Saturday, April 05, 2008

Anti-PC Beat Up of the Week

Oteha Valley School in Auckland has achieved global notoriety with a "ban" on children bringing birthday cake to school. In the most recent edition of the school newsletter the principal of Oteha Valley School made the following request to parents:
The tradition [of] taking a cake or sweets to the preschool centre on your child’s birthday has moved into schools over the past few years. However, the Ministry of Education’s new National Administrative Guidelines for healthy eating will not encompass birthday treats... We still love to celebrate your child’s birthday with them but, as from the beginning of Term 2, please do not send any food to share with the class.
I'm not sure when this "tradition" started, or how. My guess is that it's a fairly recent development, started by some status-conscious pander of a parent who decided that their special child wasn't getting their fair share of recognition at the local kinder. Someone who figured that the way to improve their snotty little brat's popularity was to bribe the other kiddies. You can imagine the playground conversations about the little bugger can't you: "Tarquin might be a nathty little thit, but hith mummy maketh real nithe birthday caketh."

By the time I learnt of the story (through Bernard Slattery's blog, Bernard being something of a go-to guy if you're looking for ridiculous anti-PC media beat-ups) that request had been turned into an order:
Oteha Valley School in Auckland has told parents not to allow their children to bring birthday cakes to school for friends to share, The New Zealand Herald reported Friday. (AFP)

CHILDREN in a New Zealand school have been banned from taking cakes to the classroom to share on their birthdays, due to new government guidelines on healthy eating. (The Scotsman, for crying out loud)
In keeping with standard tabloid practice, none of the outlets who carried the "PC killjoys deprive kiddies of birthday cake" bothered with the school's side of the story or checked the school newsletter. Other news organisations weren't so slack:
The principal of an Auckland primary school says the media seems more upset about a ban on birthday cakes than parents are...

Principal Megan Bowden says there were no qualms from students about the loss of their birthday tradition - which has attracted nationwide attention.(New Zealand's TV3)

With 400 students, there is a birthday at least every day at the school. Baking was flying in the door, and Principal Megan Bowden had no choice but to place a ban on the humble birthday cake.

Bowden says the government's healthy food guidelines are one of the reasons for the ban.

But she says many parents were also thinking that it was compulsory to provide birthday cake.

"We think parents shouldn't have to pay out extravagant money just to bring cake to school for their children's birthday. There are lots of other ways of celebrating a children's birthday without having to share food."

Bowden says some parents like to manage what their kids eat, and are unable to do that if dessert is being provided at school.

She estimates sometimes a classroom would have up to four cakes in a week before the ban. (TVNZ
That's right, TV3 and TVNZ actually talked to the school's principal before they got on their high horses about cake-deprived kiddie victims of political correctness and wowserism. The real story, it turns out, is this - a school principal decided to ask parents to desist from a practice that might have been putting other parents to unnecessary expense and undermining the authority of those weird, abberant parents who want their kids to have a healthy diet. That seems an entirely appropriate way to deal with the issue.

One question to finish with - who is actually being deprived here? Is it the kids, or is it those idiot parents who take pride in the fact that little Tarquin always has the biggest and best cake to take to school on his birthday? Think about it.

Randomised Trials in Education - Towards A Practical Approach

Dr Andrew Leigh of the Australian National University, would like to see public policy become more evidence based, particularly in the field of education. He has suggested that randomised trials of the effects of factors such as teachers' salaries and class sizes on educational outcomes would be desirable, to give policy makers, and the rest of us, the information needed to make sound decisions on education policy. In this post I will outline a practical scheme for conducting such a randomised trial.

The trial will require at least four schools. Due to the rigorous controls that are outlined below, these schools will need to be newly constructed - I propose that a National Institute of Experimental Education (NIEE) be established, to manage these experimental schools. Specific details of school organisation are detailed below.

For a trial on the effects of class sizes and teachers salaries four distinct school regimes are needed:

School One: a school with low teacher pay and large class sizes;
School Two: a school with low teacher pay and small class sizes;
School Three: a school with high teacher pay and large class sizes;
School Four: a school with high teacher pay and small class sizes.

This requirement is dictated by the difficulty of constructing an appropriate control group for such a randomised trial; a control group of children who are not schooled at all might create problems for Australian society at large and it is difficult to identify anything that might serve as an educational placebo.

Blinding - of the kind applied in clinical trials of medical treatments - will be difficult but not impossible.

First, students in each of the schools must be kept in ignorance of the existence of the other schools in the trial, and indeed, the existence of any schools unlike the one that they are attending. This can be achieved by drafting representative random samples of children of school entry entry age from all states. The Federal Parliament will need to pass legislation conferring this power on the NIEE.

Similarly, teachers must be selected at random - without regard for experience or competence - from across the states, and the National Institute of Experimental Education will need the power to draft teachers in this way. Teachers drafted to the NIEE will be placed on strict employment contracts stipulating, in particular, that in no way are they to alert the students to the fact that an NIEE school is not a normal school. Heavy sanctions, possibly including criminal penalties, will be imposed on any NIEE teacher breaching this term of their employment contract.

To rigorously control for possible exogenous factors (such as differences in home environment), all students at NIEE schools will be boarders. A rigorous security regime to ensure their separation from the outside world will be maintained. To prevent students inadvertently learning of the existence of other schools which might differ from their own, students will have no access to radio, television, print media or the internet.

A viable first trial would consist of six years of primary education under such conditions, followed by release of half of the experimental students into the general population, where their academic performance in secondary school would be closely monitored.

The other half of the experimental population would receive a further six years of schooling under the above conditions, and their performance on standard university entrance examinations analysed. After their release into the general population, NIEE researchers would monitor their performance in tertiary education.

Longitudinal monitoring of NIEE schooled students is also indicated to establish the effects of these four distinct educational regimes in preparing students for stable employment and social relationships.

Friday, April 04, 2008

News Limited Eats One of Its Own

Robyn Wuth is a columnist at The Gold Coast Bulletin, one of News Limited's provincial papers. Today she scored a spot in the Brisbane Courier Mail, with an open letter to Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh. Headlined "Robyn appeals to the Premier" the open letter is actually a hectoring list of incoherent demands.

Before we look at the letter, it's worth taking a look at Wuth's previous form as a journalist. Our first source will be this Conference paper, "Journalists Trying to Make a Quid, Politicians Seeking Re-election and Tightrope-walking Judges: Three-ring circus or democracy in action?" by Justice Margaret McMurdo, President of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Queensland. It was presented at the ANU National Institute of Social Sciences & Law conference on confidence in the courts in February 2007.

In the paper, Justice Margaret McMurdo describes a little brou-ha-ha that resulted from a judgement made by Justice Philip McMurdo in the case of Attorney-General for the State of Queensland v Sutherland. Sutherland had served the full term of a 20 year prison sentence for crimes including manslaughter and rape. The Queensland Attorney-General wanted Sutherland kept in prison under a continuing detention order. The full 16 page judgement in is available here (PDF); it was published on September 27, 2006.

On October 6, The Gold Coast Bulletin published as its page 1 story Psycho killer next door by Robyn Wuth:

A sexually sadistic psychopath who police say is one of the most dangerous offenders ever to be released on the Gold Coast is now living in a house, pictured above, next door to a children's playground at Nerang.

... Shocked local residents have reacted with anger at the revelation the convicted killer had moved into their area without them being warned. Sutherland was convicted of the 1987 strangulation death in Bundaberg of 47 year old Paula Peters, which he said was the result of a bondage sex act gone wrong...

... A warning issued to the Gold Coast police and leaked to The Gold Coast Bulletin describes
Sutherland as a serious danger to the community (as quoted by Justice McMurdo)

Inside the paper, Wuth's report continued, under the headline "Fury at psycho killers release":

A killer diagnosed as a 'sexually sadistic psychopath' who the Government believes is so dangerous he should never be released is living at Nerang next to a children's playground.

Paul Vincent Sutherland ... is now living unsupervised in a modest three-bedroom brick home
on Nerang-Beaudesert Road.

... Shocked neighbours and nearby residents were horrified to learn a convicted killer was their new neighbour. One nearby resident who has young children burst into tears when told how close she lived to the killer. (as quoted by Justice McMurdo, emphasis added)

Right now I'm wondering who told that mother of young children about Sutherland, to elicit that tearful response. Any suggestion that it was Wuth herself would be pointless speculation - no competent tabloid journalist, whether they worked in print, radio or television, would forego the opportunity to pass on such distressing news and report the reaction.

The outcome of Wuth's report was a political controversy which drew in Acting Premier Anna Bligh. On October 7, the Gold Coast Bulletin reported, under the headline "'Terror Next Door – Nerang breathes easy after killer taken away", that Sutherland had been moved out of Nerang. In that article, Wuth and a colleague, J Gibbons, got stuck into the judge responsible for his release:

Residents were outraged Sutherland had been allowed to move into the suburb and blamed Justice Margaret McMurdo, the judge who refused the State Government appeal to keep Sutherland behind bars and granted his freedom.

Despite acknowledging Sutherland was 'more likely to reoffend', Justice McMurdo decided his release was an 'acceptable risk' to the Nerang community, while she lived safely in an exclusive inner-Brisbane suburb in her secure $2 million mansion.

The later report includes interviews with outraged local worthies: once again, routine stuff for a competent tabloid journalist in any medium. For the rest of the story, I suggest you look at Justice McMurdo's conference paper. A google search for more recent news of Sutherland turns up little dating beyond that paper - a clear case of no news is no news - good or bad. For the time being, Sutherland isn't sensation fodder.

Some of Wuth's recent op-ed columns are archived at The Gold Coast Bulletin. They make interesting reading - individually incoherent and rambling, as a whole collection capricious and inconsistent. On February 16th, Wuth had this to say about Kevin Rudd's apology to the stolen generation:

... It's insincere, it solves nothing but it was a lovely photo opportunity.

We said it to make you feel better ... did it work?


To be honest, I'm sick of all this namby-pamby boo-hooing about bloody saying sorry.


For every Aboriginal child who was stolen, another was saved, some were given a chance to change their lives.

It's a shame they refused to take it.


But I have to say sorry.

Sorry for giving you free medical care, for giving you money, for building you homes which you vandalised and destroyed and treated with contempt and we paid to fix.

Sorry for developing large farms and properties, which today feed your people.

Sorry for providing you with warm clothing made of fabric to replace the animal skins you used before.

Sorry for building roads and railway tracks between cities and building cars so that you no longer have to walk over harsh terrain.

The fact is, we won.

All right?

We came in and we killed lots of them and we took their land and we're not giving it back, unless the High Court makes us and then, frankly, the High Court will have to go.

Then on April 4, she had this to say about the Northern Territory intervention:

IT'S Australian apartheid. I hate to say I told you so ... who am I kidding? I love to say I told you so.

I've made up a special dance which I'm doing right now.

Remember when Kevin Rudd said 'I'm sorry'?

In a column that inspired a tirade, I said it was 'insincere'.

Well, I told you so.

While Kevin Rudd said sorry before the cameras and posed for the lovely pictures and puffed out his chest and preened like a proud little pigeon, behind the scenes it was a completely different story.

The Labor Government, in its wisdom, has wound back any attempt to open up the Aboriginal territories to all-comers and reinstated the permit system to ensure all communities remain closed. A better word? Hidden.

That means these communities can become taboo territory rife with sexual abuse, alcoholism and violence -- completely closed to normal scrutiny.


The bottom line is we -- all Australians -- are not allowed to go a part of our own country without permission. This is similar to the system once used in South Africa. My colleague Ken Vernon, who spent 25 years reporting on apartheid South Africa, says the same type of permit system applied to the black 'homelands' created under apartheid, with the same result.

"The black homelands became cesspools of crime, corruption and nepotism, exempt from the prying eyes of journalists, where local leaders became virtual dictators whose word was law."

Sound familiar? Is that what we want to happen here? Is that the image we want to send to the world -- Australia, the new pariah state?

As I said, incoherent and inconsistent. The only thing the two columns have in common is their ranting, self-righteous tone.

On Saturday, 29 March, Robyn Wuth's cousin, Carmel Wuth, was raped and killed by Maurizo Perini, a resident of the same aged-care facility as Ms Wuth. The Queensland Opposition is already demanding an inquiry into the killing, and how a "psycho" came to be living in an aged care facility. And that's not all they're demanding:

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg demanded Perini be tried in the courts rather than "disappear" into Queensland's mental health system.

Robyn Wuth is making similar demands in her open letter to Anna Bligh:

If mental illness is a defence and the accused person never faces trial, I am supposed simply to contain my rage.

I am supposed to respect his privacy. I want this man to have a fair trial, to have his day in court and for justice to be served.

I watch closely as it unfolds. A man has been charged, but what are the chances he will ever face trial? I suspect none. Already, the accused has been ordered by the courts to undergo an advanced mental health assessment in a secure facility in a Brisbane hospital.

And so it begins.

What begins is the process which might see Perini '"disappear" into Queensland's mental health system; if the courts find that Perini is unfit to plead, there obviously won't be a trial. That's a painful result for the Wuth family, but one that can't be avoided if the law is to be fair to both Carmel Wuth's family and to Maurizo Perini. Of course that's much easier for me to say from a considerable geographic distance and the position of someone who isn't personally acquainted with the Wuth family.

Human decency - of the kind Wuth and her peers expect, even demand, of their readers - dictates that we feel sorrow for Carmel Wuth and the Wuth family and outrage on their behalf. I'm having a bit of trouble with that right now, thanks to The Gold Coast Bulletin's latest article on the Carmel Wuth murder "Elderly in dark as psychos move in", by Kathleen Donaghy:

RETIREES and the elderly are moving into unregulated aged hostels and retirement villages with no idea they could be living next to somebody who is mentally ill.

The dire lack of supported accommodation on the Gold Coast has forced people with mental health problems into homes with the old and frail, sometimes with devastating consequences, according to carers and mental health advocates.

At the same time, no laws exist to prevent ordinary hostels from using 'retirement' or 'aged' in their names.

The controversy surrounding aged accommodation has come to a head after the horrific killing of Carmel Wuth, 77, who had been living in the Trinity Gardens Retirement Hostel, which is open to all ages.

What is the The Gold Coast Bulletin agitating for this time, besides a day in court for Maurizo Perini, fit to plead or not. You can get some idea from Wuth's open letter:

How can I put my faith in a system that placed a strong 36-year-old man in a retirement village, among the elderly in the first place?

A system that prefers to shove the mentally ill out the door and into the community.

A system that closed the asylums years ago.

A system that ludicrously relies on the mentally ill to self-medicate, without proper supervision and support...

Time and time again we see cases where the mentally ill are involved in horrendous crimes of violence.

This is an ignorant, fearful view of mental illness - Robyn Wuth wants all the loonies locked up in asylums where they belong, so that, in future, the aged in nursing homes and young mothers in suburbia, need never be upset by a tabloid journalist asking "How do you feel knowing that your next door neighbour is a psycho?" Never mind that in most cases of mental illness, the people who are at most risk of harm are the patients themselves, who might top themselves, or harm themselves in other ways, if unmedicated.

Towards the end of her open letter, Wuth declares:

All these years, I have interviewed so many people whose lives have been touched by tragedy.

For the first time in my life, I understand.

You'd have to have a heart of stone and a head of balsa to read that without smiling at the irony of a sensation-monger feeding herself into the sensation-mill.

Postscript: I think I'll treat myself to a hiatus now. Comments are disabled so that:
  • Anyone who wants to slag me off for being callous and ghoulish has to do it elsewhere, where I don't have to read them;

  • I don't have to spend a lot of time deleting defamatory comments about Robyn Wuth, The Gold Coast Bulletin or any other person or organisation mentioned in this post.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


At the risk of stooping to the level of culture warrior by broad-brushing an entire subgroup of the community, it must be said that the chest-beaters on the Left and Right of our national discourse are surprisingly naive in the ways of politics. They think governments run nations when, in fact, they manage them as best they can. They mistake the limits of power for cowardice and think the exercise of policy reform is an exact science.

This isn't a comment against individuals, but against a style of writing that assumes only one version of Australia, be it Left or Right, is the true expression of national identity. Australia is open and closed. It has three established mainstreams: the traditional white male, the tertiary-educated woman and the Australia-born children of immigrants. Each brings a slightly different perspective to national identity, depending on the topic.

This level of complexity escapes the cultural warriors because they need caricatures of good and evil.

George Megalogenis in the Australian Literary Review.

Got that everyone? To understand Australian society in all its complexity, one stereotype is not enough. You need three.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Same Old Same Old

According to HL Mencken, nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. It's equally impossible to lose a political debate, or personal credibility, by underestimating the attention span and incuriosity of the Australian public. Especially on the internet.

A recent study by two Harvard University economists - Radha Iyengar, Jonathan Monten - published at the US National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has been picked up by defenders of the war in Iraq as a rhetorical big stick, leftists for the whacking of. If you can't afford the $5 (US) NBER charges for electronic delivery of the paper, you can get some idea of its content from this US News report.

I first learnt of the study from this post on Andrew Bolt's blog - "Leftists Lie, Iraqis Die":
It comes with lots of important caveats, and yet:

Are insurgents in Iraq emboldened by voices in the news media expressing dissent or calling for troop withdrawals from Iraq? The short answer, according to a pair of Harvard economists, is yes.

Kudos to Bolt for mentioning that the study included "lots of important caveats"; no kudos for that inflammatory title and omitting those important caveats from his own coverage of the study. No kudos, either, for ignoring the ending of that US News report:
But before partisans go wild on both sides of the aisle, here are just three of the important caveats to this study:
  • The city of Baghdad, for a variety of reasons, was excluded from the report. The authors contend that looking at the outside provinces, where 65 percent of insurgent attacks take place, is a better way to understand the effect they have discovered. Other population centers like Mosul, Basra, Kirkuk, and Najaf were included in the study.

  • The study does not take into account overall cost and benefit of public debate. Past research has shown that public debate has a positive effect on military strategy, for example, and, in the case of Iraq, might be a factor in forcing the Iraqi government to more quickly accept responsibility for internal security.

  • It was not possible, from the data available, to determine whether insurgent groups increased the overall number of attacks against American and Iraqi targets in the wake of public dissent and debate or simply changed the timing of those attacks. This means that insurgents may not be increasing the number of attacks after all but simply changing the days on which they attack in response to media reports. (emphasis added)
That last caveat rather detracts from Bolt's implied argument, that the left should jolly well shut up about Iraq - not that he's in favour of limiting free speech, of course, he just wishes that opponents of the war would wake up to themselves. It's not known, from the study, whether public dissent leads to new attacks, or whether the insurgents are timing their attacks to coincide with periods of public dissent.

Bolt's argument, such as it is, is tenuous. And pretty childish. "Every time you say that going to war in Iraq was a mistake Iraqis die" is little better than "Every time you say I don't believe in fairies a fairy dies."

I don't believe in fairies. I don't believe in fairies. I don't believe in fairies. That's three blokes who won't be going to the next Sydney Mardi Gras.

Bolt's argument is made even more tenuous by that last caveat - if debate merely influences the timing of the attacks, rather than the overall number, it becomes a case of "Every time you say you don't believe in fairies a poofter bashing happens".

I don't believe in fairies. I don't believe in fairies. I don't believe in fairies. That's three blokes I've just put into intensive care.

If you want to limit the chances of a skeptical reader - a potential critic - finding those caveats, you do as Currency Lad has done in this post. You link to the NBER abstract, which doesn't mention those embarassing caveats at all:
Finally, given the emboldening effect of anti-Bush agitprop and mendacious journalism, it would help if some observers grew up. If only they were as serious about liberty and peace as they are about "global warming."
There's one caveat to the study that US News doesn't list - perhaps it's omitted from the NBER paper as well. It's too bleeding obvious to rate a mention.

In the US, in particular, it's difficult to stifle dissent from government policy completely, because of that well known First Amendment to the Constitution. In Australia the protections are weaker but we like to at least pay lip service to the idea that we're a democratic society where freedom of speech is valued and respected.

There's a very obvious double standard in play in both cases. Bolt and the Currency Lad have this week lauded the publication of Geert Wilders' Fitna on the web as a victory for free speech. Yet here we see them advocating restraint of free speech when it comes to discussion of Iraq. Debate on that thorny topic would be best conducted if one side - the critics of the war - just kept their mouths shut. Critics of Fitna, those who dare to suggest that Wilders' film shouldn't have been published - bad evil opponents of free speech. Bolt and Currency Lad, who would like public debate on Iraq to be conducted without the participation of the war's opponents - defenders of "responsible" free speech.

There's a name for that. It's one of the words that George Orwell is credited with introducing into the dictionary: doublethink.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

When Is a Shortage not a Shortage?

When it's an "affordability crisis" of course.

After I'd looked over my selections for Missing Link today, I made the mistake of re-reading this one, and following the link to the web page of the Senate Select Committee on Housing Affordability in Australia. Then I got really stupid and looked at the committes's terms of reference:

That a select committee, to be known as the Select Committee on Housing Affordability in Australia be established to inquire into and report upon:

The barriers to home ownership in Australia, including:
a. the taxes and levies imposed by state and territory governments;
b. the rate of release of new land by state and territory governments;
c. proposed assistance for first home owners by state, territory and the Commonwealth governments and their effectiveness in the absence of increased supply;
d. the role of all levels of government in facilitating affordable home ownership;
e. the effect on the market of government intervention in the housing sector including planning and industrial relations laws;
f. the role of financial institutions in home lending; and
g. the contribution of home ownership to retirement incomes.

After reading that, I decided that I was a lot less revved up to do write up a submission to the inquiry, because the committee is basically wasting its time and I see no good reason to sacrifice any of my time on such a pointless exercise.

Calling the current state of the housing market in Australia a " housing affordability crisis" is like calling a doubling of the price of caviar in Manhattan (caused let's imagine, by a sudden die-back in Black Sea sturgeon populations) a "caviar affordability crisis*". What we have is a housing shortage, in both rental housing and mortgaged housing.

Calling the housing shortage an "affordability crisis" is simply a way of avoiding this unpleasant fact. I have very low expectations of a committee whose terms of reference avoid the real issue with a euphemism. And when those same terms of reference refer explicitly to "barriers to home ownership" it's pretty clear that the fix is in. The committee's job is to come up with a package of "reform proposals" that will appeal to "working families" without putting any of the major corporate players in the housing market off-side.

(I'll stop there if you don't mind. Enjoyable as this recent prolific posting over a wide range of topics has been, it's not a good sign when too many ideas come too easily. There'll be plenty of time for more later.)

* I could have done a whole post riffing on that concept, but April Fool's day is over. Another opportunity missed!

The Law - not a Complete Ass After All?

The case of Thomas Towle, recently convicted of six counts of dangerous driving causing death and four of dangerous driving causing injury is back in the news, with today's Age carrying reports on the sentencing and reactions to it. The Age also provides a link to this transcript of Justice Philip Cummins' sentencing remarks.

True to previous form - when the Towle jury found him not guilty of the more serious charge of culpable driving - The Age has focussed its coverage on the grief of the families of Towles' victims, pitching the story as human interest. It's not alone - a Google News search turns up plenty of reports on the Towle case, from both our major newsprint suppliers.

I don't intend to discuss any of these reports in this post - I'll be sticking to the transcript of the sentencing. The media spin on the story is familiar - it's an obvious outrage, a scandal to society and so on and so forth. And to help convince us of that, once again, the grief of the families of Towle's victims is to be made a public spectacle. None dare call this exploitation because it's being done by the most reputable of journalists, with the consent and participation of the families themselves. It's all in the public interest, too. That's why the case is getting so much coverage; it's got nothing to do with advancing careers or boosting circulation, or audience share, and hence advertising revenue at all.

Cummins J begins his sentencing with this simple statement:

1 This is a most tragic case.
That's where you would stop if you were looking to verbal Cummins J to depict him as an unfit judge, out of touch with community standards like all too many of our judiciary, because in his next remarks he makes it very clear where he believes the responsibility - the blame if you insist - for this tragedy lies:

2 Six loving and loved children, on the threshold of adulthood and with their lives before them, have had their lives taken from them. Their grieving families have been left distraught and devastated. Four more children have been seriously injured and will always bear the trauma inflicted upon them, as will their families also. A whole cohort of good young persons have been traumatised and afflicted. All because of your criminal and dangerous driving, Mr Towle. (emphasis added)

After reviewing the facts of the case, the judge delivers a few remarks that might indicate a slight difference of opinion between judge and jury on the culpable driving charge:
12 A most serious element of your criminal driving was not physical but psychological: you knew that there were, or were likely to be, numerous children in the area of the party house. You knew that they were, or were likely to be, a couple of kilometres (1.8 kilometres in fact) along Myall Street going east from your brother’s house, because you had just traversed it going west. You knew they were, or were likely to be, not far from the two curves in Myall Street, because you had just been there. You had just been reminded of it by your younger brother. Your knowledge that there were, or were likely to be, numerous persons in the relevant area is an especially egregious element of your dangerous driving, Mr Towle.

13 This is not a case of unexpected circumstances. This is not a case of a momentary lapse of attention. This is a case of multi-faceted lack of attention at high speed at night and with knowledge of risk. And with terrible consequences.

14 The jury found you not guilty on all counts of culpable driving causing death (counts 1–6)[2] and of negligent driving causing serious injury (counts 7-10)[3], as well as the other counts, and found you guilty on the alternative counts to counts 1-10, namely dangerous driving causing death or serious injury.[4] It is for those dangerous driving offences that you are to be sentenced, Mr Towle. It is essential that the sentences, and the facts found in sentencing, are consistent with and faithful to the jury’s verdicts. The proper construction of the jury’s verdicts, in my view, is not that the jury were not satisfied of the constituent driving elements alleged of speed, inattention and knowledge, but that the jury characterised that driving – not the consequences, but the driving – not as gross criminal negligence[5], but as dangerous. I proceed on that basis. (emphasis added)
When Justice Cummins turns to the principles of sentencing that he will apply to the case (starting at section 20), he gives the impression that he's scraping around for enough bricks to make up at least a decent fraction of a ton:
23 By operation of law, those sentences are to be served concurrently unless I order otherwise. Therefore I turn to the question of cumulation of these sentences.


25 ...There is no principle of law or of logic which requires that in the case of multiple offences arising from the one course of conduct, the total sentence must be no more than the maximum legislative penalty for one of them. To require that the total be no more than the maximum for one would indeed reduce human victims to mere numbers; or, in the words of the illustrious President in DPP v Solomon, to a “meaningless statistic”. Neither parliament nor the courts so reduce people...
The rest of the judgement consists largely of Justice Cummins' reasons for arriving at a final sentence (with cumulation for some of the offences) of 10 years imprisonment with a minimum of 7 years before parole. The question of whether this might be overturned on appeal I leave to the law bloggers.


The Hate rose to its climax. The voice of Goldstein had become an actual sheep's bleat, and for an instant the face changed into that of a sheep. Then the sheep-face melted into the figure of a Eurasian soldier who seemed to be advancing, huge and terrible, his sub-machine gun roaring, and seeming to spring out from the surface of the screen, so that some of the people in the front row actually flinched backwards in their seats. But in the same moment, drawing a deep sigh of relief from everybody, the hostile figure melted into the face of Big Brother ...

As the ministry staff filed out of the room to return to their work, there was a murmur of discussion of the artistic merits of the day's hate. Syme, who was working on the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary declared that he found the mise-en-scene in the opening sequence particularly effective. Winston winced at the term mise-en-scene. It wasn't just OldSpeak, it was the affected Bourgeois dialect of Oldspeak, another indication that Syme with his careless enthusiasms was headed for vaporisation. Parsons loudly declared that anyone who wasn't moved by the sheer technical brilliance of today's Hate was obviously a traitor to Ingsoc - a stock opinion that he repeated every day. He glared around looking for signs of treason but every face upon which his glance fell showed the same enthusiastic approbation of today's film.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Word of the Day: petty

petty adj ... 1 unimportant; trivial (petty complaints). 2 small-minded, mean, contemptible (petty revenges)

A handy little word petty - both of those two usages (from the Australian Pocket Oxford) are very apt when it comes to the blogosphere - it's full of people writing about unimportant trivial things (their dogs, their cats, their knitting, their artistic aspirations) and occasionally indulging in some petty revenges. Past experience shows that I'm not above it and recent experience here at this blog shows that even some of the petty* oracles of the newspaper op-ed pages aren't above it either.

Thanks to Sitemeter, I've noticed a couple of spikes in traffic recently - one last week, and one today. They've come from Andrew Bolt's blog, via this Google cache page. The original blog page is here. You'd be hard put to find any difference between the Google cache version and the original page, because the original hasn't been touched in four years. The page certainly hasn't been deleted, despite the fact that some of the contents - in particular a post on Bolt where I got it signally wrong - are a bit of an embarrassment.

The most embarrassing thing about that 2004 post is that, having wrongly accused Bolt of verballing a Federal Court judge, I found myself with a little "boy who cried wolf" problem in September 2005. See "The Extended O'Loughlin J" on this page. Or the Google cache version if you suspect that I've got at it in the past five minutes.

I'm not sure what Bolt is trying to achieve with all this linkage he's been providing me lately - perhaps he's decided to cash in a few get squares for all the bad things I've written about him in the past. Still, they're the sort of get-squares a less petty man might come to regret. Slipping a petty revenge on a minor blogger into a post paying out on Jenny Macklin doesn't really look a lot like cool, clear-headed analysis.

* - 3 minor, inferior, on a small scale (petty princes) [op cit]