Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Gawenda bender

Sure, it’s the season of goodwill, but Michael Gawenda may have carried it too far. He describes President Bush as humble, contrite, and prepared to admit to error. Nonsense.

There is all the difference in the world between saying “Mistakes were made” and saying “I made mistakes”. Bush has no problems with the first but is never going to think, let alone say, the second, ever.

The distinguishing mark of a mistake is that someone gets fired for it. When that happens in the Bush administration – and if it does, beware of flying pigs – we can start talking about contrition.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Same again, for some reason

"Sauniere had created a life-size replica of Leonardo Do Vinci's most famous sketch.... Vitruvian man... a perfect circle in which was inscribed a nude male... his arms and legs outstretched in a naked spread eagle."

No, Vitrivian Man doesn't show a spreadeagle, or at least not only a spreadeagle. VM has two of every limb, and thus shows a man in sixteen different possible positions.

Sauniere hadn't replicated it, and couldn't. If you piled two renowned creators in a stack you could just about do it (though even then I think you'd have difficulty maintaining the side-facing foot position required) but with one Sauniere you have as much ambiguity as with the anagrams; sixteen possible positions would all qualify. I personally see the renowned curator in the left-leg-straight right-leg-45-degrees right-arm-straight left-arm-45-degrees pose. Very Monty Python.


Dan Brown Rant no. 246

"Sauniere had created a life-size replica of Leonardo Do Vinci's most famous sketch.... Vitruvian man... a perfect circle in which was inscribed a nude male... his arms and legs outstretched in a naked spread eagle."

No, Vitrivian Man doesn't show a spreadeagle, or at least not only a spreadeagle. VM has two of every limb, and thus shows a man in sixteen different possible positions.

Sauniere hadn't replicated it, and couldn't. If you piled two renowned creators in a stack you could just about do it (though even then I think you'd have difficulty maintaining the side-facing foot position required) but with one Sauniere you have as much ambiguity as with the anagrams; sixteen possible positions would all qualify. I personally see the renowned curator in the left-leg-straight right-leg-45-degrees right-arm-straight left-arm-45-degrees pose. Very Monty Python.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The lesser of the two weasels

The lesser of the two weasels 31 May 2000
Chris Borthwick,
Managing Editor
Health Promotion Journal of Australia

Send response to journal:
Re: The lesser of the two weasels

Norman Fairclough's book New Labour, New Language? deals with the watering down of political discourse. Jeff Aronson's review of the book unfortunately perpetuates an example of its own. Aronson says ".."weasel words" [are]... used (most famously by Theodore Roosevelt, criticising President Woodrow Wilson) to describe rhetoric that sounds as if it has substance but is actually empty of specific meaning, or is at best ambiguous and vague." No: Roosevelt was more precise. He wasn't naming the rhetoric in general, he was pinning down the particular words in the sentence that carried it. What he said was "When a weasel sucks eggs the meat is sucked out of the egg. If you use a "weasel word" after another there is nothing left of the other." Empty or vague rhetoric is not in itself made up of weasel words; that only happens when you nominate a firm action or decision or stand and then add a few carefully chosen saving words that deprive the action of any specificity. To say "I am against prejudice" is simply vague rhetoric; to say "We will act against prejudice" may sound precise but be ambigious; to say that "My government pledges to introduce a bill outlawing prejudice at the first appropriate opportunity" is a firm commitment with one weasel word, appropriate, to suck the content out. I think it is a distinction worth preserving.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005


It's often said that we’re living in an era of unprecedented change, but it’s good to see that some fine old traditions still persist. By the time Australia’s F-111s are phased out they will have been in service for over forty years. If change had been this leisurely in the past the Battle of Britain would have been fought in the Wright Brothers’ original flyer, the Bleriot biplane would have made it to the Korean war, and the Sopwith Camel would have come along just in time to be phased out for the F-111.

I’m not complaining – Australia’s airforce is basically a large BEWARE OF THE DOG sign, and it would be silly to spend much money on it – but I do think the National Trust should be consulted before any final decisions are taken.


Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Why does "quite a lot of them" mean the same thing as "quite a few of them?" Did it always?


My Friend Rebecca

Who has firm opinions on a number of things now has her own blog -
PAss it on

And I said I would. Though I warned her I have no readership whatever. And so she asked me why I had a blog, and I explained that it was a place to store unpublished letters to the Age. I don't know if she thought that was satisfactory.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Bosnia & Iraq

In the Age Tony Parkinson says that it’s taken ten years to sort out Milosevic in Bosnia and we should be patient about Iraq. Sorry, wrong comparison; wrong dictator, wrong timescale. What we’ve done in Iraq is a lot more as if we’d invaded Yugoslavia in 1975 to get rid of Tito, made Milosevic prime minister, and kicked off the Balkan wars fifteen years early. We’re not intervening to stop ethnic violence; we started it. The ethnic cleansing is something we still have to look forward to. And if we get out from under it in thirty years we can count ourselves lucky.

I know there's something in the John Howard Suckup Act that says we have to have Tony Parkinson, but do we have to have quite so much of him?


Solidarity for ever

John Quiggin says today:

The rigidity of party discipline in Australia is almost unique in the democratic world....

Historically, we owe this to the Labor party. In its early days as a third party, it exacted measures in the interests of the working class by swinging its support between the dominant free trade and protectionist parties. This strategy could work effectively only if Labor members followed the party line, regardless of their own views on the issues in question. When Labor became one of the two dominant parties, the tradition of Caucus solidarity continued, reinforced by the bitter experience of desertions and splits.

The Split of the 1950s added another wrinkle, as the rival groups within the party formed organised factions, which imposed their own solidarity rules. These factions still survive, though the ideological divisions between them have mostly disappeared. They are now little more than cliques, with subfactions named for the leaders who command their votes.

When the Liberal party was formed under Sir Robert Menzies, it was a point of pride to say, that, unlike the Labor party, dictated to by “36 faceless men” in the party conference, Liberal MPs were free to make up their own minds and follow their own consciences. They did not do so very often, but the distinction was a real one as late as the 1980s. The Liberals have now adopted Labor’s view on solidarity....

Political commentators in the mass media have aided and abetted the entire process. Even critical discussion of party policy by backbenchers, a normal part of the political process a couple of decades ago, is now regarded as evidence of a fatal loss of control by the leadership, or dismissed as the activity of ‘loose cannons’. The cliché ‘disunity is death’ is treated as if it were a statement of the obvious, but it would be far more accurate to say ‘disunity is life’. Politics is about disagreement and debate, and there can be no real debate when participants on both sides are required to stay ‘on message’ at all times.

Rigid party discipline might have made sense in the past, when the two parties viewed themselves as representing radically different interests and values.... But nowadays, the disagreements are, in most cases, manufactured, and party policies are changed routinely at the whim of the leadership. The measures to which MPs are expected to give their loyal support often contradict the platform on which they were elected.

The House of Representatives has long since ceased to play any useful role in the process of debating and formulating public policy.....

Until July 1, the Senate played a balancing role, and Senate committees provided scrutiny of government legislation, often leading to significant improvements. Now, unless some other Coalition Senators decide to start earning their salaries, the entire burden rests on the shoulders of Barnaby Joyce, apparently the only member of the government who regards Menzies as more than a name for ritual invocation.

The problem isn’t just on the government side. Labor should take advantage of its enforced trip to the sidelines and scrap the factional system once and for all, as a first step towards getting rid of Caucus solidarity. Rigid party discipline may have been a good idea a century ago, but today it does nothing but harm to Australian democracy.

Chris Says:
  1. Consider, though, the effect of senatorial independence in America, where the party system is comparatively weak, candidates raise their own election funds, and cross-party votes are the norm; the effect is to make every senator worth bribing individually, leading to a precipitous decline in standards. In Australia you have to buy an entire party or nothing, which at least provides a minimum cutoff.

    The deeper problem is that Australian public political theory—the ideals that politiicans appeal to when talking to the public – hasn’t moved beyond 1760. We haven’t really accepted the full implications of the party system.

    Australians are encouraged to think that MPs vote their consciences, which by a happy coincidence agree with the party line; any MP saying “I don’t believe in this motion, but I’m going to vote for it anyway’ is doomed.

    And I don’t believe any political system can operate on the basis that everybody in the house follows their conscience at every point without tradeoffs – “You vote for mine and I’ll vote for yours” – that are under that public theory immoral.

    In theory, wider debate and more independence in votes aren’t necessarily connected – that was what cabinet secrecy and cabinet solidarity were supposed to ensure.

    However, wider public debate is virtually impossible under this theory because it necessarily involves some people—those on the losing side – having to vote in the House against the position they put earlier in the party room, and thus being reproached for toadying, hypocrisy, cowardice, etc.

  2. And another thing...
    As I remember my Bagehot, the primary function of the House isn't to set policy, it's to serve as an electoral college for the executive - like the American electoral college, except that they're allowed to change their minds between elections. Though if we haven't caught up with the 1760s I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that we haven't caught up with the 1860s.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Get Real

If we’re sending more troops into Afghanistan we’ll still have the same problems – not enough people who speak the language, have contacts in the villages, understand the culture, etc. We need to start a recruitment program to find Afghans who are willing to become Australians. It’s not as if they’re suddenly going to turn up off the coast in a boat somewhere – that would be too much to hope for.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Art and Science

Having recently purchased the NGV (Australia) Numbers for Children book I noted that two of the counts (men and trees) were wrong. Having just walked through the Potter I note that this inability to count to ten seems endemic in the gallery. Specifically,
1) in Longstaff's Sirens there are three sirens in the foam, not, as the label has it, two;
2) in Fiona Hall's marvellous Paradisus series her birthdate is given in the accompanying text as 1953 and the date of the works on display as 1962. This would seem to require an unusual precocity in a number of departments.
3) In the wall text on Buvelot the phrase "Buvelot's reputation eventually surpassed..." is given twice rather than once.
Getting one piece of arithmetic wrong is allowable; after five I begin to worry about their accounts.


How did the probes get there?

Left behind, book 4;

Buck tiptoed downstairs and flipped on the television, finding an all-news station.
As soon as he saw what was going on, he woke up everyone in the house except
Hattie. He told Chloe, Tsion, and Ken, “It's almost noon in New Babylon, and I've
just heard from Rayford. Follow me.”
Newscasters told the story of what astronomers had discovered just two hours
before—a brand-new comet on a collision course with Earth. Global Community
scientists analyzed data transmitted from hastily launched probes that circled the
object. They said meteor was the wrong term for the hurtling rock formation, which
was the consistency of chalk or perhaps sandstone.
Pictures from the probes showed an irregularly shaped projectile, light in color. The
anchorman reported, “Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to put this in perspective.
This object is about to enter Earth's atmosphere. Scientists have not determined its
makeup, but if—as it appears—it is less dense than granite, the friction resulting
from entry will make it burst into flames.
“Once subject to Earth's gravitational pull, it will accelerate at thirty-two feet per
second squared. As you can see from these pictures, it is immense. But until you
realize its size, you cannot fathom the potential destruction on the way. GC
astronomers estimate it at no less than the mass of the entire Appalachian Mountain
range. It has the potential to split the earth or to knock it from its orbit.
“The Global Community Aeronautics and Space Administration projects the
collision at approximately 9:00 A.M. Central Standard Time. They anticipate the
best possible scenario, that it will take place in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Tidal waves are expected to engulf coasts on both sides of the Atlantic for up to
fifty miles inland. Coastal areas are being evacuated as we speak. Crews of
oceangoing vessels are being plucked from their ships by helicopters, though it is
unknown how many can be moved to safety in time. Experts agree the impact on
marine life will be inestimable.

I'd really love to have heard Hoyle on that.


Friday, October 28, 2005


Just skipped through P. Cornwell's the last precinct. Really peculiar. Impossible to read as a stand-alone, being the end of the last book where she was attacked by a werewolf (genetic abnormality; stigmatised ++) serial killer. She then goes in to work and takes on a few more cases of cutting up bodies, all of which eventually turn out to be tied in with the werewolf case (and covered in werewolf hair) as she learns of other cases in new york that are also tied in with the werewolf and she is under suspicion for killing a rival who was actually killed by the werewolf and the last person she fucked turns out to be tied in with the werewolf's powerful criminal family and her true love was killed some books back by other serial killers who also turn out to be tied in with the werewolf mafia and everything she does is being watched by werewolf pals and nobody understands her and all her friends betray her and twenty pages from the end I wondered how she was going to tie it all up but then it just ends in the middle. Enough there for a whole conference, as they say in Fawlty Towers.


Thursday, October 27, 2005


Here's one of my other links: DEAL, at, and Our Community, at No, two.



An article in the Age seems to be skipping over something a little quickly. Mark Coultan’s article reports -- in a one-liner -- that an academic study has found that 28% of combat soldiers deployed to Iraq reported being responsible for the death of a non-combatant. Over a million Americans have rotated through Iraq so far, about 300,000 of them in combat units; 28% of that is 84,000. Allowing some overlap, that still makes the figure of 30,000 Iraqi civilian dead cited look distinctly undercounted.
The article itself, by the way, is Hoge, C.W., Castro, C.A., Messer S.C., McGurk, D. Cotting, D.I. & Koffman, R.L. (2004). Combat duty in
Iraq and Afghanistan, mental health problems, and barriers to care. New England Journal of Medicine, 351, 13-22


Those darn royals

Deborah Cameron comments that the Japanese imperial family claims an unbroken line dating back 2600 years. Well, of course they do; they’re here, and if the line had been broken they wouldn’t be. Transmission in the direct father-son line is something else again, lasting an average of three generations, and if that had lasted 2600 years that would be impressive – but it hasn’t. And as for the descent from the sun goddess, the average emperor having had more than two children and 104 generations having passed since Amaterasu that means that she has approximately ten million trillion trillion descendants, which, allowing for overlaps, means that the entire population of the world is in much the same position. Roll on the republic.


Friday, October 21, 2005

And here's my next movie script:

"If Troy still mattered to the Greeks whom Alexander led, it was more as the centre of a murderous game of hide-and-seek than as a memorial of the heroic past. The story was a strange one. Because the Thessalian hero Ajax had murdered the prophetess Cassandra at the end of the Trojan War, oracles had ordered the nobles of the Hundred Families of Locris in Thessaly to send two virgins yearly to the Dardanelles and leave them to make their own way through to Troy. By tradition, the natives would come out to catch and kill them, armed with axes and stones, and only if the virgins escaped would they enter Athena's temple by a secret passage and live there in safety until a replacement managed to relieve them. The rite was to last a thousand years..."

R. Lane Fox, Alexander the Great


Thursday, October 13, 2005

For my gravestone

Attached to none (it seemed like too much work)
Comics I loved, and next to comics, cunt;
Those tasks I did not fail at, I'd shirk:
My wit was sharp, but my perceptions blunt.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Percy Spender:
"Your problem, Ming, is that you don't suffer fools gladly. "

"What do you mean? I'm talking to you, aren't I?"



Hugh White’s call in the Age to allow Pacific islanders to work in Australia under short-term visas is a good idea, but it doesn’t go far enough. We should offer them dual citizenship in Australia, a move that would boost the economies of what might otherwise be failed states, dispel Mr. Costello’s nightmares about our aging population, and create a state with fishing and mineral rights over an eight of the world’s surface.


Monday, October 10, 2005

LTO number million

Hugh White’s call in the Age to allow Pacific islanders to work in Australia under short-term visas is a good idea, but it doesn’t go far enough. We should offer them dual citizenship in Australia, a move that would boost the economies of what might otherwise be failed states, dispel Mr. Costello’s nightmares about our aging population, and create a state with fishing and mineral rights over an eighth of the world’s surface.



John Howard seems to have succeeded in defining down the concept of ministerial responsibility to the point where the only way Amanda Vanstone could be removed is if she pulled out a dirty syringe and tried to rob a petrol station. And the Australian public wouldn’t vote Howard out unless he drove the getaway car into a tree while hyped on crystal meth. And the most depressing thing of all is that I wouldn’t count on even those benchmarks holding up longer than six months.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005


So Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, has finally gone on to that great Control headquarters in the sky. I think it would be appropriate for participants in the forthcoming Terror Summit to begin proceedings by standing with one shoe pressed to their ear for a moment’s silence.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Letter to the wastebin, The Age

So Kim Beazley is “satisfied” with the Scott Parkin deportation. Faced with a choice between Tweedlejohn and Tweedlebea, I must confess I feel in the mood for a bit of spirited protest myself.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Powerful Katrinka

Tony Parkinson’s acrobatics in defence of George Bush deserve a 10 for degree of difficulty but only 3 for execution. What, he asks plaintively, is the performance benchmark in cases of natural disaster? Well, leaving out Cuba (evacuated a million for Hurricane Felix, didn‘t lose one) how about Acheh? After the tsunami they were airdropping food and water to the survivors in two days, not five, and accepted overseas medical help immediately, as opposed to not yet.

To say that George Bush couldn’t raffle a chook in a pub is not to say nearly enough. If he ever got the job we’d expect to see the pub in rubble, all the patrons down with salmonella poisoning, and Halliburton in the corner counting their beer money.


Friday, September 02, 2005

Commonplace; One crime

...this shining principle of universal justice; one crime, one responsible official. That firmly grasped, the administration of an otherwise complex judicial system beomes purely a matter of elementary mathematics.

[and elsewhere]

"In cases of absolute wrongdoing, it is impossible for even the least experienced official to deviate from the iron rule of conduct. Cause and effect; effect and cause: these two facets of an absolute system corollorate with absolute precision. Two persons having committed a Category One crime, two persons will automatically suffer a Category One punishment, and the Essential Equipoise of justice will therefore be painlessly maintained. "

"It is what the scrupulous would look for," assented Chun.

"It is what they will inevitably see," replied the magistrate. "Should your leisurely footsteps chance to turn in the direction of the public execution ground on the occasion of the next general felicity, your discriminating eyes will receive assurance that that the feet of the depraved will find no resting-place on the upright soil of Hoo-Yang."

"It is indeed a matter of rejoicing that your penetrating gaze recognised the degraded miscreants who will thus be brought to an appropriate end."

"If," the magistrate remarked profoundly, "so sublime a principle as justice should depend on so fallible a thread as a single human attribute, all feeling of security would be gone for ever. The two misbegotten harbingers of shame who attacked this hard-striving person will sooner or later meet with a fate that will be both painful and grotesque. In the meantime the wholesome moral of retribution will be inculcated in wrongdoers by two others (doubtless quite as abandoned in their various ways) demonstrating that authority does not slumber."

"It has been claimed that there is equally one law for the just and the unjust," assented Chun, "and in a certain guise --"

"Your loyal approbation nourishes the roots of our endeavour," interposed the magistrate, rewarding the speaker with a handful of melon seeds cast in his direction.

Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat, Earnest Bramah, 1928



Monday, August 29, 2005

Follow the money

email to ING Life Insurance.

I am in the market for life insurance. I am also a true Christian (or try to be; "all have fallen short of the glory of God") in the Assemblies of God. My church believes that the Lord will return sooner than you think, and when he does the church will be taken bodily up to heaven (see
The 'Left Behind' series by Tim La Haye goes into this in some detail, explaining that we will be snatched from our cars or our seats on the train or our beds, depending when it happens.
Obviously, this has implications for insurance. What I need to know is whether ING will regard the raputured churchmembers as dead, and pay their life insurance out, or whether it will take the devil's way out and say that those people have just disappeared and their beneficiaries will have to wait seven years and have them declared dead. It's just in those seven years of tribulation that my dear ones (who are not true Christians) (it is an agony to me) will need all the money they can lawfully get, and at the end of seven years Jesus will return in glory and begin the millenium, and insurance money will no longer be an issue, so you can see why I need some reassurance on this matter.
Please send me any queries you may have, if you want a fuller explanation. Indeed, if you want to discuss God's word at any time please call on me before it is too late. In any case, however, can I please have your considered opinion on your liability in the event of the Rapture coming?
Yours sincerely
Chris Borthwick


Friday, August 12, 2005

Brutal and debauched

The NYT headlines a story "Four US Soldiers and a Marine killed in Iraq". I knew the Americans didn't call Marines 'Army', but I didn't realise that they escaped the dictionary entirely. If they're not soldiers, what the hell are they?
What is it with this Marines thing? In every other country in the world 'marines' are part of the army (or, possibly, the Navy). There's a thesis - hell, there's a faculty of Marine Studies - in there.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I am the Light and the Horse

This Sunday a commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the charge at the Nek, one of the most outstanding fuckups of a pretty fucked Gallipoli campaign. The battle honours of the Victorian Light Horse regiments, including grandfather’s 8th, are to be laid up at the Shrine.

Grey day with occasional outbreaks of umbrella. Probably a lovely day in Gallipoli, this time of year.

Lots of Army – soldiers, officers, colourbearers. Apparently the 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s (how did that little poon get in there? Why doesn’t he stick to the prestige jam market?) Light Horse is the successor in title to, among others, the 8th, which was dissolved in the 1920s. Lots of marching and attenhuts.

Service starts with an invocation to almighty and gracious god. We atheists grump quietly. Then a reading from the bible – even worse. “In you, O Lord my God, have I trusted, let my enemies not triumph over me.” Well, ninety years too late for that one.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Ninety-one years too late.

Then a talk by a colonel of some sort who says that they do things very differently now, not attrition but manoeuvre, and basically that you shouldn’t let the Nek dissuade you from joining up.

And then the cream of the crop, one of the triumphs of western music; the Army hymn “Soldiers of Australia”, sung to the tune of Waltzing Matilda;

Soldiers of Australia gathered now to worship god

Under the badge of the Rising Sun

Giving thanks for our country, our families and freedom

Let hearts and voices arise as one.

God of salvation, pride of our nation

You give us strength to follow your ways

With the cross raised so high (oog) shining bright across our southern skies

We’ll serve Australia through all our days.

And who would have thought of setting Binyon to WM? Next verse:

Soldiers of Australia have brought our freedom with their lives,

They grow not old as we grow old

At the setting of the sun and also in the mo-o-orning

We shall remember her deeds so bold..

God of salvation, pride of our nation

You give us strength to follow your ways

With the cross raised so high (double oog) shining bright across our southern skies

We’ll serve Australia through all our days.

Repeat chorus. An almost unequalled combination of immetricality, meretriciousness, and mediocrity. See if Cath wants to learn to sing it.

We pray that the offering of their lives may not have been in vain. Sorry, 90 years too late for that, too.

Light horse prayer. Lord’s prayer (Anglican version). Onward Christian soldiers. A theme seems to be emerging.

Laying of wreaths. Ode to the fallen, this time not to Waltzing Matilda. Last post.


The band starts up the national anthem. About halfway through the first verse the audience realise they’re supposed to be joining in.

For those that dwell across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share. Sorry, ten years too late for that one....

And then me, Manu, Rohini, Jan, Sally and little Chris go off for yum cha at West Lake.

I write a letter to the Age;

My grandfather was one of the rare survivors of the charge at the Nek, and on Sunday I was among the descendants of Light Horsemen at the Shrine of Remembrance to commemorate the 90th anniversary of that disaster. The tragedy of Gallipoli isn’t just a nostalgic family heirloom, of course -- it’s a saga out of Homer where all who fought were united by their courage and endurance under overwhelming but meaningless trials. Because of that, I’d have to say that I would have been happier if some Turks had been asked to join us there, if only because the Turkish troops had made that same astoundingly brave and appallingly stupid charge across that same narrow ridge a month earlier in the other direction, losing even more men than we did, and deserve a share in whatever glory is going.

Similarly, I don’t know that it was appropriate to sing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’. Grandfather was a good Presbyterian, but he fought alongside Jewish troopers and Indian Moslem artillerymen and certainly didn’t see himself as any kind of crusader. If I’d been a Moslem contemplating joining the armed forces, I can’t say I would have been encouraged. Now, more than ever, the Australian army has to avoid incorporating exclusionary religious rituals into its vital regimental pride.

Rather too soft, but I don’t want to be blackballed by the Light Horse Association.


Friday, August 05, 2005


On the 7.30 Report last night Alexander Downer said about David Hicks “he's facing… very serious charges, including a charge of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit war crimes [but] If he were to be returned to Australia the advice we have is that he would be released because we wouldn't be able to take any action against him under our anti-terrorism legislation…”

Is it really true that Australia doesn’t have any laws against attempted murder? If so, someone ought to tell Joe Korp.

They don’t even bother to look for convincing lies any more.


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Recognition of necessity

Mind you, father always did say that the only foreign language any Australian need learn was the Chinese for "I am anxious to collaborate".


Saturday, July 02, 2005

War of the Worlds and Imperialism

It was only to be expected, I suppose, that when the American obsession with being a good father came into contact with invasion that it would produce the Tom Cruse character - someone who is so obsessed with protecting his daughter that he's totally uninterested in the welfare of anybody or, indeed, everybody else, won't help anyone, won't resist the invaders, will, when pushed, kill people who are resisting (well, one person), and who would collaborate like a shot if he was promised that his children would be OK.

For the rest of it, it can be made remotely interesting only by making the obvious Wellsian link between what the Martians are doing to Americans and what we did to the people who were less technologically advanced than us. It maps reasonably well on to Iraq, except for the happy ending (and the quite unnecessary pre-placement of the tripods - how deep were those things? Why would anybody looking at the earth a million years ago have thought they were going to be needed? Why didn't they just come a million years ago?).


Friday, July 01, 2005


Dear Mark,

Having finally and belatedly had a look at the Schiavo autopsy report, I should do you the courtesy of passing on my view that the press (and you following them) seems to have overinterpreted it grossly. What it actually says is exactly what was said by the doctors consulted before the event - you can't prove PVS on autopsy.

"5. Was Ms Schiavo in a ... PVS..?

PVS is a clinical diagnosis arrived at through physical examination of living patients. Postmortem correlations to PVS with reported pathological findings have been reported in the literature, but the findings vary with the etiology of the adverse neurological event."

More specifically, Throgmartin (lovely name - right up there with Throttlebottom) points out in the body that while there are pathology reports on people who have been diagnosed as being in PVS "there are no similarly published neuropathologic findings specific to the minimally conscious state' - and that pathology therefore can say at a pinch that a presentation is consistent with PVS but can't at all say that it's not also compatible with MCS (and, a fortiori, locked-in syndrome or recovered-from-PVS state).

He's specifically saying that he can't make a judgement on whether TS was conscious. Massive cerebral atrophy, yes; brain weight small (though bear in mind that that's after two week's dehydration) yes; but that doesn't determine consciousness. To say, as a number of commentators did, that she could never recover is either trivially true or deeply ambiguous, depending on where one's meaning lies on the continuum from 'recover consciousness', to 'recover to the status quo ante'.

Throgmartin does say that occipital lobe damage indicates cortical blindness, and to cover that in any detail I'd have to do rather more lit searching. On the basis of a quick run through medline I'm not absolutely positive that CB can be diagnosed on autopsy with absolute confidence, but I won't die in the last ditch on that one.

Anyway, I wouldn't like you to think that silence meant I'd slunk away.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

Commonplace book

To find his sexual drives had ceased
To Sophocles was no disaster:
He said he felt like one released
From service with a cruel master.

I envy him - I miss the lash
At which I used to snort and snivel
Oh that its unremitting slash
Was still what makes me drone and snivel.

Kingsley Amis



"Yours is the harder course, I can see. On the other hand, mine is happening to me."
Larkin, 17/12/58


Use as signature?

"I am a corpse eaten out with envy, impotence, failure, envy, boredom, sloth, snobbery, envy, incompetence, inefficiency, laziness, lechery, envy, fear, baldness, bad circulation, bitterness, bittiness, envy, sycophancy, deceit, nostalgia, et cetera."
Larkin's letters, 16/1/1958



Faint Heart Never Fucked the Pig

That's all, really. From Larkin's letters, though he attributes it elsewhere.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Watched Sin City on a chinese dvd the other day - owing to a hardware glitch, in French, but having read the comics I got the drift. It's among the purest Frank Miller versions, bringing in the inevitable tropes -
* hero taking unbelievable passion-of-christ punishment voluntarily, unflinchingly, without losing the ability to rise from the near-dead and slay everybody with
* irresistable, unalterable, incalculable, force that is righteous because
* it's saving a brave little girl from having those bare labia crually forced apart by a bad man who has nothing whatsoever in common with the hero who wouldn't in a million years even think of doing such a horrible thing to the poor brave frightened child clinging to her saviour and offering him anything he wants, anything, for being so brave and true and straight and hard and unbending and strong and forceful and long and again and again...

Daredevil, Batman, Sin City - the only FM I can't remember the paedophile subtheme from is Batman Year one. Hard boiled? Difficult to say.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005



To the tune of Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight”

Something pathetic, something frenetic
Something for everyone: a Conference today
Something that’s boring, someone who’s scoring,
Something for everyone: a Conference today

Nothing with football, nothing with putters
Bring on the heros, liars and nutters
Old situations, new complications
Everything portentous and so gray -
Burnout tomorrow, Conference today.

Something convulsive, something repulsive
Something for everyone: a Conference today
Something to ponder, something from Rhonda,
Something for everyone: a Conference today

The weather is bleak, the AV’s antique,
The coffee was brewed in the previous week.
Joe Caddy and Denis, grumbles and menace,
Everywhere confusion and delay --
Step to the lectern, Conference today.

Someone exhorting, someone who’s rorting,
Someone for everything: a Conference today
Someone’s ungrateful, someone who’s hateful,
Someone for everything: a Conference today

Nothing from Latham, nothing from Doyle;
The opposition has gone off the boil.
Nothing too heated, much is repeated,
Your funding depends on what you say -
Start the projector, Conference today.

Promises and prayers, folk in wheelchairs,
Movers and shakers, flimflam and fakers,
Hypocrisy, plutocracy, philanthropy, misanthropy,
Errors, terrors, horses, courses,
Fliers, liars, subdued fires -

No silver bullet, no magic wand;
Very small frogs in a pretty small pond;
Goodness and badness, manifest madness
It’ll all be all right on the day -
Newsletters tomorrow, Conference today!


Friday, April 29, 2005

Commonplace book - Kipling, AOTF

Arithmetic on the Frontier

A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe--
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in "villainous saltpetre!"
And after--ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station--
A canter down some dark defile--
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail--
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares--shoot straight who can--
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.

The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap--alas! as we are dear.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005


I've spent my life in working hours doing a consistent, capable, thoughtful first draft and passing it to bosses with the literacy of Barbary apes so that they can rip out bits, daub shit on other parts to indicate 'put in something else there', and in general degrade my work to the frankly embarassing. It doesn't pay badly, but it is humiliating.



OK, this is just a placeholder until I check it out. The CIA seems to have killed my uncle.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Tertullian on Shaving

Nor may men destroy the hair of their beards, and unnaturally change the form of a man. For the law says: "Ye shall not mar your beards."22 For God the Creator has made this decent for women, but has determined that it is unsuitable for men. But if thou do these things to please men, in contradiction to the law, thou wilt be abominable with God, who created thee after His own image. If, therefore, thou wilt be acceptable to God, abstain from all those things which He hates, and do none of those things that are unpleasing to Him.

No, that's a different Father. I see Cyprian feels the same way:
And although it is written, "Ye shall not mar the figure of your beard,"66 he plucks out his beard, and dresses his hair; and does he now study to please any one who displeases God?

(Treatise III, on the lapsed - my, is a find!)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Commonplace book

I to my perils

Of cheat and charmer

Came clad in armour

By stars benign.

Hope lies to mortals

And most believe her,

But man’s deceiver

Was never mine.

The thoughts of others

Were light and fleeting,

Of lovers’ meeting

Or luck or fame.

Mine were of trouble,

And mine were steady,

So I was ready

When trouble came.

A E Housman


Monday, February 28, 2005

Evangelical conspiracy

I think people are missing the Sydney C of E diocese's purpose in all this homosexual marriage stuff. The Sydney diocese is hovering on the verge of schism though allowing the laity to administer the eucharist; they would have done it already except that if they broke on that issue they might be regarded by the courts as having exited from the body of the church and so would be sued to hand over their vast Church property. If they can drive the other side into introducing an innovation first then they can claim that the women-ordaining lot split from them, thus keeping the moolah; and once they are all the c of E in A there is then they can change doctrine as it suits them.


Headscarves on Australians

On the train today sitting across from two headscarved schoolgirls chatting -
"So she went arabic arabic arabic and I went, like arabic arabic arabic whatever, she's just so arabic arabic arabic..." Good progress there. It's hard to conceive of anybody being fanatical in teenese. It's Australia's mission to gather in all these evangelicals and secularise them.


Favour mit Fear

It's the same point I used to make at the Assembly; a call for academic freedom is essentially a call for non-academic servitude.

Fear mit Favour

In today's Age (28/02/05) there's an article by the Chair of the Judicial Conference of Australia making a strong case that there’s a danger that untenured judges may be influenced into siding with the Government by threats to their reappointment or promotion. If anything, it’s too strong. Judges aren’t the only groups that the Government wants to whip in to line. Looking only at the same issue of the paper you can see the same issues being raised in relation to diplomats, defence chiefs, ABC Board members, and Treasury staff. We want all these groups, and many others, to be robustly independent, but we can’t make all their offices into feudal tenures. It isn’t a judicial issue, it’s a political and societal issue, and we would be better served if the lawyers would join in to resolve it at that level rather than calling for their own individual exemptions.


Friday, February 25, 2005


It's very hard indeed to get people to call to mind the unsentimental aspects of their heroes. A discussion on a De Long thread that ignores the Roman coldness for nearest and dearest, despite
Scene I. A house in Rome.

Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus, seated at a table

These many, then, shall die; their names are prick’d.

Your brother too must die; consent you, Lepidus?

I do consent—

  Prick him down, Antony.

Upon condition Publius shall not live,
Who is your sister’s son, Mark Antony.

He shall not live; look, with a spot I damn him.

They just didn't go in for the "Lepidus II; this time it's personal" kind of stuff. If anything, there wouldn't have been all this fuss in Gladiator about Maximus' wife and kids because she would simply have remarried to someone on the winning side as soon as the question came up.

and I remember having a hard time to persuade friends that The Wild Bunch werenm't persecuted for no reason, that, for example, Crazy Lee killed the hostages --despite a good tag line -
Hostages escaping)

Hey, stop. (shooting two times)

Feathers flew like a turkey!

Well, they shouldn't have run.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Grange with Chocolate

A discussion of historical whodunits on Brad Delong's list that has a comment from Kevin -

"One of my big problems with The Alienist was the anachronistic "signaling" to the modern reader.

Someone who rides in a horse-drawn carriage over cobblestone streets all the time would not have an internal monlogue that went into great detail about it feels to ride a horse-drawn carriage over cobblestone streets.

When I am in the back of taxi driving under sodium-vapor lights, my internal monologue doesn't go into great detail about sodium-vapor lights."

- in which he's put his finger on the basic flaw in historical fiction (or perhaps fiction); we all have an enormous amount of embedded knowledge that we don't call to conscious thought but which governs the conclusions we draw from our conscious thought, and the author can either make them explicit (as they would not have been) or not (leaving everybody's motivations inexplicable). I've seen it described as the "your brother, the cardinal" problem, as in "Here comes your brother, the cardinal." -- the villain doesn't have to be told that his brother's a cardinal, but we do.
And the problem with making the past understandable is that it isn't. It's another country, they do things differently there, only Eco has made any fist at all of embodying this. Possibly Alfred Duggan, in the opposite way. Possibly Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

And asking for a sympathetic hero only doubles the scope for error. It's virtually impossible for any person born before, say, 1945 to be painted with their true opinions and not be unsympathetic. In Gladiator, say, we were expected to believe that a Roman general would get all choked up about having his wife and son killed, when (a) this was Rome, alliances shifted all the time and you couldn't afford to hold grudges simply because a few of your relatives had been topped, and (b) as a Roman general, he was in the business of bringing other generals' wives and sons back to Rome to ride in triumphs and then be killed.

Moving to reality, Caesar was responsible for the deaths of about a million Gauls (his figure)and gets played as a loveable old softy (Rex Harrison) or a Victorian statesman.
There's no point in inviting people into history by making it more like today. That's like getting children to like the taste of Grange Hermitage by stirring in chocolate syrup.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

People are giving Peter Costello rather too much credit for the word “sorry”.

Apologies come in a number of strengths.

It’s a pity I’m such a nice person

“I’m sorry I wasn’t told”

“I’m sorry I trusted the wrong people.”

It’s a pity everyone else is so thin-skinned

“I’m sorry if I was misunderstood.”

“I’m sorry if anyone was offended.”

It’s a pity the world is the way it is

“I’m sorry it was necessary.”

“I’m sorry it happened” (tsunamis happen; stuffups are somebody’s fault)

The only form of apology that involves any element of sacrifice of image is the one you never hear –

It’s a pity I did the wrong thing

“I’m sorry I made a mistake.”

Let’s wait for that one before becoming overwhelmed by his nobility.


Friday, February 11, 2005

Walt Kelly

Seguing directly to Walt Kelly.
"Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door."
"What's the use of a better mousetrap? It isn't the better mice that cause the trouble, it's that rough element, the worser mice."


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Cooking Sherry revisited

For those curious about the place of sherry in the class system, here is a definite marker;

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas woman has been indicted for criminally negligent homicide for causing her husband's death by giving him a sherry enema, a police detective said on Wednesday.

Tammy Jean Warner, 42, gave Michael Warner two large bottles of sherry on May 21, which raised his blood alcohol level to 0.47 percent, or nearly six times the level considered legally drunk in Texas, police detective Robert Turner in Lake Jackson, Texas, told the Houston Chronicle.

"We're not talking about little bottles here," Turner said. "These were at least 1.5-liter bottles."

Warner, 58, was said to have an alcohol problem and received the wine enema because a throat ailment left him unable to drink the sherry, Turner told the newspaper.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Democracy, 2095 years BC

Bush informs us (Feb 05) that
" We've seen a remarkable, remarkable series of events when you think about it. In a very brief period of time, Afghanistan became a democracy, people were able to vote for a President of that country -- they tell me, for the first time in 5,000 years."

If one were to look for matter in these burblings, one might ask
1) who did the Afghans vote for in the presidential elections of 2095 BC?
2) why is voting for a president so much prefereable to voting for members in a parliamentary system, which even ignoring elections under Kamal et al they did in 1969?


"I believe every soul yearns to be free; that's what I believe. I believe everybody desires to be free. The Iraqi elections helped prove that point. The people did incredibly brave things in order to express their will. It's because people love freedom and if given the chance to be free, they accept freedom."

If he does believe that (say) the election-bombers aren't people and have no souls, as would seem to be implied by the logic of the proposition, I suppose Abu Ghraib makes sense.


And for those of you who have got a loved one in the theater, or has a loved one in the theater today, you got to know that the Iraqi people appreciate our sacrifices."

What is the distinction he sees between 'has got' and 'has'?

"muddled", yes. but I'm sure they map back on to some proposition in his mind - I just can't always work out what it is.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Yet another Dan Brown rant

Can't the man get anything right?

The girl sitting next to me on the train this morning was reading the expensive illustrated edition of DVC, and glancing over her shoulder I noted the line "her father's vacation chateau in Normandy, north of Paris."

Calais is north of Paris. Normandy is just about due west of Paris. This is not rocket science, folks!

And I'm supposed to respect his opinions on ecclesiology?


Monday, January 31, 2005


I should say, I suppose, that this blog isn't one of those that comments on everything, and certainly not one of those that has an unwritten contract with its readers to put up something every day - it's more (a) a repository for things I want to put my hands on quickly together in the one place and (b) a spot to hoard old opinions. So, even though it's online in a number of other places,


Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah


Monday, January 17, 2005

Commonplace Book

Modern Language Association

“Was I too hearty. Did he think me bold?

Should I have said, ‘like hell,’ and not ‘like fun’?

Does my mustache not make me look too old?

(He wants a man whose graduate work is done.)

Nebraska Wesleyan is probably cold,

I’d rather get down south of Washington.

He didn’t seem to like that joke I told;

Jeez, he’s a solemn-looking son of a gun!”

Thus the young savant ponders at his ease,
Knitting the critical brow, and on the belly
Twirling the scholarly thumb, while Ph.D's
Deal with the manuscripts of Machiavelli,
The intervocalic 'X in Portuguese,
And the unfaithfulness of Harriet Shelley.

A Salute to the Modern Language Association, Convening in the Hotel Pennsylvania

The Modern Language Association

Meets in the Hotel Pennsylvania

And the: suave greeters in consternation

Hark to the guests indulging their mania

For papers on “Adalbert Stifter as the Spokesman of Middle-Class Conservatism,”

And “The American Revolution in the Gazette de Leyde and the Affaires de l’Angleterre et de I’Amerique,”

And "Emerson and the Conflict Between Platonic and Kantian Idealism,”

And “Dialektgeographie and Textkritik,”

And “Vestris and Macready: Nineteenth-Century Management at the Parting of the Ways,”

And “Pharyngeal Changes in Vowel and Consonant Articulation,”

And "More Light. on Moliere’s Theater in 1672-73 from Le Registre d'Hubert, Archives of the Comedie Francaise,”

And “Diderot’s Theory of Imitation.”

May culture’s glossolalia, clinging

In Exhibit Rooms and Parlor A,

Sober awhile the tempestuous singing

Of fraternal conventions, untimely gay;

May your influence quell, like a panacea,

A business assembly’s financial fevers,

With the faint, sweet memory of "Observaciones sobre la aspiration de H en Andalucia,"

And "The Stimmsprung (Voice Leap) of Sievers.”

Morris Bishop


Friday, January 14, 2005

Prince Harry

As my father once commented
"Well, yes, the royal family isn't terribly bright, but think what a waste it would be if they were."


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Philosophy II; this time it's personal

Similarly, from a list of annoying things to do;
"When people say 'How are you?' reply 'Compared to what?'


Philosophy in the marketplace

One of the Christmas crackers had a joke that covers an entire philosophy.
"Why is a mintball small, smooth and white?"
"Because if it was huge, wrinkly and gray it'd be an elephant."


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