Attila the Pun
Monday, November 21, 2005
So long, and thanks for all the fish

Hmm, the complete lack of posts may have been a giveaway anyway, but just to confirm, due to time constraints I am giving the blogging game away. It was great fun, and thanks for reading.



Tuesday, October 25, 2005
First they came for the treehuggers...

Well hoo-bloody-ray. Some people were worried that anti-terror laws could be used against groups other Al-Qaeda and its ilk. It looks like in Britain, that may well be true:

ANIMAL rights activists who glorify militant acts against economic targets and laboratories are to face prosecution under terror laws aimed at al-Qaeda supporters.

The new terrorism laws were designed primarily to target the so-called preachers of hate who glorify terrorist attacks. However, the Home Secretary told MPs and peers that animal rights supporters who celebrated militant attacks should also face prosecution.

Speaking to the joint Lords and Commons human rights committee, he said: “I certainly think that animal rights terrorism is something that has to be attacked. Those who argue that committing violent acts of terror to promote the cause of animal rights and who justify it by referring to it would be covered by this legislation.”

But surely these people just want to protect the animals - we couldn't call what they are doing "terrorism" could we?

That depends on whether you considered bomb attacks on the homes of executives as an act of terrorism I guess:

The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) claimed responsibility yesterday for leaving an explosive device containing fuel outside the home of Paul Blackburn, the corporate controller of GlaxoSmithKline. It said that Mr Blackburn was singled out because GSK was a customer of the animal testing group Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). A GSK spokesman said that the device was left on the porch of the house in Buckinghamshire and caused minor damage. Mr Blackburn was out of the country but his wife and child were at home.


A posting on the front’s website warned the pharmaceutical giant that more attacks would follow unless it severed its links with HLS. It said: “We realise that this may not be enough to make you stop using HLS but this is just the beginning. We have identified and tracked down many of your senior executives, and also junior staff, as well as those from other HLS customers. Drop HLS or you will face the consequences.”

Doesn't seem that different from Al-Qaeda' website rantings really. On a lesser, but still despicable, note - lets also not forget digging up the body of an 82 year old woman to hold her family to ransom over the remains.

Thursday, October 20, 2005
Silk purse made

How is this for a hatchet job based on flimsy evidence:

THE US and Britain have lost confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and are hoping that December's elections will bring a new and more efficient government.

Thats a big call, and I imagine there must be some decent evidence to back it up - statements by officials, some sort of action showing a loss of confidence.

According to US and British officials, even members of the Iraqi cabinet are dismissive of Dr Jaafari, a former doctor who lived in exile in Britain and Iran, and do not expect him to survive in the job.

So now we have the US government, the British Government and al-Jaafari's own cabinet apparently thinking he is a lame duck (as a side note, using the phrase "do not expect him to survive in the job" in relation to an Iraqi government official is in very poor taste). To support the claims so far we have unnamed "officials".

"I wish January were here now. This Prime Minister is not a natural strong leader," one US official said recently. A British source concurred: "The transitional Government is ineffective."

There is that pesky official again, with the huge backing of a "source".

Coalition officials complain that Dr Jaafari, 58, has been an ineffective administrator and indecisive politician.

More officials, but this time they don't even give them a country.

Some experts are increasingly asking whether the coalition faces "strategic failure" in Iraq after more than two years of ever-worsening insurgency and failure to deliver basic services.

So strategic failure gets quote marks, but this "story" doesn't quote a single named source, official or expert. Considering some "experts" were claiming failure about one month in, the fact that some experts are claiming it after two years is hardly noteworthy.

Despite violence that shows no sign of abating, State Department officials said Dr Rice was expected to stress the Bush Administration's view that progress is being made, citing last weekend's relatively peaceful referendum as an example.

How dare she cite the example of a legitimate constitutional referendum occuring in the middle east as an example of progress being made. Doesn't she know we are in a quagmire?

US and British officials hope that, if the constitution is approved, the next round of elections for a four-year government in a permanent system will prove to be the turning point.

Those officials have a position on everything! Call me crazy, but I would also imagine that the Iraqi people hope that the elections will prove to be another sucessful step on the road to democracy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The world in which we live

Did you ever think you would read the following passage in an op-ed piece in Britain's Daily Telegraph:

Compared to being force-fed Grandfather Smurf's genitals, having his village strafed in some clinical air strike is about the least worst option for Baby Smurf.

Read the rest (registration required) for the context.

fight fight fight

A recent study has found that "armed conflict, genocide, political crises and human rights abuses" have fallen sharply since the end of the Cold War.

Whilst the decline in outright war accords with intuition, the decline in genocide since 1946 seems wrong. With the horrors in Rwanda and Dafur fresh in our minds, genocide (even ignoring the situations where the terms is grossly misused) would not seem to be on the wane.

So which countries have been causing the most trouble? Australia, that famous country of warmongers, comes in at number 5. Number 1 goes to Britain, which is not surprising given their post colonial history. Number 2 isn't a huge shock either, being the French. The USA and the USSR round out the top four.

So what has caused this decline? Considering the author of the report worked in the strategic planning unit in the office of Kofi Annan, the answer is not suprising - the UN.

Professor Mack, who was director of the strategic planning unit in the office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan from 1998 to 2001, cites several examples, including a sixfold increase in UN efforts to prevent wars from starting, a fourfold increase in UN peacemaking missions to end unresolved conflicts and an elevenfold increase in the number of states made subject to UN sanctions.

Sure. The former colonial powers' declining willingness to get involved in their childrens' problems, not to mention the victory of the US in the Cold War, had nothing to do with it. It is the famously effective UN sanctions (like Iraq) and peacekeeping efforts (like Rwanda) that have made the world a safer place.

The report, produced under Professor Mack's direction by the Human Security Centre at Canada's University of British Columbia, also accuses the US State Department of "spinning the figures" on terrorism incidents to reinforce Washington's constant refrain that it is winning the war on terror.

The report points to an eightfold increase in significant terror attacks to support this. But what is a "significant terror attack" though? The report classifies it as one which involves loss of life (fair enough), injury or property damage over $US10,000. (emphasis added)

Ten grand? Does that mean that if a bunch of greenies vandalise an SUV (not too hard to cause $10k of damage if you really try) then that is a significant terror attack? If so, that means that an attack by a bunch of hippies on a hummer will be recorded in the same column as the attack on the London underground or even the World Trade Center. Using that criteria, then criticising the US for "spinning figures" is a bit rich.

Not your father's toys...

When even Playmobil are getting into the anti-terrorism act, you know we are living in a new era. Now available - Playmobil security check in! It comes with two security guards, one smiling passenger, chair, metal detector, conveyor belt X-ray machine, luggage and two guns.

Amusingly, the luggage opens up and is the perfect size for one of the guns to fit in to. Thankfully the second gun fits into the hands of one of the guardsm presumably allowing them to shoot said terrorist nee passenger.

At $US15, thats a bargain. I look forward to Playmobil's Guantonomo Bay playset, and Abu-Ghrain prison fun house. Presumably it would come with a few dogs, and the figurines would clip together to form a human pyramid.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Department of Foreign Affairs and Tinfoil

It is comforting to know that the people tasked with representing Australia overseas are made of pretty stern stuff. Take for example Tony Kevin - ex-diplomat, current conspiracy theorist. Here he tells Webdiary about his terrifying encounter with Australia's new gunships.

On a sunny and still Tuesday afternoon in Canberra, as Australian state premiers were somewhere down below debating with the Prime Minister the need for harsher national counter-terrorism laws, I was rambling with my kids and dogs on Red Hill, a nature park overlooking and about a mile from our national parliament house. Having a tea-break at Mitzi's Café terrace on top of Red Hill, I became aware of unusually noisy and frequent helicopter activity above me and started taking an interest. With Red Hill's grandstand view over Canberra, it was easy to see what was happening.

Two RAAF helicopters, one about 300 metres behind the other, were flying circuits around central Canberra: north-easterly from the Fairbairn RAAF base, west over the city centre and the Black Mountain public lookout, south over Red Hill, and east back to Fairbairn over the southern suburbs. It took them around 10 minutes to fly this circuit, and they kept going round and round.

First up, the RAAF doesn't operate helicopters - the Australian Army Aviation Corp does. A minor point, but it gets worse from there.

They each appeared to be mounted with two large lethal-looking missile launchers, slung beneath the cabin.

No they didn't.

As the helicopters flew maybe 100 metres above my head, I saw these four launchers clearly.

No you didn't.

I wondered if the loaded missiles were armed, and I wondered what would happen if one of these helicopters were accidentally to crash over populated central Canberra.

I wouldn't worry yourself too much Kevin - Australia's Blackhawks don't carry missiles. They don't have the capability to. What you would have seen are external fuel tanks. Equally bad in the case of a crash, but not lethal looking missile launchers.

Why were they there, so visibly and ostentatiously guarding the perimeter of my city and its visiting premiers? Was it to protect against incoming terrorist aircraft? Surely not an efficient way to do that - ground radar would detect any unaccounted-for flight movement towards Canberra, and ground-ready RAAF aircraft could be in the air within seconds from Fairbairn RAAF base, to intercept and if necessary safely shoot down suspected threats outside Canberra.

No, thats a retarded rhetorical question. Why would you use helicopters to guard against air to air threats? Only someone who thinks fuel tanks are missile launchers would even suggest it.

Was it to guard against a possibility of ground-to-ground missiles being launched at Parliament House from a terrorist car driven up Black Mountain or Red Hill? Surely not, because police cars stationed on both roads for the day would have been less intrusive and more effective in any emergency. There were no police cars I could see on Red Hill.

Assuming you were right, and they were missile launchers, then a gunship armed with a few Maverick AGM's would actually be more effective against a ground target than a few police with revolvers, but that is by the by.

Or was it what I think it was - a terror threat display, government-mounted to impress the visiting premiers with the serious reality of the threat we are all supposed to be facing from terrorism nowadays in Canberra? It was certainly scary enough, under those black missile-armed military helicopters circling low overhead every ten minutes. But maybe that was the point. Maybe it was meant to scare us.

oooh booga booga. Or maybe it was a training exercise. I saw a seahawk cruising around the city the day before the grand final and managed not to post about it, or wet myself.

But could our premiers be so dumb and naïve as to be taken in by such devices?

But you just said you were scared by it? Are you suggesting the premiers are made of sterner stuff?

As I wandered thoughtfully down a Red Hill walking track, the helicopters kept circling overhead. I looked up at them - I guess my face could have been photographed then. If I had been carrying my camera, I could have taken photos of the helicopters and their missiles launchers too. But it's probably a good thing I didn't. Taking photos of legitimate counter-terrorist government activity might soon be illegal.

Its probably a good thing you didn't, as people would point out that fuel tanks look nothing like missile launchers.

Actually, people in comments did point it out, and Tony was big enough to admit his mistake. But then he goes and ruins it again:

And yes, I took them to be missiles. My mistake. But hang on a tick - there is more to this true story. Also having a coffee on Red Hill - I don't think it was a latte - was a pleasant woman who was talking about the helicopters with me (as well as complimenting me on my dogs). She said those helicopters were armed. I asked how she knew and she replied she used to be married to an RAAF pilot. Gospel truth, Stuart. So maybe these helicopters were carrying a suite of "missiles, rockets, machine guns and 20mm cannons" as well as the auxiliary fuel tanks that I saw and mistakenly assumed to be missiles. Of course there is no reason for the helicopters not to be carrying both; and this lady seemed to know whereof she spoke.

Except that the RAAF doesn't use helicopter gunships and neither does the Army. There was a slight chance that they were the new Tigerhawks we are getting, but Tony has confirmed they were blackhawks, and they *aren't* armed with weapon pods. As an aside, who the hell still uses "whereof"?

And when you think about it logically, Stuart, what were the two helicopters doing up there flying around all day guzzling fuel and pilot flying hours if they did not have a military function ie. if they were not armed?

Wow, killer point. What possible military function could a transport helicopter fulfill if they weren't armed? Same thing for those damn Hercules planes...

What is this conspicuous threat display, this militarisation of Australian urban environments, if it is not to scare the s**t out of us?

Dunno - training maybe? Security? Anti-terrorism? I can think of several actually. And if the purpose is to scare the s**t out of us, they are failing miserably. Whilst the SAS doing a counter-terrorism exercise in the city would scare poor Tony, most people I know would go "wow, cool" and sit down to watch.

OK, maybe I am a paranoid conspiracy theorist - I don't think I am, but that is not the issue here.

I do, but lets move on.

The issue is, these things flying around and around over our heads all day are scary and are meant to be scary for most people who like me don't necessarily know what auxiliary fuel tanks look like.

Grow some backbone man.

They make us think there is something to be scared of, or why are they there?

Here is a good test to see if you are a paranoid conspiracy theorist - if you see a miliary vehicle in an urban environment, can you think of any reason it might be there, other than as part of a Government plan to cow the populace? If not, you are probably a paranoid conspiracy theorist, fairfax/ABC journalist, or both.

Of course, it would be unfair of me to label him a conspiracy theorist on the basis of that alone, so lets check out his blog:

I am now firmly of the view, on the basis of substantial, albeit as yet incomplete, public evidence, that the sinking of SIEV X was the result of planned acts of sabotage in Indonesia, involving use of undercover agents under a people smuggling disruption program that was being conducted by elements of the Indonesian police, who had been trained and funded by Australian police; and that Australian government agencies have much more knowledge of this suspected crime against humanity than they have so far admitted to the Australian Senate or people.


Further to the post below, two of the most talented writers getting around have their say on "root causes" and "why do they hate us?" - Mark Steyn and Christopher Hitchens.

Firstly, Steyn:

But, on the other hand, despite Clive Williams's game attempt to connect the two on this page yesterday, nobody seriously thinks what happened in Bali has anything to do with Iraq. There are, in the end, no root causes, or anyway not ones that can be negotiated by troop withdrawals or a Palestinian state. There is only a metastasising cancer that preys on whatever local conditions are to hand. Five days before the slaughter in Bali, nine Islamists were arrested in Paris for reportedly plotting to attack the Metro. Must be all those French troops in Iraq, right? So much for the sterling efforts of President Jacques Chirac and his Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, as the two chief obstructionists of Bush-Blair-Howard neo-con-Zionist warmongering these past three years.


It's not hard to understand. All you have to do is take them at their word. As Bassam Tibi, a Muslim professor at Gottingen University in Germany, said in an interesting speech a few months after September 11, "Both sides should acknowledge candidly that although they might use identical terms, these mean different things to each of them. The word peace, for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam -- or House of Islam -- to the entire world. This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought. Only when the entire world is a Dar al-Islam will it be a Dar a-Salam, or House of Peace."

and Hitchens:

Never make the mistake of asking for rationality here. And never underestimate the power of theocratic propaganda. The fanatics look at the population of Bali and its foreign visitors and they see a load of Hindus selling drinks—often involving the presence of unchaperoned girls—to a load of Christians. That in itself is excuse enough for mayhem. They also see local Muslims following syncretic and tolerant forms of Islam, and they yearn to redeem them from this heresy and persuade them of the pure, desert-based truths of Salafism and Wahhabism. (One of the men on trial in Bali had been in trouble before, in his home village, for desecrating local Muslim shrines that he regarded as idolatrous.) And then, of course, Australians must die. Why would that be? Well, is it not the case that Australia sent troops to help safeguard the independence of East Timor and the elections that followed it? A neighboring country that assists the self-determination of an Indonesian Christian minority must expect to have the lives of its holidaymakers taken.


So, what did Indonesia do to deserve this, or bring it on itself? How will the slaughter in Bali improve the lot of the Palestinians? Those who look for the connection will be doomed to ask increasingly stupid questions and to be content with increasingly wicked answers.

As always, well worth your time.

The more things change

After the departure of Margo Kingston, the SMH has replaced her with journalist Andrew West. His spelling is a lot better than the margonauts, but unfortunately the content appears to be similarly themed. Why the called the blog "the contrarian" is beyond me - lets look at the posting on the Bali bombings:

I don’t want this to be my “Susan Sontag” moment, but in the wake of the second, awful – and yes, evil – round of bombings in Bali this past weekend, we need to ask a lot of questions. We’ve already started to answer some: who, what, when, where and how. But we still haven’t asked, at least not in any depth, the most important question: why?

We haven't asked why? For a journalist he appears to be amazingly out of touch. Ever since 9/11 we have been bombarded with demands that we ask "why do they hate us" and calls for us to look for root causes. That may not have swung into full swing after the latest murders, but it is only a matter of time (this article confirms that)

Why are the perpetrators – fanatics, lunatics, to be sure – willing to martyr themselves in process of murdering scores of innocents?

Let me guess - Jews, Bush, Iraq etc etc?

The late Jewish-American writer Susan Sontag won herself infamy in American conservative circles when, just days after the September 11 2001 attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, she wrote, in an essay in The New Yorker, “… whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards”. Sontag was emphatically not excusing the 9/11 mass murderers. She was merely trying to understand – in a provocative way – why such sacrificial madness was taking place.

Hmm, I am not sure which article he read, but I don't see that she was "emphatically not excusing" anybody, in fact she said that the 9/11 attacks were a "monstrous dose of reality" which were "undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions". It is only a brief article, and I struggle to find any reprimand for the perpetrators at all.

And she was rejecting the empty sloganeering of George W. Bush that the attacks were "cowardly" and "mindless".

Hang on - you just said the Bali bombers were "lunatics" - does that not suggest a degree of mindlessness? West is falling over himself to have sentences damning the bombers ("look - I condemned them!") but is contradicting himself when he actually sets out his arguments.

Like the bombings in Bali in both 2002 and last weekend, the 9/11 atrocities were anything but. They were meticulously planned – in the case of the World Trade Centre, right down to hitting the building in just the right place to raze it – and involved a perverted form of courage.

He is going so far as to elevate the 9/11 murderers' luck (the buildings collapsing in the way they did) to the level of meticulous planning.

The problem is that after any act of terrorism like the Bali bombings, the right-wing brands anyone who dares to discern the reasoning or the perverse logic behind the attacks an apologist, or charges them with blaming the victim.

Well gee Andrew, if you go around apologising for terrorists and/or blaming the victim, then don't act hard done by if the evil "right wing" calls you on it.

But surely if we are to stamp out, or at least limit, such carnage in the future, we must understand the perpetrators’ motivation or grievance.

Nope, their names and addresses would be more than sufficient for our purposes thanks.

It may be – and probably is – the case that their grievance is utterly without merit, completely undeserving of sympathy.

You aren't sure? He is suggesting that the people who incinerated 202 people in Bali in 2002, and dozens more this week might have legitimate grievances and may be deserving of sympathy. At the risk of being labelled right-wing, but I am pretty confident in branding you as an apologist on the strength of that alone.

This is not some 1970s social worker-style desire to understand the "pain" of the perpetrator. It is a clear-eyed, strategic need to determine the root cause of the terror.

Cha-ching! It must be his inexperience in working for the SMH that caused him to take this long before mentioning root causes.

And frankly, it is a way of avoiding the kind of quagmire in which US-led troops are now floundering in Iraq, where a combination of conveniently ignored pre-war intelligence and misdirected vengeance over 9/11 has lead to an unmitigated military disaster.

Stuff like this makes me want to grind my teeth to the bone. People have such short memories that anything that doesn't go perfectly gets labelled a disaster or a quagmire. No one would argue that the liberation of Iraq has gone perfectly according to plan. There is a military axiom that no plan surives first contact with the enemy.

That said, Iraq fell in a matter of weeks, and the losses sustained (both military and civilian) whilst tragic, are extremely minor when you consider the scope of the undertaking. In the history of "unmitigated military disasters" (I would consider the removal of Saddam as a pretty big mitigation) this doesn't even come close. Before people want to make stupid statements like that, I suggest they read a little history first.

We have a duty to mourn and a right to be angry over the latest outrage in Bali. But it would be grave mistake if our response was driven by rage and not reason.

You mourn out of duty? Big of you to agree with our "right" to be angry though. And what's wrong with rage? Blind rage can be counter-productive, but properly channelled rage can be extremely appropriate and useful. See here in that regard. Note the date when it was written.

Monday, October 03, 2005
Mojo searched for

A Michael Gawenda column is often fairly self fisking. Sure, he occasionally says something less biased, but his angle on any story is well known before you even get past the first paragraph. This brings us to his latest effort:

When George Bush flew down on Air Force One to the hurricane-battered Gulf states for his seventh visit in less than two weeks, reporters asked him two questions shortly after his arrival.

Why was he doing all this flying up and down from Washington at a cost of about $100,000 a trip, and did he think he and his large entourage had got in the way of emergency workers in the aftermath of hurricane Rita with all these photo-opportunity visits?

These would be the same reporters that criticised Bush for not appearing to do enough I assume?

A year ago, the Bush White House would have noted the names of the reporters who asked these impertinent questions and then Karl Rove and his underlings would have made sure life was hell for them for ever more.

Dog whistle time. Gawenda has invoked the Rove keyword (second only to "neo-con") so we can all nod sagely, knowing that the Republican machine will crush all opposition. Does Gawenda have a single piece of evidence to back up his claim? Can he name me a journalist whose life was made hell by Rove and associated "underlings"?

A story that has done the rounds of foreign correspondents' circles in Washington for some time involves a British journalist based in Washington who flew to London to cover one of Bush's meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. At a joint news conference with the leaders, the British journalist asked Blair to respond to the accusation that he was "Bush's lapdog". Tough question, no doubt, but a question that would not have surprised Blair, who is regularly subjected to far tougher questions from the British media.

This is all he has - a "story" that is doing the rounds of journalists. No names, no facts.

Blair answered the lap-dog question as a stony-faced Bush looked on. The story goes that after the news conference, a furious Bush told his aides that the reporter had insulted not just Blair, but the President. The reporter was never again to be allowed to attend Bush media briefings. Even when Blair subsequently came to Washington, the journalist was barred from the joint Blair-Bush news conference.

Surely it would be easy to name the journalist and confirm the "story". Isn't that what journalists are supposed to do? Instead we get a convenient rumour (which could have been invented for this column for all we know) with no substance. Great start Michael.

Something has changed in recent weeks. A year ago, no American journalist would have asked Bush whether his visits to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and Texas to offer hope to victims and encouragement to rescue workers were getting in the way.

Really? Micheal is hoping that readers have the same sort of memory problems as the media, and will buy into his claims that 12 months ago Bush was all powerful, with no hard questions being asked by the media.

Something has changed about Bush. The charge by Bush haters that he was dumb and ignorant was always a dumb and ignorant charge, the result of hatred overwhelming rationality.

An accurate claim finally. Stopped clock twice a day I guess.

Since his politically disastrous handling of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, Bush has become a president who seems to have shrunk into just another politician. He seems to have been disconnected from the powerful aura of the office he holds.

"Politically disastrous" handling? Bush's poll figures may have taken a hit, but hardly into a disaster territory. Of course, the media decided that it was disastrous, thus it will be enshrined as having been so.

As a result, even journalists for the virulently pro-Bush Fox News Network have done what they never did before; aggressively question Bush about his Katrina failings.

What are the chances of Gawenda (or any other Age journo) referring to a network (e.g. the ABC) as "virulently" anti-Bush? About zero?

In the words of one commentator, George Bush seems to have lost his mojo and you don't need a literal definition of mojo to know what he's talking about.

No, but some sort of cogent point would help.

The hurricane visits, rather than repair the self-inflicted political damage caused by his initial tin-ear response to the vast suffering caused by Katrina, have made him look desperate, a president in search of photo opportunities.

Again, no polls, quotes or other evidence to back that up, it is purely Gawenda's opinion. Nothing wrong with that in an opinion piece of course, but when it is the basis of his whole article, it looks pretty flimsy.

He seems beleaguered, weighed down by problems; Iraq, hurricane destruction both human and material, an out-of-control budget, petrol prices at levels that could, on their own, destroy his presidency.

How exactly will they destroy his presidency? Is Gawenda seriously suggesting that Bush will resign over it? He can't be impeached, and he isn't allowed to run again, so what form will this "destruction" take?

And now there's the indictment on a conspiracy charge involving campaign donations, of Tom DeLay, the House of Representatives Majority Leader, the most powerful man on Capitol Hill, Bush's closest supporter and the man Bush has relied on to get his legislative program through Congress.

His closest supporter? What about the evil puppertmaster Karl Rove, mentioned earlier? Or the Vice President, Dick Cheney? Or does he only become Bush's closest supporter when he is indicted for something?

His ability to connect with the hopes and soothe the fears of much of middle America seems, at least for now, to have deserted him. He has lost his bounce, his sense of optimism.

Sorry Micheal, but are you expected me to take your word for it that Bush has lost his ability to connect with middle America? No thanks.

He is even starting to sound like Jimmy Carter, who was ridiculed by Republicans - and by much of the country - when he wore a cardigan as he addressed the nation almost 30 years ago from the Oval Office and suggested, after the oil price rises of the mid-1970s, that people put on their woollies and turn down their heating.

Oh really? Again, what has Bush actually said that sounds like Carter?

George Bush, Texas oilman, has now told Americans, in the light of rising petrol prices, that maybe they should leave their cars at home every now and then and take public transport. Maybe they should even think about car pooling, for heaven's sake!

Oh chortle chortle. What is wrong with those suggestions? Provided that he isn't wearing a cardigan whilst doing it, they sound like very sensible suggestions.

A year ago, the Bush Administration would have labelled such talk from Democrats as un-American.

What is with this "year ago" thing? And again, the whole sentence is complete BS. It is insulting that he thinks that we will believe that if a Democrat had suggested driving a little less, the Bush Administration would have labelled it as un-American.

But it's doubtful it will do Bush much good. What he needs is to find his mojo. A president without his mojo is prone to be asked rude questions by journalists, even American journalists, who no longer fear that their rudeness will be severely punished.

And thats it. Thats the sum total of the article. To summarise, here is the evidence that Gawenda has put forward to suggest that Bush may be facing the destruction of his presidency:

a) Bush got asked questions about his response to hurricane Katrina;

b) there is a rumour that Bush previously had an unnamed journalist banned for asking rude questions;

c) Bush hasn't banned any journalists lately

d) Gawenda thinks Bush looks desperate

e) Fox news has asked questions about his handling of Katrina

f) petrol prices are quite high

g) a prominent republican has been indicted

h) Bush has endorsed car pooling.

i) err, umm, mojo!

I think you will agree that nothing jumps out as being quite Watergate level stuff.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Roll up roll up

Unfortunately, visiting Crikey to read that amusing Latham transcript also required me to swim through the rest of the rubbish there. A good example is an article by Christine Wallace on voluntary voting.

It ignores the fact that all the assumptions about voluntary voting (i.e. it favours conservatives) are about 60 years out of date, and whips out every tired cliche in the book:

If you're sick, poor or exhausted trying to cover a minimum-wage job, you're more likely to skip voting if there's no penalty for doing so. And it's not thrashing the class stereotype too hard to suggest such voters tend to back the Democrats in the US and Labor in Australia.

Sick people are more likely to vote Labor? Does she have figures to back that up?

Conversely, Ralph Lauren polo-shirt wearing Republicans (for Australia, read Liberals) keen on keeping tax cuts rolling are not going to miss out casting their vote, even if it means diverting the Beemer for five minutes on the way to the country club for a couple of Long Island Iced Teas. And while that may make only a couple of points difference to party support, that could be the difference between winning and losing.

There is a point to using outlandish stereotypes for amusement/wind up value, but that is high school level stuff. Besides, if these poor Labor voters decide not to exercise their right to vote in the way that their BMW driving cousins do, whose fault is that?

In the US, Bill Clinton wouldn't have won in 1992 had Ross Perot not split the conservative vote to stymie President George Bush Snr's re-election bid. Every US Democrat faces a formidable task every single election even getting supporters registered to vote, let alone getting them to polling booths.

Unlike Republicans, who can pack them in? Its funny how Clinton managed to win back to back elections then isn't it.

Senator Minchin told ABC Radio PM's Alexandra Kirk on Monday that last weekend's New Zealand election, with an 80% turnout, was an advertisement for voluntary voting. "I'll keep arguing the case for Australians to have the right to choose whether or not to vote, and I hope our Government will seek a mandate at the next election to be able to introduce voluntary voting if we're successful at the next election," he told Kirk.

Which if they won, people like Wallace would claim that it didn't represent a mandate of course.

Minchin said he hadn't discussed it with the prime minister but that "his personal view, I know, and he's expressed it publicly, is that he thinks you shouldn't be guilty of an offence for not voting." There are "many, many Liberals who share my view, from the Prime Minister down," Minchin told PM, "so I hope we can build a consensus around what is a very liberal position on this issue, and that we can give Australians the right that New Zealanders have."

I would have thought that giving people the right to vote (as opposed to the obligation) and removing the ridiculous offence of not voting, would be a pretty compelling argument. It certainly appeals to a few, judging by the reader reaction following the piece.

But of course, the section of the Crikey readership who like having the Government tell us what to do had to then pipe up:

Trevor Kruger writes:

Both Roy Morgan and Crikey seem to be guilty of aiding and abetting the spin of the politicians with regard to the myth of "compulsory voting" in Australia. What IS legally "compulsory" is for each voter to attend and receive voting slips at a polling booth at each election. One does not have to choose between persons or parties as the question suggests. Answering a question about how one feels about having to turn up on voting day addresses an entirely different issue.

I find this argument (which gets trotted out every time) deeply stupid and deeply insulting. They aren't even trying to defend the situation on grounds of civic obligation or responsibility, instead they argue that the government will only fine us for not showing up. What kind of ridiculous law is that?

Brian Mitchell writes:

It's a conundrum. How can one support a liberal democracy but insist on compulsory voting? The same way one insists on compulsory tax-paying, or compulsory testing to get a driver's licence, or on compulsory attendance at jury duty. There are benefits and responsibilities in being a citizen.

That's more what I expect, but its still wrong. Voting is a right, fining me for not exercising it transforms it into an obligation. I don't have a "right" to be taxed. As for driving, I am not fined if I don't drive, but if I want to drive, then I must do it in accordance with the law. Likewise, if I choose to vote, then I must follow the electoral laws. Nobody fines me if I choose to walk everywhere.

One compromise might be to confer voting obligations only upon those who register as active citizens.

Robert Heinlen in Starship troopers suggested you should have to do military service to qualify - fancy that idea Brian?

The unwashed masses would then be free of the onerous duty, but they should no longer be able to partake in activities such as government employment or receipt of government welfare.

According to Christine, public servants and dole bludgers all vote Labor anyway, so that sounds great from Minchin's point of view.

Margaret Kent writes:

Since when did Australians not have the right to "not vote"? What a furphy. Australians who are eligible to vote are legally obliged to attend a polling booth, have their names crossed off the electoral roll and return the ballot papers which they may choose to mark accurately or which they may choose not to mark at all, in other words, not vote. Get it straight Senator Minchin.

Good thing you are here to sort us out Margaret. To make you happy, would you prefer that we referred to it as "compulsory turning up to polling booths"" and called for its abolition?

Simon Rolfe writes:

Must be getting close to the silly season if this old chestnut is rearing its ugly head again. We DO NOT have compulsory voting in Australia. We have compulsory attendance at a polling station. It is not compulsory to fill in the voting form, it is not compulsory to put the vote in the ballot box.

See what I mean - is it not insulting that people consider that a devastating response to a situation where the government will fine (and potentially jail) you for not exercising your right to vote?

An anonymous subscriber writes:

If ever there was a reason to force people to vote it was the recent suffering of the poor and disadvantaged in New Orleans. If those folk had cast votes I don't believe they would have been so abandoned by their governments. There is nothing like the fear of loss of office to get pollies off their a*ses.

By that logic, shouldn't the conclusion be that those people should have voted? To conclude that the solution would be for the Government to fine them for not voting is peverse.

Robert Bruinewoud writes:

Provide me with proof that voluntary voting will produced better results for ALL Australia, and not just for certain sections of it, and I may be persuaded.

Better in what way? How about you will no longer be fined for failing to exercise a right?

True, I'm against voluntary voting because of what I see happening in the USA, but to call it "dislike" is too mild – "sh*t scared" might be a better description. And while Charles's examples of functioning democracies that do have voluntary voting is heartening, can we be sure that there are no communities in these countries who have lost their voice due voluntary voting?

Catch the secret codeword there? USA = we all nod sagely, knowing that the USA is close to a dictatorship, even though Bush could have easily lost, and is forbidden from running again (which in itself is anti-democratic). And how do they lose their voice? They don't. They may choose not to use it, but again, that is their choice. Personal responsibility people - live it.

Ben Aveling writes:

Voting is not mandatory in Australia. You are required to attend a polling booth and to have your name checked off.


Commie lube

Its always nice to see that Australia can still produce goods the whole world wants to buy. Our latest and greatest export - Che Guevara lip balm!

The retailer describes it thus:

Exotic, revolutionary lip balm dedicated to the great, immortal icon of revolution, Che Guevara. 100% natural protection. Guava flavour. 4g tub.

I know that if I were ever a murdering commie, I would certainly want lip balm, and other skin care products, dedicated to my memory.

Some customers have left comments:

Name: Val
From:Miami, Florida,
Nice photo of Che you used for the packaging! If I use this balm, will it give me an obstinate, sexy lower lip like his?

Name: CJ
From:Boise, United States
Am waiting for your next great ideas: Hitler's Sunblock, Stalin's Eyeshadow, Pol Pot's Face Cream........

I was going to do a joke similar to that.

Name: Rob Redford
From:Hollywood, USA
I wondered how Che manage to keep his lips chap free while shooting prisoners in the back of the neck at La Cabana. He's so cool. Cheek bones that make women swoon.

Even Hollywood stars want some.

Name: Karl Marx
From:deep in the jungle, Bolivia
Capitalism at it's finest. Che would be so proud. Cool that you have guava flavor. He would have loved it as he begged for his life.

Now Karl, thats just mean. The same store also sells a "Bush Kit" which I was hoping was full of blood, oil and lies, but unfortunately appears to contain tea and damper ingredients.

Turn it up

I remain eternally grateful that the Australian public had the good sense to not make Mark Latham our PM, but I will be damned if I can think of a political figure that has provided me with this much amusement in such a short period of time. When the Latham Diaries hit the bargain bin, I am pretty sure I am going to shark a copy.

I am not sure if Latham has completely lost it, or if he is just enjoying speaking to various media types in the manner in which he wished he always could have. Check out Crikey's transcript of a recent interview between Latham and the ABC's Matthew Abraham:

Abraham: It's okay to smear somebody if you do it with your name on it?

Latham: We're going to have to talk about specifics. You're making this generalisation, I don't know if you've actually read the book.

Abraham: I have.

Latham: Okay, you're making this allegation about smearing people. Give your listeners the specific thing that's got up your nose.

Abraham: In recent days, people have had to come out and deny the rumour that you've repeated in the book about them; Pru Goward, Kate Fisher, Kate Ellis, Kim Beazley's daughters.

Latham: Have you read the book? It's not Kate Fisher.

Abraham: I have read the book.

Latham: Kate Fisher's not in the book. Turn it up.


Abraham: Does it connect with you that you have smeared her because by repeating a rumour, that a lot of people wouldn't have been aware of,and saying this isn't true, it then raises the question - you get the rumour out there, it gives it a lot more credence than it may ever have had.

Latham: Well, maybe in your perverted mind it does, but it doesn't in mine. If someone says it's not true, they're saying that in black and whiteand this person's been hard done by, then the literal meaning of that means it's not true, this person's been hard done by. I don't know what you sort of get up to in your wild imagination when you read these things Matthew. Maybe like other people in the media with an obsession with sex, but you need to read the literal words there, take the literal meaning.


Latham: Turn it up, you're the one who just said in this interview that I spooked myself. I'm not complaining about it, I've set it down in the book. This is the Mad Hatter's tea party, as ever interviewed by you, you're just running around in circles. It's hilarious.

Abraham: Well, I'm glad you're enjoying it, I wouldn't want it to be an unpleasant experience. Your descriptions of women in the book as 'quality box and boiler bunnies', is that how you refer to women? What is a bunny boiler?

Latham: when you watch that movie with Glenn Close and Michael Douglas, Fatal Attraction is the name of the movie, she sticks the bunnies in the boiler. You need to go down to the pub, talk to your mates, get with the lingo.

Abraham: I don't spend a lot of time at the pub.

Latham: Oh no, I'm sure you don't.

I never rated Latham's "I use aussie lingo" approach, but when it comes to getting stuck into an ABC interviewer, I am all for it. He keeps going:

Abraham: You go into a fair bit of that about your previous wife, too, I just wonder whether anything is out of bounds?

Latham: Well it's all there in the diary and people can make their judgement. I found in public life the media had no ethics, there was no moral standard when you've got a cadre of journalists who go through garbage bins to find their stories I've got a fair bit to say about the media in this book in response, as you've pointed out.

Abraham: I wasn't asking about that but anyway.

Latham: No, you had another sexually related question and I think you really should see someone who's read Freud and can give you some better advice about how to handle these things.

Abraham: Well you can duck and weave around that one Mark Latham.

Latham: Got any more sex questions, this is so typical of the media and I think it's tragic that it's on the ABC, wouldn't you think thepublic broadcaster would want to talk about the serious issues in this book instead of a perverted commentator there, who's highlighted the sexy bits in the book and that's all he can get his hands on.

Abraham intends on wrapping it up with the traditional "thanks for speaking to us" line, but Latham won't have a bar of it:

Abraham: Mark Latham thank you for talking to 891 Mornings.

Latham: Yeah, well Matthew, good to know that you haven't changed one iota mate, and I'm very surprised your program never made it into the diary because you and the other jibberer were quite legendary in our office things never change, hey.

Abraham: Well I was disappointed I wasn't in there.

Latham: It's a miracle you weren't, my press secretary, you'll probably be in his diary he had quite a thing for you and I'm seeing him tomorrow and I'll let him know that nothing's changed there at the ABC in Adelaide and one of the joys of putting you on the list and doing the interview was just to check out that fact it's nice to have some consistency at the good old Adelaide ABC . You have a good day Matthew and I hope you can read the book in full and have a look at some of those public policy and bigger issues as well.

Abraham: Mark Latham thank you. Former National Labor Party Leader on 891ABC Adelaide.

Aaaah Mark - long may you hang around throwing hand grenades at the ALP and ABC

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Iowahawk has come up with quite the scoop - a guest post by none other than Abu Musab Al-Zarqawri, Senior VP, Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Let me tell you, he aint happy:

Case in point: after taking in the nards in Tel Afar last week, let's just say the martyr recruiting has gone a little slow. And speaking of 'a little slow,' can we talk about this latest busload of asswipes from Damascus? Jeez, I thought the Saudis were stupid, but these Syrians take the fucking baclava. Send one of these choads on a simple martydom operation against a Bagdhad collaborator elementary school, and they're like, "Durrrr, a thousand pardons effendi, I got lost! Doyyyy, can I have a martyrdom car with OnStar?" Then you end up having to print out MapQuest directions for them, which totally chews up printer cartridges, and they end up smeared along some desert freeway because they mistook the detonator button for cruise control.


So anyway, I'm dealing with this garbage yesterday, in the middle of a meeting with my French ad agency, when Achmed comes in and he's like, "come effendi! Allah be praised! The infidels are marching against the Satan Bush on the C-SPAN2!"

So I'm like, cool, gather up the boys and throw some Pop Secret in the microwave, this ought to be a morale booster. Allah knows we
need one. Then everybody gathers around the TV, and they're all like ululating and shooting off the AKs, when C-SPAN2 breaks out of Booknotes for live coverage of the big insurgent offensive.

Holy. Fucking. Dung.

Have you every been at Friday prayers when somebody just totally rips a gigantic falafel gasbomb while the Imam is cursing the crusaders and Jews? That's what it was like around the TV -- total dead silence. And with every shot of another placard-waving
elderly hippie moron, every pachouli drum circle, possibly even more silence.

Read the whole thing - I am confident it is the only place you will see the words "martyr-tard" and "bankles" used in the same sentence.

Monday, September 26, 2005
Enough rope

Nobody has ever suggested that the Australian's "Cut & Paste" section doesn't have a sense of humour. Rather than present a devestating critique of stupid ideas, it sometimes just lets people dig their own hole.

For example - here is Jenny Garrett, Mungo MacCallum's girlfriend, in a February edition of the Good Weekend:

HE (Mungo) distresses me when he can't see beyond the depression of the immediate. After (John Howard beat Mark Latham in last October's federal election), he was very depressed. We both literally cried. He's a very passionate man. He yells at the situation, he yells at the stupidity of the Australian populace, he yells at his journalist colleagues, who he feels have let him down terribly. When he's depressed, he drinks to the point where I think it's endangering his health – at least a bottle of wine a day. We blame John Howard for a lot of things, and yes, John Howard drove him to drink.

A left wing journalist railing against the stupidity of the Australian people? I am shocked, shocked I tell you.

Too small to play football

Giving hope to all of us who were not blessed with the physique to play professional sports is Michael King of the NY Jets.

Standing at 6'3 in real life, EA have made him approximately 7 inches tall in the new Madden Xbox game.

Check out the screenshots (scroll down for more)

Thankfully for the Jets, the collision box for King is the same as a normal player, so this pint size dynamo can still block and tackle like a full sized player.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

More internet nerd goodness - a homemade sentry gun.

It only fires plastic BB's, but it looks great, and I give him extra points for using his little brother as his test subject.

Thursday, September 22, 2005
All the lonely people

Have a look at the Getty Images photos for Cindy Sheehan's recent march on Washington. Here is the wire coverage it received.

How many people do you think attended this rally? Try this photo instead.

Thats right - about 30 people.

(via LGF)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
I'm so ronery

Paul Kelly celebrates the "death knell" of the Bush Doctrine:

THE North Korean agreement offers new hope for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and for China-US relations; and, above all, is an incentive for a more realistic Bush foreign policy.

Yep, this agreement shows that the way to deal with power mad dictators is not through the threat or use of force, but through appeasement and bribery. Thats how you achieve a meaningful agreement which will be honoured by all parties.

The agreement is fragile and may not hold.

Funny you should say that Paul, here is the Age's Hamish McDonald:

NORTH Korea has backed away from a key part of its agreement to scrap its nuclear programs, less than 24 hours after the deal was signed following two years of wrangling with and its four main neighbours and the US.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry said yesterday it would not dismantle its nuclear facilities or return to international safeguards until Washington first provided it with light-water atomic power stations.

Well colour me shocked. The North Koreans have promised to give up their weapons program only after the US builds them nuclear power stations. We can of course trust the North Koreans to then honour their part of the bargain, rather than decide to dust off their program every time they feel like extracting some further concessions or aid.

Hitch v Gruesome George

Christopher Hitchens has been an ideal pin up boy for pro-Iraq liberation people as he is an excellent writer, not afraid of a verbal stoush and best of all - a leftie.

George Galloway has been an ideal pin up boy for pro-Saddam people because he is pro-Saddam, pro-Syria, anti-US, pro-"insurgents" and best of all - absolutely shameless.

Hitchens has been on Galloway's cause for a while - pointing out the disgraceful situation of a someone, especially a member of the British Parliament, being an unabashed fan and cheerleader for fascist dictators.

His website contains his dossier against Galloway (using Galloway's own words) and makes interesting reading. Galloway in turn has heaped abuse on Hitchens during his recent trip to the US.

This background meant that a public debate between the two was always going to be fiery.

It is a shame that people's opinion of who won the debate seem to be entirely based on their existing thoughts on the war. My thoughts are pretty clear on that topic, so I will leave you to jusge who you thought presented the better case.

Here is a transcript.

For mine, it is pretty clear that Hitchens makes many damning points about the nature of Iraq and the "resistance", the anti-war "movement" and Galloway himself.

In return, Galloway attempts to discredit Hitchens (by pointing out his opposition to the first Gulf War - since acknowledged by Hitchens as an error by him) or just insult him. He also, three days after the anniversary of 9/11, whilst in New York, blames the US for the attacks on the WTC. That doesn't go down as well as he perhaps expected.

The transcript is very long, but some passages which I liked follow:

There are probably some people among you here who fancy yourself as having leftist revolutionary credentials, as far as I can tell that you do from the zoo-noises that you make... And the scars that you can demonstrate from your long, underground, twilight struggle against Dick Cheney. But while you're masturbating in that manner, the Iraqi secular left, the socialist and communist movements, the workers' movement, the trade unions, are fighting for their lives against the most vicious and indiscriminant form of fascist violence that any country in the region has seen for a very long time.


Well, that's easy then, leave them in control of Afghanistan, don't mess around with these people, don't make them angry, don't make them mean. It's your fault. Now this is masochism, uh, but it is being offered to you by sadists.


But, if you'll let, allow me to say so, Amy, just as I am not personally responsible for creating 100,000 al-Qaeda fighters, nor am I here as someone who can answers questions on behalf of the Bush administration, rather to the contrary. Um, the, it's, it's, it's a single issue question with me. I think the president was right to do what the previous president and vice-president, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore, had only promised to do, and what the United States Senate had only voted to do, which was to move Iraq into the post-Saddam Hussein era. All that was decided and repeatedly promised by the preceding administration and by the US Senate when George Bush was still a provincial governor of Texas. So I don't think this is a subject that can be changed just by saying Dick Cheney and knowing that there are enough morons that will always boo when you say that.

CH: I think I can be as precise, but perhaps not as terse as Mr. Galloway on this point. Um, I should thank him by the way, for eliciting, or allowing, allowing me to elicit, or you perhaps ladies and gentleman to elicit from him, what I feared, but didn't hope, but in other words a full declaration of support for the campaign of sabotage, and murder, and beheading that has taken the lives of great journalists, that demolished...


demolished the offices, demolished the offices, demolished the offices of the United Nations.


But I will have to add, that for people to start pumping out propaganda before the bodies have even been uncovered in New Orleans saying, and to make points, demagogic often, they wouldn't be dead if they weren't black. But people haven't been identified yet, whose parents don't know where they are. And to say this wouldn't have happened if we weren't wasting money on Arabs? That, that is an appeal to the most base, provincial, isolationist, and chauvinist mentality.


CH: You're on TV.


And we have no right whatever, to, to, to, to insult, to insult the tremendous performance of the United States Armed Forces once they are put into action. And I will add one more thing, the 82nd Airborne and the 1st Air Cavalry, so far from being distracted by Iraq, have learned in Iraq matters of civil reconstruction, water-distribution, purification, culture. That have been extremely useful to them in New Orleans. The case, the case. Don't, I will advise you not to jeer these men and women while you're being televised, ladies and gentleman. I would advise you not to do it.


I'm not a member of the Bush entourage. I've never appeared on a public platform with a dictator, I never have and I never will. I couldn't face you if I had that on my record. It must be some sordid kind of displaced guilt that makes Mr. Galloway want to throw out accusations like this. I've never done that, and to come fresh from embracing these blood-stained bastards and to say to you that it's your fault that these people hate you. It's more than we should be expected to take.

[Jeers/"Go home!"]

etc etc. He ums and ahs more than Galloway, but he rips out some beautiful stuff on his feet. For his own take on it, look here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Remember the Bugatti Veyron? Thats the new supercar that requires you to insert a second key to activate "speed mode" and reach its 400kph top speed.

Well, good news. Not only can it do four times the speed limit, but it will also pump out 574g/km of carbon dioxide and achieve fuel consumption of 11.7mpg. The greens hate it of course - it reeks of way too much fun.

As a matter of comparison - thats worse fuel efficiency than the Hummer.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Credit where credit is due. I have been critical of Apple products and coverage in the past (and plan to be in the future), especially the blind adulation that the iPod receives.

That said, the new iPod nano appears to be a pretty sweet piece of kit. A colour screen is nice, the click wheel has always been their greatest asset, and you can finally get it in black (without the stupid red wheel of the black U2 iPod).

Of course, I am sure the sound quality is still ordinary, and it will still come with nasty cheap headphones.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Jonah McBushChimpHitler

The Age is going for the ironic look today. We have Tony Parkinson, the last bastion of reason on Spencer Street, with this:

According to his critics, the President can be blamed for causing hurricanes because he ignored the risks of global warming. He can be blamed for exacerbating the consequences of Katrina because he diverted funds and manpower to Iraq. And he can also be blamed for the rape and pillage of New Orleans because his unfair tax policies inflicted on the poor and vulnerable no other choice.

As happened after September 11, the blame game is under way, with Bush cited as the reason for every ill visited upon his nation. The Jonah of the White House. On any calm analysis of cause and effect, of course, much of this hyperventilating is ludicrous, the product of anger, panic or hysteria. Some of it can be put down to partisan point-scoring.

Contrast this with the partisan point scoring by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto on the same page:

Teflon helped Bill Clinton slide out of disasters. George Bush seems coated with armour plating: dense, dull and impenetrable. Terrorists hurl fire and bombs; political opponents let fly insults and derision; Bush's own incompetence bombards him with boomerangs. Most recently, Cindy Sheehan has assailed the President with a mother's tears, which might have found a way to corrode his breastplate or trickle through the chinks. Yet Bush carries on, battered but essentially undamaged.

The undergraduate imagery doesn't improve from here.

Armour, however, is no protection against flood.

I knew Bush's decision to tell New Orleans residents to put on armour was a bad one.

Disasters usually distract critics, silence malcontents, flatter leaders, and improve presidents' ratings. Not this time. Katrina could be the storm that finally scatters Bush's strangely tenacious following.

Note the use of the word "strangely" - Bush has won 2 elections, but Felipe can't for the life of him work out why anybody would vote for him.

It is not just that he has handled the crisis badly. His first response was a bemused look, reminiscent of his mental paralysis at the news of 9/11. He then committed a terrible blunder, telling disaster victims to "take personal responsibility". The individualist message was miscalculated, offensive to the altruism that disasters always ignite.

How is that offensive to altrusim? Is he suggesting that if Bush had have said "don't do anything, the Government will come in and fix everything", things would have worked out uch better?

His gaffes don't end. In storm-torn Biloxi, he referred two distraught women, who collapsed in his arms, to the Salvation Army shelter.

I am not familiar with the incident he is referring to, but it sounds like he did the compassionate thing to me. Sure, he could have milked it - Clinton style - but referring traumatised victims to a Salvos shelter doesn't strike me as a "gaffe".

The terrible truth is now out: the Government cut flood prevention funds to pay for war.

And this "truth" is going to become another article of faith no doubt. File it under "Blood for oil, Plastic Turkeys, 100,000 dead etc".

Countless unbiased journalists have reported how non-government agencies, charitable institutions, and philanthropic individuals took care of Katrina's victims, while the authorities' efforts seemed invisible - as if the whole operation were a gruesome exercise in privatisation.

Does he care to name which journalists he considers unbiased, and by extension, which are biased?

Americans are bound to make a so far unspoken, but glaringly obvious, comparison with the resolve the Government shows when it tackles the President's real priorities: war, power, petroleum, environmental profligacy.

"War, power, petroleum, environmental profligacy" should be the Republicans election slogan in 2008.

For deeper reasons, the present crisis is particularly challenging for Bush. Like his counterparts in al-Qaeda, Bush is a fundamentalist, with beliefs undisciplined by science or reason.

Bush = Osama. You knew it had to get a look in somewhere didn't you.

Under the "yah boo" exchanges of religious and irreligious zealotry lurks a serious issue. Bush has staked his reputation on eco-scepticism. He doesn't believe in global warming. He shelves environmental projects. He despises Kyoto. He dismisses predictions that nature's revenge will swamp human arrogance. After Katrina, Bush's appraisals of environmental threats look worthless.

He hasn't staked his reputation on eco-scepticism, he has just refused to stake his nation's economy on the economic suicide pact that is Kyoto. And if Felipe is claiming that Katrina was caused by global warming, sorry climate change, then his appraisals of environmental threats are also worthless.

Despite the Lone Ranger rhetoric of freedom, amazing reserves of solidarity bind US society. It starts with neighbourliness, swells into civic pride, and becomes patriotism. My university opened its classes to students displaced from the Gulf Coast, helping to lead a similar movement around the nation. Schools where refugees have taken shelter have done the same.

Did the Government force the university to do that? Of course not, the citizenry acted on its own.

Bush, meanwhile, keeps promising a better future, when what the victims want is present relief. His uneasy optimism seems reflected in the gleaming eyes of fat-cat friends, prowling for prospective reconstruction contracts.

A sly Halliburton reference! We truly are in the presence of a master. Wait till KBR gets its first reconstruction contract - the conspiracy theorists (a.k.a. large sections of the Left) are going to be hysterical.

When the terrorists struck on 9/11, Bush could make any number of mistakes, and still gain in popularity, because there were aliens on hand to hate.

They weren't aliens actually - they were middle eastern muslim terrorists.

This time Bush cannot rail against God or, with his environmental record, make an enemy of nature.

So if he had have signed Kyoto, he could make an enemy of nature?

He cannot bomb the sea or invade the wind.

I warned you about the quality of the imagery.

Even in the context of a natural occurrence, where there is no real enemy, people still need to hate and long for vengeance.

Do they? That seems to say more about Felipe than it does about Bush or America. When an earthquake strikes, I have never seen people hating or longing for vengeance. I see people distraught, or thankful to be alive, but not longing for vengeance.

Slowly, inexorably, with a chilling uniformity, the accusing gazes are focusing on the White House.


Monday, September 05, 2005
Fun for the whole family

The comments to this story are amusing:

AUSTRALIANS are now less conservative in their social and political thinking than they were under Paul Keating.

The notion the country has swung to the Right under John Howard is challenged by the first major study of social attitudes since Labor lost power in 1996.

Australian Social Attitudes: The First Report finds most people are satisfied with the economic gains made since the Prime Minister's election, and that they enjoy their work, are proud of their families, and feel confident and optimistic about the future.

Most would happily give up tax cuts in exchange for more government spending on health or education, and support for immigration has more than doubled since the Keating years.

I query aspect of the study, particularly as people always claim in surveys that they would prefer services to taxes, but the "reader comments" are where the real fun is:

From: Alan
Comment: 1995 - Own 1 bedroom unit worth $60,000, mortgage 50,000 cc debt 0 2005 - Own 5 bedroom house worth 600,000, mortgage 250,000, cc debt 22,000 As you can see I've got a lot of equity now, but after I pay the mortgage and credit cards, I've actually got less disposable income! Especially with the high cost of food, so my lifestyle is worse, this does not make me happy I am also not happy with the social situation, particularly Health and education and the environment. With the high cost of fuel, why aren't the governement using the tax system to encourage us to drive more economical cars? How about anything burning less than 5 litres per 100km is gst free?

So you could sell your 5 bedroom mansion and spend your $350,000 on smaller house. Try sharing a room or two. For someone who is so concerned about the price of fuel, imagine how much energy it takes to warm a place that big. Oh, and stop buying stuff on your credit card. $22,000 at 17% interest - are you insane?

From: heartbeating=happiness
Comment: Richer? Where? My bank account isn't showing that. Seriously, HECS debts, a FTA - that hurts Australian Artists, Grants so hard to come by that Community Groups (eg. Radio Stations) are starting to fold because they can't afford to keep their doors open, how can this be better off for the Nation as a whole? And if you are richer don't you think it's because of YOUR efforts not Johnny's? and PS Johnny can my community's radio station have some money please?

Oh no - grants have become harder to come by for australian community radio stations? How terrible. Here is a tip - try podcasting. Harness new technology, rather than bleating for a public hand out. Oh, and I think your "PS" also explained your bank account status as well.

From: Noel
Comment: Jobwise, never been better off. Money, great. Happier? I will try to leave this now Howardized mediocre island of embarrassment as soon as it is possible to do so. Once proud to be Australian, now ashamed. Can't wait to leave.

So you have become wealthy and succesful here, but the rest of us embarrass you so much that you can't wait to leave? aw shucks - don't let the door hit you on the way out.

From: Tyson
Comment: It seems that the people who pay their own way in society are happier (as I am) while the people who live off the tax payer are unhappy. If you haven't paid for it don't complain.

I don't think Tyson and heartbeat=happiness would get along too well...

From: Jane
Comment: My financial situation is worse and is going to get worse. Mr Howard is intent on ensuring that single parents will no longer have a choice about whether they can be stay at home parents which may be in the best interests of their children. He is going to ensure that by forcing me to work, I will pay the highest possible rate of 'taxation' - higher than Mr Howard himself pays and I feel that the entire situation is contrary to international agreements this country has signed and ratified.

? Did we ratify the International Single Mum Treaty? I must have missed that one.

From: Belinda
Comment: I want to know who those 4000 people are, where they live and what jobs they are currently doing. A study of 4000 people is not an exhaustive study population in a country that has over 8 billion people living in it! I am definitely NOT richer since the Howard government (I refuse to say "since John Howard came into power") came into power nor am I happier. I am studying full-time at university, and have to work a casual job to pay for my living expenses because I receive no help from Centrelink apparently because my parents are supposed to support me (they don't). I can guarantee they are worse off as well.

This one is my favourite. I would love to know what she is studying at university. Not statistics I hope. She is mad that in a country of 8 billion people she is forced to get a job while at uni because the tax payer and mum and dad won't cough up the cash. Diddums.

From: Pauline
Comment: If this is true, why is Howard pushing ahead with his IR plans? He works with smoke and mirrors.

If you learned the secrets of the seven chambers then his tiger style would be no match for yours.

From: Kaister
Comment: Absolutely not. John Howard is a social criminal. All of my bills cost 10 per cent more, fuel prices out of control ( yes Johnny, you can give us relief from the excise short term), annexing the unemployed/ incapacitated with draconian welfare policies and pseudo - white australianisms... A litany of broken promises and half truths - no, my life is not better. Everything costs more, and half of those taxes that were promised for removal at the introduction of the gst weren't. So how can we be better off?

Those would be state taxes you are complaining about I presume?

The rest is either general bitching (mostly about petrol prices) or Howard cheerleading.

Monday, August 29, 2005

With the current craze for hybrid cars in the US, it is good to see that Dodge are doing the environmentally responsible thing and introducing a hybrid version of their new Charger.

Check out the advert for it.

As autoblog point out, the Prius gang aren't amused.

I know people will create forums about just about anything - but a Prius? The heading says the forum is "The Only Online Community for Toyota Prius Owners and Enthusiasts"

Wow, I would have thought that Prius enthusiasts would require at least 3 online communities - one for each of them.

Sunday, August 28, 2005
Oh, those bananas

Joseph Wakim in today's Age:

After the Muslim summit, Islamic schools were put on notice that they would be audited to ensure that their students understand Australian history, culture and values or forfeit their government funding.

Yet there has not been one shred of evidence to suggest any un-Australian activities are taking place behind these school walls or any link between the schools' curriculum and London-style home-grown terrorists.

I don't know if it counts as a "shred", but how about this from the Age on July 31?

The teacher could not believe what he overheard. The "visiting" imam was launching into a tirade against the Jews and Americans that bordered on the ludicrous.

But then came the clincher, he recalled. "The imam told the students that the Jews were putting poison in the bananas and they should not eat them."

True, thats more anti-semetic than un-Australian, but its certainly a start. Of course the Age gave the school a sympathetic showing - i.e. the teacher was shocked that the imam could say such a thing. The imam wasn't named, but would it be a fair guess that if we looked at any of his writings, his anti-Jew sentiments would be pretty clear? Maybe not the "poisoning the fruit bowl angle", but the general gist.

It is not just visiting imam that may cause people concern at the Werribee school:

The treatment of female staff and students has become an issue over recent years, with attempts to pay female teachers less, prevent them from sharing offices with male teachers and the imposition of strict dress codes.

Treating women as second class citizens used to be Australian behaviour, but thankfully may now be described as un-Australian I think.

And from the same article, regarding another (unamed) school:

The teacher was alarmed by what she discovered in the school library. An image of Christ in a book on comparative religion had been defaced.

When she asked students to explain, they told her that another teacher, a devout Muslim, had asked them to demonstrate that Islam was the one true faith by striking the picture with sharpened pencils.

"They told me they had been made to line up and one by one stab the picture," the teacher told The Sunday Age. "As far as I know, the book is still in the library."

If it had have been in Art class, they could have submitted the picture to the NGV and probably received rave reviews of course.

In one case a non-Muslim member of staff was told to remove a crucifix from the dashboard of a car parked in view of the students and a female Hindu teacher was ordered to remove marriage jewellery.

The teacher, who was dismissed from the school because she was "over qualified", is now employed at a Christian faith-based school.

She says she has no regrets about leaving. "The atmosphere at the school was unhealthy," she said. "When you asked children to write about their favourite hero, they nearly always wrote about Osama bin Laden."

Nothing to see here, move along.

Thursday, August 25, 2005
Exit, stage right even

Remember the "non-partisan" group GetUp? Even though they claimed one of their reasons for existing was to combat Howard's control of the Senate, and their campaigns so far have been in relation to David Hicks and Voluntary Student Unionism, they continued to claim they were non-partisan.

Proof of this supposedly came from having John Hewson on the board. Yeah, that lasted about a month:

The former leader of the federal Liberal Party, John Hewson, has left the board of the new web-based political campaign organisation, GetUp! less than a month after its launch.

GetUp claimed he left because he was too busy:

GetUp! campaigner Lachlan Harris said Dr Hewson had been "really supportive in helping us get off the ground".

"He just doesn't have the time to make the commitment and so he's had to withdraw," he said.

Anybody believe that? Hewson didn't return SMH's calls, and his spokeswoman would only confirm that he had left.

The search is now on to find someone who is not aligned with either the Labor Party or the Greens to gain wider community appeal.

Good luck with that people. The media is so desperate to talk to any high profile person willing to attack Howard that there aren't many "non-aligned" types available. Instead, may I suggest Merlin (provided you dont have to be an Australian citizen of course)? Or maybe Julian Burnside SC - god knows he doesn't get nearly enough publicity currently.

This story brought me back to GetUp's website, where you can view their latest proposed advert. It is attacking VSU, following the standard "services and sports clubs will disappear" plan of attack.

Amusingly, the still photos they use in the ad are a) rugby b) cafe c) health services d) gym and e) cricket. For some reason they don't seem to include the other activities that your student fees pay for - like political advertising, subsidising "protest buses", womens rooms etc. Show me pictures of some arts students using my uni fees to photocopy pamphlets than delay my results by trashing the Adminstration building and I will sign up in a jiffy!

Strange but true

The SMH puts this story in their "unusual tales" section, with a link from their main page headed "Strange but true". It should be headlined outrageous intimidation:

London: A family that breeds guinea pigs for medical research is to abandon its farm in a final attempt to get back the remains of a relative whose body was dug up by animal rights extremists.

David, John and Chris Hall said that Darley Oaks farm in Staffordshire in the English Midlands would close by the end of the year. Their family, friends and business associates have been subjected to a six-year campaign of intimidation that culminated in activists digging up and stealing the remains of Chris Hall's 82-year-old mother-in-law, Gladys Hammond, from St Peter's churchyard in nearby Yoxall last October.

Rather than portraying this as some sort of "Wacky foreigners" story, London's Daily Telegraph expresses a much more suitable sentiment (registration required):

The new-style animal rights nutter is as English as cream teas, and he or she is willing to engage in every sort of intimidation, issuing death threats, carrying out fire-bomb attacks, and basically indulging in a species of barbarity different only in degree from the "foreign" terrorists whose actions they find so incomprehensible.

Barbarity is a key word for these nutters: they think it is barbaric to sacrifice the life of small animals for the benefit of scientific research, but think it's OK to dig up the corpse of 82-year-old Gladys Hammond, as they did last October and then boast about where the parts of her body are hidden.

Animal rights "activists" who firebomb property in the name of their beliefs are just as reprehensible as anti-abortion advocates fire bombing clinics and should be treated as such.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

It appears that I am not the only one who thinks that Apple gets an armchair ride from the techology press. Charles Wright (who has the Razor blog at the SMH) had this to say:

Here and in the Bleeding Edge column, your humble correspondent has for years been attempting to expose Apple's considerable failings in the area of quality control and product support. Apple, being possibly the world's most arrogant computer company, has largely ignored us.

It's always seemed to us one of those towering ironies that the company which has the world's most loyal customers - so fanatically loyal that they consistently rate it No. 1 for customer service - should treat them so badly.

There are a couple of reasons for this: (a) many Apple users believe that anything but blind enthusiasm might harm the company's prospects or their own reputation as superior technology beings, and are reluctant to complain and (b) many of the journalists who write about Macs seem to feel that they're honourary members of Apple's PR department, rather than working journalists presenting the news without fear or favour.

He links to an article by a US journalist attacking Apple's poor service. He then says this:

We doubt that this is going to cause a sudden interest by Mac writers in questioning the myth of perfection behind which Apple has been allowed to shelter for too long, but who knows, it might inspire Apple users to demand that the journalists reporting on the company do a better job.

On the other hand, we weren't all that surprised to find in the comments beneath Dan Gilmor's article the following accusation:

"I wonder how many years it will take until it is discovered that there’s “payola” in the blog world. 'Prominent' bloggers suddenly decide to go against a company because the competitor starts paying them ... and all of a sudden there’s 'more bad press for Apple'.

Some people are beyond help.

Amusingly, he gets pretty much the same treatment from the iMob in his own comments section:

I can't believe this.... I'm finally absorbing all these extraordinary comments and then I note that this whole episode is sponsored by IBM ....lets assassinate Apple! or at least allow the debate to solicate fear and concern.....wow the opposition must be truly concerned about Apples growing market share!

What a lame bunch.
Led from the bottom by the chap who upgraded his operating system without checking to see if his programs were compatable with it --
Through the chap who couldn't be bothered reading the manual and then gets hacked off when the problem is he didn't read the manual --
Right on up to incredibly complex and obviously unique stories of one-off errors.
What is the matter with you people?
Never had a car break down? A washing machine glitch? A watch stop?
Computers are bits of technology. They break. This is universal. Bits of Apple techology are no different in that regard. But do try to look at the whole picture.
Apple is a computer company so widely copied and followed that many things we think of as "standard" wouldn't exist without them. Things like the Windows operating system, the idea of plug & play, the idea that devices should just work.
Apple's constantly pushing boundaries. And yet no company has ever been more unjustly criticised for being simply _not perfect_.
Is there real news in Razor, somewhere?

how strange all the people with a beef with apple have bad things to say.... still if apple do give bad service which in 5 years and many varied devices ( i even dropped an i pod in a bucket of water and they fixed that)i've yet to expeirence, it is still better than having to deal with 10 times as many problems in microsoft land...

etc etc. It really is like you insulted their mother or something.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Some of you may have already seen this, but if not, and you:

a) hate email and ebay scammers; and
b) have a spare 15 minutes,

then read and enjoy the story of the P-P-Powerbook. It is an absolutely brilliant story of when nerds attack.

I hope the wannabe scammer enjoys his new computer.

Monday, August 15, 2005

So some of your mates think they are pretty smart because they built themselves a spud gun out of PVC parts?

Try a home built PVC flamethrower on for size then.

I love the internet.

Thursday, August 11, 2005
Down on success

Crikey.com.au has got stuck into the Downer family by criticising the recent winning of an exclusive scholarship by Alexander Downer's daughter, Georgina. They pose a series of rhetorical questions:

Does an Australian foreign minister have a conflict of interest if a close member of his family is awarded a prestigious scholarship by a country which uses such scholarships to "contribute to the maintenance of a strong relationship between the countries"?

Is an unfortunate perception created during a time of war when the daughter of the foreign minister receives a valuable benefit from one of Australia's key allies in that war?

But are careful to say this:

Crikey isn't suggesting any impropriety by either Mr Downer or his daughter in her successful application for one of the Chevening scholarships, due to be announced in a few weeks' time. Nor do we suggest any kind of direct interference by Mr Downer. (emphasis added)

Except that by writing the article in the first place, thats exactly what they are suggesting. To add to their suggestion of undue influence, they also decide to attack her academic results:

According to the application forms, Chevening scholarships are available each year to a small number of Australians who have "obtained, or expected to obtain, at least an upper second class undergraduate degree" (in 2003, for example, seven out of eight Chevening scholars had first class honours degrees). Georgina Downer was awarded a third class honours degree from Melbourne University.

Not only does the selection process include an interview component, but maybe the selection panel also realised that not all honours degrees are created equal.

After they contacted Mr Downer's office, they got this answer:

Through his spokesman Mr Downer told Crikey: "Every time she has been successful in life she has had to put up with this accusation. She should be left alone to pursue her own successful career."

I couldn't agree more - while they are at it, why doesn't Crikey also suggest that she only got her job at Minter Ellison (a top tier law firm) because the firm was hoping for government work?

Georgina Downer has not replied to our emails.

Good. What do they expect her to say?

In writing this story we do feel badly for Georgina Downer. She's not a politician and, as her father says, she should be left to live her own life and have her own privacy. She doesn't deserve this attention.

I am not sure I believe that they do feel bad, but either way, you can hear the "but" coming from a mile off.

But the harsh reality is that when someone decides to take on high political office they drag their families into their net. And in a democracy where proper and open conduct is critical, that's exactly as it should be. Which means that sometimes, in the interests of optics and fairness, family members of powerful politicians must refrain from doing things they could do if they weren't a close relative of a government minister.

You should certainly never take advantage of something like that, but nor should Downer's children be expected to hamper their own lives and careers because of it.

Alexander Downer shouldn't have done this to his daughter – or to Australia.

Ignoring the sanctimonious tone of that last line, it also sums up what is wrong with this article. What exactly is Downer accused of having "done" to his daughter and Australia? They keep saying they don't think he interfered, which means the only people that have "done" things are Georgina in applying, and the scholarship committee in awarding it to her.

What should Downer have done - told his 25 year old legally qualified daughter what she can and can't apply for? Spiked her chances by having a quiet word to the committee? Who would or should do that to their children?

Thankfully, Crikey's readership appears to have taken issue with this as well:

Now that my derision has subsided, I feel moved to respond to your two days of vilification of Alexander Downer, and now his daughter, for God's sake. What do you people know of proper conduct? (You have criticised the absolutely proper ostracising of the low-life socialite who Edward VII married). Now you are so small and narrow as to be critical of a perfectly good Australian sense of humour in Downer. Your attack on him in relation to his daughter is utterly and transparently petty.


Oh, bullsh*t! Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't I read somewhere in this diatribe that Georgina Downer is a 25-year-old woman with a career of her own? What right has Downer or anyone else to direct or expect his independent adult daughter to limit her career ambitions because some idiot journalist somewhere might exercise their political prejudice against him on the basis of her actions? Grow up.

though there is this:

How could anyone with a third class honours degree be awarded a scholarship of any kind at any university – let alone a $50,000 scholarship at the LSE? Third class honours are virtually a fail. Even upper second class degrees will not get you a postgraduate position in many faculties at Australian universities. When I was involved in selecting graduates for employment somebody with a third would not even get an interview.

Funny, Minter Ellison didn't seem to think so. I guess a third class honour in creative writing or something similar may be considered close to a fail, but third class honours in Law at the University of Melbourne ain't no pushover. And then there is this:

The British public should be equally or more concerned that the British Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Office with their Chevening scholarship are failing the people of Britain. Consider these facts. 1. Mummy is/was a British citizen and I believe has family in Britain. 2. Daddy was virtually an adopted Brit even to being a member of the British Young Conservatives. (Incidentally Radley College is a private school and not an Oxford Uni College, as the article implied). 3. Georgina has probably been to the UK more times than she can remember.

So he doesn't know the citizenship of her mother, he "believes" they have family in the UK, her father is an anglophile and Georgina has "probably" been to the UK more times than she can remember. What a well researched and fairly argued position to take.

The bottom line is that Alexander Downer annoys some people because of his background, family, education etc. This is a just another excuse to have a crack at him, using the success of one of his children as a convenient weapon.

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