Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Thursday, December 31, 2009


Avatar again displaying that incredible American militarism, the awe with which people refer to (ex) Marines. Certainly right up there with the respect given to samurai in feudal Japan. In Av, too, observe the American demand to have it both ways - to be both Marine and Native Free People, just as in Spartacus they demand to be both Roman imperialists and gladiator rebels.

Dear Dead Days

A piece I wrote back in 1976 about how Melbourne University was run. A blend of quite accurate analysis of committee functioning and a total blindness about how the old collegial faculty- and professor-based university was quite soon going to flip over into an administrator-run business model.

A Bucketful of Fog

Chris Borthwick

Farrago, Friday, May 7, 1976

To most students the government of this university is rather like the weather. Inescapable, in general uncommented on, occasionally absolutely bloody, and quite unresponsive to anything they might say, shriek, plead or do. The rare activist seeks to take more positive action and goes after it like St. George after the dragon, only to find herself/himself rather more in the position of Ibsen's Peer Gynt battling the Great Boyg:

PEER GYNT (returning) Forward and back, it's just as far. Out or in, it's a narrow door. He's there! And there! And beyond the bend! As soon as I'm out, he rings me round. Your name? Let me see you! Say what you are!


PEER GYNT (groping about) Not dead, nor alive. Slime; gray air, Not even a form. It's like trading jabs With a den of snarling, half‑aware bear cubs. (Shrieks) Stand up to me!

THE VOICE The Boyg's not insane.


THE VOICE The Boyg doesn't strike.

PEER GYNT Fight! Come on!

THE VOICE The Boyg doesn't fight‑and doesn't lose.

PEER GYNT For a gnome on my back, raking his spurs! Or only so much as a year‑old troll! Something to fight with. But there's nothing at all­ Now he's snoring! Boyg!


PEER GYNT Use force!

THE VOICE The great Boyg conquers in quietness.

PEER GYNT If the price of life is this agony, even one hour's too much to pay. (Sinks down).

Unfortunately, any explanation that produces a clear and simple picture of the way the university works is going to give a totally misleading picture of a university that works tortuously, secretly, indirectly and blindly. All I can hope to do is to provide you with a slightly more educated brand of ignorance.

One way of mapping the progress of a proposal through the system might be to show it coming up from the faculty and going into the academic committee to be considered by the Vice‑Chancellor, the Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, the Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Principal, the Registrar, and 11 other people; sent from there to the Policy committee to be considered by the Vice‑Chancellor, the Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, the Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Principal, the Registrar, and 11 other people; passed on to the Professorial Board to be considered by the Vice‑Chancellor, the Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, the Chairman and Vice‑Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Principal, and 150 other people; sent on to Council to be finally passed on by the Vice‑Chancellor, the Deputy Vice‑Chancellor, the Chairman of the Board, the Vice‑Principal, and 34 other people The power of a committee varies inversely with the number of people over and above the core. The weakest is the Professorial Board, which has 150 extra bodies; the strongest is the administrative committee, which has none.

Can we then conclude that power in the university lies in the hands of the Vice‑Chancellor? Regrettably, no. That's always been the problem with student agitation. It's never been possible to get public feeling moving on an issue unless it can be presented as a battle between the Vice‑Chancellor and the students; but any fight on that basis, any victory, even, on that basis, isn't going to have any effect on the deep structure of the university. Don't overlook the chairman of the Board ‑ he's ubiquitous, too.

The professorial members of the Council ‑ Professors Simon, Jubb, and Townsend ‑ sit on the Board, Council, Policy, the Joint Committee, the Central Budgets Committee, Central Building Planning, and Staff, not a bad selection. You can't draw a hard‑and‑fast division between administration and academics. The Vice‑Chancellor has probably got more power than anybody else, any other single person, but he has to work within a fairly limited set of boundaries established by the common assumptions of the men around him. These men are known collectively as the heavies. They are found at the heart of all the committees of the university and they have enormous influence. They may not be liked, they may not even be universally admired, but they are respected.

If you want to open up the upper levels of the university to wide public participation, the heavies have to have their powers diminished to make room for the newcomers. The problem that steps forward here is that the heavies haven't extorted their powers by force; they've been given them by free consent. Most of the top positions go (nominally) by election; if there was an immediate spill and another election the same men would probably get in again, and if they didn't others indistinguishable would. The heavies are chosen because they're bloody good at their jobs.

A lot of the business of the university has to be done ‑ 50 million dollars have to be spent (of that more later), appointments have to be made, decisions have to be taken. People who are willing to take them have to be found. People who will work hard, make no spectacular errors, stand up for their friends, can get the business through the committees ‑ particularly that last. Men who know how to handle committees are going to rise to the top in any system where committees rule. It's that simple.

Committee management is inherently manipulative, and that's the source of a lot of the complaints about the university and its functioning. Last week I was talking with a man who turned without a break from denouncing the Vice‑Chancellor for stifling an item by burying it in an inconspicuous position in the Board minutes to a consideration of how he could so arrange the business of a minor faculty committee he chaired so that there wouldn't be too much waffling discussion of one of the items he wanted to see passed. All committees corrupt; vital committees corrupt vitally.

There is very little point in putting student representatives on committees unless you are willing to accept the limitations of the medium. The successful committeeman never says no; he says yes, but... and people who want to say no, people who want to import moral issues into something everybody else around the table sees as a matter of mechanics, are going to get rolled. If you want the university to work – if you want the university to work better ‑ if you want the university, even, to work differently, join the committee: if you want a different university, forget about it.

Most of the decisions around the university wore taken either in Canberra or in 1950. The university does not exist to teach ‑ that function could be performed without nearly as much bother. It exists to give employment to teachers. Correspondingly, it has an immense aversion to firing people; consequently, it has the vast bulk of its funds tied up in salaries and very little scope for movements in unexpected directions. In times of dearth like the present it has virtually none ‑ if you assume, as the university in session invariably does, that nothing can be done without money to administer the change and that nobody will work except for payment. Money is a determinant too, in most of the changes that do take place. The cut goes deeper than simply "There's no money; we can't do (x)". Nobody can be around the university long without hearing "The money's there; we've got to do (x) or we'll lose it". It should also be noted that the only fully autonomous power students have is the power to switch subjects or (in extreme cases) to fail or drop out, thus costing their departments' anything between 625 and 2520 dollars.

The university is also governed by an accumulation of structure and theory dating back to the twelfth century or 1860, whichever is the nearer. There is general agreement that the university suffers from a number of disadvantages because of its size; there is complete unanimity that growth is an irreversible ailment. Any decision that has been taken that has added one staff member to the university cannot thereafter be reconsidered. The tensions between the professional faculties and the non‑professional faculties have been built into the foundations and cannot now be rethought. The concept of the discipline governs all. Discipline, as applied to the discipline of French, say, or Botany or Economic History, is one of the rare terms in use in this area that says what it means ‑ 'training, esp. of the kind that produces self‑control, orderliness, and obedience. . . ' and it is the cement that binds the university together. A professor in Engineering would not regard himself as competent to pronounce on whether a professor of Fine Arts was setting a course that was sensible, or enlightening, or balanced in its matter; he would regard himself as competent ‑ indeed, as compelled by the honour of the university ‑ to pronounce on whether or not it was sufficiently close to the requirements of a 'discipline' ‑ whether it makes its students work enough; whether it has enough essays or lectures. These are the things that the Academic Committee of the Professorial Board concerns itself with. It seems hardly appropriate to talk about hidden curriculum when everybody is prepared to be so entirely overt about it. Again, though, the critic of university government must be prepared to face the possibility that in criticising the university in this aspect we are in fact simply saying that we are not prepared to accept a university at all ‑ that we are looking for something entirely different that can only be found, if at all, somewhere else.

We've come some way from the chart. At this stage we are considering the narrowness of the area between the decisions the Vice‑Chancellor must make and the decisions he cannot make ‑ the two or three percent of what goes on around the university that can be affected by argument. Discouraging, isn't it?

Luckily, the scene is more open at the subject level. One of the most important things to realize in any survey of where power is in the university and how one lays hands on it is that the power over the last few years has been flowing from the centre to the faculties, and that most important decisions are now taken at faculty level. If you want to increase your influence (within limits, within limits) the faculty is the place to go. The central budgets committee now has students on it; the central budgets committee has just given most of its decision‑making power away to the faculty budgets committees, which don't. The problem now is that the student representation structure is highly centralized, designed to face a Vice‑Chancellor who has the clout, and isn't terribly well adapted to spread itself around the faculty level, while the faculty students’ societies do not attract the attention, prestige, or dedication that is evoked by the SRC. That's probably the most rewarding direction to take if you're after more say in decision‑making.

Remember, though, all through the system you're facing a very tough set of opponents and a very well‑defended set of institutions. You've got to decide between a good chance of getting minor changes and a minute chance of getting great changes. You're going to have to have stamina, disillusion, time, gab, insight, and nerve, all in enormous quantities. It is not easy, ever, to influence the university; but it can be done. Best of luck. I'll hold your coat.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Back from the $200 mill for special effects, $1.85 for plot blockbuster.

Several questions did spring to mind.

  • How much of that $200 mill went to ensuring that of the 500 young female avpersons dressed in gstrings and feather necklaces - and not expansive feather necklaces like Sitting Bull headdresses the other way up, necklaces of between ten and twelve chicken feathers - leaping from tree to tree in lithe freedom, not one revealed a nipple at any point?
  • Do the marines really train their boys in strategy and tactics so well that their top pick for a red-hot combat strategy for badly-armed insurgents is "Hop on a horse-thingy and ride very fast into the enemy's machineguns"? As the grandson of a Light Horseman, I did hope that things might have improved between 1916 and 2016 or whatever.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Good day

Popped out at lunch and picked up, surprisingly cheaply,
  • The Children's Cargo; Lady Cynthia Asquith's Annual, with contributions from Hilaire Belloc, Beachcomber, and A.A. Milne, among others - undated, but prewar;
  • Time Magazine for April 12, 1957
  • Armageddeon, by La Haye and Jenkins, the eleventh volume of a twelve-volume series of novels on the rapture;
  • Ronnie Rolande, the Yodelling Whistler, LP.

I remember some years ago Penny looking at my purchases and remarking "You mean there were books there that were less attractive than these?"

Pshaw, I say. Pshaw.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Can I Say?

Here, and here, and here, and here, and here.... All of which, I have to admit, came from here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another year, another liver spot

Ah, birthdays!

I have a surprising number of good wishes on Facebook.

"But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near,
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity;
Graves are fine and private places,
But nothing know of Books or Faces."

I appear to be having trouble uploading graphics: but still, a shoutout for Perry Bible Fellowship -

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Back to the future

Reading Time, December 17, 1956, when I was ten;

Names that made news, then and now:
Fidel Castro
The Dalai Lama
King Phumipon of Thailand
and, in a cover article on "Weatherman Carl-Gustaf Rossby",
CO2 Menace Another atmospheric variable is carbon dioxide. CO2 is comparatively plentiful downwind from industrial areas such as the Ruhr, and there is a good possibility that man's fires and engines are adding so much of it to the atmosphere that the world's climate may be changed drastically by the solar heat that it traps. Rossby wants to find out about this little matter too.

You can't say we weren't warned well in advance.

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, part 7

Mrs. Renton told her story yesterday. She said:
I was resting after lunch in my boudoir, when the maid, Angelica, informed me that some gentlemen were in the hall. I asked her who they were, and how many. She said she had counted twelve, but that she had never seen any of them before. I said, 'Do they want to see me?' And Angelica said, 'I don't think so.'
Very mystified, I went into the hall.

My first instinct was to laugh. Imagine the effect of seeing a group of twelve red-bearded dwarfs, each fingering his little round hat nervously. I said, 'What can I do for you, gentlemen?' The spokesman answered nervously, 'Mrs. Tasker pushed us in here,' 'Why?' I asked, 'We don't know,' replied the spokesman.

Mr. Bastin Hermitage: I suggest they were an advertisement for Red Dwarf Horseradish Sauce.

Mrs. Renton: I don't eat horseradish sauce.

Cocklecarrot: Perhaps they wanted to make you eat it.
(Laughter and ribaldry in court.)

After lunch Rear-Admiral Sir Ewart Hodgson was called again, by mistake. But before the mistake was discovered he told the court that the new Navy scheme to provide longer hammocks for tall sailors would be worthless unless shorter hammocks were provided for small sailors. Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot suggested that all this was irrelevant. But Sir Ewart replied: 'Not at all. If these dwarfs were in the Navy they would be completely lost in the new hammocks.'

Cocklecarrot then said, 'It seems very difficult to keep this case within the realm of common sense. There are no red-bearded dwarfs in the Navy, so let us hear no more of this.'

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Barnaby Joyce: "His parents say they christened him after the hero of a comic strip they enjoyed as university students, Barnaby the Mathematical Genius."
He was born in 67, thus twenty years younger than me: therefore his parents were at uni around 1960. I've never heard of a strip called Barnaby the Mathematical Genius, and can't find any record of it. Could it be Barnaby? But that ended in 1952 (though there was a brief revival later that ended in '62) and as far as I know never reached Australia at all. Perhaps a Uni paper strip? Anybody having any information on this issue please contact live toad.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


December 10, 1956;

"Canada had acted as "a chore boy for the USA", Canadian Tories charged."
Shouldn't that be choir boy?
Wikp -
"Chore Boy is a brand name for a coarse scouring pad made of steel or copper wool. It is designed for cleaning very dirty surfaces, especially washing dishes. During the first half of the 20th century, the product was marketed under the name Chore Girl.
In the American drug-using community, especially in more urban areas, Chore Boy has garnered a rather large market as a makeshift component in do-it-yourself crack cocaine pipes."
So there is presumably a phrase "chore boy".
Urban dictionary,
"A person who is the designated bitch at any specific time"

On the other hand, "Betty Cuthbert, lite young lady who raises budgereegahs (Australian parakeets)" just suggests that they don't know much about budgerigars. Still, worth a check -
127 google cites, as opposed to 328,000 for budgerigar. And the great bulk of that 127 are surrealist spam.
Memidex online dictionary still has that as the spelling, though;
A 1970 citation from the Journal of Asthma has that spelling;
Must have been phased out almost immediately.

And an ad for the 1957 Studebaker Broadmoor 4-door Station Wagon, because nothing says quality like a prison for the criminally insane.

And a favorable, though not favourable enough, review of Seven Samurai, which was apparently released in the US as The Magnificent Seven. Which I suppose explains why Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Horst Bucholtz, Brad Dexter and Yul Brynner (all done from memory, too!) weren't called the Seven Gunmen.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Veni, Vidi, Verdi

Went to Aida with Anne last night. Music Ok, but Graeme Murphy's production had rather too much Wilson, Keppel and Betty about it to be remotely satisfactory.

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, part 6

The hearing of the case was continued to-day. Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot said: 'So far, hardly a mention has been made of these dwarfs. We have heard a long speech about the British Navy, and there has been a brawl in the canteen about the cost of coffee and sandwiches. It is not thus that the majesty of the Law is upheld.'

Mr. Tinklebury Snapdriver: I apply for a writ of tu quoque.

Mr. Bastin Hermitage: And I for a writ of sine mensis.

Cocklecarrot: Ah, that's better. That's more like the Law. I well remember in the case of the Pentagon Chemical Foodstuffs and Miss Widgeon versus Packbury's Weather Prophecies, Ltd., Captain Goodspeed intervening, a colleague of mine laid down that -- however, let us to the matter in hand. I understand, Mr. Hermitage, that you intend to call the Tellingby fire brigade. May I ask why?

Mr. Hermitage: They had been summoned to Mrs. Renton's house to extricate a child's head from between her chestnut fencing on a day when Mrs. Tasker arrived with the dwarfs. The chief of the brigade will tell us that Mrs. Tasker pushed the little men into the hall as soon as the maid, Agatha, had opened the door.

Fire Brigade Chief (from back of court): No, I won't!

(Consternation. Laughter. Cheers. An Asiatic carpet-seller is thrown out.)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Age bin - Tiger

Tiger Wood's transgressions have been a big story, but it won't last forever, and we should be planning ahead. We should be tracking down the person who's best in the world at being virtuous - the Dalai Lama, perhaps? Ideally, it'd be someone who was paid twenty million dollars a year not to be unfaithful to his wife (that might be harder to find). If we put the paparazzi on to him we might, if we were lucky, find out that he was crap at golf. Then we'd have him.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Strook me

It's Abbott.

My prophecy was exact to the letter. I'm vaguely disquieted, as when a child says to its grandmother "I hate you! I hope you die!" and she does, thus blighting a life. Or possibly grooming a psychopath, who knows? But Abbott.... Rudd must think he's died and gone to heaven.

When the Australian Democrats finally went down only one member of the parliamentary party hadn't been leader. The Liberals seem to be trying for the same record, en route to the same destination.

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, part 5

Mr. Snapdriver, cross-examining, said, 'Now, Sir Ewart, will you, as a distinguished sailor, be good enough to tell the court what you know of these dwarfs, of whose persistent interference Mrs. Renton complains?'

There was a hush of expectation as the admiral adjusted his spectacles, produced a sheaf of papers from an attache case, and began to read the following:-'By the might of the Navy our Empire was built up. By the might of the Navy it must be protected. Britannia did not rise from out the azure main merely to sink back into it again. The salt is in our blood, and-'
By this time the court was filled with wild cheering, and several ladies waved small Union Jacks.

Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot: Yes, yes, Sir Ewart, but what has this to do with the case?

Sir Ewart: The future of our Navy -(cheers)-is the concern of us all (cheers).

Cocklecarrot: Really, I shall have to clear the court if this goes on.

Mr. Snapdriver: I beg leave to enter a residuum, with jaggidge.

Cocklecarrot: Don't talk rubbish.

Mr. Snapdriver: Now, Sir Ewart, do you know these dwarfs?

Sir Ewart: Dwarfs or no dwarfs, Britannia's bulwarks are her great ships. (Cheers). See how they churn the farthest seas, their enormous prows cleaving-

Mr. Snapdriver: Please, please, Sir Ewart, try to confine your remarks to the matter in hand. Do you or do you not know these dwarfs?

Sir Ewart: I should be sorry to allow my acquaintanceship with dwarfs, giants, or anyone else to distract my attention from Britain's need to-day-a stronger Fleet. (Cheers.) Britannia, Mother of Ships, Queen of the Deep, and-

Cocklecarrot: Mr. Snapdriver, why was this witness ever called?

Mr. Snapdriver: It was a subpoena.

Cocklecarrot: In demurrage?

Mr. Snapdriver: Yes, and in toto.

Cocklecarrot: Oh, I shall have to grant a mandatum sui generis.

(The case was then adjourned.)

Somebody up there like me

By Alan Coren, from Bumf;

Anyone who knew me in the days when I was a free-floating polymer blob will tell you I'm a changed man. Taller, more shoes, all that. Even those who remember me in later years, as a sixty-foot fruit--eater covered in trim triangular slabs and sporting a rather fetching rockproof ruff, would pass me in Fleet Street today with hardly a second glance.
I have come on a bit, since then.

Nor need we go that far back in order to launch this particular little poser. Why, it is scarcely three million years, if the good Professor Leakey is to be believed, since my fun-filled time in the Olduvai Gorge, loping from hummock to hummock and wondering whether, my ground-grazed knuckles were Mother Nature's way of telling me it was time to try something a little more erect. Four feet tall and a parting right down the middle of my back - goodness me, if my friends could see me now!

Look at the poignant little sketch above, and prepare to catch my drift. You will, I know, have already recognized it, since it is as engraved upon our memories as ineradicably as it is upon Pioneer 10: it is Mr and Mrs Man, or as Guardian anthropologists might have it, Ms and Mr Woman, stark naked and off on a mission to embarrass the more prudish inhabitants of interstellar space. For, just a short while ago and amid the falling tears and popping corks of Houston, the happy couple broke from the constraints of our backyard solar system and set off on their illimitable wander.

Free, white, and twenty-one, as it were. I'll come to that later. They were gummed to Pioneer 10 a long time ago, of course, in 1972, when it first found lift-off. This probably explains the somewhat dated hi-tech Habitat-austere furniture on their patio. It probably also explains the fact that it is the man who is saying hallo to the things out there; today, twelve years and a whole heap of raised consciousness on, they would both be saying hallo, otherwise Congress would bow to feminist pressure and take the money back.
Just shows you how far we have come in twelve years.

And do you know how long Mr and Mrs Man are going to be out there on their intergalactic Grecian urn, forever panting and forever young? 'Scientists have estimated Pioneer's shortest possible lifetime at 2 billion years’, according to The Times. The italics, as they say, are mine. Two thousand million years is how long they're going to be out there, at the very least; however, 'moving through frictionless space, where the chance of collision with another body is so remote that it is beyond imagination, Pioneer 10 could continue its journey to infinity.' I did not bother bunging in any italics that time; if a thing is beyond imagination, it is certainly beyond mere typesetting.

Not, mind, that every aspect of the matter is beyond imagination, else I should not be buttonholing you today. For it is clear that an outside chance exists of Mr and Mrs Man bumping into something between now and infinity, else NASA would not have thrown good money away on Benvenuto Cellini Jr. You know the kind of rigorous scrutiny the poor souls come under, there is always some interfering busybody trying to make out a case for feeding Ethiopia or curing cancer rather than sending a tin postcard into the unending void.
So, then: we are presented with the very remote possibility, but a possibility nonetheless, that sometime in the next infinity or so, an intelligent thing from out there will hear a bump in the night, if they have nights, and go downstairs, ditto, and find itself facing the picture in question. If they have faces.
Now, let us first trim assumptions, for the sake of space. This space, not that. Let us not go down that road which starts with the reflection that the thing out there - could be a smart flower, could be a sapient gas, could be a god in a shower of gold - will take one glance at the figures and not recognize them as Earthlings at all, but as, what? A trade mark, perhaps? After all, thinking along NASA's cockeyed lines, if you sent a Mercedes-Benz into outer space, might not the welcoming committee on, say, Betelgeuse assume that the inhabitants of Earth were all three-pointed stars?
No, let us give the designers the benefit of the enormous doubt and accept that when the inhabitants of some unimaginably distant speck takes his eye out of his pocket and examines, the NASA plaque more closely, he will jump to the immediate conclusion that here is a snapshot of that nice young couple from across the universe.
Fine, fine; first hurdle successfully negotiated.
You have, I would guess, already picked up my scattered inklings about the second hurdle. We shall not even go so far as to say that all this is happening at the minimum survival limit of two thousand million years, we shall be generous and say that Pioneer 10 will bump into alien clever dicks in a scant million years from now.
Folding evolution's Rorschach test back on the hinge of 1984, have you the remotest idea what Earthlings will look like in a million years' time, given how they were a million years back? Even if the Greenham Commoners are wrong and the handful pf ennucleated survivors have not been mutated into polka-dotted gastropods with seventeen heads and a talking navel, are there not solid grounds for assuming that natural evolution will have taken a heavy toll of the NASA artist's impression? To cite the tiniest example: in Britain, the average height of a man over the past hundred years has risen by three inches. Do you have a calculator handy?
I am not of course guaranteeing that our descendants in 1,000,1984 AD will all be 2500 feet tall, you can never tell about evolutionary roulette, some of them may be no taller than the Eiffel Tower, but whichever way you slice it, it is going to be extremely misleading to the things gathered round the wreck of Pioneer 10. Or take shape: glance again at the rather plump 1972 lady in the picture. Is she not unquestionably pre-diet boom, pre-Fonda, pre-F-plan? Today, she would be twenty pounds slimmer; in a million years time, she could well be a thousand feet of thread, wound, perhaps, on a large reel for convenience, and living on amoebae.
Mind you, diet could well be a passing fad, just like employment: by 1,000,1984, such world as there is could be entirely run by robots, leaving the thousand·foot humanoids nothing to do but eat. Our grandchildren may very well turn out to be fifty-ton lumps of suet, capable of nothing but rolling around and watching breakfast television.
If Warfarin-resistant rats haven't taken over, of course, or malathion-gobbling giant greenfly, grown huge and clever and nasty. The mutant options, the evolutionary permutations, the protoplastic swings and roundabouts are unimaginably limitless; compared with speculating about them, thinking of infinity is a doddle.
As for the odds on Pioneer 10 not heaving-to alongside something intelligent before the further end of its two-thousand-million-year manufacturer's warranty, the guesswork should not even be embarked upon without a doctor's certificate. We Earthlings could, by then, be itinerant warts, we could be chattering fungi, we could all be members of the Labour Party National Executive. .
So, then, what might be the outcome of all this? The things from Planet X, beside themselves (unless, of course, they are already built that way) at the thought of intelligent life ten billion billion miles away, will hop/crawl/bounce/ drip into their own spacecraft, and set out on the long trip Earthwards. A thousand million years later, and sick of tinned food, they will chuck open the hatch and hurl themselves onto the surface of this planet, gabbling: 'Take us to your leader! Where are the women with the big jugs?' What will happen to this already battered old globe when they discover the truth, I dare not even begin to imagine. Regret at evolving beyond free-floating polymer blobs won't be the half of it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More in sorrow than in anger, and more in hysterical giggling than either

One point that none of the commentators seem to have noted is that Turnbull is going to come out of this pissed. And he, unlike other ex-Lib leaders, has almost no residual loyalty to the party, and every reason to take to it with a flensing knife. So there's no reason to believe that once rolled he won't stay in parliament and cause trouble, or switch parties and campaign for labor, or write a book that will make the Latham Diaries look like Pollyanna - whatever will most contribute to bringing down the party in sorrow to the grave, really. There's no point in assuming that anybody will be able to unify the party, because Turnbull's still going to be in it, and he's not unifiable. There's no point in assuming that the party is going to be able to win an election, or not get monstered, because parties that have ex-leaders stumping the electorate denouncing them rarely do well. There's no point in assuming that Hockey is going to get a honeymoon, because he's going to get king-hit by Turnbull.

OK, this one is falsifiable: Turnbull might decide to walk away and forget about it, and even forgive - it's what he did over the republic, after all. Wait and see.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Went to 2012. Special effects as snappy as advertised, but taking them all together I'd be surprised if there was ten minutes in a two-hour movie, all the rest being basically whining drool about being a good husband and father.

The trick, of course, is not destroying the world, it's destroying the world and then ending on an upbeat human story with an improving moral. I have to say they tried hard.

Spoiler follows:

If, as in the movie, the rich bastards of the world all paid a billion dollars to build arks in the Himalayas, they would presumably need the Chinese army to form square around it to keep out the rabble. And I would be very surprised if in that case, billion dollar payout or no billion dollar payout, the final makeup of the passengers was substantially under 99% PLA and their families, or mistresses.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kevin v. Kevin? Alas, no

Well, a week ago I said that I said that
On the politics, I imagine that the scenario that Rudd is trying for – one that leaves him on the verge of being incapacitated by uncontrollable drooling – is that the Wong/McFarlane talks come up with a compromise that Turnbull has to take to the party room, which rejects it by a large majority. The bill goes to the house, Turnbull and McFarlane and a few other Liberals vote with the government but the bulk of the party doesn’t, and Turnbull either steps down to let Minchin or Abbot become leader, is bounced to let Minchin or Abbot become leader, or goes to the election as a weakling who can’t speak for his party. All of these outcomes result in Labor winning a thumping majority and the right coming to power in the Liberal party, and thus explain the actions of both Rudd and Minchin.

I suppose I get half marks; Turnbull is still leader, but the party has split as utterly as Rudd could conceivably have hoped.
Cue Stubby Kaye;

When we fought the Yankees and annihilation was near,
Who was there to lead the charge that took us safe to the rear?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "Toot your own horn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, a man who knew no fear!

When we almost had 'em but the issue still was in doubt,
Who suggested the retreat that turned it into a rout?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "Tattered and torn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he kept us hidin' out!

With our ammunition gone and faced with utter defeat,
Who was it that burned the crops and left us nothing to eat?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "September Morn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, the pants blown off his seat!


When it seemed like our brave boys would keep on fighting for months,
Who took pity on them and ca-pit-u-lated at once?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; Unshaven and shorn - pone.
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he weren't nobody's dunce!

Who went re-con-noiter-ing to flank the enemy's rear,
Circled through the piney woods, and disappeared for a year?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "Treat 'em with scorn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, the missing mountaineer!

Who became so famous with a reputation so great,
That he ran for president and didn't carry a state?
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;
Old "Wouldn't be sworn - pone."
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he made the country wait!

Stonewall Jackson got his name by standing firm in the fray.
Who was known to all his men as good ol' "Paper Mache?"
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone;


Jubilation T. Cornpone, he really saved the day!


Though he's gone to his reward, his mighty torch is still lit.
First in war. First in peace. First to holler, "I quit!"
Jubilation T. Cornpone;

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, part 4

After lunch there was a brisk passage when Mr. Snapdriver, for the prosecution, threatened to call more than twelve thousand witnesses if counsel for the defence called seven thousand.
Cocklecarrot: Come, come, you two. This is becoming farcical.
Hermitage: It is a bluff, m'lud. He hasn't got twelve thousand witnesses.
Snapdriver: Here is my list, m'lud.
Cocklecarrot: Yum. I see it includes two Cabinet Ministers and an entire football team. (Sarcastically): I suppose they, too, are related to the dwarfs.
Snapdriver: So I understand, m'lud.
Cocklecarrot: (in a ringing voice): Who on earth are these astonishing little red-bearded gentry?
Hermitage: I think Admiral Sir Ewart Hodgson could tell us that.
Cocklecarrot: Very well. Call him. We are wasting our time.

Not bad

And here, I will say, is a zinger:
Sarah Palin recently explained that Israel’s illegal settlements should be expanded “because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead.”

As a student of milleniarial literature, and a fan of LB Fridays on Slacktivist, that's a sure tell. She's talking about the Rapture.
Not, I would have thought, easy to fit in with a commitment to the 2012 presidential run, but perhaps that's why she decided to step down from conventional politics.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Well, that's close:
O'REILLY: Do you believe that you are smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world?

PALIN: I believe that I am because I have common sense and I have -- I believe the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spineless -- a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fat resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans are -- could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that that has to be me.

If you put in a marker every time there's a grammatical shift in the sentence - a time when she's continuing on from the word before rather than from the five or ten words before - it'd look like this, leaving out the understandable hesitations;

O'REILLY: Do you believe that you are smart enough, incisive enough, intellectual enough to handle the most powerful job in the world?

PALIN: I believe that I am because I have common sense and I believe the values that are reflective of so many other American *values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of *a spinelessness that perhaps is made up *for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fat resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans are -- could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that that has to be me.

Input 'American', output 'American values'.
Input 'kind of', output 'kind of a'.
Input 'made up', output 'made up for'.
She's in a quantum superposition between saying that the baddies make up for their spinelessness by a fat resume and saying that the baddies are made up of fat resumes.

The Brown version

Their collection had grown into an eclectic fusion of new and old . . . of cutting-edge and historical. Most of Katherine’s books bore titles like Quantum Consciousness, The New Physics, and Principles of Neural Science. Her brother’s bore older, more esoteric titles like the Kybalion, the Zohar, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, and a translation of the Sumerian tablets from the British Museum.

One of these things is not like the others.

Mmmm... The Kybalion, 1908 (but claiming to be the essence of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus,a contemporary of Moses); the Zohar, 13th CE claiming to be 2nd CE; Sumerian tablets, before the 2nd millenium BCE; The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (1979), New York: William Morrow and Company, hardcover: ISBN 0-688-03402-0, paperback: ISBN 0-688-08402-8, 352 pp. You know you're getting old when the books around in your youth are referred to as 'historical'.

And the first edition of Principals of Neural Science was published in 1981.

Oh, but the thrill's not there any more. Picking errors in Brown is becoming uncomfortably like pedantically missing the point. The Lost Symbol isn't epically bad, like DVC, it's just not very good. The question that arises is not "Why are millions of people wasting their time on this book?" but "Why am I wasting my time on this book?"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Don't say cheese

Just reading A Brief History of the Smile.

Must have arrived too late for inclusion -
While Thais are known for their gracious smiles and bawdy humour, King Bhumibol alone is serious, gray, and almost tormented by the weighty matters of his realm. .....he seemed never to be seen smiling, instead displaying an apparent penitential pleasurelessness in the trappings and burdens of the throne.
For the Thais, this was a sign of his spiritual greatness. In the Buddhist culture, either a smile or a frown would indicate attachment to worldly pleasures or desires. Bhumibol's public visage was unfailingly one of kindly benevolence and impassivity. In his equanimity he resembled the greatest kings of the past, the dhammarajas of the 13th-century Sukhotai kingdom...."

From The King Never Smiles

Friday, November 20, 2009


It may seem odd that in all the fooforaw about Going Rogue there is no comment from me, her fascinated acolyte; but in fact there have been no actual Palinisms as yet, no speeches, none of her linguistic bricolage, the random walks of word association that make her such an endless feast. The actual book appears to have been subedited to a faretheewell to remove any evidence of ADD and has correspondingly little interest. Well, we can only hope.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, part 3

Renton v. Tasker

This extraordinary case continued yesterday.
The first sensation came when Mrs. Tasker submitted a list of over seven thousand people whom she wished to call as witnesses. Council for the defence, Mr. Bastin Hermitage, was about to read the list when Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot intervened.

Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot: Is it necessary to call all these people?

Mr. Hermitage: I believe so, m'lud.

Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot: But surely they cannot all be connected with the case. For instance, I see here the name of a Cabinet Minister. Also a well-known film actor. What have they got to do with these dwarfs?

Mr. Hermitage: I undersytand that some of these dwarfs claim to be related to the Cabinet Minister.

Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot: And that distinguished sailor Rear-Admiral Sir Ewart Hodgson?

Mr. Hermitage: I understand he knows one of the dwarfs.
(Sensation in court)

From Quiggin

On the politics, I imagine that the scenario that Rudd is trying for – one that leaves him on the verge of being incapacitated by uncontrollable drooling – is that the Wong/McFarlane talks come up with a compromise that Turnbull has to take to the party room, which rejects it by a large majority. The bill goes to the house, Turnbull and McFarlane and a few other Liberals vote with the government but the bulk of the party doesn’t, and Turnbull either steps down to let Minchin or Abbot become leader, is bounced to let Minchin or Abbot become leader, or goes to the election as a weakling who can’t speak for his party. All of these outcomes result in Labor winning a thumping majority and the right coming to power in the Liberal party, and thus explain the actions of both Rudd and Minchin.
And the near-neutering of the bill isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Portugal actually entered the war in 1916, which makes their decision almost the oddest of all. Actually watching a year of trench warfare and then saying "Yeah, gotta get me some of that sweet sweet candy!" Bizarre.

Admittedly, Germany declared war on them, but they'd provoked it by seizing German ships in Lisbon harbour. Apparently the motivation was that they were afraid that, neutral or no neutral, their colonies would be divvied up at the peace conference if they weren't on the winning side.

And in the end they only lost a couple of thousand dead, hardly a rounding error in the total butcher's bill. But even so.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Time magazine, June 25 1956; a quote from a colonial official in Lusaka - "You must be bloody well 'round the bend, old boy."
When did they drop the apostrophe from 'round?

OK, they haven't, entirely:from the web

1. "So, what's new this time round?"

Is the above proper English?
Can I use it in writing?

I see no problems with this usage, but be advised that in this usage, 'round is a contraction for around, so if you choose to use round, it should be preceeded with an apostrophe.

Odd. I would have sworn that that usage had simply evaporated. Not entirely, not in America, it seems. Though I suppose "this time around" is an idiom of its own, and may override the normal use.
Not so here, though, from -

'round: is this an abbreviation of "around"?
I'd be grateful if you could provide with usages.


4 months ago

Best Answer
Chosen by Asker
'round instead of around is really more of a speech issue. People often say round because the first "a" is dropped off the word when they speak, but you usually don't write 'round unless you're intentionally using slang.


"People around here are very nice"

"People 'round here are nice."

The meaning doesn't change. A lot of the times you just don't hear people pronouncing the first "a".

The best account comes from Separated by a Common Language.
Adverbial and prepositional round is far more common in BrE than in AmE. According to John Algeo's British or American English?, round is 40 times more common in BrE than AmE (in the Cambridge International Corpus). Though it might just be differences in lexicographical practice, Algeo also notes that (US) Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (2003) lists 2 senses for prepositional round but 7 for around, whereas the (UK) New Oxford Dictionary of English lists 5 for around and 8 for round.

I searched for round the on the Guardian website and asked myself whether the examples I found would be round or around in my native dialect. Here are the results from the first two pages that didn't involve other Briticisms (otherwise I'd be typing explanations all day and night), repetition, compounding (e.g. a round-the-world ticket), or other disqualifiers:

1. Party round the world in 2007
2. Reading round the Christmas tree.
3. He's an expert guide, fluent in Italian, takes you round the museum
4. Pubs are to be allowed to stay open round the clock under plans for a radical overhaul of licensing laws
5. 'Listen: tinkering round the edges will change nothing'
6. On the way round the labyrinth, there are slits in the walls,
7. He has recently completed the last section of a walk round the M25 [a motorway/highway]

I'm fairly confident (though I must confess that I use a BrE-flavo(u)red round fairly often these days, and so may have lost my intuitions), that a typical AmE speaker would say around in all of these cases. The last seems to me the most natural with round, but perhaps some of you with more intact AmE intuitions will be better judges.

Using Fowler's as a guide, The Grammar Logs of the Capital Community College Foundation (Hartford, Connecticut) answers a query about round and around with:

In almost all situations, the words are interchangeable and you'll have to rely on your ear to come up with the word that sounds better. [I]n British English, there are several idiomatic expressions in which "round" is obligatory, but where "around" would work just fine in the U.S.A.: "winter comes round," "show me round," "he came round to see me." In the U.S., "around" is obligatory when you're using it to convey approximation: "He arrived around 4 p.m.," "Around two-thirds of the faculty will retire next year."

There are other idioms that must have one or the other in them--for instance to get around, meaning to go to/be in a lot of places (as in the Beach Boys song), needs around. But in the meaning 'to evade' (as in We got (a)round the security guard), BrE prefers round and AmE prefers around. Feel free to add your own examples in the comments!

An interesting example in the Guardian results was The speech heard 'round the world. Here the apostrophe seems to indicate the writer's feeling that round has been contracted from around--and probably the writer's feeling that round is a bit more informal. That was the only apostrophe'd one in the 20 I looked at. But is it round really a contraction of around? Maybe not. Around is a fairly recent addition to the language. The OED lists around as 'rare before 1600', and notes that it doesn't occur in the works of Shakespeare. Round goes back further, and Shakespeare used it in places where I would have said around (but he didn't ask me, did he?):

1602 SHAKES. Ham. III. ii. 165 Full thirtie times hath Phoebus Cart gon round Neptunes salt Wash.

So where did the a- come from? It could be on analogy with other a- prepositions like across and among. At any rate, the OED marks its fourth sense for around as an Americanism now, but perhaps not in the past or the future:

4. In U.S.: = ROUND. Perhaps orig. U.K. (cf. quot. 1816). Now coming back into British use under U.S. influence.

1816 JANE AUSTEN Emma I. x. 187 Emma..was beginning to think how she might draw back a little more, when they both looked around, and she was obliged to join them.

All this seems to indicate that apostrophes are unnecessary for 'round (at least in BrE), and that the perceived need to put them there may be analogous to 'til, which was till before it was until.


From QED and the men who made it: Schwinger, Feynman, Dyson and Tomonaga.
p. 371:
When Schwinger was at Harvard his numerous students... learned and disseminated his language. But as he became more isolated, fewer people understood and spoke the newer languages he created - for example, sourcery (Schwinger, 1970b, 1973) - contributing to his further isolation.

Did Pratchett know of this?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Greatuncle Malcolm

Greatuncle Malcolm was, we believe, the first Australian to get direct entry into the British army as an officer, back in 1906. His file is now online at the National Archives (go to, Recordsearch, search on Lieutenant Borthwick JM). There are a number of points of interest.

It all begins in 1905 when the principal of Scotch College writes to the Minister for Defence to ask for the rules. "I have a pupil who wishes to enter the Imperial army as an officer."

The Secretary for Defence sends him a copy of the Imperial Army Orders for 1903. "As this book is the only copy available, I would be obliged if it could be returned after perusal." (and he writes again four days later asking for it back; the days before the photocopier...)

The Principal again: "The bearer, Master Malcolm Borthwick, is the son of Lt.Col William Borthwick of Sale, who is anxious that his son should enter the Imperial Army in India with a view to joining the Staff Corps." Mmmm... his parents were anxious....

So the Governor-General,Lord Northcote, signs a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.... Undersecretary of State at the Colonial Office replies...

"Examination [in the literary paper] of the candidates hereabove named was held at this office on 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th instant...the answers to the questions have been forwarded this day direct to the Director of Staff Duties, War Office, London."

The War Office says he's passed the literary exam and can sit the military exam.

John Forrest, Acting Prime Minister, certifies to the G-G that Malcolm is a bona fide colonist of good character.

A letter headed "Downing Street", from Elgin, the Officer administering the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Malcolm had a choice of Military History papers - the Peninsular War from 1811-1813, or the Peninsular War from 1813-1814.

Exam taken, papers sent, and a letter informing Lord Northcote of this signed by Alfred Deakin.

Paper headed Commonwealth of Australia, can't read the signature. "Re cabling result of Borthwick's exam: Capt Collins is being asked to cable. Presume we have your guarantee that cable will be paid for.

Only two words, too; "The words 'Borthwick passed' or "Borthwick failed' will be understood here." That's the Acting Secretary of the Department of Defense.

"The subjoined cablegram... received this day by the Governor-General from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, is transmitted to the Prime Minister."


He counted, apparently, as Imperial Yeomenary. No, I see they struck that out on the form and inserted COLONIAL CANDIDATES.

"I am commanded by the Army Council to inform you that this candidate has qualified for appointment to a commission in the Imperial Army..."

He went into the 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, and left on the RMS Zecodonia in February 1908.

Everything having to be sent from the Department of Defense to the PM to the GG to the Colonial Office to the War Office, and back again; cumbersome.

And there were so few people in the public service at the time that PMs was basically the PM and a secretary.

And poor Malcolm was sent to Aden, not India, and it was hot and tiny and boring and everybody thought he was an appalling colonial oik and nobody would speak to him and it was his parents who'd wanted him to go into the army anyway and he killed himself.


The people who started the war, and those who went to war against those who started the war, weren't stupid, and they weren't even mistaken. They all believed, correctly, that their aims - positive, as in German hegemony/Austrian security, or negative, as in no German hegemony/Austrian security - couldn't be attained without war.
That is to say, you can't have it both ways. It's not a matter of saying "They could have achieved their aims in other less murderous ways." They couldn't. The only way for Asquith to avoid war would have been, essentially, to take the decision to lose it. That would have been a very courageous decision, in the Sir Humphrey sense.
The same with Iraq. The issue isn't "Is the world better off without Saddam?" It's whether the good of having no Saddam is worth the evil of not having the what, half million to a million Iraqis who died along the way.
Which does, to some extent, underline that the person who starts it - who walks across someone else's border carrying a rifle - bears a heavy responsibility. Then, Bethmann-Hollweg and Berchtold. Now, George Bush.
Placing Obama in the position of Lloyd George or Clemenceau - someone who inherited it but hasn't got the authority to stop it and take the loss and just has to double down until something occurs that lets someone claim victory.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Age bin

Jim Molan suggests that we need to up Australian troop numbers in Afghanistan in order to protect Afghans "against their own corrupt government and police". If that's the case, surely the sensible thing to do would be to outsource the job to the local Taliban and and save on transport costs?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ah, the brave music of a distant drum

John Quiggin asks on Crooked Timber
The names of Asquith, Bethmann-Hollweg, Berchtold and Poincare are barely remembered, yet on any reasonable accounting they belong among the great criminals of history. Not only did they create the conditions for war, and rush (eagerly in most cases) into it, they carried on even as the death toll mounted into the hundreds of thousands and beyond. Even as the original grounds for war became utterly irrelevant, they continued to intrigue for trivial postwar benefits, carving up imagined conquests among themselves. Eventually, most were displaced by leaders who were marginally less mediocre, and more determined to win at all costs (Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Ludendorff, Hindenburg and others).

How could such ordinary, seemingly decent, men pursue such an evil and self-destructive course, and yet, in most cases, attract and retain the support of their people? I find it hard to understand.

Explaining WW1 involves taking into account factors that never go away;
1) Nationalist overconfidence
No nation really believes that its army isn't good enough to win, until it's proven.
2) Sunk costs fallacy
After the first year, settling for a draw (let alone losing) involved having traded a million or so dead for something that wasn't worth a million or so dead.
3) Party politics
Settling for a draw (let alone losing) involved, all the governments involved thought, the certainty of losing office and a high risk of bloody revolution and the overthrow of the whole society they knew. In which belief history shows they were more or less correct.

If the trenches had been on the French/German border it would have been a lot easier to stop. As it was, peace would have involved either Germany giving up a territorial advantage (when she hadn't lost) or France accepting a territorial loss (when she hadn't lost).

And it's all very well talking as if we moderns would have done the rational thing and saved all those lives. My grandfather fought at Gallipoli, and was in the charge of the Light Horse at the Nek, that most idiotic of doomed battles, four successive waves shot down instantly as they went over the top. At that point, the only way to stop the death of four hundred men would have been to for him bayonet a couple of officers on the startline, but if I'd been there instead of him I wouldn't have had the guts to do it and I rather doubt if JQ would have either. That's an extreme case, but it scales.


Uh-oh. My first spam post in the comments. A sign of maturity, I suppose, a tribute to my wide appeal to the desperate and impotent, which I suppose is fair enough considering, but I could have done without it nonetheless.

It's a challenge.

A man must stand up. (actually, I don't suppose that's a good slogan in this context)
A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do (likewise)
Anyway, I'm taking a position (dammit, not that either)

Don't buy pills from anyone advertising on this site. They in fact fill the packets with lollies from the Coles Christmas Assortment half-kilo pack.

There, that'll show 'em.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Declaration of interest

According to Pharyngula
The sentencing of a convicted murder, Khristian Oliver, should be an embarrassment to the state of Texas; the jurors consulted the Old Testament to see what should be done with him, found a bible verse they liked — "And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death" — and sentenced him to be executed. {Which he was.}

I'm conflicted here. On the one hand, I'm against the death penalty: on the other, I have a down on people who spell my name wrong.

272,789,137,666,806,000,000 green bottles

Mmm. Looking at that SBC study, they found 0.05 associations in 27 out of the 68 genes they studied. The problem with that is that the perms and combs are backbreaking. If, let's say, you can end up having 16 of those genes tripped, there would be 272,789,137,666,806,000,000 different ways to do it.
Can any of the trained mathematicians out there (you know who you are) check that?

But SBC says
My colleagues and I recently published the first candidate gene study of Asperger syndrome, which identified 14 genes associated with the condition.
Eleven genes survived family wise error rate (FWER) correction using permutations across both experiments, which is greater than would be expected by chance.
So who knows...

I've got Asberger's syndrome and he's got mine

Simon Baron-Cohen, Borat's cousin and irritating autism guru, complains about the forthcoming deletion of Asberger's Syndrome from DSM.
....a committee of experts charged with revising the manual has caused consternation by considering removing Asperger syndrome from the next edition, scheduled to appear in 2012. The committee argues that the syndrome should be deleted because there is no clear separation between it and its close neighbor, autism. The experts propose that both conditions should be subsumed under the term “autism spectrum disorder,” with individuals differentiated by levels of severity. It may be true that there is no hard and fast separation between Asperger syndrome and classic autism, since they are currently differentiated only by intelligence and onset of language. Both classic autism and Asperger syndrome involve difficulties with social interaction and communication, alongside unusually narrow interests and a strong desire for repetition, but in Asperger syndrome, the person has good intelligence and language acquisition.
Which sums up my reasons for having no respect for Baron-Cohen: he can't separate, even conceptually, intelligence and language. They come as a unit. He sees two conditions - no intelligence and no language, autism; intelligence and language, Asbergers - when the words he uses virtually mandate at least three - no intelligence/no language, intelligence/language, [no intelligence/language], intelligence/no language. Either these are separate qualities or they aren't.
....history reminds us that psychiatric diagnoses are not set in stone. They are “manmade,” and different generations of doctors sit around the committee table and change how we think about “mental disorders.” This in turn reminds us to set aside any assumption that the diagnostic manual is a taxonomic system. Maybe one day it will achieve this scientific value, but a classification system that can be changed so freely and so frequently can’t be close to following Plato’s recommendation of “carving nature at its joints.”
Part of the reason the diagnostic manual can move the boundaries and add or remove “mental disorders” so easily is that it focuses on surface appearances or behavior (symptoms) and is silent about causes. Symptoms can be arranged into groups in many ways, and there is no single right way to cluster them. Psychiatry is not at the stage of other branches of medicine, where a diagnostic category depends on a known biological mechanism. An example of where this does occur is Down syndrome, where surface appearances are irrelevant. Instead the cause — an extra copy of Chromosome 21 — is the sole determinant to obtain a diagnosis. Psychiatry, in contrast, does not yet have any diagnostic blood tests with which to reveal a biological mechanism.
Yes, but there are tradeoffs. In diagnoses where surface appearances and symptoms are irrelevant, the diagnosis doesn't necessarily say anything about surface appearances or symptoms. It's possible to say that you can't be sick with TB without the presence of the TB bacteria, but you can have TB bacteria without being sick, and at least 90% of positive tests do. Is SBC really prepared to face a situation where (say) 30% of the population has the diagnostic markers of autism but only 0.5% show symptoms?

Mind you, it does look rather as if this is mere handwaving, because he's not proposing to apply any physical tests, he's just opposing the deletion of one symptom-based subdivision of a symptom-based diagnosis.
We don’t yet know if Asperger syndrome is genetically identical or distinct from classic autism, but surely it makes scientific sense to wait until these two subgroups have been thoroughly tested before lumping them together in the diagnostic manual. I am the first to agree with the concept of an autistic spectrum, but there may be important differences between subgroups that the psychiatric association should not blur too hastily.
Yes, there may be important differences between subgroups (even if, for the sake of argument, you accept the existence of an overriding condition rather than a flotilla of quite different conditions sharing common symptoms) but in order to make the point you're actually making you surely have to make some attempt to demonstrate that Asbergers is in fact in some way a distinct subgroup rather than a point on a spectrum. I myself abominate the notion of a spectrum, which in practice reduces to the good oldfashioned ladder of creation from the stupid to the like us, I prefer to place cases in n-dimensional space and look for groupings, but SBC doesn't, so where's the Asbergers distinction?
My colleagues and I recently published the first candidate gene study of Asperger syndrome, which identified 14 genes associated with the condition.
Horse feathers. The study compared a normal population with an Asberger population, on a number of autistic traits, which means that any associations (described as 'above chance', which doesn't sound as if they're particularly strong) could just be with autism spectrum disorder, not Asberger's specifically. Not even close.

Joke in headline - hat tip to S. J. Perelman.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Case of the Twelve Red-Bearded Dwarfs, part 2

Mr. Tinklebury Snapdriver (for the plaintiff) Now, Mrs.--er--Tasker, where were you on the afternoon of 26 January? Think carefully before you answer.

Mrs. Tasker: Which year?

Mr. Snapdriver: What?

Mrs. Tasker: Which year?

Mr. Snapdriver appeared disconcerted. He consulted his notes and one or two books. Then he whispered to a clerk and consulted another barrister.

Mr.Justice Cocklecarrot: Well, Mr Snapdriver, which year?

Mr. Snapdriver: Am I bound to answer that question, m'lud?

Cocklecarrot: It was you who asked it, you know.
[Roars of laughter in court.]

Mrs. Tasker: M'lud, I think I can tell him the year, It was 1937.

Cocklecarrot: Why, that's this year. What then?

Mr. Snapdriver: Where were you, Mrs Tasker, on the morning of 26th January

Mrs. Tasker: I called at Mrs Renton's house to leave a dozen red-bearded
dwarfs with her.

Cocklecarrot: Had she ordered them? [Howls of laughter]

The court then rose.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Halloween won't really ever take off in Australia because of the seasons thing. In Australia in October it's not dark till nine or later, which means that young children going door to door for sweets (no, I suppose I do have to use the word candy) would have to be out way past bedtime. Halloween parties for adolescents or adults, yes, but without the kids the celebration finds it hard to reach critical mass.

Age bin - the queen

Australians have a head of state we don't want, a flag we don't like, and a national anthem we can't remember. Good. Symbols of national pride are powerful intoxicants which should be kept out of the hands of weakminded and impressionable electorates. A powerful sense of national identity would simply be an incitement to more Cronullas.

Friday, November 06, 2009


However bereft of factual basis, you can nonetheless sing this line to Beethoven's Ode to Joy. For a very short time.

somewhere along the way the caper went awry

Fafblog: successor in title to Beachcomber

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Boy's names: Pushing the Envelope

Time, February 13, 1956

Felix Houphouet*-Boigny is the first Negro ever to hold Cabinet rank in France.

* "Houphouet" is a Baule word meaning "pit for excrement". His father's parents, desperate when their first four children died in infancy, adopted the tribal custom of giving the fifth child a name indicating that he was unloved, unloveable and worthless, to divert the evil spirits that had taken the first four. The local sorcerer recommended Houphouet. "It worked," said Houphouet-Boigny, who, like all his descendants, must forever bear the name which saved his father.

Autres Temps

Hooray! The shop has more old Time magazines.

February 13, 1956

From a raised pavilion, the Queen accepted the homage of, among others, the Rwang Pam of Dirom, the Atta of Igala, the Tor of Tiv, the Och of Idoma and the Elsu Nupe.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Born out of his time

What a blogger Beachcomber would have made!
Mr Justice Cocklecarrot began the hearing of a very curious case yesterday. A Mrs Tasker is accused of continually ringing the doorbell of a Mrs Renton, and then, when the door is opened, pushing a dozen red-bearded dwarfs into the hall and leaving them there.
For some weeks Mrs. Renton had protested by letter and by telephone to Mrs. Tasker, but one day she waited in the hall and caught Mrs. Tasker in the act of pushing the dwarfs into the hall. Mrs. Renton questioned them, and their leader said "We know nothing about it. It's just that this Mrs. Tasker pays us a shilling every time she pushes us into your hall."
"But why does she do it?" asked Mrs. Renton.
"That's what we don't know," said the spokesman of the little men.

The story to fit this sensational headline has not turned up yet.

Monday, November 02, 2009


On another Rapture site,
In December 2012 the Sun will reach the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, as the Mayans predicted, with all the planets lined up in their orbits behind it, like little chicks behind their mother. Some scientists believe this will amplify the Sun’s gravitational pull on Earth causing increased instability in its inner core. They say the increased gravitational pull combined with increased radiation from the twin polar reversals will heat the Earth’s molten core and cause it to spin faster. This could result in anything from more frequent and more powerful earthquakes to volcanic eruptions, great tsunamis and even displacement of the Earth’s crust.

The Doctor will save us.
Though they are making it sound rather simpler by omitting to mention the immense black hole we'll probably find there. Also Daleks, I wouldn't be at all surprised.
Though I suppose there's an actual point there; today even religious maniacs have no social vocabulary to express their eschatology other than that provided by science fiction thrillers. The Hand of God can't just come down from the sky and punch someone; there has to be an increased gravitational pull that makes them fall over. And yet at the end of this process The Hand (and all the other bits) of the Son of God does apparently just come down from the sky and biff people, so why not at the start, too? It bespokes a certain lack of confidence in the direct action of the deity. If god can act through increased radiation rather than killing firstborn, why do they have a problem with evolution?
Of course, it's always possible that they'll catch us between Doctors - I gather that the new one doesn't come on till next year. That would be truly frightening.

Grand Strategy

I bought a stretchable Incredible Hulk at Kmart. For some inexplicable reason his fists are attached to his knees, so that any stretching that goes on makes him look oddly as if he's folkdancing. It does, however, raise a larger issue.

Why are there so many people in the world?

I am the only important person in the world - I hope we can all agree on that - and everybody else is here only to make my life richer and more fulfilled; that's axiomatic. And I think there's a degree of featherbedding. We could do more with less.

I'm not taking a narrow view of this, mind. I'm not just referring to the comparatively few people I actually meet or deal with. I quite appreciate that it takes a lot to run the entire supply chain from the iron mine to the part in my biro. I can see, from the economic point of view, that there need to be a lot of people in China to drive down the labor cost so that they can produce cheap Incredible Hulks for me, and a large amount of people in the West so that there can be a market for Incredible Hulk stretchables.

I just think that even taking all that into account it should be possible with a little planning to eliminate the need for about two people in three, absolute minimum. A billion people worldwide really should be the absolute outside.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yet again

To be contrasted with the phrase 'one up the gary' which can not only be attributed to the right person but can be dated almost to the day. Also lower case, I note.

And yet

However, the only hits for "Conspiracy to Prevent a Principal from Doing His Job" are references to Snow's book, so it's possible that someone has at some point been taking the mickey. Or is that 'taking the Mickey'?

"Take the mickey" is an abbreviated form of the Cockney rhyming slang "take the mickey bliss"[6] ("mickey" being slang for penis[7]), meaning to "take the piss [out of someone]". The phrase has been noted since the 1930s.
[edit] Alternate theories of origin

An alternate, unverified, and unlikely theory of etymology is that "mickey" is a contraction of "micturition" (i.e., piss),[8] "mickey" being a suitable alternative when in the company of those liable to be offended by "piss".

Hold it. If '"mickey" is slang for penis, why bring in Mickey Bliss?
Who nobody has managed to identify, so the rhyming slang element is purely hypothetical. The BBC has
The OED isn’t certain, but says this might be cockney rhyming slang honouring one Mike or Mickey Bliss. If we could find out anything at all about Mr Bliss, we might establish whether the Dictionary are on to something or themselves taking the Michael. Several different versions of the expression arose in the 1930s and 40s. To take the mike seems to have come first in 1935, followed by take the piss in 1945. Take the mickey doesn’t appear until 1948, unless you know better.

Still, the OED
mickey, n.1 DRAFT REVISION Dec. 2001
[< Mickey, pet-form of the male forename Michael (see MICHAEL n.). Cf. MICK n.1, MIKE n.4, -Y6.
In phrase to take the mickey at sense 7 perh. after Mickey Bliss, rhyming slang for piss. Cf. earlier MIKE n.7]

7. colloq. (chiefly Brit.). to take the mickey (out of): to behave or speak satirically or mockingly; to make fun of, satirize, or debunk (a person or thing). Cf. MIKE n.7, PISS n. 2.
1948 A. BARON From City, from Plough vi. 49 ‘Higgsy,’ said the sergeant, ‘they think I'm taking the mickey. Tell 'em.’ 1952 ‘J. HENRY’ Who lie in Gaol iv. 66 She's a terror. I expect she'll try and take the mickey out of you all right. Don't you stand for nothin'. 1957 L. P. HARTLEY Hireling 134 He had no great regard for Constance, except in so far as she sometimes took the mickey out of Hughie. 1958 Observer 28 Dec. 3/1 ‘Tonight’ is not only a tough and irreverent programme, but glib and smart and anxious to take the mickey. 1960 E. W. HILDICK Jim Starling & Colonel ix. 76 The servers must have thought that no boy would dare to take the mickey in such circumstances. 1971 B. W. ALDISS Soldier Erect 101 Geordie looked anxiously at me, in case I thought he was taking the micky too hard. 1991 Sunday Sun (Brisbane) 3 Feb. 6/5, I don't think there is any subject that is too serious to take the micky out of.

does seem to establish that it's lower case.

Dodged another bullet, then

It sure does look like our Rapture will be--
October 20th 2009!

Does The Rapture take place when Israel NUKES Damascus - at the same time? I believe in a simultaneous rapture/sudden destruction.

Wonderful site, endlessly informative. Difficult to choose between the Miracle of the Infomercial -
If we subtract 2520 days from September 23, 2015 we come to October 29, 2008. SEE CALCULATION In Revelation 8:1 it talks about a silence in heaven for 30 minutes, and in the scripture above in Daniel 9:27, it could be read: “he shall reaffirm his campaign promises with his many followers for one week”. SEE MORE HERE As you probably remember, Obama’s 30-minute info-commercial occurred on October 29, 2008! Never before in the world’s history has anyone given a 30-minute info-commercial “confirming his campaign promises with many and that if he is elected he would change the world”. What are the odds that this event occurs exactly 2520 days from September 23, 2015? Why 30 minutes? Why not 15 minutes? Could the 30-minute silence in heaven (which only occurs this one time in the bible) be referring to Obama’s 30-minute info-commercial? You see, nothing happens by chance! God controls history!

I love studying the laws of probability, in other words what are the odds of some event happening.

the Parable of the Happy Camper -
Ok, once Rosh Hashanah passed by last year, everyone knew that the beginning of the 7-Year Tribulation had to be 2520 days from September 23, 2015 or October 29, 2008. That date came and went and there was still not a start to the 7-Year Tribulation! The final Jewish feast on the 2015 Jewish calendar was Hanukkah, December 7, 2015. This look like a great candidate, for it is the date that Jesus is anointed King of Kings in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem after his return. So when you subtract the 2520 days from this date, you come to January 11, 2009 or 1/11. This was even better, everyone knew that this could be the day, especially since many people (including myself) were seeing “111” on a digital clock. When this date passed, I was not a happy camper; I want to go home to Heaven to be with Jesus!

or the Miracle of the Real Math

or the whole mind-of-god thing
In my calculations, I am assuming that God does not recognize Daylight Savings Time.

or the sermon on the mount -
After listening to the following MP3 and watching the videos on the following web page, I got “real” with Jesus. My perspective shifted from the things of this world to eternity and my prayer to The Lord was for Him to maximize the time left on this earth to lead the most number of souls to Jesus for salvation as possible. I also told The Lord that I wanted the maximum amount of treasure in Heaven (with the biggest mansion) as possible.

But you should really go to the site and read the whole very very long thing...

Monday, October 26, 2009


From Deadly Cults, by Robert Snow;
On June 5, 1998, it took the jury less than three hours to convict Luke Woodham of the murder of his mother. Several weeks later, in another trial, a court convicted Luke of murdering two students and wounding seven others during his shooting rampage at Pearl High School. Luke recieved three consecutive sentences of life imprisonment for the murders, plus 140 years for the seven shootings. On February 13, 2000, Grant Boyette, who prosecutors had called the 'mastermind' of the cult, pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Prevent a Principal from Doing His Job. A judge sentenced Boyette to Regimented Inmate Discipline, a boot camp program, followed by five years of supervised probation.

Just fancy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Thanks, Adelaide.

Though - and here we have one of the many glitches of a reader's life (motto: "Many people say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading." Logan Pearsall Smith) - I've only encountered vermilion in text form: I don't actually knows what it looks like. To the Googlemobile, Robin!

Similarly, I have read over and over without question descriptions of the beautiful song of the lark; not living in Europe, I I've never heard it. A few months ago, the issue having somehow come up in conversation, I went to Google and found it here - or, as someone else puts it, rapid buzzes, whistles, and trills, not musical, not melodic, and utterly mystifying as to its chokehold on the romantic poets.
Unless it's just me.

Is Logan Wolverine's first name or his last?

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Weekday of Wrath

Mind you, the big challenge for the coming bushfire season is to pick an unlisted day.
We've already had
* Black Saturday
* Red Tuesday (1898)
* Ash Wednesday
* Black Thursday (1851)
* Black Friday (1939)

I think Sunday and Monday are going to be particularly dangerous days.

And, given the predominance of Goth, we need an unlisted colour.... Scarlet? Orange?

The Breaker

It is now apparently claimed that if Breaker Morant's trial for murdering civilians had been properly conducted he would have got off on a technicality and thus should now be retrospectively pardoned. Well, yes, but one would hope that after winning his appeal he would then have been retried and, seeing as he had in fact killed the people concerned, found guilty. As it's a little late to run the retrial, we should probably skip the pardon. Given our recent problems in Afghanistan, do we really want to encourage our soldiers to believe that if they do decide to thin out a few suspicious-looking bystanders they'll have the thanks of a grateful posterity?

As a gesture of compromise, though, I'd be quite prepared to have Lord Kitchener retrospectively declared to be a Class A war criminal.

(as published in the Age letters Tuesday October 20, 2009)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Age bin

In discussing proposed changes to the superannuation system Eric Johnston says "This could bring on tax concessions for low-income earners ... though some fear it could lead to additional taxes for high-income earners."
Surely 'some fear' is a misprint for 'most pray'?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Boanerges Bronson

What is it about scandals and pretentious names? First Utegate and Godwin Grech and now a slush fund rumpus involving Nimrod Nyols.


Peace Is At Hand
Obama Wins 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

At Least 80 Killed as US Drones Attack South Waziristan Funeral Procession

In other news, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to a man who set fire to a library and then promised to write a book about it.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The sensible thing, of course,

would be to fly him to Vietnam and measure him there.

Lend me your ears

From Miss Cellania:
The Navy found they had too many officers and non coms and decided to offer an early retirement bonus. They promised any officer who volunteered for retirement a bonus of $1,000 for every inch measured in a straight line between any two points in his body. The officer got to choose what those two points would be.

The first officer who accepted asked that he be measured from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. He was measured at six feet and walked out with a bonus of $72,000.

The second officer who accepted was a little smarter and asked to be measured from the tip of his outstretched hands to his toes. He walked out with $96,000.

The third one was a non commissioned officer, a grizzly old Chief who, when asked where he would like to be measured replied, "From the tip of my weenie to my testicles." It was suggested by the pension man that he might want to reconsider, explaining about the nice big checks the previous two officers had received. But the old Chief insisted and they decided to go along with him providing the measurement was taken by a medical officer. The medical officer arrived and instructed the Chief to "drop 'em," which he did. The medical officer placed the tape measure on the tip of the Chief's weenie and began to work back. Dear Lord!" he suddenly exclaimed, "Where are your testicles?"

The old Chief calmly replied, "Vietnam."

My, my. Now, I'm not saying that this is an old joke, but consulting the Apothegms of Lord Bacon (him who wasn't Shaxper) one does find
A witty rogue coming into a lace-shop, said he had occasion for some lace ; choice whereof being shewed him, he at last pitched on one pattern, and asked them how much they would have for as much as would reach from ear to ear, for so much he had occasion of. They told him, for so much: so some few words passing between them, he at last agreed, and told his money down for it, and began to measure on his own head, thus saying: "One ear is here, and the other is nailed to the pillory in Bristol, and I fear you will not have so much of this lace by you at present as would perfect my bargain; therefore this bolt of lace shall suffice at present in part of payment, and provide the rest with all expedition.

I think I've actually seem an earlier example, but that will do for the nonce.

The changes are interesting; the militarisation of America, even dirty jokes being required to carry patriotic baggage?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Brown Stains II

The immensely rich villain plots:
A single bell chimed on Mal’akh’s grandfather clock, and he looked up. Six thirty P.M. Leaving his tools, he wrapped the Kiryu silk robe around his naked, six-foot-three body and strode down the hall. The air inside this sprawling mansion was heavy with the pungent fragrance of his skin dyes and smoke from the beeswax candles he used to sterilize his needles. The towering young man moved down the corridor past priceless Italian antiques—a Piranesi etching, a Savonarola chair, a silver Bugarini oil lamp.

Wow, antiques. Though - hold it, Piranesi etchings

aren't priceless; they're multiples, and they go for about twenty thousand quid from Sothebys. A Bugarini lamp would be even less, eight thousand USD. A Savonarola chair is a style, not a maker, but Sothebys hasn't sold one of any age recently at over 2,500 euros. I could buy the lot myself, and I'm not even six foot.
It's Brown's word association method of composing coming out again: "antiques" just comes to his mind already a phrase, "priceless antiques".

Just for laughs, let's try that another way:

A bell chimed on Mal’akh’s clock, and he looked up. Six thirty P.M. Leaving his tools, he wrapped the robe around his body and strode down the hall. The air inside this mansion was heavy with the fragrance of his skin dyes and smoke from the candles he used to sterilize his needles. The man moved down the corridor past a Piranesi etching, a Savonarola chair, and a Bugarini oil lamp.

Practically Hemingwayesque.

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