Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hoisted from comments

Matt Yglesias has a piece on
The Eurabia Analogy I've Been Looking For

10 Dec 2007 05:16 pm

I was thinking about the tenor of the European debate over immigration issues and how it differs from our own, and one thing I came up with is that it's more similar to an older American debate, focused on the first wave of Catholic immigrants, in which people were troubled by the notion that Catholicism (a religion with hierarchy and authority at its very core) might be incompatible with democracy.

He's rather conflating anti-immigration with anti-muslim sentiment - they overlap, but they're not identical; the current italian anti-immigrant panic, for example, is against the Rom (who do seem, compared to Jews, to have got very little positive PR out of being the subject of Nazi genocide). Still, the quotes from Al Smith and his critics are spot on, and it's also true that his commentators don't fuss about the Rom, leaping directly into explaining why muslims now are different from catholics then -

I remember those bombings by Catholic terrorists in the 1920. The killings of Catholic girls who dated out of their faith by their families.

The riots by catholic youth, car burnings, the whole thing is like a carbon copy of what happens these days.

Well, the specific analogy Matt's making is between protestants taking snippets from papal decrees saying what a good thing it would be if all the world was catholic (and refusing to grant any other faith rights inconsistent with that) and the same process of overinterpretation taking place with muslims. The issue, that is, is not with extreme factions blowing up airplanes, it's with moderate factions being tagged with the taint of sharing totalising ideologies - "Well, they may say they're moderates, but they still want the Caliphate, just like Osama!" Yes, in the same sense that Catholics used to want Catholic supremacy.

Until Vatican II, fifty years ago, all good Catholics held beliefs that, if pressed to the limit, would yield Al-Qaida-like outcomes . In 1945, say, the vatican believed (in addition to everything they believe now about gays and abortion) in ghettos for jews, intolerance in catholic states, and headgear for women. In Smith's time and in Smith's mind the conflict was muted because both sides of American politics accepted Christianity as essentially binding, whatever the constitution said, and the distinctions between the moral codes of each were pretty marginal; (civil) divorce, yes, abortion, no.

Why the difference, then, in terms of car bombs? In general, in Smith's time the theories weren't pressed to the limits, because in general people didn't actually believe with any intensity what they thought they believed. In part because there was a Vatican to react against. If there was a Caliphate anywhere that could speak with binding force we'd soon see it being marginalised by the forces of diversity; but there isn't, so that doesn't happen.

And if we're talking car bombs, some proportion of the deaths down to the provisional IRA have to be attached to its catholic exclusivity. If England had been holding down more than one catholic country the same bombs might indeed have been detonated in the name of catholic solidarity rather than Irish nationalism; they weren't, so it didn't.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Age bin

The American intelligence community has just produced a report saying that Iran isn’t trying to get a nuclear bomb. This is embarrassing for George Bush, who said just a few days ago that it was; but it’s not nearly as embarrassing as it would have been if he’d said it after the report came out. He didn’t do that - but the Age did, publishing in today’s paper both an article by Con Coughlin talking about Iran’s malign nuclear intentions and the Iran report that totally contradicts it.

While embarrassing for the Age, that’s not Coughlin’s worst offence. He also tries to rouse feelings against “the Islamic militias that have waged a genocidal campaign against the Christian tribes that predominate in the south of the country. There are 700,000 people in refugee camps in the Darfur province…” Here Coughlin is confusing the Sudanese Civil War, which did have Christians on one side and Muslims on the other but which ended in a negotiated peace two years ago (see Jeffery Gettleman’s Age article from 1/12/07 – doesn’t the features editor ever read the news pages?) with the Darfur conflict, which is a considerable and continuing tragedy but which pits Muslim militias against Muslim villagers and Muslim rebels. Coughlin is said to be ‘an international defence and security expert’, so this appeal to anti-Muslim prejudice can’t be excused as pig ignorance. Like his idol John Bolton, Coughlin does seem to want Christians to go to war with Muslims wherever they can be found, however flimsy the pretext.
Can’t the Age find any experts who are actually, well, you know, expert?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Age bin

When it comes to book reviews, I’m not a hard marker. I do not expect reviewers to do much research, show much discrimination, or set aside much prejudice. There are doubtless excuses, though I would not myself care to make them, for skipping some of the text of tedious books or for lightly reworking the material in the introduction. At a minimum, though, I expect the reviewer to have handled the actual book. Guy Rundle doesn’t pass this most elementary of tests.

His review (“Being and Nuttiness’) is headed
The comic-strip face of human folly has been bound into a double volume of 50,000 panels. Guy Rundle reaches for the Peanuts.

In the review Rundle says
… it was only a matter of time before they would be collected in full chronological order in two volumes, with introductions by the great and the good - Garrison Keillor and Walter Cronkite. Surprisingly, they bear re-reading en masse.

At the end we learn that
The Complete Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz, with introductions by Garrison Keillor and Walter Cronkite, Canongate, $45, is available now.

A second’s thought would have told Rundle that 50,000 panels, at five a strip, comes to ten thousand strips; at four a page, 2.5 thousand pages. The strip couldn’t conceivably fit into two volumes, and it doesn’t. There are about ten volumes out already, at around two a year, and the series has a long way to go.

This isn’t something you could miss on a quick reading. The dates covered by each volume are clearly printed on the spine and again on the front cover. Rundle might also have noticed that despite his references to The Great Pumpkin, the red-haired little girl, Peppermint Patty, and Woodstock the bird none of them appear in these early volumes; but that would have involved actually opening the book.

This isn’t just carelessness; it’s a firm statement of principle by Rundle and the review section that, whatever the fadwatchers say, comic strips aren’t real writing and don’t deserve the kind of attention that you’d give real literature. The Age wouldn’t give a new translation of A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu to someone whose only contact with French literature was having as a youth watched Monty Python’s All-England Summarise Proust Competition skit, but they’ll hand over Charles Schultz to someone like Rundle who has neither any interest in comics nor any respect for them. My only consolation is that in another fifty years it isn’t going to be Rundle’s complete works that are still being read.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown

We are drawing up a draft code to cover governance in the Australian nfp sector. Largely nicked from overseas models, of course. I began by producing a relatively barebones version - two pages, twenty items.
Then it went to the boss.... so far 45 items and five pages, and this morning the boss said "Wouldn't it be easier if instead of me commenting on drafts and you going off and revising it you just sent me over the document in Word and I could make my own changes..."
I feel like Jake handing the daughter/granddaughter over to Noah Cross at the end of Chinatown.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The fall

Bugger and blast. I was celebrating so hard at Howard's defeat that I've lost the memory of the last few hours, including the concession speech.

Howard's legacy is being reassessed downward with considerable alacrity, but it still hasn't met my evaluation; which is that he was small, mean, and vindictive, with a philosophy that went no further than striking out at everybody who'd been critical of him when he was down - universities, unions, the ABC, aborigines, foreigners. He did his best to damage things like Australian universities, the Australian environment, and Australian movies because he hated the people who advocated for them.

He was fairly successful over a number of years because Australia is also as a nation mean and vindictive. I don't think you could say he ever deceived us, except where we went out of our way to be deceived. He never pretended to be remotely nice.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Great-Grandfather Walter; contact

Jill has left a new comment on your post "Great-grandfather Walter": my first comment ever, I think. How exciting!

"I was very excited to find this as Walter Sage was my great-grandfather too! My grandfather was his son Arthur. Which of the sisters was your grandmother - Eve, Helen or Jean?
I have fairly recently become bitten by the family history bug so you can probably imagine my delight at seeing your photos.
Would love to make contact but not sure how to do this."

Granny was an Eve; Helen and Jean were the greataunts.

If you get back on this blog, Jill, give us a mail at
chrisb (at) (no spaces).
We'll swap geneologies, among other things.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tax policy

I must admit I have a sneaking fondness for the tax scheme employed by the duke in Norman Douglas' novel South Wind. You gave the state as much of your income (and capital) as you thought was fair. It was entirely up to you; nobody would try to influence your decision in the slightest. Total libertarianism.

And if the duke didn't think it was enough, he'd cut your hand off.

It strikes a balance, I think.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Age bin

I see we're celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of the charge of the light horse at Beersheba, a great Australian victory. The Israelis, whose land it now is, are joining in the festivities, the Arabs who lived there at the time having moved on.

My grandfather fought in Palestine with the light horse. He wasn't at Beersheba, unfortunately, having earlier got an arm shot off at the battle of Gaza. The people who live around that battleground may not be so keen on commemorating the campaign that took Palestine away from the Turks and gave it to the English, and later the Israelis. It's worth remembering, in the exhilaration of the moment, that the impressive achievements of Australian soldiers in both wars were partly responsible for the present unsatisfactory state of affairs in that region, a fact that may place some responsibility on us to pursue a balanced Middle East policy that's fair to both the people who were there at the time and the people who came later.

Monday, October 22, 2007

cinema paradiso down under

Now there's a documentary I'd love to do. I note from the online search for the Australian National archives that they have available all the bits that were cut out of censored movies in the bad old days:
Brave Eagle [moving images] [television series cuts] [compile] [censored excerpts] : Date of broadcast 1967. 1 of 1 film reels (198 feet, 5 min 16 sec) : positive print with optical sound; 16mm, b&w, sound

All the biggies - Point Blank, for example. What a reel they'd make.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Great-grandfather Walter


Visiting my sister Sally in Belgium the other day I took the opportunity to visit my greatgrandfather's grave in Ribemont Cemetery (Ribemont-Sur-Ancre, that is, not Ribemont; trap for young players which delayed us rather).

A long way from home. Looking into "Curlwaa: a history, by C James and P Taylor -

Walter Sage was born at Angaston in 1861. He married Georgina Forbes in 1883. She was killed in a buggy accident in 1891, leaving five children.
When was was declared in 1914 Walter tried to enlist, but was rejected because of his age(53). He tried again in 1917, lying a little about his age (he said he was 52). He was in the 6th Machinegun Company; joined the battalion in the field 1/1/1918, killed in action on the Somme front in May 1918, at the age of 57. "Buried isolated grave Preux-Sailly rd just S of Preux and 3 3/4 miles S/W of Albert"... You had to be fairly precise about graves so they could be dug up later and reburied in the war cemeteries, as he was. Still only a small cemetery - there doesn't seem to have been a named battle on that day, it was probably just part of the general friction in the trenches.

He was known, apparently, as "The Father of Curlwaa". Also of grandmother.

Second oldest man in the AIF, I believe. Don't know who the oldest was.

I should have taken a libation for his grave - a ricecake, or some oil, or a chocolate bar, or possibly a live chicken to sacrifice - but I didn't think of it till too late.

Alan (in beret) never to be sufficiently thanked for driving us out there from Brussels.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Nobody likes birthdays ending in zeroes
Except heroes,
Because they encourage you to take stock instead of just indulging in cake and jelly,
And the last person who really enjoyed taking stock was probably Ned Kelly.
As it is you have to come to terms with your parents’ steadily diminishing hope
That you’re ever going to be a footballer or a ballerina or a great novelist or Pope.
No, it’s better to do it the Thai way, because to travel hopefully is better than to arrive,
And they count in sevens and not tens so the big day comes not when you’re thirty but when you’re thirty-five.

Chris B

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One-third of the way

An argument on Kevin Drum gives me a change to try some of the argument I had with Jo over lunch the other day.
"There are two points that emerge from a decade-long involvement in health promotion that are relevant to this debate.
1) Absolutely the only figure that counts in public health is the all-causes death rate. It's the only figure that takes all factors, plus or minus, into account (and it's the only figure that can't be gamed).
2) In Australia, at least - yanks are a much less good example - average life expectancy has for the last several decades been going up by four months a year. That's not bad; for one thing, it's one-third of the way to living for ever.
There are several further points that would seem to follow from this.
a) The "epidemic of obesity" can't be that bad for us, or it would be significantly cutting in to that rise.
b) A much smaller proportion of what matters for our health is under our own control than we think. Most of what counts is secular trends in our society."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Several bridges too far

With two in a week, a trend is emerging. First there was the football coach saying on the ABC that "Well, we want to come to an agreement, but there's a lot of water to go under the bridge yet" - and then, a few days later,
Kaye Grogan
September 4, 2007

What we desperately need in our leaders are "godly" men. Not just in name only, but in actions. Every time you turn around, another scandal rocks Washington, sending the country into a vertigo type of condition with so many twists and turns. The latest scandal involving Senator Larry Craig of Idaho produced another "I didn't do anything wrong" abrupt press conference.

Since Senator Craig pleaded guilty to the charge — it seems a little odd that he held a short news conference stating that he hadn't done anything wrong, and vehemently denied he was a homosexual. Boy, talk about trying to get the water back over the bridge, and the dam patched up after it bursts, I would say this is a perfect example of the horse already out of the barn.

What other variants are foreseeable?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Buffy the script

Have just read the original script to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie)and god, it's good. Leading to the twin thoughts "How in the name of god did the actual film manage to blow all the good lines?" and "Why doesn't somebody do a remake?"
SMG may have aged too much to carry it off by this time (I'd be prepared to cut her quite a bit of slack, mind) but even without her it's a winner.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Age bin

Howard tells us that “An Australian renaissance, with a new synthesis of aspiration and fairness, has taken shape.” A very Australian renaissance indeed; without Leonardo (scientists have had their funding cut), Michelangelo (artists ditto), or Pico della Mirandola (philosophers won’t get funded until they stop talking about ethics). I suppose, to be fair, that we’ve had rather a lot of Machiavelli, and much of the country is run by merchant bankers....

Friday, August 17, 2007

Age bin

Tony Abbott thinks that "If something is off the record, it in effect doesn't exist and there's nothing wrong with denying something that didn't exist." I’ve heard that logic before, only the other way round; not only is an unofficial announcement officially nonexistent, if it’s an official announcement then what it says must be the case. Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera The Mikado sets out the logic; “It's like this: When your Majesty says, "Let a thing be done," it's as good as done — practically, it is done — because your Majesty's will is law. Consequently, why not say so?” Let’s face it, that’s been the nature of most announcements of Howard government achievements over the last term. Howard announces that the government’s going to win in Iraq/solve the Aboriginal question/defeat the terrorists/lower interest rates/reform IR, and everybody reports it as if it’s actually happened.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dad's ASIO file

To; Director, Victoria; Director-general
From; Director, NSW
Subject: BORTHWICK family
It is desired to establish the relationship between the following persons;
(a) Eve Mary BORTHWICK nee SAGE
Born 9.5.1888, Gawler Park, SA
(b) Barbara Joan BORTHWICK
born 9.4.1922, Sale, Vic
born 11.9.1925, Kilmany, Vic
(d) Alexander Hay BORTHWICK,
born 3.1.1919, Warragul, Vic

2. It would appear that (a) is the mother of (b), (c), and (d). However, as all the females mentioned have been adverselt noted ffor their association with the persons of interest here, and as Alexander Hay BORTHWICK has been appointed Official Secretary to the Assistant High Commissioner for Australia in Colombo, I would be glad if you could do this and inform me of the result.

10/10/1951, Canberra
Memorandum – Secret
Department of External Affairs (overseas staff)
1. Attached please find personal particulars forms in respect to the staff of the Department of External Affairs who are at present serving overseas. A special check is required in each case.
2. It is requested that the forms related to NSW be forwarded to the Regional Director NSW.
3. Your attention is drawn to the case of A.H. BORTHWICK at present stationed in Colombo. Certain members of his family are on record, but BORTHWICK before his appointment to Colombo personally informed the permanent Head of his Department that some members of his family were not regarded favourably from a political point of view and that he entirely repudiated their views. Again, when completing his personal particulars form he wrote a personal letter to the Secretary of the Department disclaiming any associations with the political views of his family.
4. BORTHWICK is known to members of this Office and he is highly regarded in Canberra.
5. This information is placed before you in order that BORTHWICK’s outlook and reactions to the views of other members of his family should be known to you.

Peter Gilbert
Regional Director, ACT

Memorandum for Regional Director for ACT
Alexander Hay BORTHWICK
Dept. of External Affairs
The abovenamed, who is at present in Colombo, was submitted for a Special Check.
2. In this case, there are certain adverse factors relating to an association between Mrs. Eve BORTHWICK, subject mother, and Mark YOUNGER. There is evidence also that some members of the BORTHWICK family are probable communists.
3. It now requires to complete the case some summary of any adverse facts that may be known as affecting BORTHWICK himself and his activities as far as they are ascertainable in ACT.
4. Please investigate and report.


Memorandum for Regional Director for ACT
Alexander Hay BORTHWICK
Dept. of External Affairs
Reference is made to my memo dated 13 December 1952.
2. No reply appears to have been received at Headquarters andd it would be appreciated if this could be expedited.
3. BORTHWICK was submitted for a Special Check for the Department of External Affairs in his position as Second Secretary at the Australian High Commission on Colombo.


Attorney-General’s Department
D Branch
Memorandum for Headquarters ASIO
Alexander Hay BORTHWICK
Dept. of External Affairs
1. Please refer to your memorandum of 28 August 1952.
2. Nothing adverse concerning BORTHWICK is known in Canberra and for your guidance we are forwarding copy of our memorandum of 13th October, 1951, in which BORTHWICK repudiates his family’s political views.

Regional Director, ACT

12/9/1951, Colombo
Office of the Commissioner for Australia, Colombo
Dear Charles,
I sent down for you last week a form of personal return called for because of the Department’s evident need to have a proper account of the background of its members. I should add for the record though more informally that my mother’s address, 121 Cook Street, Centennial Park, is also the address of my brother-in-law and sister (Mr. & Mrs. W. Simcox). This is only relevant because both, as far as I know, are enrolled members off the Communist Party, not that I believe that that organization would profit much from the support he is able to give, being remarkable for a certain allegiance to preconceived ideas and not for his natural abilities. My mother was associated for a little while with the Sydney Peace Committee until affected by justified doubts of its truly pacific intentions. Before leaving Australia I had acquainted the then Head of Department with these circumstances. It may be necessary to do so at this stage though I might also mention I have five other brothers and sisters whose political associations between them complete the political spectrum, and their views have no necessary effect on my own. With McLeans [sic] and Burgers [sic] dotted about and for all one knows an equivalent to Canada’s spy ring remaining to be detected in Australia, you ought to have this information, though one might hope you do not find it significant.
Yours sincerely
Alex Borthwick

Memorandum for Headquarters ASIO
Alexander Hay BORTHWICK
Dept. of External Affairs
1. As requested in attached minute, we are now forwarding a copy of the personal letter written by Mr. BORTHWICK to the Secretary of his Department.
2. Further, we have advised the Department of External Affairs that BORTHWICK is not adversely recorded.
3. We have now received a request from the Department of External Affairs for a records check on BORTHWICK’s sister Janet. Confidentially, we have been informed that Miss BORTHWICK is on the same side of the fence as her brother.

Regional Director for ACT.

Memorandum for Headquarters ASIO (Director B2)
Alexander Hay BORTHWICK
Dept. of External Affairs
1. Your reference B/3/4.
2. At an interview with Mr. CUMPSTON on the 11th November, 1953, he stated that Mr. A.H. BORTHWICK of the Department of External Affairs whilst Third Secretary of the Australian High Commissioner’s Office in Wellington about 1947, had switched all Australian High Commissioner’s book orders to a shop called ‘Modern Books’, the proprietor of which is a Mr. NUNES, an acknowledged Communist. Mr. CUMPSTON said that BORTHWICK subsequently went to Colombo and is now posted in Canberra.
3. Note: This is the BORTHWICK who dissociated himself from members of his family, who are known communists, in a personal letter to the Department of External Affairs.

Regional Director for ACT.

18/6/1954, Canberra
Alexander Hay Borthwick
Mother friendly with YOUNGER
Relative of Kath KNAGGS
Wrote letter to External Affairs disclaiming any connection with Communism and the politics of the remainder of his family
Stated that in 1947 BORTHWICK as third secretary in New Zealand had switched all high Commissioner’s book orders to a shop which was owned by an openly avowed communist.
Thought to have attended a party given by GW LEGGE.
Accepted an invitation to attend Soviet national Day Celebrations at Hotel Canberra, 1955.
Recommendation – There is a family connection with communism and it is considered that BORTHWICK should be subject to further inquiry.

15/9/1954, Canberra
Department of External Affairs
The Regional Director,
“D” Branch,
Attorney-General’s Department
With reference to my memoranda of 9th January, 1953 and 9 March, 1953, and to your memorandum of 7 April 1953, I should be grateful if you would advise the present position in respect of the security clearance requested for AH BORTHWICK of this Department.
JK Waller,
Assistant Secretary.

Memorandum for Regional Director for ACT
Alexander Hay BORTHWICK- Vetting
With reference to your memorandum of 14 September, 1954, please be advised that subject person is not adversely recorded in the files of this Organization.
2. As subject’s family connections may possibly bring him to notice in the future it is considered advisable to retain the file for the present.


3/6/1963, Canberra
Headquarters, ASIO
BORTHWICK, Alexander Hay
The following is an extract from page 1717 of the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette dated 9/5/1963;
BORTHWICK, Alexander Hay
Present Designation – External Affairs Officer, Grade 3 (£2,293-2,488) Third division
Position to which promoted – External Affairs Officer, Grade 4 (£2,553-2878) Third division
Duties – Deputy Head of Mission at certain posts and senior political and economic adviser to Head of Mission. Attend in representative capacity at other than major international conferences.

Alexander Hay BORTHWICK
BORTHWICK is currently serving as Councillor in the Australian Embassy, Thailand. Although not always sympathetic to ASIOs point of view he has not expressed anti-ASIO views or done anything of security interest. He was not particularly co-operative while Mr. Colin BROWN was arranging courses for the Provincial Police. His attitude would best be described as neutral.
BORTHWICK has nine children, which may contribute to the vague and indefinite manner which surrounds his actions. Allegedly a highly intelligent officer he does not give the impression of being in tangible touch with reality. In this regard the Australian community accepts his presence with a certain puzzled resignation. In dealing with basic fundamentals he demonstrates an unawareness regarding proportions and perspectives; however, he is astute enough when it comes to questions concerning the Embassy directly and could never be treated as a dull fool.
Michael Boyle

Memorandum for Regional Director ACT
BORTHWICK, Alexander Hay
1. Please refer to request by Regional Director, ACT, for Top Secret check concerning the abovementioned.
2. Subject is recorded under [deleted], Operation [deleted]. He is not traceable under this reference and enquiries with Headquarters have also proved negative.
3. His sister, Barbara Simcocks, is similar in name to Barbara Joan BORTHWICK who in 1949 was reported as an alleged C. P. of A. member and to have held meetings under cover of the name of the University Extension Board at the home of Morris FRIEDMAN at Hamilton, Victoria on 28 August 1956. She has never been identified and is not otherwise recorded.
4. Patrick Spence BORTHWICK – brother – appeared on an Army list in 1948 as a probable ACP member. He returned his RSL badge. He died on 28th January 1959. This file is now marked for destruction.

Regional Director, Victoria

24/10/1966, Sydney
Alexander Hay BORTHWICK
Subject of Top Secret Review for External Affairs
1. Vettee is not personally recorded.
2. Vettee’s sister, Barbara SIMCOCKS, is the subject of NSW file 3/13/15.
3. Please refer to NSW memo 4584 which contains an assessment of Barbara Joan SIMCOCKS and concludes as follows;
“Clearance is not recommended”.
4. Please refer to Headquarters memo 2307 to PSI dated 26th February, 1963, headed Barbara Joan SIMCOCKS. This memo reads in part
“Please be advised that there is no security objection to the appointment of the abovenamed person as a Social Worker (temporary) with the Department of Social Services.
For your information, Subject is recorded as follows:
(a) it is reliably reported in 1952 that Barbara Joan SIMCOCKS nee BORTHWICK and her husband, Francis William SIMCOCKS, were members of the Communist Party of Australia.
(b) Earlier items of information held regarding Mrs. SIMCOCKS gavee the impression that she was a communist sympathizer in 1949 and 1950.
5. Vettee’s sister has not subsequently come to notice.
6. It is considered that there are insufficient grounds to maintain an objection in this case.

9/11/1966, Canberra
To; The Secretary,
Department of External Affairs

(a) TOP SECRET CHECK 32314 of 9 November, 1966, has been completed.
(b) There is no security objection to subject having access to matter classified TOP SECRET


Friday, August 10, 2007


Kevin Drum complains that
BY THE WAY: Am I the only person driven up a tree by newspaper reporters who insist on using "more than four out of ten," "close to a quarter," "nearly three-fifths," and so forth when they write stories like this? I mean, is that even remotely helpful? Is there anyone on the planet who's going to understand terms like that who doesn't also understand a simple percentage? Wouldn't it be more helpful (and more accurate) to present all the numerical data the same way so that it's easier to compare?

Mmmm. When I went through math back in the dark ages I was taught that, yes, there was an important difference between one-fourth and 25% - if you said "25%" you meant "more than 24.5% and less than 25.5%", while if you said "one-fourth" you meant "less than one-third and more than one-fifth"; error bars 13 times as large. And given that one-in-a-hundred accuracy is in practical terms much higher than I would expect of almost any claim in public life I rather prefer the laxer format. The use of percentages seems calculated to attach an unfounded aura of scientificity - as in last night's TV, an ad claiming "seventy percent of Australians are affected by cholesterol"

Thursday, August 09, 2007


From Angry Bear:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reader Chrisb On Waste in the US Economy

Hoisted from comments, this from Chrisb:

Yeah, yeah, the system's stuffed, but that's a problem for you yanks. What I as an Australian want to ask you, as economists, is how America can have a competitive economy under these constraints. You have approximately 1% of the population in gaol and another 1% looking after them, 2% of the population in the prison system where most other nations have at the outside 1%; that's pure loss. You have a military that's between .6% and 1.2% of the population, depending on how you count reserves, and that's what, 2-3% of GNP? in any case, vastly higher than any other developed country. In other words, between the correctional system and the military you're taking about 5% of GNP and pissing it up against the wall, compared to 2% everywhere else. And you're still surviving and under some measures almost thriving. Is the US economic system really 3% better than anywhere else, allowing you to compete on a more or less even footing? I've never seen an economist address the point, and it's driving me crazy.

My comments...
1. Why do people continue to bring up this fictional "Australia"?
2. I suspect this 3% we're pissing away is partly made up, or more likely completely made up and then some, but the fact that the dollar is still the world's defacto currency. A lot of dollars get printed by the Fed - which means given to the Treasury (in exchange for bonds) for the Federal government to spend - which after a bit of time end up in pallets in the home of a Columbian drug lord or in a plastic bag 2 feet below the ground outside the home of Bhuttanese yak herder. By virtue of being taken out of circulation after it gets spent by the Federal government, that dollar can be spent without contributing to inflation, allowing for more monetary stimulus at very very low cost. And the demand for that dollar by Colmbian drug lords and Bhuttanese yak herders, to say nothing of the Central Banks all over the world, keeps the interest (i.e., rent on that dollar) low... allowing for more fiscal stimulus at very very low cost. Lots of stimulus with no associated pain means lots of growth.
3. Its possible the big military is part of the reason the dollar is still the world's de facto currency.
4. No currency stays the world's de facto currency forever. A hundred years ago, the pound sterling is where the dollar is now. And it wasn't pretty for a long time in England when the pound sterling got pushed off its perch.

posted by cactus at 9:55 PM | Comments (17) | Trackback (0)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Age bin

In today’s Age David Medcalf suggests that it might be OK to sell uranium to India if we require them to sign up to “a strictly defensive nuclear posture based on no first use”. I’m not actually in favour of shipping potential explosives into what is still a war zone, but I must say that the Indians could quite rightly accuse us of hypocrisy if we put caveats on their shipments that we don’t apply to our other favoured clients. The USA has always been absolutely forthright that it reserves the right to first use, and we don’t seem to mind a bit. Indeed, the Republican presidential candidates are currently competing with each other to be the most enthusiastic about using nuclear weapons on Iran, and even the Democrats are debating the merits of using nuclear weapons against Bin Laden’s bases in Pakistan. If the US can bomb Pakistan without Australian objecting, India might reasonably ask, why can’t we?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lovaas's best correlation

From Autism Diva:
"The correlation between miles between the Lovaas Insitute and the top five autism-serving RCs in driving miles and how high their percentage of clients served in the autism category is represented by a Pearson's r of .89.

Wow and begorrah. Aut Div, that's far and away the highest correlation I've ever seen for anything in the autism area, bar none. I'm really impressed.

If I could point you at another aspect of the picture, my fundamental beef with Lovaas (leaving the ethics out of it for the moment) is that his proof of the efficacy of ABA seems to miss the point completely (and this carries with it the corollary that nearly all the attacks on the efficacy of ABA also miss the point completely) by focusing on the one or two or three or four or five, whatever, published studies. All very well, and Michelle Dawson and her mob have done a marvellous hatchet job on it all, but I would have thought largely beside the point.
The hole in Lovaas is that the Lovaas centres must have data on anywhere between two and five thousand cases - diagnosis, sex, treatments, outcomes - because it'll be in their management database (or their filing cabinets, considering we're looking back over thirty years). They must have figures on length of treatment, intensity, school placement, and cost, because all of those things are under their control and must be recorded. And they haven't released any of it.

Coming from health promotion, my bias is very heavily towards preferring epidemiological data to clinical studies. Coming from a legal background my bias is to believe that if Lovaas has clinical studies and administrative data and releases one but not the other it's because one is more favourable to his position than the other. I'm not inclined to give Lovaas any credence until he tells me what he knows that I don't.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sunday Age bin

In the Sunday Age Terry Lane points out that there's no point having antiquated laws hanging around on the books if they're never enforced. Well, it's worse if they are enforced; look at, for example, the Preamble to the Act of Elizabeth I on Charitable Uses, 1601, which is still used in Australian law to determine what is and is not a charity and is or is not entitled to receive tax deductible donations. Only purposes that fall within the headings of “The relief of aged, impotent, and poor people; the maintenance of sick and maimed soldiers and mariners, schools of learning, free schools and scholars of universities; the repair of bridges, havens, causeways, churches, seabanks and highways; the education and preferment of orphans; the relief, stock or maintenance of houses of correction; marriages of poor maids; supportation, aid and help of young tradesmen, handicraftsmen and persons decayed; the relief or redemption of prisoners or captives and the aid or ease of any poor inhabitants concerning paym ents of fifteens, setting out of soldiers and other taxes.” In Australia, to this day, the objects there enumerated, and all other objects which by analogy are deemed within its spirit and intendment, and no other objects, are in law charitable.
The words 'by analogy' do in practice get a fair thrashing; one case decided that an organization that wanted to provide free public access to the Internet met the definition of a charity, on the grounds that the preamble to the Statute of Elizabeth included “the repair of bridges, ports, causeways and highways,” and the Internet was an information highway. While this helps a bit, the situation remains plainly idiotic. The Treasurer, to his credit, has noticed this, and set up an ilniinquiry some years ago into the definition of charity; when the Inquiry reported, however, the Treasurer, to his discredit, put it into the too hard basket and kept on with the old system.
The consequence is that there are many things which everybody agrees are unquestionably for the public good that can't get tax deductibility. This suits the Tax Office just fine, but the rest of us not nearly so much. The English themselves have decided that four hundred and six years of Good Queen Bess are quite enough, and have brought in a sparkling new Charities Act. Isn't it time we followed their example?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Jaws laws

Watching Jaws on TV totherday noted an enormous chasm between then and now.

The police chief thinks there's a maneating shark out there, and tells this to mayor but is told to shut up. Someone gets eaten. Mother comes up to police chief and slaps him. In a legal sense, apparently, end of story - no million-dollar suit.

It's almost impossible to conceive now of a municipality that would allow the beach to open at all, whatever the profit margin, in the face of a life-threatening situation; far more probable that swimming would be forbidden altogether and tourists switched into a saltwater pool, in the same way that fetes have had to give up selling home-made jam.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Blogger seems to have inserted as a spam barrier the requirement that anyone putting up material has to go through the captcha twice. The first try invariably fails, the second invariably succeeds. I find this annoying.

Hannibal Haneef

The front-page picture of Mohamed Haneef barefoot in an orange jumpsuit is surely conclusive proof that the nation has completely lost it. What conceivable dangers are we guarding against here? Do we really think Al-Quaida has trained him in Thai kickboxing in business shoes? Did police suspect that if they left him in his his suit he might trip up his guard with his stethoscope, whip his sphygmometer round the man’s neck and choke him, and make a getaway? The purpose of the orange jumpsuit at places like Guantanamo is to contribute to a total breakdown of the captive’s world so that they will be more likely to crumble under coercive interrogation, but we’re not even doing that. It’s completely pointless and witlessly malicious -- pure theatre, a way for Australian security wannabes to pretend that they’re nine-elevening it with the big boys. And the downside is not simply that it’s outrageously unfair to Haneef but that these frothing idiots have let us buy in at the top of the market to all the hatred that the rest of the world focuses on Guantanamo and all its inhuman abuses. It’s humiliating to be responsible for these clowns.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Oil? Not so fast

Actually, Brendan Nelson wasn't being frank about the importance of oil in Australia's decisionmaking on Iraq - he was just flailing around for a reason, any reason, that could explain why we're there. It makes no difference whatever to Australia who controls Iraqi oil - we're a price taker, not a price maker. We certainly didn't have oil as one of our motives for going in; we went in because Prime Minister John Howard was in Washington on 9/11, was caught up in the hype, and is in any case an all-the-way-with-U-S-A conservative. We did it as a comparatively cheap way to suck up to Washington (after all, we've only lost one man there).
That was, however, a motive that Howard couldn't admit to because it makes Australia look weak and silly, so he had to dredge around for others like WMD and democracy, and now they're exploded the government is really scraping the bottom of the barrel - which is how we come to oil, which makes no more sense than the other ones but at least sounds as if the government's calculations are semi-rational.
Correspondingly, leaping on this with cries of Aha, just as we suspected, is missing the point completely. The government isn't being viciously hardnosed, it's just clumsily incompetent.
Which is a reasonable point to bring in another consideration, which is that Howard's calculations on when to hold the election must also take into account the fact that he's entirely hostage to the Iraqi insurgents. Aussie soldiers, and by extension Howard, have been extraordinarily lucky so far, but they (and he) must be really running up against the odds by now. If the rebels take out a carful of Aussie soldiers with an IED Howard's gone in a landslide, which makes every month's wait an additional risk.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Vidal writes like shit

Bought a remaindered copy of Gore Vidal's The Golden Age, and note that it doesn't seem to be said often enough that Gore Vidal writes damn nearly worse than Dan Brown. I skim through for the political snark, but how much easier it would be to take if he'd just do it straight and skip the attempt to write a novel.
The stretch and slip of the timeline in the conversations. Open at random. p.22.
Time one -
"Good evening, Mr. president." She felt for an instant that she should curtsy in the awesome presence [five lines description] Roosevelt removed his pince-nez,
Time two
worn, Eleanor had sighed, as a reminder of his political mentor, President Woodrow Wilson. "We hope Frankline won't make the same mistakes poor Mr. Wilson did."
"Such as going to war?" Caroline, like everyone else in the world, wanted to know what the president intended to do... [three lines expansion]

Time one again
"Caroline!" The resonant voice filled the room... 4 lines Tonight he was not wearing the braces. But then
Time three
he had always been at home with Caroline since they had first met twenty years earlier... (12 lines) unless the master politician was to run for a third term
Time four
"Nor will I run" he assured Caroline her first evening in the White House...
Time - hell, I don't know; one? Four?
But, so far, there was no shooting war, though she knew it was coming, and so she carefully answered his questions about the part of France where she lived...

He has all the style and grace of a chest of drawers falling downstairs. Which is odd, because he's a good essayist and a clear and graphic speaker. Why does he fall apart so totally as a novelist? I don't remember him being this bad earlier - in, say, Julian, though that does remind me that I read Julian in Thailand in 1964 and my memory for style probably doesn't cover forty years. Burr, Lincoln, that one about plato and confucious - were they this bad? I must re-dip.

Monday, July 02, 2007


It's hard to come to terms with the sheer size of a battle. Reading Churchill's Marlborough, on the battle of Blenheim; the front line covered some five and a half k, just about the distance I take the train in to work every morning. That's about twenty minutes by train, half an hour by taxi. And along that entire line there were enough people to put them a metre apart ten deep (they weren't actually in line ten deep, because of reserves and artillery and the like, but it could have been done if they'd wanted, say, to decide the thing by rugby scrum). Half the skill of the general must have been simply finding a place to put them.

No wonder it took Eugene a few hours to reach the right flank.

The polar opposite from 300, which not only cut the front down to 300 men - about 75 metres - but couldn't cope with that on-screen, never showing a front more than about 15 metres guarding a mountain pass that was more like the scale of a railway underpass.

Iraq v. transformers

Went to see Transformers (yes, I hate myself for it, but that's not the point I'm making).
After WOTW, it was surely obvious that the immediate reading of unprovoked-invasion-of-earth by technologically-more-advanced-civilization was the American invasion of Iraq (Tom Cruise as sunni rebel). Was that the reason why Transformers introduced, as an absolute distraction from its main hero group (clueless teens) a platoon of American soldiers to be seen fighting the bad robots at every opportunity - to take the curse off the analogy? Certainly when the robot helicopter was destroying the US base in Qatar I was cheering it on. What was the US doing forbidding overflights over a friendly sovereign nation in the first place?

Though the US military added another plot difficulty; the robot apparently destroyed the base without working up a sweat, but was unable shortly later to take out the platoon when it was sheltering in an Iraqi (or Quatari, I suppose)oasis. What use is a technologically-more-advanced-civilization that can't simply march over the top of a heavy machinegun? The tank that turned itself into a decepticon seemed to be less deadly as a decepticon than it had been as a tank.

I was slightly more forgiving later when you had a hundred-foot-tall megatron that couldn't outrun an out-of-condition teenager, because without that you wouldn't have had a plot.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Australian idioms

The Sun's poster today is


I could explain that for foreigners, but where would be the fun in that?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Looking through Matt Ridley’s Genome

He’s quick on his feet, and can easily shrug off any allegation of simple genetic determinism by retorting that he believes in really complicated genetic determinism.

But he does believe that behaviours are genetically determined, and he accepts ahistorical stereotypes of what behaviour is.

p. 111 There was a spoof map of the Y chromosome published in Science a few years ago which purported to have located genes for such stereotypically male activities as flipping between television channels… The joke is funny, though, only because we recognise those habits as male, and therefore far from mocking the idea that such habits are genetically determined, the joke reinforces the idea. The only thing wrong with the diagram is that these male behaviours come not from specific genes for each of them, but from the general masculinisation of the brain by hormones such as testosterone, which results in a tendency to behave this way in the modern environment.
No, the joke is precisely that we recognize those habits as culturally determined. If the map had entries for testicles and beards, that would be ‘”recognised as male’, but it wouldn’t be funny.

Remote controls in men, big breasts in women;
118 Suppose, for example, that [a gene determined] something like breast size (remember, this is just a thought experiment). Back in the middle ages, large breasts might mean more milk, or might attract a richer husband whose children were more likely to die in infancy.
But in the middle ages men didn’t like women with big breasts; look at Cranach’s nudes. Big stomachs, possibly. He simply ignores anything that suggests cultural/environmental change might be independent of genes.

He also believes that genetics favour unrestricted free markets.
151 It is the hardest thing for human beings to get used to, but the world is full of intricate, cleverly designed and interconnected systems that do not have control systems. The economy is such a system. The illusion that economies run better if someone is put in charge of them … has done devastating harm to the wealth and health of people all over the world, not just in the former Soviet Union, but in the west as well.

175 the great beauty of embryo development, the bit that human beings find so hard to grasp, is that it is a totally decentralised process. … We do not organise societies that way; we are obsessed with dragging as many decisions as possible to the centre to be taken by governments. Perhaps we should try.

This might be more convincing if societies were anything like cells – if, for example, they reproduced, or were designed for procreation, or were, well, anything like cells.

He looks at the Whitehall experiment on how job uncertainty under privatisation worsens your health. Does he conclude that privatisation is in any way bad? No, because it’s the market, and the market is always right; instead, he suggests that the health drop is the fault of too much government -
156 It explains why unemployment and welfare dependency are so good at making people ill. No alpha-male money was ever such an intransigent and implacable controller of subordinates’ lives as the social services of the state are of people dependent on welfare.

One speculates, too, about this.
113 Seminal fluid contains proteins… Their purpose is entirely unknown, but Rice has a shrewd idea. [In fruitflies] they have the effect of reducing the female’s sexual appetite and increasing her ovulation rate.
Matt Ridley may have found it to be true that when he fucks a woman it has the effect of reducing her sexual appetite, presumably meaning she doesn’t want to do it again, but anybody with more self-insight might have wondered whether that wasn’t just him.

He has a chapter on eugenics (286), but in the end he goes with his economic prejudices rather than his genetic ones – he believes it should be left to the individual parents rather than being made compulsory.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Howard again

A more considered take on the Howard Aboriginal move, taken wholesale from Daniel Davies at Aaronovich watch writing about something completely different:
"Asbos and CCTV [read 'police sweeps and pornography bans'] are potentially a powerful weapon for good, but you can’t be a weapon for good without being a weapon. And our current government has, to say the least, an uneasy psychological relationship with weapons of all kinds, and a record of remarkably poor self-control when facing people who annoy it."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Age bin

Colin Rubenstein says we shouldn’t talk with Hamas because it’s committed to extending its religious grip over all the governments in the entire world, it doesn’t believe in toleration except as a temporary expedient, and it has a severe down on the Jews. All these things may indeed be true, but it’s only fair to remember that the exact same beliefs were held by the Catholic Church until the second Vatican council, only forty years ago, and by the eastern bloc until the fall of the Berlin Wall, only fifteen years ago. Religious fanaticism withers away when exposed to the temptations of the consumer society and the intellectual solvents of liberalism. It is reinforced and potentiated, on the other hand, by poverty, oppression, and national feeling, just the conditions the Israelis are fostering in the occupied territories. There are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream, but in the long run that’s the most effective alternative.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Howard's Aboriginal Policy

Howard's new policy on taking over aboriginal settlements is likely to fail because, like all Howard's initiatives, it is
a) done on the back of an envelope without consulting any public servants
b) underfunded and underresourced and
c) motivated - and this is the important bit - primarly by a desire to stick it to his enemies.
It's Howards way of doubling down on his refusal to appologise for the stolen generation- he's not only not going to apologise, he's going to do it again.
Which is not to say that the liberal solution was getting anywhere very fast. I am prepared to forecast, through, that Howard's way won't work either, partly because I don't believe he gives a stuff whether it works or not.

The Dodo

The dodo
Was suaviter in modo;
And would be alive today
Were he fortiter in re.

Hall Palmer.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Anne McDonald

Oh, good. My friend Anne has a piece on the Pillow Angel in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Very telling.

Friday, June 15, 2007

These Names Make News

What have I learned in my last week's reading?
  • Wittgenstein was a renowned whistler
  • Marlborough, in his youth, fought alongside D'Artagnan
  • Einstein had a number of patents on refrigeration design
I should concentrate more on the big picture, I suppose.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


My got, I love Nightingale Electrics. It's just up the road from the office, and I can drop in in my lunch hour and contemplate the kind of implacable stud I would be if I had a jackhammer (only ($250) or a nail gun or a welder or (very tempting) an electric nibbler that would cope with 4-cm steel (only $175). Or a folding bicycle.
Or a stud finder, I suppose.
I ended up getting a small 12-in boltcutter ($7) to trim the springs on my mattress (long story) - very wearing, as the absolutely enormous one (36in) was only 16$ and passing up that kind of a bargain on kingsize is always something of a strain, but the yardlong one won't fit in my bedside drawer. Actually, I should get the $16 one in quantity - I'm sure I could make a profit selling it as scrap. I am baffled absolutely as to how the Chinese can make a penny out of sales at this price.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean 3

Rather nervously I confess that I liked it, certainly more than Spiderman 3. II don't apologize for going - I'm one of those people whose money burns a hole in their pocket until they've followed the other lemmings through the blockbuster boxoffice - but it's not often that I actually enjoy them.
I was struck, however, by the opening, where (in an anti-bush moment) pirates, and suppliers of pirates, and associates of pirates were hanged in rows. They included a child. It is very, very rare to show the hanging of a child - an eight-year-old? - almost unheard-of, really. and it does seem to indicate a deadening in our cultural signals; previously it would have been seen as sufficiently evil to have hanged a woman. The expectation was that the kid would be rescued, and the movie faltered a bit around then when he wasn't.
I remember the transgressive power of the killing of the child around the start of Boetticher's The Tall T, and the slightly lesser (because less clear) hit of the killing of the boy by Angel Eyes around the opening of The Good the Bad and the Ugly; but they were serious, it was intended to mean something. PotC is one of those movies where only the leads have lives that are seen as having any value; such actions as betraying a person, or trying to kill them, or allying with them to kill others, have moral significance only when they concern featured players, not the ordinary crew members or soldiers or citizens.

False fronts

Hilzoy at obsidian wings says

"you can tell who is serious and who is not by noticing who actually stops to think about whether torture is effective. People who don't bother to ask that question are not serious about winning; they're in love with a fantasy of themselves as the person who is tough enough to do all those dirty things that have to be done while other people just wring their hands and whimper."

Yes, but I don't think you give sufficient weight to the fact that human beings, in this era at least (not just Americans, not just Bushites) do that all the time. We live that way. We do what we do not because we have calculated that these actions will produce that outcome but because these actions are consistent with our image of ourselves.

We know, looking at another example, that harm minimisation would work better to reduce drug use than tough enforcement, but we don't want to think of ourselves as people who are soft on drugs (or soft at all, really). That's just about what it means to hold a political opinion.

Any time you hear the words "sending the wrong message" (which is all the time) you're hearing an admission that characterisation is more important than outcomes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


I've just noticed that the Australian constitution features under the heads of Commonwealth power s. 51 the ability to legislate for "The influx of criminals." Odd phrase. That's separate from "Immigration and emigration", which you would think covered criminals coming in (or going out - the efflux of criminals? The reflux of criminals?)
A quick google doesn't clarify much, except that there was a Victorian (in both senses) Influx of Criminals Act in the previous century, so people obviously knew what was being referred to.

Another objectionable thing about the Australian constitution is that so much of it is junk DNA, things like "There shall be payable to the Queen out of the Consolidated Revenue fund of the Commonwealth, for the salary of the Governor-General, an annual sum which, until the Parliament otherwise provides, shall be ten thousand pounds." I'd vote for a constitutional amendment to remove all that; it'd halve the length, making it much more user-friendly.
Actually, I have the same trouble with much of the old testament, which is largely about the details of Temple protocol which even in fundamentalist terms was applicable only for that space of time when Israel had a temple, or for about nine hundred years (generous maximum) out of six thousand. Seems a poor use of space.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Saw 300. Facist aesthetics, of course, SS officer views, but the irritating bits were the sentimental ones - Leonidas is made into a good spartan by beatings, but Leonidas as hero cannot strike his own child; Spartans know no mercy, but when they see what the enemy has done they cry "Do they have no mercy?"
And why was Leonidas, and only Leonidas, speaking in a Scots accent? In Alexander that was a consistent attempt to show the macedonians as northern semibarbarians; here it was more Groundkeeper Willie. Talking of willies.

It looked extremely rocky for the Theban Band that day
The odds were one to fifty with more Persians on the way.
So when Themist’cles fumbled, and Euanetus too,
An air of sadness fell upon that bare-assed hoplite crew.
A scattered few got up to go attend the Olympic Games
Another few decided that they’d try their luck with dames.
When to that Attic army came the news that cured dismay:
King Leonidas’ Spartans had come to join the fray.
They had no place for cowards and they had no use for c***:
Three hundred Spartan willies were advancing to the front.
(James D. Macdonald)

And they kicked out the hunchback because he couldn't hold his place in line, and then spent nearly all their fighting time out of line because that was more photogenic. Irritating, too, that for a film called 300 they couldn't handle 300 men - they had to fight in a canyon about ten men wide, making it 30 men deep, or 120 with the allies, the director (or Miller) couldn't handle massed shots.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


So John Howard emphasizes the need for a balanced reaction to climate change. I can’t help wondering how Australia would have fared if he had been prime minister in 1941 instead of Curtin.

“My opponents argue that today Australians face one overriding challenge: the Japanese invasion. Yes, the Japanese invasion is a major priority of the Government. At the same time, we know independent action by Australia will not materially affect this war. Australia kills fewer Japanese soldiers in a year than the United States or China do in a month. Do we need to reduce the Japanese threat over time? Of course we do. But to say that the invasion is the overwhelming moral challenge for this generation of Australians is misguided at best, misleading at worst. Other challenges are just as real and pressing. This single-minded concentration on invasion feeds ideological demands for knee-jerk policy reactions that would destroy jobs and the living standards of ordinary Australians….”

Roll on November.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Commonplace book: misc

“Every man for himself and God for us all”
as the elephant said when it danced among the chickens.

When the bankrupt Duke of Buckingham was told that his means no longer permitted him to keep an Italian confectioner, as well as a French chef and an English roasting-cook, he exclaimed, in natural horror, “Good Gad! Mayn’t a man have a biscuit with his glass of sherry?”

The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet, when we want shoes.”
Jonathan Swift

It is the business of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to distribute a certain amount of human misery; and the man who distributes it most equally is the best Chancellor.
Robert Lowe

Commonplace book: Plantagenet law

I have laboured to make a covenant with my self, that affection may not press upon judgment; for I suppose there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry or nobleness, but his affection stands to the continuance of so noble a name and house, and would take hold of a twig or twine-thread to uphold it: and yet time hath his revolution, there must be a period and end of all temporal things, finis rerum, an end of names and dignities, and whatever is terrene, and why not of De Vere ?

For where is Bohun ? where's Mowbray ? where's Mortimer ? &c. Nay, which is more and most of all, where is Plantagenet ? they are intombed in the urnes and sepulchres of mortality.

Crew CJ in Lord Willoughby of Eresby's Case (1625) W. Jones 96, 82 ER 50,

Commonplace Book: Kingsley Amis

To find his sexual drives had ceased
For 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 unremitted slash
Were still what makes me drone and drivel!

Christmas 1993


Christmas, birthday, new year; anniversaries whose only value to the bitter and twisted
Is to enable the year’s disappointments to be listed
As an aid to prospective parents deciding this is no world to bring a child in to
However ineffective this propaganda has in the past been (and yes, Toz, Kath, Janet, and Prudence, we’re looking at you).
Rose has finished her book on facilitated communication training to be published in January by Columbia University (Teacher’s College Press)
Which she sees as inadequate compensation for DEAL being defunded by Kennett and having its approaches to Howe for alternatives meeting with no success;
Anne has been hounded into conformity with the pretentious and enervated shibboleths of academic self-congratulation
To the point of finishing her degree and facing graduation;
Chris kept on with occasional research and report work for VicHealth
Leading him to VicWisdom but unfortunately not VicWealth;
The cat was rushed trembling in a carrybag to the vet to be treated for a damaged paw,
And the house itself suffered severely from prolapse of the bathroom floor.
Still, I couldn’t say it was all bad (with my memory, there may have been wonderful things happen that I can’t remember)
And I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead year, and it is already December,
And so we hope you all finish 1993 in a manner appropriate alike to the optimistic and the bitter and twisted
By getting thoroughly pissted.

Chris Borthwick
December 8, 1993

Commonplace book: Larkin's letters

Faint heart never fucked the pig

Life is its own justification, of course: except in cases where it isn’t, of course.

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…

I have my little depressions and fits of spleen, certainly, but nothing like the flu has touched me; boredom, yes, irritation, with all my heart, but nothing requiring tablets.

Looking back on my first 40 years, I think what strikes me most is that hardly any of the things that are supposed to happen or be so in fact happen or are so. What little happens or is so isn’t at all expected or agreeable. And I don’t feel that everything could have been different if only I’d acted differently – to have acted differently I should need to have felt differently, to have been different, which means going back years and years, out of my lifetime. In a way I feel I am still waiting for life to start – for all these things that are supposed to occur as a matter of course.

You can’t dip litmus into poems and say whether they are bad or good; you can say whether or not people like them but even if people don’t, this still doesn’t negate the pleasure one has take in writing them. Still, some poems are by common consent ‘good’, so are these? Well, I should say that they just don’t begin to be poems in the professional sense any more than your dancing or golf or piano playing would be professional unless you really worked at them. A poem is a highly professional artificial thing, a verbal device designed to reproduce a thought or emotion indefinitely; it should have no dead parts, and every word should be completely unchangeable and unmoveable. Your poems are hit or miss, rather verbose affairs, remarkably articulate and at times vivid but essentially conversation, not poems. Someone once defined poems as ‘heightened speech’; does that suggest my meaning? Features such as metre and rhyme help this heightening; they aren’t just put in to make it more difficult to do.

We judge a writer by the resonance of his despair.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Joshua Frydenberg quotes “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, constantly on guard against those who seek to destabilise his regime” as saying “Shiites are mostly always loyal to Iran and not the countries where they live.” Am I the only one who sees echoes here of the slanders of disloyalty traditionally levelled at Jews (and, occasionally Catholics)? I can see why Mubarak would push this line – he is, after all, aware that “those who seek to destabilise his regime” include, among others, the bulk of the population of Egypt, and any scapegoat is better than none – but I’m still surprised to see Australians parroting it.

If you want to avoid destabilising the Middle East, don’t invade Iraq (or Lebanon). If you want to control nuclear proliferation, start with the one power in the region that already has nuclear weapons. If you want a serious debate, don’t begin by creating bogeymen about the Protocols of the Elders of Qom.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


John Roskam and the IPA see a decline in the sense of community, and blame it on – who could have guessed? – government overregulation. People used to accept risk, he says, but “now it is something that must be eliminated”. And what’s the remedy? “Many of the issues council health inspectors try to solve could be fixed by simply declaring that anyone purchasing at a community event does so that their own risk.”

Well, that sounds good – but Roskam does seem to skip over who or what is to do the declaring. If the community group sticks up a sign at its sausage sizzle saying “Eat at your own risk” that has almost no legal effect, if anything goes wrong the group is still liable to be sued for millions, and even if nothing goes wrong the insurance against such suits is likely to be crippling. If the government gets around this by passing a law saying that you eat at your own risk, removing by statute the average citizen’s immemorial common law right to recover damages for negligence, that might create moral hazard – are there really no football clubs out there who would relax their kitchen standards if they were absolutely confident they were immune from suit? It certainly sounds like more government interference, which is what I thought Roskam was against.

Indeed, given the IPA’s previous attacks on not-for-profit groups as anti-business special interest lobbyists one might be forgiven for thinking that the IPA’s real interest was in a more general abolition of product liability suits, something that would be of immense benefit to the corporations that fund it.

Yes, there are real problems in regulating community groups, but they can’t be solved by the IPA’s kneejerk antigovernment rhetoric. It’s not the government that has made us Australians more ready to resort to the courts than we were in the fifties, it’s us Australians. It’s not the government that has left us too little connected to our neighbours, it’s modern consumerist culture’s drive to unfettered individualism. In dealing with these important issues the community sector needs more support, not less.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Age bin citizenship

I think it’s unfair that the citizenship test for new immigrants is including all these new questions. Why don’t we go back to the basics? The test they used for the First Fleet could serve as a model.

Question One; “Do you plead guilty or not guilty?”

Question Two: ”What were you doing on the squire’s land with two partridges and a rabbit under your coat?”

Question Three; “Do you have anything to say before sentence is passed?”

That seemed to be able to identify the undesirables fairly well. They’re our ancestors.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Age bin Feb

The odd thing about the Exclusive Brethren pronouncement, surely, is its basic theology. When it refers to the "serious decline in moral standards resulting in bad laws, strikes and union strife, poor economic management, high unemployment, very high interest rates and difficult trading conditions” it seems to be saying that moral standards are important primarily because of their economic impact. God evidently disapproves of adultery, for example, not because it leads you down the primrose path to hell but because he thinks it has deleterious effects on your economic management. There's a whole entirely new new testament in this, one where you read about Good Samaritan Hostels Inc., the woman taken in unionism, and Jesus driving the moneylenders into the temple.

You learn something new every day.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Age bin - Hicks

Phillip Ruddock’s defense of the government’s position on David Hicks seems to contain some important admissions. He says
"I should address the argument that Mr Hicks could have been charged with offences under Australian law. The best legal minds at the Government's disposal remain adamant that is not the case. That decision is more complicated than simply identifying a criminal offence. The likelihood of success, available defences, the facts in question and the rules of evidence in Australian courts must all be considered."

What that appears to mean is that Hicks can't be tried in Australia not because he couldn't be charged with a criminal offence but because if he was charged he would probably be found not guilty. He can't be tried in Australia because "the facts in question" won't convict him. To put it another way, we can't try Hicks here because the government believes he's innocent.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Age bin

One effect of global warming is that the seasons are beginning earlier each year. As one sign of this, I saw a display of hot cross buns for sale in Coles on Wednesday, January 3rd – at least two weeks earlier than last year.

Blog Archive

Search This Blog


Total Pageviews