Monday, October 31, 2005

Erasing the law

From "The Case Against David Hicks" (Reporter: Debbie Whitmont) on ABC TV's Four Corners:

JOSH DRATEL (Hicks' civilian attorney): [David Hicks was chosen as one of the first Guantanamo inmates to face a military commission because he] allows for the process to look even-handed in a cultural and ethnic sense. He's a Caucasian, he's a westerner. "This is not about the Middle East. This is not about, you know, people of colour. This is about dangerous people." So, they can say that and... and also I think that he's English speaking, and they would like to if they, if they could... turn him against others, and have a witness, that would be to their advantage.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: How many other Caucasian Guantanamo detainees are there now, to your knowledge?



MAJOR MICHAEL (DAN) MORI (Hicks' military attorney): Mr Howard's not saying David violated any law. Why? Because David hasn't violated a law.


LIEUTENANT COMMANDER CHARLES SWIFT (military attorney, representing Salim Ahmed Hamdan): I believe that there is a desire to have justice for 9/11 and other crimes. The victims are owed that, absolutely, they are owed that. The American society is owed that. But for whatever reason, we're not willing to use the tried and true instruments of justice in this case. Justice, you know, when you don't have law, what you've got is revenge.

And further from Lt Cdr Swift, from a transcript of interview:

Q. What were your immediate concerns about the [military commission] system?

A. It has no, it has no independence. It does not base itself on either international law or military law. It is solely a system created by the President who looks at it as his ability to decide the law, to decide who gets charged and to ultimately decide whether they’re guilty or not. A system like that wherein you put all the power in one branch of government - and western governments understand that you must divide power, no matter how good the intentions or the people, there is too much temptation and too much rationalisation. And at its heart the problem with this military commission is it’s not based in law, it’s based in presidential or executive discretion. And you could see that really in the first few statements that were made was we’re counting on people, you know, the people will deliver a fair trial. Well, in western democracies the law delivers a fair trial. We don’t depend on people, we depend on the law. And so from its inception this case, these commissions, have not been based on anything that resembles either international law or military law.

And this:

[Regarding inmates' statements given as evidence] Of course we presume them to be coerced. They also have to understand that the effect, the most basic coercion of all is Guantanamo itself. Everywhere there are posters that say confess and go home.

Q. Is that right, in Guantanamo?

A. Absolutely, in Arabic. They are really interesting. Several of them are interesting where they show a woman going to old age and it points out that she’s growing old without you. Now in Guantanamo you’re guilty until you prove you’re innocent and if, they say you have to confess to get out.

And this:

Law can’t exist only for one side. One of the things that strikes me is the definition of combatant. ‘Anyone who provides any material support whatsoever is a combatant’, the example by, in the Federal Court, Judge Joyce Hens Green, who I think got an answer she never expected was, if a little old lady gives, you know, money to a charity which in turn uses it for al Qaeda, is she a combatant? Yes.

Q. That was the answer given?

A. Yes. Now that’s terrifying and not for the reason you think about, because that definition also has to define combatants on our side. That was the definition of World War II. … That’s why you could bomb cities. That’s why you could fire bomb Dresden, they’re all combatants. They are materially supporting the German Army. You can drop a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima because they’re materially supporting. London can be fire bombed. It’s all okay, you do not have attack the army... So we are shifting to a definition that was rejected by the civilized world in 1950. In 1949 and 1950 we said never again. We looked at the charred ruins of Europe and said, no, we will not attack civilians. There is a distinction between someone who supports an army and some one who actually fights. This distinction is being erased in international law, where the United States seeks to erase it, and the absolute irony is we’re the ones who led the distinction.

Life and death sentences

Amnesty International Australia is trying to save the life of an Australian man, Van Tuong Nguyen, facing execution by hanging in Singapore for drug trafficking.

Whatever you might think about his case (it's a sad story: he was apparently trying to help pay off his brother's debts by drug-running, no doubt contributing to other family tragedies and possible deaths with the drugs he carried), Singapore has the highest per-capita execution rate in the world:

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of one of the most fundamental of human rights: the right to life. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and there is no escaping the risk of error, which can lead to the execution of an innocent person. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has called for the death penalty to be eliminated for drug-related offences. In April 2005, the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) renewed calls upon all states that retain the death penalty to abolish it completely and, in the meantime, to establish a moratorium on executions.

If you'd like to add your voice to the Amnesty calls, relevant email addresses and a sample letter are available here.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Skimming the 5,000: 50 - 100

Okay, the idea isn't that I post this survey from now till eternity. No. I'm only planning to throw it in now and again. It just happens that now and again is... you know, now. I haven't got anything else to post, so here we go with the questions again. If you'd like to make a complaint... go swiftly and quietly away.

The 5000 Question Survey 2.0 part 2:

52. What was the last thing you made with your own hands?
59. What is your idea of paradise?
86. Name one thing that turns your stomach.

52. Breakfast: sliced and buttered chocolate cake. I made the cake last night and it tastes pretty awful, if you want to know. I fiddled with the recipe and put too much cocoa in. Boo.
59. It would involve a beautiful place, doing work I love, feeling at home, and loving somebody.
It might look like
86. Cruelty.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Skimming the 5,000: 1 - 49

I stumbled across the 5,000 Question Survey v2.0 thanks to some Clever Person somewhere or other, and I really like it. I love doing quizzes and surveys, and I think it's because I'm so damn interesting.
No but really! I'm seriously interested in myself. We're not supposed to say that, are we, we nice civilized people? But what sort of trouble would we be in if we weren't interested in ourselves? From birth to death, it's all a big Me-fest: looking through our own eyes, talking with our own voices, feeling and moving with our own bodies. We've each got to be a Me, there’s no choice in the matter. Better (far better) if you can find yourself interesting.

Am I trying to convince myself it's okay to post this survey here? Why, yes, yes I am! I don’t know what’s going on. I love reading other people's answers to quizzes like this, but now that I'm thinking of doing the same thing? Queasiness... an attack of the "Ooo, but"s. Am I ashamed of myself? No. Am I happy for you to see my answers? Yes. So what's the problem? Don't know. Bugger it, though. Don't care - doesn't matter - onward!

The plan is to occasionally post questions from the 5,000 Survey, so here, for starters, are five from the first page. I'm going to answer them, and then the theory goes that you will too (in a comment). How's that? Suit you? See what you think:

14. How do you handle a rainy day?
19. What did you want to be when you grew up?
28. If you could learn how to do three things just by wishing and not by working what would they be?
46. If you could meet any person in the world who is dead who would you want it to be?
49. You are going to be stuck alone in an elevator for a week. What do you bring to do?

14. I love rainy days, especially if it's cold enough to wear a jumper and woolly socks, which it hardly ever is here. It usually rains in summer, and we have to sweat all day before the rain gets here, like today. Boo.
19. A teacher (like Laura Ingalls Wilder) or a nurse (like Sue Barton, Visiting Nurse). Sadly I didn't turn into either Ms Wilder or Ms Barton.
28. Playing piano or violin, piloting a plane or glider, getting close to people.
46. Myself in the future, to find out what I should do between now and then.
49. A really long ladder so I can climb out. (Has anyone ever been stuck in a lift for a week?? Nightmare material. I think I'd die.)

Now you. Go on.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Vote for yourself

Do you know where you stand on the political compass? (Huh?) The test at The Political Compass will identify your political mates:

We believe that, in an age of diminishing ideology, a new generation in particular will get a better idea of where they stand politically - and the sort of political company they keep.

I'm waving at you from west of the Dalai Lama and south of Nelson Mandela, apparently. Where are you?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Exclamation attack!

Photo by Anna K.M. Tapper Clasborn of a sign in Dublin, Ireland.

From (dedicated to the art of mocking public works).


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Person v. role

A Smart Person has pointed out that a new contingent of Australian troops will be heading to Iraq soon - they had an official farewell in Darwin last week.

In that context, I suddenly see my previous post and its comments in a disturbing new light. You might think our friend B is heading off with those troops, and we’re all yelling things like "Have fun!" "Have a great trip!" and even "Have a great tour of duty!" as he goes. No no no! Not Iraq! Not Iraq! He's on a far more peaceful type of tour.

Still, just imagine for a minute that B is one of those troops, that he is heading off to Iraq. Imagine he signed up to the Defence Force years ago for admirable reasons (such as the desire to protect his country). Imagine that he doesn’t support the war and will have to go anyway. Or to complicate matters, imagine that he does support the war, and wants to go.

What would that mean for us, his friends, supporting the person, but opposing his role? Is there a way to resolve a conflict like that? I'm guessing not. Friends and family of those troops must be going through their own battles, quite apart from coping with the absence of loved ones and dread that it might be permanent. They, more than the rest of us, have to cope with something terrible: this bad war uses good people.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bonny voyage, B!

In case you forget Australian beaches. (You know this person. She burps a lot. As if you'd need a clue, though... Check those legs!)

Some North Coasters will be waving in your direction tomorrow. Have fun! Take care!


**Non-B reader? Sorry to exclude you; back to normal ASAP.


Apologies to the artist and publisher of this. I can't remember where it came from and can't check the back for clues (it's stuck to a folder).

It's also a bit fuzzy - a scan of a photocopy of a magazine - but I guess that's what happens when you lose resolution, yeah?


Saturday, October 15, 2005

It's later than you think

Alan Ramsey in today's Sydney Morning Herald** draws attention to something that happened in the Australian Senate on Thursday afternoon at (allegedly) precisely 4:30 pm:

Journals of the Senate:

The Minister for Defence (Senator Hill), by leave, moved—That, upon its introduction in the House of Representatives, the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 8 November 2005.

Debate ensued.

As well it bloody might. Alan Ramsey's explanation:
[...] you have to know about the 4.30 rule. This is a piece of Senate procedure that has been in effect for many years. It is a so-called standing order that forbids a Senate vote of any kind after 4.30pm on the Thursday of any sitting week. [...] Hill made a three-minute speech in support of his announcement, offered his "regret" that there had been "very little consultation", then quickly left the chamber as angry Opposition senators castigated the Government for its "slimy" behaviour.
The effect of making the announcement at 4:30 pm on a Thursday?
What the Government is doing is killing any meaningful scrutiny of its proposed anti-terrorism measures, in alliance with state police forces, to detain people for as long as a fortnight without charge and in complete secrecy. The detail is not known. The Government has not released the legislation. Parliament has adjourned for a fortnight. It resumes sitting on Monday, October 31. The new anti-terrorism bill will go before the House that week. What Hill was signalling on Thursday was a Senate inquiry - including a written report - restricted to, at most, eight days or, effectively, three days only.
Responses included:

Senator Brown (Greens):
This is an absolutely black day for the Senate and for democracy in this nation. This is a manipulation of the rules in a snide and underhand way by a gutless minister, who has left the chamber, to totally override the democratic principles of the Senate and its review function by effectively abolishing the committee system on a major issue.
Senator Faulkner (Labor):
It is unheard of to have a situation where the Government, without any consultation, proposes a course of action such as this, with no reasons, no excuses, knowing full well [because of the cut-off rule] the question cannot be determined [by a vote] in this sitting week. The choice is, effectively, a totally inadequate inquiry or no inquiry at all.
Senator Stott Despoja (Democrats):
There seems little dignity left in this place. The Senate is clearly a farce. The process we have seen today is shameful. The Senate is treated with little respect and no courtesy, no notification, by a minister who slinks in and slinks out. Those small-"l" liberal principles, where are they right now? Today is a low day in the history of this Parliament...
Shame, Australians, shame! Where the hell are we going?

**Needs registration, or you could try bugmenot.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Girl in the Café

Advance notice if you watch Australian television: on Sunday night ABC TV screens "The Girl in the Café", written by Richard Curtis:
Traditionally, I work for a charity for six months out of every two years. And I thought, well maybe instead of fundraising I should do some consciousness-raising. And since there was actually a plan on the table for how to halve extreme poverty by 2015, I wanted to see whether anything I could do might make that more likely. [...] I would love to feel that people who see the film might think, I'm just an ordinary person like the girl in the film. Is there anything I can do?'
And more:
[...] it is the film I've been involved in of which I'm most proud and I hope that one day very soon, real reality will catch up, and our generation - that has the resources and knowledge to end extreme poverty - will do just that.
If that's not enough, this from critic Robin Oliver in the Sydney Morning Herald's the guide:
Sometimes, though very rarely, television drama reaches perfection. This piece undoubtedly qualifies; amusing, romantic and, because of the powerful and considered way it leaves us nodding approval for its handling of serious matters, an immediate candidate for any list of favourites.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Just not funny enough

Too subtle for them?

During those 2 days of protests, I also organized a protest outside the Sydney offices of war profiteer Halliburton's subsidiary KBR. It was a political theater event where my cohorts and I dressed up as billionaires, named ourselves "The Coalition of the Billing" and chanted such insurrectionary chants as "1-2-3-4, we make money when there's war, 5-6-7-8, KBR's really great!" and "We're here, we're rich, get used to it!". It was a fun little protest and many of the New South Wales police watching were laughing along with our comedy routine. I can only guess that Phillip Ruddock and ASIO missed the underlying humor.

- Scott Parkin, "Dissent Down Under: When Antiwar Activists Get Mugged."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Heavens above?

According to the Belief System Selector, my #1 belief match is Liberal Quakers.
What do you believe?

I've done this quiz four times now... Once ages ago, again quite recently, a third time tonight when I realised I hadn't actually read the instructions the first two times (you're supposed to choose the things you'd like to explore in a belief system, not necessarily the ones you currently believe), and finally now a fourth time because I didn't like the results of the third. Three out of four times the winning placegetter was Unitarian Universalism, but I've never heard of that till now, and besides, the Liberal Quakers came second and they're similar to Beanites. No idea what a Beanite is, the name just makes me laugh. I wanna be a Beanite...


If you do the quiz, come back and tell us what you are, eh, Reader? We could have some religious wars. (Joking...)

Monday, October 10, 2005

The thin veneer of culture?

This year's Andrew Olle Media Lecture (broadcast last night on ABC TV; MP3 and sometimes-shonky transcript available) was delivered by John Doyle, aka "Rampaging" Roy Slaven of Roy & HG, one of the stars of Australia's 2000 Olympic Games gift to the world, The Dream.

He's an experienced writer, and it's a strange speech. It jumps from topic to topic like someone randomly changing television channels, or (my other theory) like a boxer dancing around the ring, trying to land a few killer punches.

A punch like this, for example:

[The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), a national non-commercial broadcaster] still strives to put forward an alternative view. So that when the commercial media is dictated to by myopic intrusive ownership and ill-informed populism, is forced through thoughtless need to make irresponsible programs that lack both style and substance, caresses inflammatory and cheap nasty demagoguery that seeks to marginalize the already marginalized, that seeks to describe the world in simple terms, provide simple solutions to complex problems and is purely a servant to fiscal outcomes, then the ABC will always seem to aggravate, annoy and frustrate, and it's precisely when the ABC is doing this that it is serving its charter.

Or this:

Suddenly the world is awash with opinion. [...] Any half-baked dickhead who can string a few sentences together is given a go, particularly if the opinion is inflammatory or somehow ratchets up the climate of fear or loathing – simply and obviously because it sells more newspapers. [...] The Internet allows anyone anywhere to access information that might be true, might be false, but you can find whatever information you need to prosecute any argument you want. [...] In the past, information bound culture. There was a shared sense of a gradually expanding library of sensible and responsible scholarship, whereas now information is serving more to fracture culture. [...] Battles won in the past are having to be won again. And as long as elite opinion is reviled, untested populist positions will prevail.

And I think this might be the theme tune:

... the Big Bang was caused by a collision of two other universes in a cataclysmic event. [...] I remember reading some years ago about the series Dallas being beamed in to the New Guinea highlands. It was being viewed by mountain tribal people who were just a generation removed from first contact, people who'd had little or no connection with European society at all apart from the odd Christian missionary. [...] They saw a lifestyle that was heaven on earth. Irresistible. Vast houses, huge cars, heated pools, money, booze, guns and loose women. And no morality to speak of. Ancient and modern cultural universes brushing against each other. Again a cataclysmic event.
The truth is that in the belly of any society there’s a violent brutal core that exposes itself when the thin veneer of culture is stripped away. The marauding Rascols blowing into Port Moresby from the New Guinea highlands are no different to the clans of Mogadishu; and those filmed roaming the streets of New Orleans armed to the teeth, all with hunger and many with hatred in the belly are similarly the result of neglect and cynical indifference by politicians and media alike. [...]

Andrew [Olle] missed out on seeing the events of September 11, a blunt cleaver that questioned Western certainty. One of the pilots of the first American Airlines plane to smash into the World Trade Centre was Mohammed Atta. He spent his last hours on this earth in Las Vegas roaming amongst the gambling dens and strip clubs theoretically to further steel his resolve, such was his loathing of the excesses of the West. The quest for our media is to ask why it happened and to understand the motivations of those who are willing to end their lives at a young age on the altar of sectarian anger; to join the dots between that state of mind and the mindset of those in the New Guinea highlands cutting down their pristine forests to feed the generators that provide the power for the television to screen Buffy, or The OC or Backdoor Bonanza 3, or, if they’re online, to power the modem to any cyber freakshow the mouse takes them. If the examination isn't exacting or truthful and without fear or favour, then this universe's accidental experiment with self-awareness and consciousness may well have been a total waste of time.

Trying to join the dots here, if the media are part of the problem, are we going to have to think for ourselves??


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Decide to be happy

It's maybe-possibly-conceivably imaginable that sometimes I might whinge and moan (at length, with tears) about my easy life. Then along comes something like this:

You've just got to decide to be happy, whether or not your logical mind thinks it is rational to be happy and whether or not your moral sense thinks you deserve to be happy. You absolutely will not be happy for any length of time until you decide to, and if you decide to, you can be happy in the face of the most miserable circumstances.

You are doing the best you can with what you have. You are already living the most moral and correct life you know how to live. [...] What you can do is learn where your blind spots are. Watch others. People who at first glance are just plain old bad people are on further investigation suffering from horrendous misconceptions about how the world works. You also have misconceptions about the best way to get what you want. Find those misconceptions and wake up!

You are rich or poor, smart, dim, clumsy, athletic, ugly or good looking for a reason. The reason is because living life under those circumstances points you in the directions you are supposed to be going. You are not supposed to be perfectly well rounded, it is usually quite helpful to be lopsided. It is that lopsidedness that provides the direction and impetus for your individual development.

From a website called The Meaning of Life - no details on the name of the author(s). It offers advice which might help if you're feeling depressed or useless or worthless; you're wondering why bad things happen to good people; or you're despairing because the world seems full of insanity, hatred or violence; and then goes on to discuss the meaning of life:
Not only is consciousness a universal property of matter, it is the primary property of matter. In fact, it's the other way around, matter is a property of consciousness!

(Thanks to toto.)

Friday, October 07, 2005


"John Burroughs in his study, from a photograph by Clifton Johnson," from the Pictures Archive at

A poem written in his youth by the apparently-forgotten American naturalist (friend of Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and John Muir), John Burroughs (1837-1921):


Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
Nor care for wind, or tide, or sea;
I rave no more ’gainst time or fate,
For, lo! my own shall come to me.

I stay my haste, I make delays,
For what avails this eager pace?
I stand amid the eternal ways,
And what is mine shall know my face.

Asleep, awake, by night or day,
The friends I seek are seeking me;
No wind can drive my bark astray,
Nor change the tide of destiny.

What matter if I stand alone?
I wait with joy the coming years;
My heart shall reap where it has sown,
And garner up its fruit of tears.

The waters know their own and draw
The brook that springs in yonder height;
So flows the good with equal law
Unto the soul of pure delight.

The stars come nightly to the sky;
The tidal wave unto the sea;
Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,
Can keep my own away from me.

I can't decide whether to believe in destiny or not. Some days yes, some days no. Reading this poem, it just seems like such a nice idea :)

Besides, look at that man's beard! How could he be anything but wise?

(Some of Burroughs' writing is available online at and Project Gutenberg.)

Trying to kill fear?

First I was revisiting frogs. Then yesterday it was that snake or one of its mates. I was mowing along the road (on a ride-on mower, like a little tractor) and looked to one side through the paddock fence. A snake was writhing there, about a metre away. I’m terrified of snakes and would normally have yelped and galloped, but this one was obviously in serious trouble: its head had been cut off. The mower and I had done it, too, but I only realised this in hindsight, driving past it again on the second lap of the road circuit. How it remained out of sight the first time, I have no idea. It wasn't exactly small. (The photos are way down the page, in case you don't want to see them.)

I’m terrified of snakes. I just want to say that again. I hate them hate them hate them. The only good snake is a dead snake, et cetera. This was a brown, I think, and they’re venomous. In other words, if I’d stepped on it, or the dogs had worried it, or the cows and calves had wandered right over the top of it, it could have killed us. (And I imagine it just going crazy and killing us all - me, dogs, cattle, all at once: a frenzied snake attack.) I’m glad it’s dead. Self-defence, I say. Good riddance, I say. And typing this now, hours later, I want to put my feet up off the floor, scared of leaving them down there so far away from the rest of me, where anything... and you know what I’m thinking... could slither along.

And here’s what else I’m thinking: none of what I’ve said above is justified. That snake had as much right to live as I do. It wasn’t trying to attack me or anything else, its head was cut off by the mower blades, which are underneath the mower (its head would have been rearing up if it was trying to attack). It was probably lying in the grass just minding its own business. For all I know, it was probably happy eating rats in the macca plantation next door, and would have gone on doing that until the (natural) end of its days, never bothering anything else.

I suddenly see how powerful a concept is self-defence, and how little I'll question a supposed threat if it comes from something I already fear. And here's the worst part: even realising all this, I’m still glad that snake is dead.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Kindred spirits

Last February I had two weird visits from frogs: a midnight encounter and then a daylight one. And now I'm kicking myself (yes, I'm hopping mad). Why didn't I recognise them? Why??

You Are A: Frog!

froggyIndependent yet still part of a large community, frogs are unique creatures known for their distinctive sound and ability to hop. As a frog, you spend your days sitting on lily pads or climbing trees, searching for delicious insects to eat. While there are some frogs that aren't exactly cute, you are certainly not one of those!

You were almost a: Mouse or a Chipmunk
You are least like a: Parakeet or a PonyCute Animal Test!

Find yourself, reader... take the test :)

(Thanks to a duck: Kent and a duckling: Claire.)


Okay, here's something weird. The first time I've seen a frog at night since the aforementioned time in February was... yesterday. Big Pup had taken a wander in the afternoon and when she arrived back last night, I opened the door and who else was there?

I put a copy of yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald into the shot, hoping you'll be able to see the date:

Weird. And can you see the dirt stuck to him/her? (The red-brown clumps along the legs and toes.) It's really dry here at the moment, and I'm surprised the dirt would stick to anything. I wonder what that's about? Surely if we were really kin I'd know these things...