Saturday, March 25, 2006

WorkChoices in Warwickshire, 1685

About the beginning of the year 1685 the justices of Warwickshire, in the exercise of a power entrusted to them by an Act of Elizabeth, fixed, at their quarter sessions, a scale of wages for the county, and notified that every employer who gave more than the authorised sum, and every working man who received more, would be liable to punishment. The wages of the common agricultural labourer, from March to September, were fixed at ... fourshillings a week without food. From September to March the wages were to be only three and sixpence a week.

(MacAulay, again)

Friday, March 24, 2006

MacAulay Magic, Yet Again

Some choice excerpts from Chapter III - "The State of England in 1685", which includes a lot of explicit contrasts between the state of England of MacAulay's time and the year 1685 - usually to the detriment of the latter.

On Personnel Agencies in Bristol:
The passion for colonial traffic was so strong that there was scarcely a small shopkeeper in Bristol who had not a venture on board of some ship bound for Virginia or the Antilles. Some of these ventures indeed were not of the most honourable kind. There was, in the Transatlantic possessions of the crown, a great demand for labour; and this demand was partly supplied by a system of crimping and kidnapping at the principal English seaports. Nowhere was this system in such active and extensive operation as at Bristol...

On the Tourism and Hospitality Industry:
England, however, was not, in the seventeeenth century devoid of watering places. The gentry of Derbyshire and of the neighbouring counties repaired to Buxton, where they were lodged in low rooms under low rafters, and regaled with oatcake, and with a viand which the hosts called mutton, but which the guests suspected to be dog.

On Government Media Policy:
Any person might ... print, at his own risk, a history, a sermon, or a poem, without the previous approbation of any officer; but the Judges were unanimously of the opinion that this liberty did not extend to Gazettes, and that, by the common law of England, no man, not authorised by the crown, had a right to publish political news. While the Whig party was still formidable, the government thought it expedient occasionally to connive at the violation of this rule... After the defeat of the Whigs it was no longer necessary for the Knig to be sparing in the use of that which the Judges had pronounced to be his undoubted prerogative. At the close of his reign no newspaper was suffered to appear without his allowance: and his allowance was given exclusively to the London Gazette.

On Media Content and Bias in the Mainstream Media:
The contents [of the London Gazette] generally were a royal proclamation, two or three Tory addresses, notices of two or thre promotions, an account of a skirmish between the imperial troops and the Janissaries on the Danube, a description of a highwayman, an announcement of a grand cockfight between two persons of honour, and an advertisement offering a reward for a strayed dog... but neither the Gazette nor any supplementary broadside printed by authority ever contained any intelligence which it did not suit the purposes of the Court to publish. The most important parliamentary debates, the most important state trials, recorded in our history, were passed over in profound silence.

On the growth of the coffeesphere and coffee house syndication (CHS):
In the capital the coffee houses supplied in some measure the place of a journal. Thither the Londoners flocked, as the Atheninas of old flocked to the market place, to hear whethter there was any news... But people who lived at a distance from the great theatre of political contention could be kept regularly informed of what was passing there only by means of newsletters... The newswriter rambled from coffee room to coffee room, collecting reports, squeezed himself into the Sessions House at the Old Bailey if there was an interesting trial... That was a memorable day on which the first newsletter from London was laid on the table of the only coffee room in Cambridge... Within a week after it had arrived it had been thumbed by twenty families. It furnished the neighbouring squires with matterfor talk over their October, and the neighbouring rectors with topics for sharp sermons against Whiggery or Popery.

On a seventeenth century Right Wing Death Beast:
... Another journal, published under the patronage of the Court, consisted of comment without news. This paper, called The Observator, was edited by an old Tory pamphleteer named Roger Lestrange... ...his nature, at once ferocious and ignoble, showed itself in every line that he penned... In tha last month of the reign of Charles the Second, William Jenkyn, an aged dissenting pator of great note, who had been cruelly persecuted for no crime but that of worshipping God according to the fashion generally followed throughout Protestant Europe, died of hardships and privations in Newgate. The outbreak of popular sympathy could not be restrained. The corpse was followed to the grave by a train of a hundred and fifty coaches... Lestrange alone set up a howl of savage exultation, laughed at the weak compassion of the Trimmers, proclaimed that the blasphemous old impostor had met with a most righteous punishment, and vowed to wage war, not only to the death, but after death, with all the mock saints and martyrs.

Skipping forward several pages, there's some interesting stuff under the marginal heading "Delusion which leads men to overrate the happiness of preceding generations", but I'll leave that until I've got to it in proper order. It might warrant essaying at attempt at an essay.

Give This Man What He Deserves

A Penis Gourd.

"I just killed a kid," Charles Martin told the emergency services operator. "I shot him with a goddamn 410 shotgun twice."

He had gunned down Larry Mugrage, his neighbours' 15-year old son. The teenager's crime: walking across Martin's lawn on his way home.


Even after killing the teenager, who was running home to fetch a video game, Martin, 66, was indignant. "I've been being harassed by him and his parents for five years. Today just blew it up," he told police.

Julian Borger of The Guardian syndicated in The Age.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More Macaulay Magic

He might be an opinionated jingo, but I'm starting to warm to the old bugger. Once he gets into the seventeenth century, from Charles the First on, it's almost racy, with a cast of overdrawn characters worthy of Robbins or Hailey. Here he is on public morals after the Restoration:

... The praise of politeness and vivacity could now scarcely be obtained except by some violation of decorum. Talents great and various assisted to spread the contagion. Ethical philosophy had recently taken a form well suited to pleasea generation equally devoted to monarchy and to vice. Thomas Hobbes had, in language more precise and luminous than has ever been employed by any other metaphysical writer, maintained that the will of the prince was the standard of right and wrong, and that every subject ought to be ready to profess Popery, Mahometanism or Paganism, at the royal command...

... The restored Church contended indeed against the prevailing immorality, but contended feebly, and with half a heart. It was necessary to the decorum of her character that she should admonish her erring children: but her admonitions were given in a somewhat perfunctory manner. Her attention was elsewhere engaged. Her whole soul was in the crushing of the Puritans, and of teaching her disciples to give unto Caesar the things which were Caesar's... She had been restored to opulence and honour by libertines... If the debauched Cavalier haunted brothels and gambling houses, he at least avoided conventicles. If he never spoke without uttering ribaldry and blasphemy, he made some amends by his eagerness to send Baxter and howe to gaol for preaching and praying. Thus the clergy, for a time, made war on schism with so much vigour that they had no time to make war on vice... It is an unquestionable and most instructive fact that the years during which the political power of the Anglican hierarchy was in the zenith were precisely the years during which national virtue was at the lowest point...

On "The Popish Plot":

... soon, from all the brothels, gambling houses, and spunging houses [sic] of London, flase witnesses poured forth to swear away the lives of Roman Catholics. One came with a story about an army of thirty thousand men who were to assemble in the disguise of pilgrims at Corrunna, and to sail thence to Wales. Another had been promised canonisation and five hundred pounds to murder the King...

The Parliamentary majority recovers from a political setback:

The party which preponderated in the House of Commons, bitterly mortified by this defeat, found some consolation in shedding the blood of Roman Catholics.

On the fitness of certain professions for public office:

... a lawyer, who, after many years devoted to professional labour, engages in politics for the first time at an advanced period of life, seldom distinguishes himself as a statesman ...

That last one has a few contemporary resonances, don't it?

There's also a copy of Voltaire's The Age of Louis XIV in the house. I was flicking through it yesterday. The second chapter is a survey of the state of various European nations before this glorious time. Here's how Voltaire describes Russia in that era:

Russia was still in a state of barbarism.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Coming Soon - The Constitutional Crisis We Have to Have. Please.

Forget the ongoing Monarchists versus Republicans vendetta - that's just a side show. Some time in the future - either when Elizabeth Battenburg Saxe-Coburg Gotha pops her clogs or the Coalition government needs to throw a sop to the Republican Liberals in the tradition of John Stuart Mill within its own ranks and the progressives outside, so that the adherents of the cult of John Howard and The Latter Day Burkean Conservatives can go on running the show their way, there'll be a referendum proposal for an elected Australian Head of State with bipartisan support. The Laboral Party will allow itself to be dragged along with whatever the Coalition puts up, to avoid the inevitable ridicule of the for years you guys have been saying you want a Republic and now we're giving you one and you're still not happy variety. The real constitutional problem us happy subjects of Wise King Otto have right now is the continuing encroachment of the executive arm of the government - the Prime Minister and Cabinet - into areas that they should leave well enough alone.

Here are a few recent and not so recent abuses of executive power - largely exercises of the Royal prerogative transferred holus-bolus to the Prime Minister and Cabinet under section 61 of the Constitution:
What's going on in national politics at the moment? We have a government with control of both houses of Parliament which is using its majority in both houses to extend its executive powers into areas that are properly the private concern of Australian citizens and an opposition that has becomed conditioned to roll over and play dead whenever it hears the magic words "national security" or "Australian way of life", that's what. Not all of the executive encroachments I've listed can be sheeted home to the Government alone - due discredit needs to be given to the Laboral opposition for those Ministerial powers in s501 of the Migration Act and to Senator Brian Harradine for that RU-486 ban. And both sides of Federal politics have acted fairly shoddily when it comes to taking this country to war.

In all the examples listed above, Parliament was merely doing what the Constitution allows it to do - cede unfettered power over Australian citizens to the executive. The only limitations on Commonwealth power in the Constitution are in respect to conflicts between the Federal Government and the States. Our British Imperialist Founding Fathers (BIFFs) were pretty complacent about the powers of the executive over the citizenry. Even Section 116 (originally Section 115) which limits the Commonwealth power to establish religion was framed in this spirit. It is included in the section of the Constitution referring to the States and their rights. At the 1898 Constitutional Convention in (Adelaide/Melbourne/Sydney), Edmund Barton rabbited on at length about differences between the proposed Constitution Act of 1897 and the earlier draft of 1890. His rabbitings include these remarks on Section 115/116:

I will not use the words themselves, but say that the preamble states, that the people, who have agreed on the Constitution, humbly rely on the blessing of the Supreme Being. It was feared that some interpretation such as has been taken up in one or two cases in America might lead to this phrase being regarded as an action taken against religious liberty. This Convention has agreed to a clause which prevents any possibility of that kind as regards the Commonwealth, and which does not interfere with the states in questions of their internal regulation, with which, of course, this Commonwealth will not have anything to do. Clause 115 says -

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious. test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

While, therefore, a concession has been made to the popular opinion that some reverential expression should be embodied in the preamble, due care has been taken by the Convention that no reliance upon that provision, and no far-fetched arguments based upon it, shall lead to any infraction of religious liberty under the laws of the Commonwealth which we hope to create. [my emphasis]

In other words, only the Commonwealth is barred from taking action against religious liberty - if the States choose to establish Churches (if, for example, the New South Wales Parliament should take it into its head to establish the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church as the official Church of New South Wales or the Victorian Parliament decided to make the Uniting Church the official Church of Victoria) there is nothing in our national Constitution to prevent this. And that's pretty much the way the BIFFs wanted it. The prerogatives of State governments ("States rights") take precedence over individual rights of religious conscience.

Thanks to that overrated bunch of complacent slack-arses, we have a constitution which is clearly inadequate in defining limits on the power of executive government to interfere in the lives of Australian citizens - hardly surprising, because with one or two exceptions, the buggers were all "British to their bootstraps" and were content to assume that British political tradition would be carried forwad in perpetuity when dealing with Constitutional matters. Clearly, as a matter of history, this hasn't happened and the result is an undefined executive prerogative (formally the Royal prerogative) which successive Parliaments, Governments and even High Courts have interpreted more in favour of giving power to the executive than protecting the rights of Australian citizens. Largely because the idea that there would one day be Australian citizens was beyond the comprehension of the BIFFs.

The argument between Monarchists and Republicans is largely about how we choose the national figurehead - should it be a Government appointee, representing a distant monarch or someone popularly elected. The question has largely been decided in favour of the latter and, once someone comes up with a workable proposal it will probably happen. So maybe it's time to look at some serious constitutional problems - such as the arrogations of power that have happened under this Government and the current Parliament. Or would you prefer to wait until a Laboral Government has control of both Houses of Parliament?

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Great Moment in Sports Photography

At The Age. I reckon it's a Photoshop put-up job, myself.

Media Riddle

Q: Why is free-to-air television like a kerosene lamp?

A: They're both obsolete. But a kerosene lamp is more interesting to watch (unless, of course, you're in the young female demographic Ten pitches for with Neighbours and The Biggest Loser).

According to our ABC's Alan Carter on Treasure Hunt a couple of weeks ago:

Prior to 1850, lighting was incredibly inefficient. Choices usually consisted of candles, which had been around since 3000 BC, or oil lamps. The invention of kerosene, a refined liquid fuel produced initially from shale oil, changed all that and manufacturers across the world were quick to produce a range of lamps that could take advantage of its combustible qualities. In the process they came up with some really beautiful and elegant designs, quite a lot of which still survive.

Sadly, the golden age of kerosene lamps was a short-lived period in history. In less than forty years gas lamps had replaced them in the larger cities and towns and few survived the rapid conversion to electric lighting in the early 1900’s.

Wikipedia puts the advent of the Kerosene lamp at 1853, the year in which they were first used by one Ignacy Lukasiewicz. In Australia, electrical lighting was first used (for street lighting) in 1888. By 1927, 34% of homes were electrically wired. Or so it says here.

Free to air television has been around in Australia since 1956. Now, just as the kerosene lamp (and the gas mantle) lost out to electric lighting, free to air TV is losing out to cable, the internet and DVD players. But unlike the kerosene lamp industry, the meejah companies have friends in Government. Well, let's face it - what could a lamp manufacturer hold over the heads of an elected government - bad lighting? That's not likely to make a politician nervous - especially at a time when the Prime Minister takes pride in being kept in the dark on important matters of state. But bad news coverage around election time - well that's a different story.

Whatever the opposition might have to say about Helen Coonan's media paper, in practice the basis of "media policy" in Australia is a bipartisan agreement that it's a bad idea to piss off meejah proprietors - especially Rupert Murdoch, the sole survivor of the Murpack duopoly. The ALP learnt this lesson in the 1970s after Rupert turned on the Whitlam Government he had helped to create. You may remember the event; during the 1975 post-dismissal election, the Labor backroom boys decided that the only way that Labor stood a chance in the polls was for Gough to walk on water. So , on a fine sunny day, Gough walked down to the shore of Lake Burley Griffin, stepped out onto the surface of the waters and crossed the lake, finishing his walk by strolling up to Old Parliament House for a doorstop press conference. The next day, the front pages of all the papers announced that Gough had walked on water. All the papers, that is, except for The Australian which ran the story under the headline WHITLAM FAILS TO SWIM ACROSS LAKE BURLEY GRIFFIN.

So it doesn't really matter which of the major parties - Liberal or Laboral - is in power, meejah policy is always going to be characterised by lip service to the public interest and a nod and a wink to the proprietors and their commercial interests. And no one - not Kenneth Davidson, John Quiggin, Mark Bahnisch, Dave Tiley or mug punters like me who just want the bastards to show something interesting to watch - is ever going to be happy with Government meejah policy. Whoops, that was a little sexist and maybe ageist - they're all blokes of a certain age, I forgot the young female demographic. Apparently they're very happy.

Postscript: Coonan's meejah proposals aren't the first arse-about policy she's sponsored. Consider the Government's proposals to deal with the problem of telemarketing. Having considered the desire of Aussie phone owners and renters - the majority of us - to enjoy evenings at home without the phone ringing every twenty minutes offering discount subscriptions to Nude Weightlifting Illustrated and other august publications or the opportunity to transfer our phone bill to a cheaper reseller the good Senator proposes a national register of phone numbers which are not to be called. With fines for (local) companies that call numbers on the register. It's described as an "opt-in" register in most of the reports I've seen but it's really an opt-out of geting annoying phone calls register. Another token gesture to the public interest, with much nodding and winking to that important sector of the economy that produces an economically significant domestic import substitute - annoying telephone calls to people who don't want them. I suppose there's some justification for this approach - it wouldn't do much for the balance of trade if all the unwanted telemarketing phone calls in Australia were coming from India, would it?

Update to Postscript: in today's Age, Nick O'Malley reports that Indian call centre staff are fed up with racist abuse. I'd like to make it clear that I don't endorse racist abuse of Indian call centre staff. The ordinary abuse you'd give to any telemarketer is quite sufficient.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Great Moments in Sports Commentary

It's a cat-fight! A dead set cat-fight! They're really fighting it out now in the clean and jerk!

Some dork on Channel 9 about five minutes ago, talking about the women's weightlifting.