our focus away from the concerns and character of Turnbull the narrator, to what he sees in his stays with the Ik.

First let's note a fact that Turnbull reveals quite slowly; at the time of his study, there was a great deal of starvation among the Ik. The Kidepo valley, their major hunting ground, was no longer available to them - it was a national park. The Ugandan government had encouraged them to take up farming but the mountainous country they had settled in was not good farmland. And there had been a prolonged drought. Turnbull cops a bit of stick around the traps for not noticing that the Ik were a society in crisis but it seems unlikely that this completely escaped his attention during the three years in which he did his field studies or that the realisation completely escaped him during the writing of The Mountain People. Where Turnbull does leave himself open to the charge of insensitivity is in his depiction of the way he learnt of living conditions among the Ik, for example this telling episode from the end of Chapter 3, "the Disenchanted Tree":

... Kauar was exceptional, and he used to volunteer to make the long two day climb back to get mail for me, or buy a few things for others. He was always pleased with himself when he came back, and asked if he had made the trip more quickly than the last time ... Then he used to sit and watch while I read the mail, studying the expression on my face to see if all was well. When we drank tea together he always took exactly the same number of teaspoons of sugar that I took, and helped himself to exactly the same number of biscuits, never more, never less. The biscuits he often kept for the children, who used to snatch them from him and run away laughing at him for the fool he was.

Then one day Kauar went to Kaabong and did not come back. He was found the day after he should have returned, high up on the last peak of the trail before it descends to Pirre, cold and dead. Then you could see how thin he was, or so I was told, for those who found him just took the things he had been carrying, pushed his body into the bush and left it. "Why bother carrying him back? He was dead!" they said as they distributed the goods ... I still think of him probably running up that viciously steep mountainside so that he could break his time record, and falling dead in his pathetic prime because he was starving.

The significance of this episode is difficult to miss; it reveals a great deal about the state of Ik society, the fact of starvation among them and some unpleasant and less than flattering things about Turnbull himself. Earlier in the chapter, there's another episode, whose significance is much less obvious, at least on a first reading:

On this occasion an antelope had been killed by Lomeja, a happy man in his late middle age, which is to say he was in his early twenties. He had set off early in the morning alone, and had picked up his bow and arrows where hehad concealed them during the night so that no-one would see that he was going hunting ... [p82]

Unfortunately for Lomeja, he was observed and followed; after he had killed an antelope another Ik, Lotibok appeared, claiming that it was by chance. While Lomeja and Lotibok were cooking the antelope, taking precautions against being seen, two more Ik saw the smoke of their cooking fire. They immediately set out in the direction of the fire, with Turnbull in hot pursuit. In the end, the antelope that Lomeja had planned to keep to himself had to be shared between five people:

It is a curious hangover from what must once have been a moral code that Ik will offer food if surprised in the act of eating, though they go to enormous pains not to be so surprised. [p81-82]

This is a far cry from the co-operative hunts that Turnbull imagines in Chapter One of the book. But here, once again, I'm going to give myself a break - this time so that I can put in some library time and get into some of the secondary references on Turnbull. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Survival Machine of Colin M Turnbull (II)

(Part I)
His lack of enthusiasm for field work among the Ik declared, Turnbull uses the rest of Chapter One to tell us what he knew of the Ik before he set out for Northern Uganda. Just before World War II they had been encouraged to settle in the mountains in the northeast corner of the country, where it borders on Kenya and Sudan. Before then they had roamed as nomadic hunter-gatherers through all three countries. Their major hunting territory was the Kidepo Valley, now a national park:

Kidepo was undoubtedly where they spent the best part of the year, but, like most hunters and gatherers, these depended as much on vegetable resources as they did on game, and vegetable resources can be exhausted even more quickly and permanently than game if a band stays in one place too long. Mobility is essential to the hunting-and-gathering way of life and nomadism is by no means the random, aimless meandering it is sometimes thought to be. At the same time, hunting and gathering, even in a marginal environment, are neither as hard nor as precarious as they seem ... [The hunter] knows the world he lives in as few others do, and he lives in sympathy with it rather than trying to dominate it. He is the best of conservationists, knowing exactly how much he can take from where at any given time. His nomadic pattern is geared to this knowledge... [p 21]

From here through to page 31, Turnbull describes (admittedly in retrospect) the society he expected to find when he was in Kampala, preparing for his trip North. Of the people he expected to meet he says:

The smaller the society, the less emphasis there is on the formal system, and the more there is on inter-personal and inter-group relations, to which the system is subordinated. Security is seen in terms of these relationships, and so is survival. The result, which appears so deceptively simple, is that hunters frequently display those characteristics that we find so admirable in man: kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity and others. This sounds like a formidable list of virtues and so it would be if they were virtues, but for the hunter they are not. For the hunter in his tiny, close-knit society, these are necessities for survival; without them society would collapse...

It was not foremost in my mind, I suppose, but, as with the physical conditions , I took it for granted that the Ik would possess these same qualities. it was a shock to find myself wrong on almost all counts...
[p31 - original emphasis]

In Chapter 2, "Careless Rapture," Turnbull describes his journey from Kampala to North-Eastern Uganda. For all that he has said about his coolness toward his project in Chapter One, he depicts himself here as becoming more enthusiastic for it as he travels North:

The Administrator ... discussed freely many of his problems and said he would welcome any ideas that might come out of my researches. Thisis the kind of interest and co-operation that is all too often lacking and it added to my growing enthusiasm. [p38-39]

Turnbull's growing enthusiasm takes a severe hammering when he encounters his first Ik and is introduced to the Ik sense of humour. On the way to the first Ik village he visits, his guides take him along a perilous mountain trail and get a good laugh when he stumbles after traversing a ledge that is too narrow for two feet to be placed side by side. He is also introduced to the brusque, cursory nature of Ik manners; his polite traditional greetings are met with demands for tobacco. One of his guides greets the mother he hasn't seen for two years with the demand "Give me food" to which she replies "There's no food" (p49-50). From chapter 3 onwards the book becomes inceasingly depressing reading. It also defies synopsis, as Turnbull's account of Ik society freely switches between anecdote, reflection and analysis. So here I'll leave you with a choice of options; you can wait for the next instalment of this series, where I'll take on the task of providing a plausible synopsis with selected lowlights or you can bugger off to a library and track down a copy of The Mountain People to read for yourselves.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Enchanted Toasting Fork - Episode 6

The story so far:
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5

With luck, that'll keep you buggers busy over Yule so I can have a bit of time to honour Freyr in the traditional manner - stuffing oneself with pork smallgoods.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

King Otto - A Legend

"Good morrow O wise King," said Lothar the bard, standing before the throne at the north end of King Otto's great hall, "Thou hast summoned me and here I stand before thee, to do thy bidding."

"This is meet, Lothar." replied Otto, "This is indeed meet. In these troubled times of ours it is good that a king should have such faithful servants as yourself."

"And how may I serve thee, O wise King?" Lothar fawned.

"The season of Yule approacheth, as thou kenneth well, Lothar," replied Otto. Lothar nodded - indeed he did kenneth well that the season of Yule would soon be upon them, "And my land is troubled by foes without and traitors within. It is meet that at Yule my subjects shall give great honour to Freyr yet there be those among them who speak ill of the ancient rites and dare to say that we ought temper them, lest we offend the adherents of that milksop, Christ the Redeemer, whose cult is now openly preached in the steads of my kingdom and whose churches have sprung up hither and you, offending the eye. And I say this shall not be."

"Nay, My King, it is not meet that this should be. And how shall I aid thee in this matter?"

"Lothar, thou shalt journey through my kingdom and in the steads of my people and the halls of their Lords you shall sing to them of Yule and the need to make fine sacrifice to Freyr. You shall tell them it is the will of their king that this be so and of my disdain for those who would have it otherwise. Do this, and I shall reward thee greatly."

"This I shall do, O King." Lothar made his obeisance and departed, happy to do the king's will. Freyr should indeed receive fine sacrifice this year and not merely pigs in great quantity. And in his heart, Lothar felt the happiness of a husbandman who has brought in a bounteous harvest - for had he not himself planted the seed of the king's plan and nurtured it to this fruition?

The Survival Machine of Colin M Turnbull (I)

a week or so ago, a little fatigued by comments threads where a few commenters seemed to be disagreeing with others purely for the sake of being disagreeable and the feeling that I was getting sucked into playing the same game myself, I decided to have a crack at writing an extended essay. Then I had the bright idea of posting selected passages from the references I intended to use under the title Dark Materials. Cryptic I know, and self indulgent.

After posting Dark Materials I, it occurred to me to do a web search for more up-to-date information on the Ik and Colin Turnbull. What I found was surprising. I changed plans yet again. Whether the essay I originally planned will actually appear is an open question (the odds are pretty long, based on past experience), but given what I've found on the Internet on the subject of The Mountain People, I've decided it's worthwhile to take a close look at the book. This could take a while, because beside the on-line sources, there's going to be off-line literature to track down and take a look at. So this essay will be presented in instalments. Then we might move on to one of the other authors I was going to use for reference.


The Ik were, and are, a small tribe living in Northern Uganda in the mountains where Sudan, Kenya and Uganda all meet. They became notorious in the 1970s after the publication of Colin Turnbull's The Mountain People. The book is Turnbull's account of anthropological field studies of the Ik he conducted between 1964 and 1967. The notoriety it brought the tribe was heightened by Peter Brook's 1975 play, called simply The Ik.

According Wikipedia, the Internet's foremost repository of authoritative libel, Turnbull

... was a famous British anthropologist who gained prominence with his book The Forest People (1962), a detailed study of the BaMbuti Pygmies. In 1972, he wrote his most controversial classic, The Mountain People, which portrayed Uganda's hunger-plagued Ik tribe. Turnbull was an unconventional scholar who rejected objectivity. He idealized the BaMbuti and reviled the Ik, whom he recounted as so coldly self-absorbed that they allowed their children to die if they could not survive after being kicked out at the age of three, and refused to share food with anyone, even gorging on the occasional excess of food until they got sick, rather than save or share.

There are two pretty serious charges against Turnbull there - they bothered me enough to make me question whether The Mountain People has anything useful to say at all. Turnbull "rejected objectivity" and "reviled the Ik" says the Wikipedia contributor. How justified are these accusations.

Chapter One of The Mountain People opens with this declaration:

Any description of another people, another way of life, is to some extent bound to be subjective, especially when, as an anthropologist, one has shared that way of life. This is as it should be; but then the reader is entitled to know something of the aims, expectations, hopes and attitudes that the writer brought to the field with him, for these will surely influence not only how he sees things but what he sees. At best his story will only be a partial one.

This I suppose, might be taken as a rejection of objectivity. To me it reads more like a standard disclaimer which I've commonly found in books on the social sciences: a declaration that however objective the writer might aspire to be, his work cannot claim the lofty objectiveness we assume that physiscists say have when they report their experimental findings.

The first few pages of Chapter One is taken up with a description of how Turnbull came to do his field study of the Ik. Turnbull is frank about his lack of initial enthusiasm for the project; it was his third choice and his attitude to the porspect of studying the "Teuso" as he then knew them evoked no enthusiasm, merely a clinical interest:

... But no amount of clinical interest could suppress the disappointment at the failure of the two preferred projects.

I make this point because one of the most delicate tasks of the field anthropologist is to establish a really satisfactory and amicable relationship with the people among whom he is going to live, and to regard them with a jaundiced eye is hardly the way to win favor.
[p 18-19]

Once again you can, if you wish, take this as a rejection of objectivity if you wish. Or as an admission of impaired objectivity if that's your preference. Turnbull's enthusiasm for the project took quite a few more knocks as he travelled to northern Uganda, with transport and equipment problems addin gto his frustrations:

... the Land Rover, painted fire-engine red, posessed the singular and by no means welcome ability to attract elephants, particularly male elephants very obviously in search of female company. This, like the leaky roof, remained a constant quality. [p 19]

So by Turnbull's own admission, he was somewhat disgruntled with his project by the time he reached the field and, therefore, not in the best frame of mind to reach an amicable rapport with his subjects. Did his lack of enthusiasm lead him to revile the Ik, as the Wikipedist alleges? To answer that question, we'll have to take a look at what Turbull had to say about them. I'll get back to you on that subject after I've done some more reading and pretty intensive note-taking.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Dark Materials I

Luckily the Ik are not numerous - about two thousand - and those two years reduced their numbers greatly. So I am hopeful that their isolation will remain as complete as in the past, until they die out completely. I am only sorry that so many individuals will have to die, slowly and painfully, until the ned comes to them all. For the individuals one can only feel infinite sorrow at what they have lost; hatred must be reserved for the society they live in, the machine they have constructed to enable them to survive. They have not created it willingly or consciously; it hascreate ditself through their biological need for survival, out of the only materials available, and in the only possible form. It is that survival machine that is the monster... They had a simple choice of living or dying; they had already lost the rest - family, friendship, hope, love - and they made the same choice that most of us, I believe, would make...

There is no goodness left for the Ik, only a full stomach, and that only for those whose stomachs are already full. But if there is no goodness, stop to think, there is no badness, and if their is no love, neither is there any hate. Perhaps that, after all, is progress; but it is also emptiness.
[Colin M Turnbull, The Mountain People, New York 1972 - p285-6]

If we grant, as the evidence says we should, that the Ik were not always as they are, and that they once possessed in full measure those values that we all hold to be basic to humanity, indispensible for both survival and sanity, then what the Ik are telling us is that these qualities are not inherent in humanity at all, they are not a necessary part of human nature.Those values which we cherish so highly and which some use to point to our infinite superiority over other forms animal life may indeed be basic to human society, but not to humanity, and that means that the Ik clearly show that society itself is not indispensible for man's survival, that man is not the social animal he has always thought himself to be, and that he is perfectly capable of associating for purposes of survival without being social. The Ik have successfully abandoned useless appendages, by which I refer to those "basic" qualities such as family, cooperative sociality, belief, love, hope andso forth, for the very good reason that in their context these militated against survival. By showing that man can do without these appendages the Ik show that man can do without society in the sense we mostly mean by th eword (implying those qualities), for they have replaced human society with a mere survival system that does not take human emotion into account...

Note: the title of this post is a fairly obvious reference to the title of a book that I haven't actually read. Naughty me.

Friday, December 16, 2005


PRIME Minister John Howard returned to Australia from the East Asian Summit with a plea for Australians to ignore text messages calling for more riots.

"Don't take any notice of them, be sensible, enjoy the sun, it's Christmas and have a good time and, for heaven's sake, remember you don't achieve any advances in this world through the use of violence, thank you," Mr Howard said.
[Brendan Nicholson, The Age]

He's right you know - what it really takes to achieve advances in this world is a bit of diplomacy by other means.

"(Let's) celebrate the fact that this is still the greatest country in the world in which to live and let nobody tell us otherwise and let's not wallow in self-pity and self-flagellation and self-criticism."

And anyone who is the least bit unhappy, or has difficult personal problems, will be prosecuted, under the Happiness Act (1995 as amended).

"If there are some longer-term lessons to be learnt then the time to reflect on those is not right now," he said. "Maybe there were warning signs around that have been ignored and shouldn't have been ignored."

But with Christmas coming up, we'll ignore them a little longer. With luck we'll get through to the resumption of Parliament without another bucket of shit hitting the fan.

"Some of it is just incredibly bad behaviour fuelled by too much drink … We ought to calm everybody down, deal with the law breakers, support the police."

And the rest, let's be quite clear about this, has nothing to do with the R-word.

"I have a very simple view that this country should welcome people from all around the world, and benefit from that, providing when they come to this country they become Australians. That's my simple philosophy full stop."

What is mine and what it is too. If those foreigners aren't prepared to fit in, well what can they expect. It's the Australian way. Which, I remind you, is not at all racist.


With every man and his dog finding dire predictions from yesteryear on how things were going to go terribly wrong sooner or later, I can't see any good reason not to join in. Here's something some poms wrote 32 years ago:

Once upon a time, long long ago, there lay in a valley far, far away in the mountains, the most contented kingdom the world has ever known.

It was called Happy Valley, and it was ruled over by a wise old King called Otto, and all his subjects flourished and were happy, and there were no discontents or grumblers, because Wise King Otto had had them all put to death along with the Trade Union leaders many years before. and all the good happy folk of Happy Valley sang and danced all day long, and anyone who was for any reason miserable or unhappy or who had any difficult personal problems was prosecuted under the Happiness Act.
(from The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok, Palin et al London 1973)

Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1494 - 1573)

Another Great Dickhead of History

In 1518 the Spanish colonists in the Carribean wrote to their King, Charles, asking him to allow more black slaves to make up for the loss of the native population of the Carribean islands, who had been worked to extinction. They were supported by the four Jeronymite priors who governed the islands for Spain and by Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, self-appointed defender of the native Americans. Like any enlightened man of the Sixteenth Century he believed that an African enslaved by Christians was better off than one left in Africa. He was less trusting of his compatriots and co-relionists when it came to the natives of the New World.

Around 1524, Las Casas conceived a development scheme for the north coast of South America. Forty Spanish colonists were to set off with ten African slaves each, to remove the temptation of misusing the Indians. The enterprise was a failure. Most of the settlers were dispersed in the Carribean before they reached the site of the new colony. Those who did arrive were slaughtered by Indians "who had not yet learned to distinguish between good and bad Spaniards" (Thomas).

In 1535, Las Casas wrote to the king saying:

the remedy of the Christians is this, that His Majesty should think it right to send to each of the islands 500 or 600 blacks or whatever other number seems appropriate.

I expect you're wondering why Bartolomé de Las Casas isn't named at the top of this post. After all, he does sound a lot like a dickhead. The answer is simple; while I was doing the research, I found a bigger dickhead, the Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda of the title.

While Bartolomé de Las Casas was advocating the interests of the Indians - admittedly at the expense of the interests of the Africans - a controversy was going on, in Spain, about the treatment of the American Indians. The argument began in 1511 when the Dominican Fray Antonio de Montesinos gave the colonists a serve from his pulpit in Santo Domingo. This set off an argument that culminated in the Valladolid Controversy of 1550 which pitted Bartolomé de Las Casas, apostle of the Indians, in the red corner against our protagonist, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, the colonist's friend, in the Blue corner. In front of a judging panel of 15 notables they debated whether the Indians of the New World were Aristotle's "slaves by nature". Nothing was said about the Africans. The judges awarded the debate to Las Casas. Whether thishad any effect in the real world is questionable.

In the 1550s, when writing his Historia de Las Indias, Las Casas explained that he had realised that it was wrong to replace one form of slavery with another. His book wasn't published for another 350 years.

Special Bonus Dickhead: In the 1570s the subject of African slavery finally did become controversial in Spain and one or two people spoke out against it. On the pro-slavery side, Fray Francisco de la Cruz, a Dominican Friar, told the Inquisition in Lima that an angel had told him:

... the blacks are justly captives by reason of the sins of their forefathers and that becasue of that sin God gave them that colour.


Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lazy Day Links Post

Evan Jones (no relation to Alan) at Alert and Alarmed has two good posts on deportations and Phil Ruddock.

Samuel McSkimming does a nice job on Alan Jones at catallaxy. A lot of the comments there make the "Sedition Watch" post I was writing, with selected excerpts of David Marr's article in the SMH, look pretty redundant. So instead of all that stuff, here's a bit of the Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 (as amended last week):

80.2 Sedition
Urging violence within the community
(5) A person commits an offence if:
(a) the person urges a group or groups (whether distinguished by race, religion, nationality or political opinion) to use force or violence against another group or other groups (as so distinguished); and
(b) the use of the force or violence would threaten the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth.
Penalty: Imprisonment for 7 years.
(6) Recklessness applies to the element of the offence under subsection (5) that it is a group or groups that are distinguished by race, religion, nationality or political opinion that the first-mentioned person urges the other person to use force or violence against.

Oh, alright, here's a quote from Marr:

[Jones] assured his audience he "understood" why that famous text message went out and he read it right through again on air: "Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge. This Sunday every Aussie in the shire get down to North Cronulla to support the leb and wog bashing day …" ...

When John called on Tuesday to recommend vigilante action - "If the police can't do the job, the next tier is us" - Jones did not dissent. "Yeah. Good on you John." And when he offered a maxim his father had picked up in the war - "Shoot one, the rest will run" - Jones roared with laughter. "No, you don't play Queensberry's rules. Good on you, John."

But before we all start up a hue and cry for Jones (Alan, not Evan) to get seven years for sedition, it might be worth taking a look at his last daily comments on the Today Show. We should also remember that the "new" sedition provisions are merely some old law renovated and both John Howard and Phil Ruddock have made it perfectly clear that the sedition laws won't be enforced. Especially, I suspect, in the case of Alan Jones and 2GBH.

Update: guess who's joined the root-causists:

So does Sunday's riot add up to a simple case of damn-us white racism, or to something far more complex and human? Oh, yes, the rioting was cowardly, vile and disgusting. Pack attacks are, which is why we must not merely condemn, but understand.

To prevent. Best start now. There will be more riots before we spruce up this home of ours and only quiet thinking, not screaming, will help us.

And now for something completely irrelevant:

Don't be too proud of never forgetting a face: It turns out even a humble bumblebee can distinguish and recall different human faces, say researchers who have conducted experiments on the surprisingly canny insects.

Researchers in the UK have found that bumblebees show a remarkable ability to spot the same human face even days after training.

I wonder if it's possible to train them to attack on sight as well?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Quick Bits

The Stanford Prison Experiment has its own web-site.

As David Tiley says, now this is a meme:
Free Image Hosting at

Brandis "Own Goal" Record Finally Beaten

The federal government "has gone a bridge too far" with its sedition laws and is more interested in protecting itself than the Australian people, opposition leader Kim Beazley says.

With the Senate due to pass new counter terrorism legislation today, Mr Beazley said the Labor Party supported tough laws to help the struggle.

But he also said the government had gone too far with its sedition provisions within the legislation.

"We think the government has gone a bridge too far with its sedition laws," he told the Nine Network.

"It's now wandering around protecting itself, not the Australian people with sedition laws.

"We don't think you need to jail cartoonists, we do think we need to jail terrorists."
(The Age, Monday, November 6 2005)

Even the government agrees that its sedition laws are badly worded and has already promised to review them early next year.

But they are still demanding that the Seanate vote on them this week.

That is just as ridiculous as it sounds. Pass laws that everyone agrees are inadequate, then review them, then come back to Parliament to make changes.


Labour will vote to delete the sedition provisions from the anti-terrorism Bill and then subject them to a general review.
(Nicola Roxon, shadow Attorney-General in The Hun, Monday, November 6 2005)

Despite these lofty assurances, the ALP in the Senate voted with the government on Tuesday night. The Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 was passed 53 to 7 after the government gagged debate. The sedition provisions in the Bill were passed unamended. So, having decided that it was more important to be seen to be tough on terrorism than tough on democratic freedoms, the Federal ALP handed the Government the power to declare it an unlawful association.

Here's how section 30 of the Commonwealth Crimes Act reads after the changes made in the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005:

- SECT 30A
Unlawful associations
(1) The following are hereby declared to be unlawful associations, namely:

(a) any body of persons, incorporated or unincorporated, which by its constitution or propaganda or otherwise advocates or encourages:
(i) the overthrow of the Constitution of the Commonwealth by revolution or sabotage;
(ii) the overthrow by force or violence of the established government of the Commonwealth or of a State or of any other civilized country or of organized government; or
(iii) the destruction or injury of property of the Commonwealth or of property used in trade or commerce with other countries or among the States;
or which is, or purports to be, affiliated with any organization which advocates or encourages any of the doctrines or practices specified in this paragraph;
(b) any body of persons, incorporated or unincorporated, which by its constitution or propaganda or otherwise advocates or encourages the doing of any act having or purporting to have as an object the carrying out of a seditious intention (see subsection (3)).

(1A) Without limiting the effect of the provisions of subsection (1), any body of persons, incorporated or unincorporated, which is, in pursuance of section 30AA, declared by the Federal Court of Australia to be an unlawful association, shall be deemed to be an unlawful association for the purposes of this Act.
(2) Any branch or committee of an unlawful association, and any institution or school conducted by or under the authority or apparent authority of an unlawful association, shall, for all the purposes of this Act, be deemed to be an unlawful association.

(3) In this section: seditious intention means an intention to effect any of the following purposes:

(a) to bring the Sovereign into hatred or contempt;
(b) to urge disaffection against the following:
(i) the Constitution;
(ii) the Government of the Commonwealth;
(iii) either House of the Parliament;
(c) to urge another person to attempt, otherwise than by lawful means, to procure a change to any matter established by law in the Commonwealth;
(d) to promote feelings of ill-will or hostility between different groups so as to threaten the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth.
[emphasis added]

The new sedition laws (or if you prefer the same old sedition laws modernised) are to be reviewed by the Law Reform Commission next year. Kim Beazley had better hope that this results in at least those sections in bold being removed from the Crime Act: otherwise, the ALP might find itself at risk of being unable to campaign in the next election. After all, what is the business of an Opposition at election time, but to urge disaffection against the Government of the Commonwealth? And how does it do this? By running fundraisers to pay for advertising that urges disaffection against the Government of the Commonwealth, having its members letterbox and doorknock in their neighbourhoods urging disaffection against the Government of the Commonwealth and so on - all of them acts having or purporting to have as an object the carrying out of a seditious intention.

So Senator George Brandis can finally hand on his unwanted laurel for scoring "the greatest own goal in Australian politics" to a worthy successor - the very party that awarded him the accolade.

Friday, December 09, 2005

King John The Blind of Bohemia (1296 – 1346)

A Great Dickhead of History

Back in the 1960s, when values were real values, teachers were real teachers and school principals were all called headmasters and kept a Education Department approved strap in the office for special occasions (and made damn sure that word got around that it was there, too) there probably wasn't a school library anywhere that didn't have a copy of Paul Brickhill's Reach for the Sky, the story of Douglas Bader and how he became an ce fighter pilot, despite the loss of both legs. Compared to John of Bohemia, Bader had it easy.

Born a mere Count of Luxembourg on August 10, 1296, John became King of Bohemia on his marriage to Elizabeth of Bohemia in 1310. Between 1312 and 1322 he knocked her up a total of seven times, begetting 4 daughters and 3 sons. After her death in 1330 Beatrix of Bourbon and had one son by her, which balanced up the family quite nicely.

But getting his end away wasn't John's only major passion in life. His major hobby was going the biff:

He loved fighting for its own sake, not caring whether the conflict was important. He missed hardly a quarrel in Europe and entered tournaments in between, allegedly receiving in one of them the wound that blinded him. Hissubjects on the other hand said the cause was Divine punishment - not because he dug up the old synagogue of Prague, which he did, but because, on finding money beneath the pavement, he was moved by greed and the advice of German knights to dig up the tomb of St Adalbert in the Prague cathedral and was stricken blind by the desecrated saint.
(Tuchman, A Distant Mirror)

Regardless of the opinion of his subjects, John was widely regarded by his peers - the peers - as one of Europe's most chivalrous knights. The last quarrel he decided to involve himself in was the Edward III's second campaign against France, which culminated in the Battle of Crecy on August 26, 1346. John fought on the French side:

The valiant king of Bohemia called Charles of Luxembourg, son to the noble emperor Henry of Luxembourg, for all that he was nigh blind, when he understood the order of the battle, he said to them about him: 'Where is the lord Charles my son?' His men said: 'Sir, we cannot tell; we think he be fighting.' Then he said: 'Sirs, ye are my men, my companions and friends in this journey: I require you bring me so far forward, that I may strike one stroke with my sword.' They said they would do his commandment, and to the intent that they should not lose him in the press, they tied all their reins of their bridles each to other and set the king before to accomplish his desire, and so they went on their enemies. The lord Charles of Bohemia his son, who wrote himself king of Almaine and bare the arms, he came in good order to the battle; but when he saw that the matter went awry on their party, he departed, I cannot tell you which way. The king his father was so far forward that he strake a stroke with his sword, yea and more than four, and fought valiantly and so did his company; and they adventured themselves so forward, that they were there all slain, and the next day they were found in the place about the king, and all their horses tied each to other.

(Froissart, Chronicles)

We can only speculate as to what his son Charles had to say when "he saw that the matter went awry" and departed the field. As for John, Froissart makes it clear that he died bravely, valiantly hewing at the foe with the mighty thews of his sword arm, his ears filled with the clangour of battle, the screams of the enemy and the voices of his friends spurring him on with a special war-cry "I'm on your side you stupid blind prick!"

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Unluckiest Bastard in the World

On New Year's Eve 2003, Macedonian authorities took Khaled Masri off a bus at the Macedonian border. Masri said he was travelling to Macedonia to blow of steam after a row with his wife. He was taken to a motel in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, where he was held by Macedonian police for 23 days.

On the 23rd day he was taken to the airport, handcuffed and blindfolded. There he was handed over to the CIA. His clothes were cut off, he was (probably) given an enema, drugged and flown to Afghanistan. He found himself in an Afghan prison:

The first night he said he was kicked and beaten and warned by an interrogator: "You are here in a country where no one knows about you, in a country where there is no law. If you die, we will bury you, and no one will know."

By May, the CIA learned that Masri was not a terrorist; he was just some bloke whose name was a lot like a terrorist's:

... the question was: Now what? Some officials wanted to go directly to the German government; others did not. Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. "There wouldn't be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him," one former official said. "There would be a bump in the press, but then it would be over."


Several intelligence and diplomatic officials said Macedonia did not want the CIA to bring Masri back inside the country, so the agency arranged for him to be flown to Albania. Masri said he was taken to a narrow country road at dusk. When they let him off, "They asked me not to look back when I started walking," Masri said. "I was afraid they would shoot me in the back."
(Dana Priest in the Washington Post)

I'm trying to look on the bright side of life at the moment, so I've decided not to be shocked, stunned and appalled. The way I see it, Costa Gavras could get a cracker of a political thriller out of this little saga.

Postscript - here's another choice bit from the report:

Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA's own covert prisons -- referred to in classified documents as "black sites," which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe.

In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the CTC was the place to be for CIA officers wanting in on the fight. The staff ballooned from 300 to 1,200 nearly overnight.

"It was the Camelot of counterterrorism," a former counterterrorism official said. "We didn't have to mess with others -- and it was fun."

I think the best way to cope with revelations like this is to sing a happy little song.

They get round in the dead of night
They'll come for you if you don't do everything right
You're gonna be the sorry one
'Cause spies just wanna have fun
Oh spies just wanna have

That's all they really want
Some fun
You'd best look out for number one
'Cause spies - they want to have fun
Yeah spies just want to have fun

(With no apologies to Cyndi Lauper - after all, she's never bloody apologised to me)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pot Blogging

I've just thrown out my largest stockpot. It just had to go, no two ways about it.

This afternoon I braved the rain and took a walk down to the local supermarket, where I picked up a leek, some celery, button mushrooms in a punnet, a chicken breast fillet on special, arborio rice and (much as I hate to admit it) one of those cartons of ready made chicken stock. Oh and some hydroponically grown Italian parsley - because it was there. All up, it came to a little under $16.00.

Once home, I took the old enamelled stock pot, poured a generous slug of olive oil into it and started work on a mise-en-place. I trimmed the ratty bits off the leek, sliced it in half lengthwise and washed it under the tap. Some quick chop, chop, chop with my kitchen knife and then on to the celery. That done I stripped the skin and fatty bits off the chicken breasts and finished up by measuring two cups of rice into a bowl. I took the jars of minced garlic and chopped chilli out of the fridge. Now I was ready to start cooking.

The stock pot went onto the heat and, after a couple of minutes, the chopped leek went into the oil. Followed, a little later by a generous teaspoon of minced garlic, a level teaspoon of chilli and the bowl of rice. I stirred it around until the rice was translucent and then set it aside, on an idle burner. The chicken should have gone in before this, but I forgot.

With the pot sitting off the heat, I measured out a cup of the chicken stock and poured it in with the rice. This is when I realised I'd forgotten to sear the chicken. Oops. But it wasn't a big deal; chicken's a white meat anyway, so cooking it by poaching it in something resembling its own stock is acceptable. You don't lose anything by it. So in went another cup of stock, and two cups of that Queen Adelaide reisling that's been sitting around the house for the past month or so. Then some chopped hydroponic parsley, and all the mushrooms - I stripped the plastic off the punnet, thought about what would happen to the any mushrooms I put aside in the fridge for a later that would never come and thought, to hell with it. In went the lot. I put the pot back on the heat, turned the electric element down to its lowest setting and went off to check e-mails and stuff.

About half an hour later I came back to the kitchen to check what was going on in the pot. When I lifted the lid, something was wrong. The contents were definitely a bit whiffy. Not pleasantly whiffy, smelling of wine, leek, garlic and chilli but with a nasty bacterial smell. After a little thought, I transferred the whole lot to a smaller stainless steel pot (which was barely big enough to hold everything) and took the old stockpot out to the bin.

I've just paid it another visit and that whiff is still there. It's not so strong now but it's still noticeable. Which means I've just spent sixteen dollars (plus electricity costs and preparation time) on cooking up a batch of potentially toxic risotto. So much for cookery as occupational therapy.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Gummo and Him

The other one, the anonymous one, is the one things should happen to. He likes genuinely useless things, miniature scores, the taste of cardamom and the music of Krystof Penderecki; a dilettante's tastes he is quite complacent about inflicting on me. The only genuinely useless thing he ever owned was a 1/4 inch female BSP to 1/4 inch male BSP hose fitting adaptor. He's never found anything since that matches its almost Platonically ideal uselessness - objects that are designed for a non-existent purpose are hard to come by. He's probably lost the bloody thing anyway. It never occurred to him to use it as a paperweight.

He resents any accusation that using me as his on-line mouthpiece is gutless or spineless - a refusal to take responsibility for his own words. What about Grumpy of Vermont, Appalled of Box Hill and Disgusted of Balwyn in The Hun, he'll ask. Or all the other pseudonymous bloggers and commenters. He'll tell you he has a lot of very good reasons for staying in the background while I flap my little wooden jaw from the dubious comfort of his lap. What reasons, you ask. Private ones, of course.

Oddly, those precious "private reasons" don't stop him from using this blog to bitch about his messed up personal life. Not so oddly, they don't stop him from introducing himself as "Gummo Trotsky" at blog meets when his own name draws a complete blank, leaving me to carry his weight in the conversation. When we go home, he bitches about how I take all the funny lines, as if somehow they were his to begin with.

Still he has his uses. For one thing, he was the one who finally ferreted out the book with that Borges essay I wanted. Now, if he can just do the same with the little essay on Don Quixote ...

(And now, back to the vapours)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Shy Girls

(A work in progress)

Oh I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts,
See them all a standing in a row,
That's what she sang as I passed by her stall
It was only a penny a throw.

Her eyes were like sapphires,
her hair was spun gold, her lips were a fine cherry red,
I gave her a penny, she gave me a ball,
And laid her hand on my head. (Dumb!!!)
And a soft warning voice spoke up in my head: (much better!)

Oh, don't mess with the shy girls,
at the old county fair,
They'll She'll lead you to ruin and sin.
Their Her heart is as dark black as the roots of their her hair,
Her liver's are all pickled in gin.

This post was spawned by reading Boynton. Sort of. A sleepless night listening to the siberian hamster (or bare-tailed possum) in the attic made a significant contribution too. Originally I imagined it as a Kenny Rogers style whining baritone C & W number but now I'm thinking wurlitzer organ to open with a segue into a gruff Geordie accented vocal with Fender Stratocaster accompaniment.

That's it for this week. Time for a big attack of the vapours.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Enchanted Toasting Fork - Episode 5

Petro stepped down from the tram and crossed to the pavement. He was just a couple of doors away from The Lucky-Happy Mini-Convenience-Mart - Discount Smokes, Dry Cleaning, Broadband Internet, Cheap Phonecards, Shoe Repairs Mondays to Fridays only. It was probably a better place to do his web search for housebreaking tips than his own computer at home. It would be faster and there would be no embarassing audit trail on his own PC or his ISP's server. He ducked in through the door, between the flags advertising cheapest ISD rates to places like El Dorado, Shangri-La, Brigadoon, Tir-Na-Nog and Y'ha-nthlei.

"Pack of Emphysema Gold," he said to the sallow proprietor, whose face had the low-browed batrachian look of a recent immigrant from Y'ha-nthlei, "and I'd like to get on the net for about an hour or so." The proprietor gave Petro his cigarettes, accepted payment and waved his hand at the back of the store, where there was a line of carrels against one wall, each with a PC in it. The rearmost carrel was already taken by a three-toed sloth. The sloth had a lonely air of sadness and frustration about it. It also seemed to be having a few difficulties with the mouse and keyboard.

There were only three carrels, so Petro took the one closest to the front of the shop, leaving one free between himself and the sloth. He brought up Google and typed in "Housebreaking OR Burglary". A little over a quarter of a second later, he was looking at results one to ten of about 5,220,000. He amended his search to "Housebreaking | Burglary -dog -puppy -cat". That knocked out about a million results. It occurred to him that this might take a little time. He was still refining and narrowing down his search when the sloth left. A few minutes later, its place was taken by a young mother with a sound-proofed baby stroller.

The reserve battery light on the dashboard started blinking. Ruby swore under her breath. Despite her mood the curse came out with a hint of the vibrancy and excitement that she could never quite shake off so she added a pox on fairy godmothers and their idiot blessings to the abuse she had tossed at her car. She scanned the road ahead for a Teslaco station. With luck, she'd find one before the battery warning light lit continuously and the annoying beeping started.

The Teslaco station, when she came to it, was on the other side of the road - of course. She threw a desperate U-turn into the station forecourt. Like all Teslaco stations it was brightly lit, even in the middle of a sunny afternoon. Under the Teslaco logo - a Jovian hand with a lightning stroke middle finger extended upwards - the prices blazed out in neon glory. Leaded 99.9c/amp Unleaded 89.9c/amp. Standard Teslaco weekend prices.

Inside the station, Titus looked up from the copy of The Goth he had "borrowed" from the newspaper rack. He watched Ruby's old Holden Hippo stop at service point 3. The Hippo might look good with respray and a new set of wheels. Not much you could do for the driver, he decided, when he saw her get out of the car. So much for the idea of closing up for an hour and nicking out the back with a bottle of baby oil and a pack of condoms from the counter display. Maybe next weekend would bring a change of luck. He went back to the paper:

Japanese Inventor Claims Positive Entropy Breakthrough

For centuries, great thinkers have dreamed of creating a machine that uses more energy than it produces. Now 70 year old Tonito Kimosabe claims to have achieved this dream with an engine that runs at only 90% efficiency. If Kimosabe's claims are true, this will mean a major upheaval in contemporary magic. According to mainstream magical opinion, the second law of manadynamics makes engines with less than 100% efficiency impossible ...

Outside, Ruby popped the lid of the battery compartment and unhooked the jumper leads from the service point. The ammeter reset itself to zero. She used the keypad beside the ammeter to preset it for $20.00 of curent - that ought to be enough to get her home. She slipped her hands into the one-size-fits-all-males rubber gauntlets over the spring clips and attached them to the electrodes; the ammeter soared as charge drained off the batteries. The Teslaco stations lights seemed to burn a little brighter. Once her twenty dollars was used up, she went inside to pay.

Titus glanced at Ruby as she came through the sliding glass door - she wasn't actually that bad looking close up. Those piercings looked weird though. She came straight to the counter, holding a twenty dollar note in her hand. "Number three," she said in a voice that touched Titus with a delicate thrill of hinted possibilities.

Titus took the twenty dollar note.

"You sure that's going to hold you?" he asked, "Those old Hippos can put away a lot of charge."

"I'm not going that far." Ruby answered, untouched by his solicitous attempt to wring another few dollars out of her. "I'll drain her right off tomorrow."

"Your business I guess," There was a hint of resentment in Titus' response. "That all?"

Ruby eyed the counter display of baby oil, goatweed pills and condoms. "That's all, thanks."

She walked back to her car and drove away. She's going to get herself into trouble one day, coming on like that Titus thought, dishing out insults with that come and get me tone. He turned to the opinion pages:

Flummery: Here are the Facts

When a respected mage like Tom Flummery buys into brownie hysteria, you know that you're in trouble. In his latest book on global electrification and "peak electricity" Flummery makes it clear that he's abandoned sense and reason in favour of brownie mysticism. Here are some of the myths Flummery purveys in this disgraceful book ...

The rest of Ruby's drive home went without incident. She parked the car and went inside then along the hallway to the back of the house where french windows opened onto a shaded courtyard. There were no messages on her answering machine. She took a folded paper note out o fher pocket and opened it up. As she read it, her hand touched the telephone handset.

Across town, Petro eyed his telephone apprehensively.

Life Surpasses Art Once More

ASIO has censored the report of the parliamentary committee that oversees the operations of Australia's intelligence agencies.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD, which is dominated by Government MPs, has objected to the removal of a sentence by the domestic security agency, saying the "unjustified" deletion violated its statutory duty to report on the agency's activities.

(Brendan Nicholson in The Age)

If you see nothing wrong with ASIO editing the report of a Parliamentary committee, please leave the debate on the future of Australian democracy. Don't come back until you have caught up on some basic concepts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Visiting Site Meter this morning to check for weird and wonderful search requests, I discovered that Ken Parish, at Troppo Armadillo, has written a serial plug for several of my posts. Apparently I've been blogging up a storm. Just the thing to cheer you up when you're between meds. Trouble is, of course, that when people say good things about your writing it makes you feel obliged to continue so I guess the "Gummo Trotsky is overwhelmed with ennui" announcement might have to be postponed, while I polish up some those "posts in progress" I've got sitting around the place. Like "Great Dickheads of History" which got hung up rather a lot because I couldn't find any dickheads to match, let alone surpass, King John the Blind of Bohemia, whose demise at the Battle of Crécy is recorded in Froissart's Chronicles. But, if anyone has any nominations, feel free to drop me an e-mail or something. Oh, and let's try to avoid the obvious candidates.

Elsewhere, Dave Tiley knows an eejit when he reads one. Here's an exquisite example of the eejit's writing:

We shake hands and I get another surprise. Vonnegut is an average-sized man but he has massive hands. They hang from the sleeves of his ragged coat like the entrails of a freshly slaughtered animal. The veins that crisscross the backs of these monsters are as thick as knitting needles.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Enchanted Toasting Fork - Episode 4
The Story So Far

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Things to Come

Subject - Crab Nebula Transmission Decryption


Fed that data stream you picked up on the 4.2 cm band into Panjandrum as you asked. It's taken the best part of 72 hours for Panjandrum to crack the protocol but we're pretty confident that we've got it. We're still working through the data but here's what we've got so far:

Greetings from Krzmal

Greetings! We know that this message may impact you with startlement as we not known or met to you but we have belief that you will oblige us with your assistance. We are Krzmal from Zangara Hegemony of Planetary Bodies. Due to recent political upheavals in Zangara Hegemony of Planetary Bodies must take up exile in more favourable part of galaxy. We humbly seek your assistance in relocating our most valuable possession.

We have [untranslatable] in [untranslatable]. We are willing to offer [untranslatable] of this [untranslatable] for your assistance in shifting our [untranslatable] into more secure [untranslatable]. Please we need your assistance to protect what is rightfully ours from seizure by the illegitimate regime that is plundering our once great hegemony. For more information contact us at [untranslatable].


She takes it in the [untranslatable]

See it all at [untranslatable]


You may want to rethink Monday's press conference; I don't think the world is quite ready for this.


Subject - Re: Crab Nebula Transmission Decryption


Were there any graphics with that "She takes it in the [untranslatable]" section of the message? If we hack those, they might make a good visual for the press conference.


(A tug of the forelock to to Nabakov, who lent me the book from which I purloined this idea.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Some Boy ...

Kevin Andrews isn't impressed by today's protests against the government's proposed reintroduction of the Masters and Servants Act (NSW - 18 something or other):

Kevin Andrews said 95 per cent of workers had stayed on the job. "It's always predictable that people are out on the streets," he said.

Mr Andrews dismissed the union movement's campaign against the legislation as 'hysterical.

Further on, Andrews remarks:

It is totally over the top, equating IR changes with terrorism, saying that this is going to lead eventually to riots in the streets of Australia like we have seen in Paris, to be saying women and children will be killed.

That really set the tenor of the entire approach, the entire campaign that the unions have been running.

Andrews also objects to comparisons between the proposed changes and fascism, as made by NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca at the Senate enquiry into the IR Bill. But I have no idea where Andrews is getting this stuff about terrorism and riots in the streets from.

Frankly, I'm disappointed to learn that someone out there has likened the Government's IR reforms to terrorism. That won't do at all; it's obviously incumbent on whoever's been spreading these hysterical rumours to come clean and admit their error. It's the sort of thing that brings discredit on the whole Left. And while we're at it, maybe the nameless person who made off with my copy of The Communist Manifesto in 1976 might care to lob it back to me in the post. I don't really care who you are; as long as I get it back by the end of the week, there'll be no need to take the matter any further.

World Wide Aneurism

There's an article in the Next supplement of today's Age, syndicated from Wired, where Kevin Kelly gets into a bit of gee-whiz technobabble forecasting:

The web continues to evolve from an entity ruled by mass media and mass audiences to one ruled by messy media and messy participation. How far can this frenzy of creativity go? Encouraged by web-enabled sales, 175,000 books were published and more than 30,000 music albums were released in the US last year. At the same time 14 million blogs were launched worldwide.

All these numbers are escalating. A simple extrapolation suggests that in the near future everyone alive will (on average) [sic] write a song, author a book, make a video, craft a weblog, and code a program. [And now for the money quote] This idea is less outrageous than the notion 150 years ago that some day everyone would write a letter or take a photograph...

Apparently, by 2015, the Internet as we know it will be gone, replaced by a world-spanning super intelligent networked Machine. I can hardly wait. I'm really looking forward to the day that I try to start my dial-up connection and the PPP-client returns an error message saying "Failed to conect to internet with error 181: Piss off I'm busy."

(According to UNESCO, there were 862 million illiterate people in the world population in 2000 CE. While it's quite possible that some, if not all, of these people have at least taken a photograph, most likely at the behest of a group of First World tourists, none of them would have written any letters.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How the Irish Tried to Buy Law from Edward I

(and not William the Bastard)

Months ago, I found this story in The Making of Europe; Conquest, Colonisation and Cultural Change 950 - 1350 by Robert Bartlett, a book I found in my local library. I made a mental note of it, in case privatised justice systems ever became a hot topic of debate in the blogosphere. But time passes and libertarianism, and the various absurd proposals that it sometimes produces fell off the agenda and I was left with a really great topic for a post and no excuse to publish it. Sod that. I'm going to tell the story anyway.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the story, it's probably worth looking at how the rule of law was disseminated during the Middle Ages. Basically it worked like this. A young nobleman would borrow enough money from some Jew (who was probably prohibited by law from making a living any other way) to equip himself with armour, sword and a warhorse. Then he would "take the cross" and set out for the Holy Land, looking to win honour, renown, land and loot, perhaps slaughtering a few Jews (to whom he wasn't indebted) and other sundry infidels along the way to practice his swing. When he got to the Holy Land, and got into his first proper battle, the Saracens would shoot his destrier out from under him, well before he had a chance to get in on the pillaging, leaving him up to his ears in debt.

On his return home, our nobleman would be faced with the problem of discharging his debt. One solution, first employed en masse in England in 1290 - also under Edward I as it happens - was to kill the Jew creditor and burn down his house along with all record of the debt. Another was to sell something of value - other than land - to get some ready money. Such as a charter of law, which could be bestowed on a city, town or individual within your fief.

After their subjugation by the English in 1170, the Irish found themselves subject to English rule but not English law. The Irish weren't above English law; they were beneath it. The situation is described in the Remonstrance of 1317 or 1318, a long whiny letter the Irish princes sent to the Pope to explain why they had sided with Robert the Bruce and his rellies against Edward II. Among their complaints was that while an Englishman could sue any Irishman, only Irish prelates were able to sue back and that the law allowed the English to kill the Irish with impunity. Well, more or less: although no criminal penalty applied to killing an Irishman, his lord was entitled to sue the killer for compensation. The going rate of compensation for a dead Irishman eventually settled at 70 shillings. That doesn't sound like a lot, until you consider that it was enough to buy 140 pounds of iron - almost enough to kit out 3 men at arms, once the armourers have finished with it. So killing someone else's Irish was actually a rather expensive proposition.

The situation was obviously unsatisfactory from an Irish point of view; by the fourteenth century even the English (or perhaps we should say some of them) had come to share their view. As Bartlett notes (p 219):

Attempts were also made to extend English Law to the Irish. The initiative sometimes came from the Irish themselves who sought to negotiate the purchase of English rights, either individually or collectively, as in the late 1270s [1277-80], when 'all the Irish' offered the king 10,000 marks 'in order to have the common law which the English have and use in Ireland and to be treated as such Englishmen are treated. Nothing came of these general attempts to enfranchise the Irish ... Until Tudor times Irishmen could only enjoy the rights and protections of English law by individual grant.

Isn't history wonderful? It seems there's no political proposal so daft that it hasn't been tried and found wanting somewhere or other in times past.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Nature Note

I've just been out in the back yard, looking for flies. Not blowies, you understand; they're an ordinary pest that you kill on sight as soon as you see them in the house. Actually, you try to chase them into a confined space - like the laundry or the aluminium frame of the kitchen window - before you hit them with a good dose of Mortein (when you're on a good thing, stick to it), Pea-Beu (when you find a better thing, switch to it, particularly if the endorsement money's better) or Black and Gold Insect Spray (when you find a cheaper thing, to hell with celebrity endorsements).

The flies I've been looking for are about blowie size, but remakably bee like - they've evolved protective mimicry. I've notied them around the place at this time of year in the past but it's only today that it occurred to me that they might actually be interesting (in an ugly, disgusting way). It all hinges on whether the brutes evolved to mimic native bees, or European honey bees.

The latter possibility is quite exciting because the European honey bee didn't arrive on this continent until after white settlement. Which means that maybe, just maybe, here in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne (and maybe elsewhere), there's a new species of fly that's evolved in the past 200 years. Either that or the intelligent designer (or one of the intelligent designers), looked in some time and saw the opportunity to tweak the fly design a little.

That's all highly speculative of course; it's much more likely that these uglies have been around for a long time and it's only recently that I've started to notice them. Incidentally, if you want to see them in your own back yard, plant lots of dandelions. They go for those in a big way.

Frequently Asked Questions

(From, the official website of the Counter Terrorism Unit)

I am planning a major terrorist attack on the US. What are my chances of success?

Your plan should take no more than 22 hours to execute. You should make it as complex as possible, and include a lot of diversions, such as smaller terrorist attacks on the US population. In the long run, you will be captured or shot, but you can have an exciting and entertaining time giving our not quite competent agents the run around on your last day of life(or freedom).

I have been asked to participate in a major terrorist attack on the US. I am worried that if captured I may be tortured by CTU agents. How likely is this?

If you are a committed terrrorist or a paid professional mercenary, you have little to worry about; our agents are aware that using torture on you, particularly during an emergency where every second counts, is probably futile. You are more likely to be offered complete immunity from prosecution for all past misdeeds in return for your co-operation. CTU agents mainly use torture on relatives of government officials, other CTU agents, and their girlfriends' ex-husbands.

Remember: CTU will do everything to make your visit to the US an exciting and entertaining experience.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Nations that Eat Most

Among modern nations the greatest eaters are the English, Germans, French, and the Americans - the ruling people of our civilisation. The diet of the Spaniards and the Italians is notably less substantial than that of the English and Germans, just as their brains are less active and original.

The Americans are, on the average, the greatest eaters in the world. Said Carlyle to Emerson: "The best thing I know of that country is, that in it a man can have meat for his labour."

From Everybody's Pocket Cyclopædia OF THINGS WORTH KNOWING; THINGS DIFFICULT TO REMEMBER; and TABLES OF REFERENCE BY DON LEMON (Madgwick, Houlston & Co, London).

Friday, November 04, 2005

Offensive to Buddhists

After reading Paul Gray in The Oz yesterday, I've decided to have a crack at writing a piece that is guaranteed to be inoffensive to the faith of John Howard's mainstream Australians and equally inoffensive to the non-mainstream minority religions that have everybody in a lather over national security - like those baby-killing Seventh Day Adventists. Just to see if it can be done. Here we go:

Wan-to went to his master one day and asked "Master, how can I achieve enlightenment."

The master stroked his beard while he thought. "You must go up to the mountain and meditate upon this question: how many monks does it take to change a light bulb? When you have the answer come back and tell me, and I will tell you if you have achieved enlightnement."

Wan-to went up to the mountain to meditate on the question. He sat for a long time in the lotus position thinking deeply on how many monks it takes to change a light bulb. So great was his concentration that a pair of swallows built their nest of mud in his left armpit.

Time passed; the swallows raised their chicks and flew away. Wan-to returned to the monastery to see his master.

"Have you the answer to my question?" asked the master.

"Two thousand and one." replied Wan-to. "One to hold the bulb and two thousand to turn the monastery around."

"Foolish monk." said the master and struck Wan-to on the forehead with a bamboo stave. "Return to the mountain and meditate on the question again."

Wan-to returned to the mountain; the swallows returned and build a new nest under his left armpit. Wan-to felt sorrow that the work they had put into building the old nest had been wasted.

Time passed; the swallows raised another brood of chicks and flew away. Once again Wan-to returned to the monastery.

"And what is your answer this time, Wan-to?" asked the master.

"One." replied Wan-to "One to change the bulb, one not to think of the white horse and one to make the sound of one hand clapping."

"Foolish monk." said the master, "That is three monks."

Before the master could take up his bamboo stave, Wanto seized it and struck the master on the forehead.

"Foolish master." said Wan-to. "Go up to the mountain and meditate on this question: why is the Buddha like a bicycle clip?"

Through the many years of his life, Wan-to was known as a monk of great wisdom and enlightenment.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


There has always been hostility from some on the left of politics towards America. These are people who believe capitalism is evil and that the US is the place where the evil of capitalism and exploitation is most at home. During the Cold War, Marxists and socialists of various types were ideologically or emotionally drawn to the communist side. Their side lost. This gave them even stronger reason to dislike America.

... if the world is to have a hegemon, the modern US is the kind of hegemon we would like to have: democratic, respectful of human rights, with strong and genuine belief in individual liberty.

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello, 22 August 2005.

Treasurer Peter Costello has warned the public service - and the government's backbench - against focusing on their own patch at the expense of the national interest.

Using an address to the Australian Public Service, Mr Costello said he feared for what he termed the Balkanisation of both government departments and politicians.

He said there was evidence in some areas of politicians not considering the wider ramifications of their decisions.

"(They decide) I'm going to do what my region wants me to do, or my state wants me to do," he said.

"I'll just do whatever is in their interest, notwithstanding that it may not be in the interests of the nation as a whole.

"I think policy works best when we have a conception of national interest."

Mr Costello said the budget problems of the United States was in part due to the decision by American lawmakers to attach particular regional projects to major pieces of legislation.

"I would want to resist that, at all costs here in Australia," he said.

Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November 2005.

Only 2 Damn Episodes To Go

It's funny - this morning Jack and Audrey were planning their future together. Since then he's been responsible for the death of her husband and now he'll have to torture her brother.

Tony, musing on life's ironies to Michelle.

Through a Bulb, Dimly

... During a Senate estimates committee examination of ABC funding, [Senator] Santoro slammed the public broadcaster not only for bias in its news and current affairs coverage but also for persistent hostility towards Australians who practise the traditional faith of the West, Christianity.

"Broadcasters continually make derogatory comments about Jesus, the Pope and Christianity in general in a way [that] I believe breaches the ABC's own editorial policies and shows demonstrable bias," he said.


Egregious examples of the anti-Christian bias of the ABC derive not only from the broadcaster's news and current affairs department but with greater impact from lifestyle programs such as comedy show The Glass House. The Glass House has given repeated offence to Christians with humour directed at the Pope and Mother Teresa.

It is today an open question as to which is more harmful to Australian intellectual culture: bias in the ABC's news and current affairs coverage or bias in its lifestyle programming. My view is that the latter matters more. As far as imbalance in current affairs is concerned, as exemplified by last week's Lateline coverage, it at least can be argued that few Australians will bother watching. Lateline is essentially of interest to those engaged full time in the business of politics: a small, if strategically important, segment of the population.

By contrast, non-news and current affairs programs, such as comedy and television drama, have the potential to reach and influence a far greater number of adult Australians. If bias exists here - in the form of agendas openly hostile to the values of significant sections of the population - then Australia has a real problem with its national broadcaster. This, I believe, is the existing situation.

Paul Gray, a Hun columnist, taking a shot at the big-time in The Oz (soon to be declared a great Australian cultural icon).

Dummy Spit of the Week

Senator SANTORO—I would appreciate it if you could, from this point onwards, just give actual answers to the questions. I put you and the ABC on notice: I am not going to desist from the way that I go about questioning the ABC. All you are doing is aggravating me and other senators. We will just keep on coming. If I have to go to the government and ask for a special inquiry into bias at the ABC, I will do that. I am not at all impressed by Mr Balding’s absence. I understand his attendance had been previously notified to the committee, and it was withdrawn late last Friday afternoon. You can all sit there and look as sanctimonious, as serious or—like a couple of the officers behind you—as lacking in seriousness as you want to, but I am telling you that I am not at all impressed by the absence of Mr Balding. I have 2½ thousand pages of transcripts, because every time I ask a question he says that he has to check the record, and when he does check the record I get nonsense for an answer in the vast majority of cases.

Some of us actually take our jobs very seriously. There are about 28 people in Australia monitoring what the ABC does. I receive between 15 and 20 tapes a week, and out of that we get transcripts. We are absolutely, deadly serious, some senators—I would suggest most senators—in that we want to go about making the ABC accountable. A simple statement of ‘The ABC is the most accountable media organisation,’ does not wash with me, because we as a parliament have given you about $1.2 billion of public funds. The lack of accountability as a result of Mr Balding’s absence from here today is certainly not appreciated by me.

Santo the Magnificent in the Senate Estimates Committee Hearing into the ABC, 31 October 2005.

The Enchanted Toasting Fork

(Episode 3)
The story so far: Episode 1, Episode 2

Petro half woke to a pleasant drowsiness, scented with jasmine and sandalwood with an undertone of candlewax. Someone had been burning aromatherapy candles last night. So last night had been real; he hadn't gone home alone. He hadn't even gone home; if he had he would be waking to the entirely different aromas of a bachelor's bedroom. Should he open his eyes, or was it better to feign sleep a little longer so that he could gloat over his good fortune?

There was time enough for both, he felt, so he put off opening his eyes while he relived some of last night's most vibrant and exciting moments. He noticed another scent, for a moment overwhelming the jasmine, sandlewood and candlewax. He must remember to give his moustache a good wash before he went out today. He twitched, to ease the feeling of skin stretched a little too tight; it didn't help. At last, he opened his eyes and turned his head to the side.

"About time." Petro thrilled inwardly to the sound of that vibrant voice. "I was beginning to think I should redo the garden with thorn bushes." Ruby, that was her name, Petro remembered. She was still wearing some of her jewellery from yesterday; a small ruby stud on the right side of her nose and another above her left eye. For the first time, Petro noticed that neither of the stones appeared to have a mount; they were cunningly wrought pieces of jewellery indeed.

"Mornin'," he muttered, sliding towards her; they kissed. He stroked her face - a finger brushed across the stone above her eye. "Ow!" she protested, "don't touch that."

"Sorry," he said. "Didn't mean to. It looks pretty; a ruby is it?"

"Garnet." she answered tersely. "The other one's a carnelian. Look, can we get on with this? I've got a wedding to do this afternoon."

"Well ... yeah, right." Petro was a little taken aback by her sudden loss of vibrancy, but he recovered quickly and got on with it. Later, they took a shower together, or rather Petro washed Ruby's hair and back while she stood under the spray of hot water. Occasionally he nudged her to remind her that he was still potent if she was at all interested. He noticed that she also has a few garnet - or carnelian - studs on her buttocks. So many piercings. Weird. Had he given her his phone number yet? If he had, could he afford to have it changed?

At last Ruby yielded her place under the shower head to him; there was just enough time, before the cold water set in in earnest, for him to at least give his face a scrub. When he got out of the shower she had already dried herself and was on her way out the door. "Coffee?" she asked, throwing the question back over her shoulder at him.

"Please." he answered. He dried himself as well as he could with the vibrantly pink but damp towel, then locked the bathroom door. After a minute or so, he was able to use the toilet. He flushed it and left the bathroom.

In the bedroom, as he was dressing, his thoughts turned to the toasting fork. Given the way things had turned out, it struck him that he really ought to get it back, before it caused too much trouble for Claudio and Cossima. But how to do it? The first step, he decided, would be to see if he could find any web-pages on Housebreaking.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Version 0.w.2.718281828459040 - The Flame War


I've about had it with this whole universe project. Look at where we're at guys - version 0.w.2.718281828459040 and we're still nowhere near a stable release. It MIGHT HELP if some of you PUTZES would actually follow some of the AGREED SPECS. Like:

Way back at release 0.w.2.71828182800042 we AGREED that hair was more efficient than feathers. But some of you guys wanted creatures that could fly - you insisted we needed feathers so you could have your birds. Hell, we already had the flight thing licked with the insects, but no, that wasn't good enough for you. At release 0.w.2.71828182800151 we cracked flying hairy things with bats. That should have been it for the friggin' birds, IMHO, but no, birds were cute, they had to stay in. What do you guys really want - a universe that's full of cute stuff or one that friggin' WORKS????

Posted by Tetragrammaton

Here we go again. POT/KETTLE/BLACK, Tet! When are you vertebrate guys going to get around to implementing the new eye design we prototyped in the cephalopods? And whose brilliant idea was it to combine intelligence with an opposable thumb? If you're so sick of this project why don't you just F**K OFF!!!! Go screw someone else's pooch.

Posted by Shiva

Please, can we discuss this without getting into that whole "intelligence is fine for cetaceans but bad for apes" debate again? That topic is SOOOO last eternity.

Posted by Yahweh

Hey Tet, is this Yahweh real, or is another one of your sock puppets? Or is it the other way round? Either way, you guys are pathetic. You want intelligent apes - fine, create an experimental branch and work on them there until you iron the bugs out or maybe finally get the idea that the damn things just don't work. Like in release 0.w.2.71828182700013 when you were expecting the little buggers to worship you andinstead they came up with that crazy "Evolution" theory. Still ROFLMAO over that one. And what about that idea of intelligent females who were naturally submissive to the males? Looked really good until they came up with that "feminism" thing.

Your biggest problem is that you think you're the only one on this project with any good ideas. If maybe you'd had the humility to recognise some of the rest of us are capable of good work, this project wouldn't be so F**KED UP. Like maybe if you'd built those praying mantis behaviours I sent you into your beloved Hom sap you'd be able to get the thing to work, mister F**CKING PERFECT.

Posted by Asmodeus

Female androphagy RAWKS!

Posted by Beelzebub