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.