Attila the Pun
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I pride myself on being a person of reasonable intelligence, but I really need help to work out:

a) what the hell Jeff Lewis is talking about; and

b) how one manages to get paid to write stuff like that.

There is no doubt that the guilty verdict in the Schapelle Corby case marks a low point in Australia's relationship with Indonesia. The pendulum of sentiment towards Indonesia, so positive around the tsunami relief effort, has now returned to the negative arc.

I may not agree with him (negative sentiment during the looting of East Timor led to public rallies effectively calling for the invasion of what was still Indonesian held land by Aussie troops), but at least his opening makes sense.

He then does his best to give all academics a bad name.

In a post 9/11 world, where relative cultural differences have been amplified in the service of particular ideological and strategic interests, the Corby case illuminates once again the delicacy and contradictory character of the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

This "us and them", "good and evil", "clash of civilisations" rhetoric has clearly been marshalled in the Corby case, especially by the Australian popular media. The governments in Indonesia and Australia have been lured by polemical discourses that threaten their own recent efforts to stabilise the bilateral relationship. The retreat by the Australian Government and its chief policeman into the language of "independent sovereignty" risks the restoration of an East-West divide that so frequently impedes effective diplomatic and cultural interaction.

Having finished attempting to look intelligent, he then proceeds to patronise the Australian public:

The Australian public seems to have been seduced by a popular media that perpetually translates complexity into simple narrative polemics, a myth-making that has constructed Schapelle Corby as innocent victim of a pernicious, inept and corrupt judicial system.

As opposed to academics perpetually attempting to translate simple narratives into complex polemics of course.

The Nine Network, in particular, has represented Schapelle as a "victim-hero", the most familiar and frequently repeated motif of nationalism and xenophobia.

Like all the "victim-heroes" the media repeatedly showed during the tsunami to draw out our natural nationalism and xenophobia? Oh, right.

Of course, this perspective of Indonesia is both inaccurate and damaging. The Indonesian judiciary is a conventional civil system adapted from the Franco-Dutch model. There is a presumption of innocence, and, in this case at least, there is no evidence that corruption and ineptitude have contaminated proceedings.

I don't wish to wade into that aspect of the case, but surely when the head judge brags about his 400-0 record of convictions, the whole presumption of innocence thing looks a bit shaky?

This moral panic is not dissimilar to the anxieties surrounding drug use in Australia. Sadly, Indonesia's strategy of prohibition and punishment mirrors and magnifies the policies that have proven so ineffectual in countries such as Australia. While Indonesian discussions on illicit drugs have focused on crime and penalty, the related issues of social health, education and harm minimisation have been largely neglected. It is not surprising that many younger people in Indonesia are attracted to an anti-establishment cuek since authority has been so infected by corruption and repressive brutality. The savage prohibition of the drug laws seems to resonate with the same unconvincing rhetoric.

But wasn't he just telling us how the legal system was a conventional civil one, with no hint of corruption or ineptitude in the proceeding?

The Schapelle Corby case illustrates very clearly that a more broadly based dialogue on drugs is necessary. It is not good enough for the Australian Government to retreat from its regional responsibilities into a facile discourse of "independent sovereignty": diplomacy, above all else, is an exercise of mutual influence.

So this article is a call for drug law reform? I thought it was about the relationship with Indonesia.

If there is to be greater regional co-operation on trade and security, and if cultural interaction is to be further enhanced, then the respective governments must lead and inspire these accommodations of policy and support. Both governments must more actively engage in regional health and social issues, including drug policy and prevention strategies.

So Australia should be calling for changes in Indonesian drug policy, and Indonesia should be calling for changes in Australian harm prevention strategies?

Schapelle Corby is now part of the swelling army of convicted drug traffickers in Indonesia. While she has avoided the fate of the 20 foreign nationals on death row for comparable crimes, she nevertheless faces considerable time in abhorrent incarceration.

She is hoping, of course, that the appeal process or the Australian Government can save her. Like many other Australians, I hope that she is released.

Because you think she is innocent, or you think the sentence was too harsh, or you think the trial was flawed?

Not because I am convinced she is innocent of the crime, but because she is innocent enough to deserve understanding and compassion within a context of complex and rapidly evolving global contiguities.

When that is your penultimate sentence, you know your argument (if that is what this is supposed to be) is in real trouble.

Monday, May 30, 2005
Freedom isn't free

Hilary Burden has penned a fluff piece on Tom Cruise's recent embarassing performance on Oprah. So of course this is the opening paragraph:

IN THE mouths of Condoleezza Rice and George Bush, the word freedom has taken on a bad taste. Using it as justification to invade countries and lecture undemocratic regimes, they have succeeded in turning freedom into a threat, as if to say, "You will be free only if you live by our rules and follow our example."

Is there some sort of style guide at the SMH that requires you to slip a George Bush reference in? But the best part is that she is actually criticising Bush and Rice for using freedom as a justification for lecturing "undemocratic regimes". What other justification should we use to lecture North Korea etc? Bad architecture and inability to design a decent motor car are universal traits among dictatorships, but I would have thought the lack of essential freedoms allowed their populace would be a much better place to start.

This standardised, centrally controlled, big brother version of freedom seems to advance that only an American sense of freedom is the right one, that US freedom is good, and anything that threatens it is bad.

"Standardised freedom" Is she referring to a relativist notion of freedom now? So we shouldn't lecture Cuba's government, because they are "free" to vote for Fidel only, and they might be happy like that?

The rest of the piece isn't worth reading.

The sound of choking on weeties

Oh how it must annoy some people when one of their pet issues, one that they have spent years expressing sympathy for, printing posters and "demanding" action, gets hijacked by somebody who actually does something about it.

East Timor is a good example. There are some who were very genuine in their desire to see the country freed from the control of Indonesia, whilst there were others who just jumped on the current self-righteous bandwagon.

It is the latter group who have been the quickest to seize on the "Australia is trying to screw East Timor" express. Not being able to criticise the much hated Howard over actually helping free East Timor, they instead try and pin some sort of ulterior motive on him and his Government - in this case, gas reserves.

How it must gall them to see an article by Jose Ramos-Horta, Foreign Minister for the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, like this in Today's Age:

Nevertheless, I must speak in defence of Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Downer. It is well known how the left believes in its own claim to a monopoly on the virtues of compassion and solidarity. Conversely, those on the right are all greedy and insensitive.

God has bestowed on me a modest intelligence and certain wisdom enabling me not to be dogmatic and not to make sweeping judgements on those on one spectrum or another of politics or culture. We all have our virtues, failings and sins.

John Howard has been a true friend of Timor-Leste, so has Alexander Downer. Any other characterisation of the two in regard to Timor-Leste is simply unfair. I have witnessed from the dark days of September 1999 till our more hopeful and peaceful country of 2005 the generosity of the Australian people and of their leaders.

Friday, May 27, 2005

It may come as little surprise to many that I am a fan of a lot, though not all, of Andrew Bolt's writings. His newly added forum just adds to the fun. Although the comments seem to broadly fall into two categories - "I love you Andrew, you are a light of reason in the darkness and the only reason I buy the Herald-Sun" or " - what have you got to say to that Andrew?!?!"

I give him a lot of credit for answering the questions though - can you imagine other op-ed journalists submitting to such scrutiny and actually responding to criticism? Try and close your eyes and imagine Phillip Adams doing it...

Recently he got stuck into the Age:

But you are right, Jon, the internet is a huge threat to the Age, which relies on the classifieds to prop it up. Add to that its falling circulation, and ... What I don't understand is why there is no real sense of crisis there, and demands for reform. Take, for instance, the way its bosses have allowed the paper to become so ideologically rigid that it appeals to a small social worker/teacher demographic, but not much beyond. That's madness.

But what is with that photo? I am assuming that a bi-weekly columinist at Australia's highest selling paper would get a strong say in what photo ran with his articles. The old photo featured the world's worst tie, but at least made him look human. I think the new photo is striving for the "serious hard hitting columnist" look, but only manages to pull off the "slightly handicapped schoolbook photo" look.

He also recently gave a (deserving) shout out to Tim Blair and the Bunyip. Considering the paucity of blogging by yours truly of late, I am willing to forgive him this snub...

Thursday, May 12, 2005
Kim Rove-ly

I am not sure if this has been raised before, but is it possible that Kim Beazley is a long term mole working for the Liberal Party? I am not referring to his two election defeats, and ambitions for a third, but rather Labor's amazing response to the recent Budget.

We have the Coalition being hassled over leadership speculation, then handing down a budget which heavily favours high income earners and tightens regulations regarding disability pensioners. So what does Labor do?

Says it will make a token effort to block the tax cuts, until Parliament sits again on August 9, or the Government has to call a special sitting on July 1.

Some low to middle income earners may think the tax cuts unfairly favour the well off, but they still want the $6-$10 a week that they will receive anyway. What they don't want is Labor making a "stand" supposedly on principle that will do nothing except delay them receiving the cuts for 6 weeks.

Added to Wayne Swan's hilarous claim that when he said Labor wouldn't oppose the cuts, he actually meant they would oppose the cuts, but wouldn't oppose tax reform, you have signs that Labor is determined to continue its descent into irrelevancy.

Labor has defended the decision as a "highly principled but brave decision". One would have thought he meant highly principled *and* brave decision, but never mind...

Costello, of course, loved it:

"He is a cheap populist who wants to try and play envy politics, which has no place in Australian society," Mr Costello said. "The last legacy of the Labor Party's control of the Australian Senate could be to deny Australians their tax cut on July 1, 2005 - the last stand of the Labor Party under Mr Beazley."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Man bites dog

George Bush recently spoke to tens of thousands of cheering people in Tblisi, Georgia. This only received a mention in the Australian press because someone through a device which may have been an inactive grenade near him.

Compare this to the blanket coverage that even a pissweak anti Bush demonstration gets, and the media's claims of balance become ever more laughable.

Mixed messages

I have tremendous sympathy for the family of Douglas Wood, and of course for Mr Wood himself. I also would also welcome anything that may help secure his release, short of paying a ransom, either morally or financially.

This is why I am very conflicted regarding the statement by the Islamic Council of New South Wales.

"The Islamic Council of NSW urges you to consider that any harm which might befall Mr Wood will reflect badly on us here in Australia, as well as upon you and all the just causes for which you are pressing," the statement says.

One would like to think that they would release Mr Wood because it is the only just and humane thing to do, not because failing to do so might reflect badly on Australian Muslims. And what is the "just cause" for which these murderous barbarians are pressing for? The withdrawal of Allied troops? A return to dictatorship? Civil War?

"For the sake of maintaining good relations with the Australian people and safeguarding the warm relations between the Australian people and the Muslim community in Australia, we renew our urging and trust that you release Douglas Wood."

It is strange that the consider the muslim community to be different from the "Australian people", though they may argue that this is the Australian people's fault, and not theirs.

And it emphasises that the Australian people "strongly sympathise with the people of Iraq and understand their predicament".

We do sympathise with the Iraqi people, and therefore helped them escape from the nightmare of decades of Baathist terror. We do not, in any way, sympathise with Mr Wood's captors. The suggestion that we do is the highly unpleasant undercurrent throughout this message.

The group argues Mr Wood should be released "as a token of gratitute towards the great Australian people who have demonstrated against the war in their tens of thousands, and still do so today in condemnation of the Western invasion of Iraq, as they call on the Australian government to withdraw its troops from the country".

I would like to think that many of the people who opposed the war, for whatever misguided reason, would have the moral sense to totally reject a token of gratitude from these masked head hackers. It is a terrible thing that I am not confident that many would.

I sincerely hope that Mr Wood is released unharmed, but am troubled by the nature of this message, coming as it does from one of Australia's largest Muslim associations.

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