Thursday, June 29, 2006

Activism and PR theatrics

There’s a great piece of undercover journalism in the new Overland, covering what is (rather obliquely, IMO) called “astroturfing”. Meaning, the science and ideology of PR companies creating fake “grass roots” groups.

It’s well worth reading in full, including for several jaw-dropping quotes. My only criticism is that author Katherine Wilson (a former Overland co-editor), is needlessly coy about how she got her story. Google fills in some of it, anyway: Wilson, aka weathergirl, has previously worked in PR.

Also falling into “dodgy theatrics” would have to be this upcoming radical Muslim conference. Dare I suggest that this event has long since been pre-carpeted with spies – unless, that is, ASIO relies on the Oz to alert them about such occasions.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The trolley-case economy

Overheard snippet from an onlooker at/of the IR rally in Melbourne today:


“I’m em-PLOY-able.”

Meaning, I assume, that the pro-collective bargaining masses, then marching by, were not “employable”, or certainly less so than herself.

Such a view has some basis in animal behaviour science – the weak(er) need to shelter together, etc.

But while she was playing queen of the jungle, I was doing my own assessment of her role in the corporate food chain.

She was wheeling a trolley-case – one of those things midway between a briefcase and a suitcase, which didn’t noticeably exist until a decade or so ago. These cases seem extraordinarily popular around the CBD, and I’m genuinely mystified what they might be used for. Here, I rule out “travelling”, as in containing clothes etc that one would take on an overnight business trip – the spatial distribution of trolley-cases in central Melbourne is much wider than any possible to/from the airport vector aggregate. Most trolley-cases seem to be for “day” use, then.

Laptops? Quite possibly, but the things are much bigger – and uglier – than even a petite woman (women dominate as trolley-case owner-drivers) could possibly need or want to comfortably and fashionably carry a 2kg package around the city.

Sales paraphernalia? This is my guess (just don’t ask me what specifically). Yes, the oh-so-suave and confident ranks of independent (trolley-case) owner-drivers are a new, hybrid species of travelling salesperson. Unlike their traditional, universally-male forebears, the new breed presumably lug props, rather than stock, around. Plus, they’d have office bases, too – an important factor in preventing their trolley-cases taking them over, like a shell does a turtle.

Whether these modern flourishes are sufficient to re-constitute travelling salespersons – a once-despised class – as the new Rulers of the Corporate Jungle, I’ll leave up to you. But as supporting evidence of their upward mobility, I cite the above-quoted woman’s enunciation: “I’m em-PLOY-able”, instead of “OIH’M em-PLOY-able” – the former is said with a Pru/Trude, subtle but impeccable sneer, while the nasal, “Kimmie” delivery of the latter would undercut its asserted message.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Due to popular demand, this blog is now RSS enabled (Just don’t ask me what RSS means/does. My technological prowess is fully stretched as things were c. 2000, so anything after that date – e.g. predictive text on mobile phones, IMO the stupidest “development” in human history – permanently eludes me.)

IPA, blog-ify thyself

By which I mean that the right-wing think-tank, which today occupies scarce newsprint real estate just so it can assert that such is not really scarce, should put its content distribution where its mouth is.

It is one thing for bloggers to blather on about how they’re slowly but surely replacing mainstream/hardcopy media – although personally I don’t buy this argument. As I wrote a few months ago:

Writing/distributing information vs reading it are necessarily asymmetrical functions. If everyone (or almost-) was a publisher, there would ipso facto be no "news" worth reading. High entry barriers to newspapers reflect this fact – unlike digital TV spectrum which is artificially (and criminally, IMO) restricted by government, prime newspaper "real estate" is just naturally very scarce. While concentrated ownership does have obvious problems, it also – in theory – ensures that the actual content is produced by that catchment’s best and brightest.

Oddly enough, the IPA’s Chris Berg sees things very differently from cynical old me, so putting the IPA in much the same camp as a very naive, or very stuck-in-1996 blogger:

We live in an age of information and opinion abundance, rather than one where we need to be wary of the undue influence of media tycoons (penultimate URL).

But while the “Internet-has-changed-everything mantra” may be a happily shared one, the IPA obviously has its own deeper agenda, in which the blogosphere is disposable fair-weather-friend, or failing that, outright ignorable.

The irony of using scarce hardcopy, instead of abundant blog-spectrum, to promote a pseudo-Blogs-Rule argument is not the IPA’s only logic hole. Looming large here is the culture-war conceit of the Singularity Which Changed Everything About 30 Years Ago. Keith Windschuttle is a noted proponent of this, of course, but weirdly enough, given that the mass Internet only dates from the last decade, Chris Berg is determined to use the older (= boomer) tipping-point date (despite its lack of strong technological or other milestones):

Radical change over the past 30 years has inundated media companies with competition.

Yep, that’s “radical change” like, um, cable television – after 15 years in Australia, it is almost getting to US penetration levels of the early 70s. (On present indications, Australia is on track to meet late-70s (!) US penetration rates (80%+) in a hundred years or so). Oh yeah, and more recently, there’s been . . . like, blogs and stuff.

The funny thing is that Berg needs to use the 30-years-ago tipping-point date to set up a supposedly impenetrable wall between the admittedly all-powerful media tycoons of yesteryear (he mentions William Randolph Hearst and Lord Beaverbrook) and the current crop of tycoons like Rupert Murdoch, who “is no Citizen Kane”. That Rupert isn’t, dare I suggest, is mostly due to the cross-media ownership restrictions of, not technology over, the last 30 years, the same restrictions now in the process of being watered down – but not watered down enough to please the IPA.

Or to please Rupert Murdoch, for that matter (strange coincidence, that). While I have some sympathy for Rupert’s ostensible main beef – ongoing restriction of TV broadcasting, despite the underlying spectrum now being abundant – his intentions can hardly be for a DIY/Blogification-of-TV type outcome. Any more than the IPA is suddenly the blogosphere’s New Best Friend.

What Rupert and the IPA do have in common (along with all long-dead media tycoons; yes, the 30-years-ago supposed tipping-point is a typical, empty boomer wank) is this variant on the Augustinian mantra: “Give us media diversity, but not just yet”. In a nutshell, they want all the A-reserve seats (preferably for free): prime real estate from which to see – and cheer, verily – the great spectacle of unfettered competition, which they have been personally grandfathered against actual participation in.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Independent contractors, and the tax law anomaly

There’s a good reason that making it easier for employees or quasi-employees to be legally cut adrift as independent contractors has taken so long to be trotted out by the Howard government – revenue protection. As a matter of both ideology and implementation, the new independent contractor regime (“IC”) is a simpler beast than Howard’s two other, big IR-reform planks (Workchoices and tackling organised crime in the building industry). But because of its potential strongly negative effect on tax revenue, IC has long been left on the shelf.

Or arguably, even pushed way to the back of the shelf. In 2000, new Personal Services Income provisions in the tax act (Div 84 – 87 ITAA 1997) went wider than state-based industrial law, in deeming many (in practice, mainly white-collar) independent contractors to be employees (albeit for tax purposes only). The main effect of such a deeming is to: (i) limit tax deductions to those a conventional employee could claim, and (ii) absolutely prohibit income-splitting.

So what’s changed since 2000? Actually nothing, other than the newfound willingness of the Howard government to turn up the anomaly notch; or if not, run a serious revenue risk. This time, it’s hundreds of thousands of mainly blue-collar workers, who will soon find themselves presumably-reluctant converts to IC “freedom”, yet remaining under a tax regime officially premised on denying any substantive change to their status.

My prediction is that with the Howard government being so dependant on the votes of blue-collar aspirationals, it will yield to them, allowing tax revenue to selectively haemorrhage as the price it pays for the IC reforms. (The alternative would be to repeal the Personal Services Income provisions in toto, which would entail a plenary haemorrhage to the revenue.)

Such an anomaly-busting (for some) move probably won’t even need legislation to bring it about. The Personal Services Income (anti-IC) provisions cast a net that blue-collar workers find much easier to slip out of than white-collars. In particular, the milieu of the former is unlikely to blush too much in using a chain of sub- and sub-sub-contracting entities – an exercise that requires at least a wink from the ultimate “employer”. Even Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews happily endorses such winks:

[The Personal Services Income test is] easily manipulated to achieve the desired outcome.”*

Meanwhile, white-collar contractors (often IT workers) are inherently much less able to resort to such manipulations. As I’ve said, I don’t think that the new IC regime is going to significantly add to white-collar contractor numbers. But it will significantly add to white-collars’ already-disproportionate tax burden, as Western Sydney’s tradies (yesterday employees, today contractors) get to income-split and go deductions-drunk as a tacit part of the IC trade-off. To top this all off, the building industry (whose organised crime elements remain untouched, of course) gets another layer of crime added to it.

Sidebar: The Age goes loopy-Right (or maybe just loopy-loopy), again

Up to 2 million people who work as independent contractors will win greater protection under [the IC reforms]

Err, considering that even the proponents of the IC reforms say that they are about “freedom”, rather than “protection”, I really have no idea how the Age justifies its use of the p-word, no matter which side it one is viewing from. While there is still some protection, to use the adjective “greater” is a travesty, even if Kevin Andrews is indirectly quoted thus:

the legislation would protect the right of all Australians "to be their own boss". (same URL; emphasis added)

Meanwhile, the Age’s SMH stablemate has a very different spin, one that whatever one’s views on IC may be, at least has the benefit of logical concordance with a side:

Up to 200,000 workers in NSW will lose employment benefits such as paid leave and minimum pay rates under further moves to deregulate the labour market by the Federal Government.

The SMH also runs a more revealing quote from Kevin Andrews:

"State deeming laws have become so absurd that they can result in completely arbitrary distinctions. An independent contractor who drives a bus can be a deemed to be an employee while a taxi driver is not."

Yep, that’s real arbitrary, Kevin. I suppose that simple fact that taxi driving is piecework-incarnate, while bus driving is intrinsically hours-based has never crossed your tiny mind? Now politicians on piecework/IC-rates – I’d like to see that, because none of the current batch is worth a dime a day.

* Mark Skulley “Contractors get independence” AFR 23 June 2006

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"World's largest TV wall"

Boast the prime-time TV ads, plugging “TV 50” a new exhibition at ACMI, a taxpayer funded “screen” gallery in Melbourne.

Went to check it out today, and sure enough, there are, inter alia, hundreds upon hundreds of televisions piled up in a rectangle about 4m high and 50m long. And they’re each playing something different. (Disclaimer: didn’t thoroughly check this.)

And the point of it all? Beats me, unless costing a lot of money – that goes on objects and blue-collar (only) labour – automatically equates with “art” in 2006.

Yes, I know that the televisions were presumably free (courtesy of their manufacturer being a major sponsor of the whole ad, sorry, show.

Re my blue-collar labour point, the exhibition has obviously spared every expense when it comes to paying for caption/display writing and research (and proof-reading).

A Steve Irwin exhibit has the word “Crickey!” emblazoned across it in large letters.

Two identical 1970s portable B+W televisions in curved red plastic casing are given disparate treatment. One goes uncaptioned entirely, despite being part of a tableau of six vintage TV sets, with the other five all being captioned. Worse, its identical twin – in another display about 10 m away – is captioned as “1980s”. Crap. It’s B+W!! (Hint: that dates it to 1975, at the very latest). But in any case, it’s gro-o-oovy appearance alone should have given it away as coming from a time well before the 1980s, aka the Decade That Taste Forgot.

So fuck you, ACMI. Maybe for your next exhibition, you could actually employ at least one semi-educated person. And as it happens, I'm available.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Gamekeepers turned poachers in gambling research

If it’s good enough for shock-jock Alan Jones to hammer Telstra until it pays him to shut up , and for a troika of Right opinionators to do the same to the ABC (albeit with the payola being bags of influence more so than money), then why shouldn’t academics specialising in problem gambling get on such a gravy train, too?

Such a thought seems to have lately run through the mind of Jan McMillen, professor at the ANU Centre for Gambling Research, and until recently a noted commentator on poker machine (“pokie”) problem gambling. Days ago, she was quoted as pooh-pooing what was hitherto accepted basic wisdom: the link between pokie density in poorer areas and problem gambling by those areas' residents. I can’t find a link for this, or remember the hardcopy reference, but this June 2006 abstract (full article is pay-walled) gives a flavour of what she is on about:

This paper examines the debate about possible relationships between problem gambling and accessibility to electronic gaming machines (EGMs), in the context of the Victorian Government's policy that imposed a ‘cap’ on EGMs in disadvantaged communities . . . Research revealed different relationships between spatial and social categories in the study localities, indicating the need for more systematic local area analysis. This research raises questions about the limitations of conventional methodologies and regulatory strategies based on simple measures such as gaming machine density. We propose improvements to the methodology to better measure the changing level of local supply and demand for machine gaming.

Translated, she (with co-author Bruce Doran) is saying that there is a serious gap in the empirics of problem pokie gambling research to date, with a necessary implication that such a gap has only recently been appreciated. Strange, because this rather begs the question: What has McMillen been doing for all these years – just making it up as she went along?

To which she might well answer with this quote by her in 2003:

"We can't wait for evidence that things work. I think the [problem pokie gambling] issue is so important that we have to try a number of strategies to see whether they are effective."

Since 2003 then, McMillen has evidently decided that the urgency of problem pokie gambling research has gone out the window, and that a glacial-pace, unimpeachably scientific mode is the way to go. Yeah right, Jan – and the fact that the gambling industry is paying you to have changed your mind has nothing to do with this?

I don’t know for sure the fact, much less the details, of McMillen’s arrangements with the gambling industry, but that there must be some arrangement seems to be the only logical explanation of the above. And it’s not as if this is unprecedented; in 2002, Sydney University psychology professor Alex Blaszczynski published an industry-funded study, which found that harm minimisation measures for modifying poker machines had little or no impact in reducing problem gambling (same URL).

By taking industry coin to coldly and tactically peddle stone-walling mischief, McMillen and Blaszczynski have forfeited their academic credibility, period. Assuming that the latter still works for Sydney University, the pair should be immediately sacked for gross misconduct, and be served with notice to repay all taxpayer-funded research monies that they have ever received. Such public research funds were provided to them in good faith, on a trust that has now been fundamentally abused.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Windschuttle, and culture-war retrospectivity

First, let me say briefly, to the Right – Have the ABC, it’s yours. Although I’ve said as much before, this time I really, really mean it. While Andrew Norton is pushing merely for unlimited ads on the ABC, surely a more consistent Right position would be full privatisation; i.e. selling the spectrum licence (and the staff/goodwill also, if anyone wants them) to the highest bidder. If such a sale achieves a few-hundred mill for the taxpayer, without at the same time lining the pockets of Macquarie Bank et al to the tune of a few bill, I’d be delighted, end of story (although I wouldn’t hold my breath on the latter proviso being met).

In any case, what I want to talk about is raising the white flag of defeat in a different context. Specifically, can boomers (and older) please please take ownership of the culture-wars. By this, I mean accept that it is (or more accurately, was) your war/s. And that, even blindly accepting that it is still raging in 2006, it is going to end sometime (at the very latest, the culture-war/s will die with your generation). At which point history, at least as it will be written from then on, will not give a flying fig about your culture-wars for ever more, believe me.

I’ve touched on this phenomenon before; see also here and here.

Unpacked into one sentence, what I’m talking about centres on this: the weird conceit held by people of the Right, who wield/ed real cultural power both decades ago and now, that they have only in the last few years awoken to the scale of it all, meaning that the culture-war now needs to be fought retrospectively, and aggressively so.

Keith Windschuttle is a textbook example here, but he’s by no means unusual. Here’s a recent example of the conceit being exquisitely, thinly hammered over and over again, aka the Shorter Windy:

For the past three decades and more, many of the leading opinion makers in our universities, the media and the arts have . . . To see how decadent these assumptions have become, compare today's relativism to the attitude that prevailed when . . .Since the 1960s, academic historians on the left have . . . Until the 1960s, most people brought up within Western culture believed that . . . . Today, much of the academic debate about the Western literary heritage claims that . . . Today, we live in an age of barbarism and decadence . . . The relentless critique of the West which has engaged our academic left and cultural elite since the 1960s has emboldened our adversaries and at the same time sapped our will to resist.

You get the idea? Pre-1960s was Good. “Today” is Bad. Meanwhile, the not-insignificant 30-to-40 year time-lapse between these dates is a curiously malleable and/or invisible beast, as we shall now see.

This culture-warrior’s conceit gets weirder because it necessarily, but tacitly, involves splitting the 30-to-40 year long (so far) culture-wars in half.

The first half – up until about 1985 – is a “hot” war; i.e. missiles definitely were then being lobbed on all sides, including and especially by latter-day culture-warriors. (I pause to note here that to be a badge-of-conceit wearing culture-warrior in 2006, one needn’t have been as well-documented an Opinionator back then as Windschuttle, nor still less to have changed sides from far-Left to far-Right, as he famously did (c.1990). Thus, simply having a reasonably responsible job pre-1985 will qualify a person as having served in the “hot” part of the war, even if by omission.)

The latter-half of the culture-war’s received time-frame (i.e. 1985 on), meanwhile, is distinctively “cold”. With the possible exception of the last few years, this period of supposed “war” significantly lacks major hostilities. (“Political correctness” certainly came on the scene around the late-80s, but the fact that in 2006 TV shows like “Today Tonight” run weekly stories on Political Correctness Gone Mad means that “PC” has long been as Right/Left sectarian as Parking Inspectors Gone Ludicrously Strict).

With the second-half “coldness” of the four-decade long culture wars comes a crucial “AWOL”-type excuse for the warrior combatants. Thus, while the first half is all about action and agency, the last two decades are quite a blur. All that is clear about them, according to the standard narrative, is that they seamlessly segue with both the earlier half and the present day into one long and very much still-living strand. A cynic, OTOH, could well suggest that the culture wars are a long-dead horse, and that their attempted revival (sorry, continuance) is a fraud of a scale that leaves Darwin’s Larrakia in the amateurs’ outer.

And here’s the crux: Such a cynic can only be an Xer (or younger). The culture wars are (in cased you missed the implications of the above) generational. And “generational” here not in a “job-market/house-prices/HECS (etc)” Old-Fashioned Xer Whinge way (at a stretch, such things can be rebutted by boomer “luck” combined with follow-up political inertia), but “generational” as in from two different and irreconcilable planets.

At this point, it is important to understand that the boomer- (and older) Left, while long-since resigned to mainly playing a defensive “war”, do back-up the received time-frame to the hilt. That is, both boomer-Left and boomer-Right are happy to collusively construct an aporia, which sites the 70s-and-early-80s alongside 2006 as if the former just happened yesterday.

This picture – of a bipartisan but highly age-segmented, ludicrous conceit – is arrived at through simple logic, IMO. If you think that I’m resorting to Xer special pleading, I’ll have a second go at defining the conceit, particularly in terms of the culture wars from a Xer POV.

That there was a sharp ascendancy by the Left decades ago, followed by a relatively-stable period of Left traction is plain, irrefutable fact. Also uncontroversial is that most current-day culture warriors were "officers" (rather than soldiers, much less conscripts or prisoners) at all material times. (That is, loudly Right or Left pre-1985, and conspicuously silent – even about the fact there was a “war”! – for most of the two decades since.)

Unfortunately for my mid-80s-at-uni generation, what seems to be an equally plain fact – that the culture wars became history by the mid-1980s, as a new generation, of “conscientious objectors”, if you like, rose through the ranks – is not widely accepted.

Ironically, Windschuttle himself glimpsed as much in the mid-90s, but he has since back-pedalled from showing any sharp generational edge. Here’s the mid-90s Windy:

What, then, is to be done [re pomo etc infecting journalism courses]? Contra Mark Davis's book Gangland, most of the people I am criticising here are members not of a suppressed younger generation but of an entrenched older one. Most have tenured posts and are aged in their forties or early fifties which means they still have another twenty years of working life left in them, twenty years in which they are most unlikely to change their ways.

And here’s Windy in the Weekend Australian two days ago:

What, then, is to be done [re pomo etc infecting journalism courses]? Most of the people I am criticising here are members not of a suppressed younger generation but of an entrenched older one. Most have tenured posts and are aged in their 40s or early 50s which means they still have another 20 years of working life left in them, 20 years in which they are most unlikely to change their ways”*.

Geddit? A decade since baldly and badly misunderstanding the import of Mark Davis' Gangland, Windschuttle gives Xers less agency still – i.e. precisely zero, with not even a fumbling attempt to address how the Xer-Left might regard the boomer-Left. (He thinks he hates them! Hah!)

But back to elaborating on the culture-war conceit; specifically, what the “cold” part of the war has meant for Xers going to university and then spending their entire working (or not) lives under it.

By the mid-1980s, the Left in academia (and most of the media) was a comfortable status quo, even for young Xer students, up to a point. It was, and remains, foolhardily contrarian to diss the 60s equal rights movement in toto, for example.

But, as history continually shows, when bright young minds don’t “own” the status quo of the day, they will inevitably rebel against it.

Admittedly, historians have universally missed noticing the great Xer youthquake/rebellion of c.1985 for good reason – it was pissweak. While a minority rebelled to the Right, these Xers had little or no impact (plainly, if they had even moderate impact, history would record at least a decisive shift/battle in the culture wars in the mid-80s, but there’s nada). The Xer mass, if anything, jumped (mildly) further to the Left, such as onto the pomo bandwagon.

So why do I call this non-event a “rebellion”? The simple answer is because Xers’ distinctive presence in the culture wars over the two decades since has been piss-weaker still. “1985” is all we’ve got, honey.

Since the mid-80s, the culture wars have raged on around a whole generation, yet without that (= my) generation’s actual participation. We’ve actually been spectators on this into middle-age (which is why I’m quite confident in asserting saying that the non-event of “1985” was unquestionably my generation’s high-point. Sorry honey, we’re not just late developers here).

This matters because, as boomers gird-up in preparation for fighting the culture wars for another four decades (from their retirement homes if necessary, it would seem), several more generations will follow Xers into passive spectatorhood in their intellectual prime.

Terrorism – of the sort that thinks that destroying the world is a just and proportionate response to the grievances at hand – is, as I’ve often said, a strongly Xer phenomenon. While I’m no expert, I suspect that the tipping-point behind Xer terrorism in the Islamic world (and diaspora) is a rage ultimately caused by passive spectatorhood.

As long as the culture wars remain “active”, rather than historical boomer relics then, generational disenfranchisement in the West will only worsen. If Muslim Xers don’t soon destroy humanity, the most intelligent among today’s white Western children will be more than up to this task in two decades, I’m sure.

* "Communication breakdown" Australian 17 June 2006

Friday, June 16, 2006

It’s time to wind up the 1919 bequest of Jules Francois Archibald#

Most public-offer prizes – and especially those in which the choice of winner/s is skill -based, rather than random – have a term of entry that says: “Judges’ decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into”.

Such a contractual term, I would argue, is unusual in that it is inherently “fair”. Leaving aside the possibility of rank corruption (e.g. awarding the prize to a judge’s family member), even a clear disparity in objective bargaining power between the parties amounts to very little.

That is, if you don’t like the “Judges’ decision is final” condition of entry, just don’t do it. The prize is almost certainly not basic food, shelter etc, so there is no shred of economic compulsion to enter. As far as rank corruption goes, clearly entrants have a legitimate right to be protected against such, but (“private”) contract law is a blunt instrument for doing this. Public law, via Lotteries etc Acts, can and does better address such concerns.


So why is the Archibald Prize so different from a typical prize, in being over and over, a sore-loser’s free-for-all, despite ne’er a hint of judges’ corruption or similar?

The only explanation I can come up with here is that the Archibald is a prize from the grave, while typical public-offer prizes are not. Refining this somewhat, the Archibald is also unusual even among its kind, in its degree of public-ness. There are plenty of other prizes-from-the-grave (like scholarships for the tertiary study of Home Economics) that in theory could attract the same sore-loser attention, but don’t, for fairly self-evident reasons.

Legal disputes over wills, to the average punter, are delightfully grubby to-observe intra-family affairs, invariably about money.

For an equity*-leaning lawyer, though, such disputes are relatively uninteresting. A cashed-up testator with a mind for mischief can wreak better and longer-lasting havoc on the living by creating a (specific) purpose** charitable trust to operate after his/her death.

The perverse beauty of such trusts – from the deceased’s POV – is their inherent instability, caused by their pool of money being essentially ownerless. Capitalism naturally abhors a vacuum, meaning that any pile-o-money is usually easily spoken for by at least one person. Charitable purpose trusts, however, especially if drafted with an eye to future mischief, are an exception to this rule. Money tends to simply slosh around inside such a trust, with the only openings to spend it being small and/or complicated.

Of course, there are people nominally responsible for spending this money according to the deceased’s wishes – trustees. And supervising the trustees here are the courts. But the wackier and/or more specific the bequest, the harder the spending job becomes, especially over time. And by “over time”, I don’t mean just decades: most charitable purpose trusts, including the Archibald Prize, are perpetual.

One pragmatic solution for the relative ownerlessless of the bequest money is for the trustees to “privatise” the bequest. That is, if not quite run it for their own financial benefit (a big no-no, of course), to run it for their own administrative ease. For the first three decades of the Archibald Prize, such a simplicity-first approach ruled quite strongly. Just three (ultra-conservative)artists won the Prize a total of 21 times in the years 1921 to 1957. To modern appearances, this doesn’t look at all good, but I would argue that there are still worse ways of disbursing the Archibald estate than to a select group of B-list artists. Such as shovelling it into the pockets of lawyers (whether B-list ones, a select group, or otherwise).

Because of the general costs rule re disputed wills – that the estate will absorb the cost of any challenge to it (a point memorably underlined in Dickens’ Bleak House) – there is a fair incentive for lawyers to collude, consciously or otherwise, with plaintiffs in bringing unmeritorious claims against the estate/trustees. At worst, a losing plaintiff wastes his/her time, while the plaintiff’s lawyer still gets paid, and out of the winning defendant’s pocket, to boot.

In theory, of course, there are safeguards designed to prevent such things from happening. Foremost among these is/was the requirement for the Attorney-General’s personal intervention in charitable purpose trust cases. The reasoning here went (note past tense) that, with the general public being the ultimate beneficiaries of such trusts, some actual person had be able to represent the general public.

For whatever reason, this requirement seems to have fallen by the wayside in the last two-to-three decades. Thus, in the 1944 Archibald Prize challenge Attorney-General v Trustees of National Art Gallery of NSW (1944) 62 WN (NSW) 212, the Attorney-General was the plaintiff, albeit acting on the information of Mary Edwards and Joseph Wolinski. By 1983, however, John Blooomfield (a losing artist) seems to have been unquestionably allowed to be plaintiff in his own right***, a pattern repeated in 2006, with Tony Johansen’s (another losing artist) challenge: Johansen v Art Gallery of NSW Trust [2006] NSWSC 577.

This “plaintiff” slippage is unfortunate, because it on-distorts everything else. The latest Archibald-challenge court case should simply have never been brought; and surely would not have been brought, given both precedent and lack of any clear public interest behind Johansen’s case, had the Attorney-General been on the ball here.

So what is to be done? As my headline suggests, I believe that the latest lawyers’ picnic has ruined the Archibald bequest beyond all repair. Despite the nominal result, the floodgates have now been opened for all manner of future axe-grinders and sore-losers. To put this another way, from now on there surely will be a premium on Archibald judges covering their backs by making ultra-conservative decisions.

Such a prospect is not merely a return to the club-like bad old days of 1921-1957 (above), however. Art has moved on, and a series of club-like prize decisions over the next few years would soon enough turn the Archibald into a joke.

The only way out, that I can see, is to end the whole shebang. I’m guessing that the Archibald trust capital amounts to a few million dollars. Under equity law, a failed charitable purpose trust (i.e. the ownerless money) is supposed to go to the will-maker’s next of kin. Since JFA died such a long time ago, I have a better idea: burn the money on the AGNSW steps, as a grand act of performance art ("anti-lawyer", if anyone insists on asking "But what does it mean?"). And preferably stick Tony Johansen’s nose in the resultant smoke, too, so adding to the performance's meaning and complexity.

Finally, I doubt that it is any coincidence that Tony Johansen is a 49 y.o. (talentless) boomer, while the artist he was challenging is a 37 y.o. (talented) Xer. If this is what you want, boomer fucktard, then this is what you get: so smell it and choke.

# aka John Feltham Archibald

* Technical legal note: Anglo-Australian law is internally divided by a “common-law” vs “equity” moiety. The former encompasses most contract law (and more), while the latter has within it: wills, trusts, unfair contracts, and (historically at least) corporations (and more).

** A bequest can simply be made to a person or entity (which entity may or may not be a charity): e.g. “Uncle Fred” or “the Lost Dogs’ Home”. But a bequest can also be made to a mere cause or purpose, as long as it is a charitable one (in essence, a public-minded and benefiting purpose). Thus, this “purpose” bequest: “To feed and house the stray dogs of Melbourne” will be legally enforceable even if it doesn’t name any entity, but this “purpose” bequest: “To train the stray dogs of Melbourne to yelp louder” won’t be, (but an outright bequest to The Pro Dog-Yelping Society Inc would be enforceable, as long it such an entity exists).

*** Bloomfield v Art Gallery of New South Wales Trust NSWSC 23 September 1983 unreported Helsham CJ in Eq

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The genius Xer aesthetic of sadness

If there is one thing that my generation excels in, it is sadness. This is not the same thing, although it obviously overlaps with, the medical concept of depression. And by “sadness”, I also mean something very different from goth/death sub-cultures, who seem to me to be vapid adolescents, whatever their actual age.

It is a mystery to me why happiness gets so much good press compared to sadness. People can, and do wallow in happiness as much as sadness. But IMO sadness has a much greater range than happiness, and so is actually preferable aesthetically.

Here’s a trio of particularly Xer sadnesses, which hopefully show some of the tonal depth and amplitude I’m positing.

My end-of-Year 10 school-formal theme song, as chosen by my classmates and I in 1980 was . . .

. . . "Dust in the Wind" (1976, by a band called Kansas).

The lyrics mournfully proclaim:

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

You get the idea – it’s not the sort of inspirational song that you could imagine 16 year-olds choosing as their celebratory motif in 1970, 1976, or anytime in the last decade, for any reason whatsoever. The reason we chose it in 1980 was singular: a much-liked teacher did a solo-guitar version of it as his “thing”, hence our making it our theme song was a tribute to him. Otherwise, I don’t think that any of us had previously even heard of the song.

Our choice was an inspired one, in hindsight. As a quite genuine personal tribute, it was unimpeachable, yet it made us stand out as freaks more than we could possibly have known, much less intended. The school’s adults were presumably uncomfortable with our dubious taste in selecting an adult (= boomer) dirge for an occasion supposed to be "young" and uplifting, but it was our party, and our underlying choice was due to quite sane, adult motives, rather than to a Jonestown-ian collective death-wish.

Eternal Nightcap (1997 album by The Whitlams)

Picking at the far-left of the piano keyboard is hard to satisfactorily pull-off. Tim Freedman does it – without overdoing it – while at the same time singing. Sorry boomers, but your generation’s acme of exploring sadness through music appears to be the treble warblings of “Hello darkness my old friend”.

“Six Feet Under” – Nate’s funeral episode (third-last of final series, broadcast in Australia 12.01 a.m. 6 June 2006)

If taut enough, sadness can be sustained for small-t tantric lengths of time and experience. Nate’s funeral episode of “Six Feet Under” was a 65 minute masterpiece in this regard. Despite being chock-laden with large and small sadnesses in every second, as a whole it was drum-tight and drum almost-empty. I lost it only once, with the 1994 flashback of Nate and Claire responding to news of Kurt Cobain’s death. Which sounds, and probably is, corny, I know.

But Xers are like that: supreme connoisseurs of sadness. When we let our emotional guards down, which is rarely, we’re as transparent as tears. For the rest of the time meanwhile, we plod on through Boomer-land, as baffling, slightly-unhinged dust in the wind; our heads and our sadnesses down.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ashes to ashes, Bugcatcher™ to bug-catcher

Disturbing stats about my mid/late 1960s-born generation continue to mount. Suicide peaks having tracked my generation since we were teenagers was written-up a few weeks ago; now there’s fatness (and for gay Xer men, Aids) grim reapers who seem to have it especially in for us, as well.

Gen X-er's to die before parents” screams the Daily Telegraph, throwing in a stray apostroph’e as a bonus extra frustrator/insult for its presumably already unsettled Xer readers.

That the young tend to be more obese than the old is nothing new, of course. But the Daily Telegraph’s story – covered with less headline sensation, and more important detail in a sibling paper here – did break new ground by for once sodding the yoof/kids, and just comparing Xers to older generations. Specifically, three groups were studied: those born from 1966 to 1970 (Xers), 1951 to 1955 (boomers) and 1936 to 1940 (parents of Xers).

It would seem that Xers have only started piling on the pounds quite recently. Otherwise, a pronounced “fat kids” phenomenon would have trailed us through the 1970s, through to a “fat Nirvana fan” stereotype of twenty-somethings c.1992, etc. Indeed, the money-shot in the study – 88 per cent of Xer men (and 61 per cent of Xer women) would be overweight by 2010 – suggests an exponential growth just hitting its bootstraps.

Disappointingly, a patently ludicrous generalisation/guess is trotted-out to nonetheless explain the phenomenon as having roots in Xers’ childhoods:

Unlike Generation X, baby boomers and pre-war babies had grown up in an environment when food was scarcer and higher levels of activity were required in daily life”. (same URL)

Apart from my above point about Xers’ fatness being quite recent, it is also a slur on my generation to insinuate that we were much less physically active as children than boomers. Bullshit. Kids my age were hardly ever driven to school, and television, in the days before “C” programming, was presumed bad for us, and rationed accordingly.

Research author Adrian Bauman, (from Sydney University and the Centre for Physical Activity and Health) can’t let the youth-angle go, in other ways too:

"We tend to think of obesity as a middle-age problem, but we found the rate of weight gain among young adults is accelerating faster than in other generations. This means we are going to have a problem down the track that is going to be more substantial than thought". (same URL)

Huh? While I’m sure that 36-40 year olds would generally be flattered to be called “young adults”, Bauman is surely shifting the solution (i.e. benefits) of an Xer problem onto a younger generation that has not yet even been (and won’t necessarily ever be) diagnosed. In case you don’t get it here, his “problem down the track” gives it away – 2010 is not “down the track”. Bauman’s plain subtext is that it’s already too late to do anything about Xers (a refrain I’m so wearily familiar with that it makes my blood boil), but a bit of preventative medicine for GenY here wouldn’t go astray.

To which NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos dutifully chimes in, saying that young adults [i.e. GenY] who failed to change their lifestyle risked illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease (same URL). Albeit in another report Hatzistergos is quoted in way that suggests (shock, horror) he is actually squarely addressing GenX:

"The message however has to extend beyond younger people to adults, who set not only a role model for children but also have real issues in terms of their own longevity and quality of life."

“Real issues in terms of their own longevity and quality of life." Tell me about it, John. More to the point, show me the money.

Then again, if fatness or suicide doesn’t get you, Aids could well do the trick, if you’re a gay male Xer, anyway.

In the 1970s, there was this popular science-toy called the Bugcatcher™. Ironically, it was heavily promoted on TV, while its primary use was outdoors.

Somehow, too many of us 70s kids have grown up into middle-age finding ourselves living inside our toy Bugcatchers. We style it as a chase, of calories/fat, viruses and simple death like they were in short supply, but we know that we’re really the chasees, the caught.

Poor fellow my generation.

Monday, June 12, 2006

“Stubbornly high levels of long-term unemployment”

The stats here are clear enough: 108,500 people out of work for more than a year in April 2006, compared to 99,500 in April 2005. But it is what’s being planned to do about this that really takes the stubbornness cake.

Australian journalist Patricia Karvelas has a peculiar specialty, in breaking dole/DSP crackdown stories, yet being extremely modest about the fact that she is actually breaking them. Obviously, she has one or more high-level “ins” in Canberra and presumably feels that trumpeting this too loudly might jeopardize future exclusive leaks. For its part, Canberra must think that it gets something out of this cosy arrangement, as well. Tame journalism is the result – and Karvelas is so gutless that her leaked/insider pieces tend to be embarrassingly insufficient, even at a who/what/when level of basic concordance.

This news, hot from the desk of new-ish Workforce Participation Minister Sharman Stone, is a fine example of Karvelas’ lack of spine (I don’t believe that she is merely incompetent).

It starts with a simple enough, and previously flagged, premise – new rules from 1 July 2006 aimed at reducing long-term unemployment (aka “job shirkers”). As part of this, some unemployed will be required to participate in full-time work-for-the-dole programs. (“Full-time” WfD actually means 25 hrs/wk, nonetheless still a large increase on the current WfD norm of 15 hrs/wk). Following on from this, the content of WfD programs will also be tightened, with soft skills (e.g. making radio programs) “out”, and hard skills, like construction trades “in”.

Now at this point, an ethical journalist would surely show some scepticism. Most construction trades are, to this day, learned via multi-year apprenticeships. While I have no doubt that this time-length and mode are capable of some streamlining, Blind Freddie could see that even a year of WfD-auspiced training is not going to produce an employable tradesperson.

Indeed, Australia’s WfD has since its inception been explicitly non trades-training-based for several strong reasons. Rank protectionism (which also stops third-world plumbers et al from coming to Australia even as guest-workers) is first among them. Second are the inter-related problems of a hostile (because involuntary) trainee-force, and the sheer money required for such training to properly be done (I’m guessing at least $50k per head annually) being very hard to justify.

If fairly written, Karvelas’s story would read something like this:

In a miracle redolent of Biblical loaves and fishes, Workforce Participation Minister Sharman Stone tried to convince this hack that, despite no extra money being put in anywhere, long-term unemployment could be substantially reduced by training many of these people up to becoming de facto tradies.

Fortunately for Dr Stone, any electoral backlash from the coalition’s crucial Western Sydney tradie constituency has been pre-empted by the plan's status as an obvious failure, and joke.

When confronted with this Realpolitik, Dr Stone backtracked, saying that WfD programs that were little more than baby-sitting adults
could be okay, as long as they “[gave something] back to the community”.

When further pressed about how “job shirkers” – who are expected to be overwhelmingly GenX (and younger) men – would respond to being coercively corralled, Dr Stone simply flicked the demographic switch to "nonsense", saying the changes would most help
older men forced out of the labour market by the technology revolution.

Adding to the confusion, “make-work” WfD schemes are apparently "out" from 1 July, but 7000 places will then be available each year for employers to hire unemployed people who are
not “shirkers”. Does this mean 80s/early-90s-style direct wage subsidies are coming back? Probably not; it seems that WfD providers are being encouraged to re-badge themselves into dual shopfronts: a punishment room (and little else) for “shirkers”, and a sheltered workshop (aka “artificial workplace”) for the more docile remainder. But just don’t call the latter a “make-work” operation – it’s too “artificial” and under-funded for that!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sex slavery – the first convictions

It took two trials, three years and a multitude of Mr Bigs (and not so Bigs) getting off, but finally one slaver – Wei Tang – is behind bars. Only emerging through the reportage of Tang’s trial is that one of the three other (original) co-accused “F” (as she is is referred to in the official judgment (PDF), although F’s real name was widely reported at the time of her arrest, and for at least a year after) previously pleaded guilty to sex-slavery charges, and is now serving a minimum two and a half year jail sentence.

The other two original co-accused – brothel manager Paul Pick and ATO executive (and Tang’s then#-husband) John Davies meanwhile, quietly fell by the wayside. All sex-slavery charges against Davies were dropped in June 2004, which dropping seems to have been the case for Paul Pick also, only Pick later received some short-lived media attention for other charges, of possessing child pornography (for which he received a non-jail sentence). # Adding a bit of soap opera sizzle here, (but this is pure guesswork on my part), it would seem from her latest address (“North Balwyn”) that Tang took to living with Pick sometime in the last two years.

More significant though, in falling-by-the-wayside terms is that Wei Tang plainly bought her five sex-slaves on a “retail” basis only. That is, there was an obvious chain of organised crime upstream from her, none of whom have been brought to justice, with the minor exception of “F” (who, unlike Tang, helped to traffic the five women to Australia, as well as being a co-owner of them, with Tang, after they landed). While most of these Mr (/Ms) Bigs would be outside Australia, catching them should not be that hard. In particular, the practice of temporarily depositing significant cash sums in slave’s bank accounts (a must-do if they are to come to Australia on tourist visas, the standard mode of entry for third-world sex-slaves), would leave a solid paper trail.

Despite so much criminal scum having got off scot-free, it is also true that even Wei Tang’s conviction seems to have just made it over the line. Here, I’m not only alluding to her first trial and its hung jury. In Sydney, two other sex-slavery prosecutions – one of Danny Kwok, Hosea Yoe, Jenny Ong and Raymond Tan (Ong’s son)* and the second of Ngoc Lan Tran and Sally Cui Mian Xu – would seem to have come to nought. The first prosecution simply drops off the news radar after this, while the second resulted in a hung jury, with no retrial, apparently. In the last two years, a total of 17 people apparently have been charged with sex-slavery offences. Breaking these down, there are: 2 successful prosecutions, 8 unsuccessful ones (including charges dropped) (Pick and Davies, plus the two Sydney groups, above), 2 only just charged (same URL), and 5 "unknowns".

It can safely be assumed that the two known unsuccessful prosecutions have little correlation with objective innocence on the part of those charged. With organised crime networks left effectively untouched even by a “successful” prosecution, a la Wei Tang, the fear of the main witnesses in these cases – the prostitute slaves themselves – in giving evidence against their masters must be great.

Which is all the more reason that the law here needs to change, drastically. Any prostitute without Australian residency should be deemed a sex-slave, and her brothel-keepers should be automatically jailed for life, with remission only being possible by naming names higher-up.

*(aka Daniel Sweensang Kwok, Hosea Prayudi Saputra Yoe, Jenny Lai Chin Ong and Raymond Aik Tong Tan)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Kath, Kel and bogans, again

TV characters Kath and Kel Day-Knight live in the thinly-disguised outer-Melbourne suburb of Fountain Lakes, aka the real Patterson Lakes. Patterson Lakes is a canal-based housing development carved from bayside swamp in the 1980s. It is architecturally homogenous, featuring many McMansions (to use a term unknown in the 80s), and quite homogenous in other ways as well, in that many of its residents (I’m guessing) would be relatively wealthy, from blue-collar (including self-employedly so) backgrounds, and be boomer or older. In other words, Kath and Kel personified (Kim, meanwhile, is the indulged, GenY child-of-boomers, but let’s not go there for now.)

Similar architecture (only sans canals, and extending from the 80s right through to the present) and somewhat similar demographics are also found in abundance in Western Sydney. A noticeable difference, closely connected to its housing stock being newer, is that Western Sydney’s McMansion households are often headed by Xers, in particular, self-employed tradesmen, who have been swimming in well-paid work from the mid-1990s, thanks to a tacit ban on skilled immigrants in their trades. (Tellingly, the only seeming Xers in “Kath and Kim” are perennial victims Brett (Kim’s husband) and Sharon (Kim’s friend), but again, let’s not go there for now.)

Western Sydney is a key cultural playing-field in modern Australia. Most obviously, who holds several once-marginal, now Liberal-held Western Sydney seats almost certainly determines who holds government in Canberra. Populist local MP Jackie Kelly – a sort of Pauline Hanson with a law degree – well-understands this. To its discredit, Labor currently files this fact into its too-hard basket, thus making them a permanently unelectable joke, period.

As I said, Western Sydney also has an interesting divergence from “Kath and Kim”-land in its numbers of Xers. Across Australia, Xer men (in particular) have been generally hammered, in markets including white-collar labour, housing-ownership, and “Is life worth living?”. Western Sydney’s affluent, home-owning Xer tradies are thus an anomaly that would be merely exquisite, if it wasn’t for their raw ballot-box muscle.

GenY (I’m guessing) journalist Mel Campbell is blithe about most of this. Not only does she throw Kath and Kim in alongside Western Sydney’s tradies, as being cashed-up bogans (or “cubs”), she is oblivious to the electoral realities that make Kath and Kim small beer, even as she quotes a direct acknowledgment by PM Howard of his power-base here.

Campbell asks:

Still, what makes cubs so different from the rest of us? Surely most of us have aspirations. And surely we all work hard in order to live in comfort. (same URL)

Actually, this here Xer (and many others, I’m sure), find it easier, and more fulfilling, to laugh at such purportedly-rhetorical questions, than to laugh at “cubs” (or the nouveau-riche, to use a more standard term). Campbell spends her intellectual capital like it was Zimbabwean dollars.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Registries and marriage . . .
. . . go together like a horse and whip

I wish, I wish that the gay marriage debate would just go away. Why can’t poofs and dykes be more like left-handers; viz, accept that they’re/we’re in a (overwhelming) minority, and just get on with life. Providing that the inevitable inconveniences/slights upon the minority aren’t malicious or deliberate, loudly bleating about them is undignified and unproductive. In short, un-gay. So there.

However weary it may be for me to do so, I feel that I should briefly elaborate on the latest gay marriage developments. PM Howard king-hits the ACT’s civil unions thing. Whoopty-do.

If you’re actually a gay Canberran personally put out by this latest twist, you have two choices. You can move to Tasmania, where, as Rodney Croome explains, same-sex (and heterosexual) couples have been able to sign a relationship register since 2004, so granting the relationship the same protection as marriage or de facto status (same URL). Or you can move five k’s to Queanbeyan, and start lobbying for NSW to bring in the same deal as Tasmania.

But doing that takes too much effort, for not enough style/immediate-gratification, doesn’t it? (Imagine signing some tacky, 80GSM sheet of paper, in some hij-jous government office in Queanbeyan, darling! It’s more than enough to put a girl off monogamy-for-life, for life).

Welcome to world of marriage, poofs. On paper, it’s just a five km trip to Ordinary-ville, but it’s a journey that 99% of you, including me, are congenitally unable or unwilling to make.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ron Hicks, obsessive homophobe

That a weekend news story, purporting to prove that the late John Marsden was indeed a paedophile, carried the co-byline of Ron Hicks was no accident. (Nor was the timing of the story, running on the day of Marsden’s funeral – it had obviously been held over for this occasion, despite its pretext of freshness.)

Ron Hicks is a Sydney freelance journalist with a striking specialisation in subject matter: gay men and their paedophilia/corruption. In terms of form, he has plenty, including having been named in NSW parliament in the early 1990s thus:

[MP Deirdre Grusovin] has never been able to choose the right people to help her. She had that shady person, Ron Hicks, helping her with the Mr Bubbles [paedophile] issue. [Hicks] kept egging her on until in the end she made a fool of herself.

and thus:

It should be noted who wrote the story [bagging the then NSW Liberal government] in the Sunday Telegraph last Sunday. It was a Mr Ron Hicks, a former press secretary to Mr Laurie Brereton, a Minister in the former Labor Government and the brother of [MP Deidre Grusovin].

With a Tourette’s-like compulsion, Hicks over the last four years has repeatedly smeared Justice Michael Kirby, always in the news pages of the Australian, and mostly under a co-byline.

Here’s the oldest (AFAICT) example of his work:

Kirby given names in Comcar search
By Michael McKinnon, FOI editor, and Ron Hicks
Australian 30 December 2002

High Court judge Michael Kirby was given the names of people seeking details of his travel records despite receiving official written advice that the release of identities was forbidden.

The confidential information provided to Justice Kirby, some of which proved to be false, was also used by the Labor Party as part of a parliamentary attack against the Government.

The next day, the Australian totally backtracked (this time without Hicks’ byline, surprise, surprise), and albeit with a misleading headline:

Senator pursues Kirby's 'breach'
By Michael McKinnon and Ben Haslem
Australian 31 December 2002

Three of Australia's leading legal academics yesterday said it appeared Justice Kirby had behaved neither illegally nor unethically.

Director of the Gilbert and Tobin Centre of Public Law at the University of NSW, George Williams, said Justice Kirby's request to Mr Howard to seek background information on the FOI applications was "quite normal".

University of Notre Dame dean of law Greg Craven said there was no suggestion Justice Kirby had asked Mr Howard to pressure the DOFA officer into revealing either applicant's name without consent.

Australian National University administrative law professor John McMillan said Justice Kirby had acted entirely appropriately in asking Mr Howard to seek the information on his behalf.

But most of Hicks’ mud still presumably stuck; viz the (malicious and complete false) implication that Kirby was corrupt and/or using FOI to wage a shady personal vendetta.

Having got away with that one, Hicks’ next anti-Kirby foray was in dragging the judge’s name into a minor (especially by Sydney standards ) property dispute between two gay men (one of whom, Gordon Stewart, knew Kirby slightly).

The hardcopy references are:

Ron Hicks and Emma-Kate Symons, “The hairdresser, the lawyer and their bitter spat over love flat” Australian 31 July 2004

Ron Hicks, "Lawyer helped hide paedophile Bell’s identity" Australian 7 August 2004

In the 18 months between these forays, admittedly Hicks did manage to write a gay-angled (negative, of course) story without bringing Justice Kirby into it:

Blood bank hack 'risk'
Ron Hicks
Australian 9 September 2003

[A] concerned member of the Red Cross IT team [said]:

"My worry is that the system could be hacked and something could be slipped into the code and we would never know . . . For instance, a Trojan horse could be slipped into the code. It would be simple to slip in an algorithm that said, for instance, that every prime number blood donation for a multiple of five was HIV-positive.

"Our relationship with the AIDS community is very good, but you would not pick up those false positives immediately, and you would have to check each false positive manually. It would cause chaos [by slowing down everything]."

In case you don’t get it, some anonymous IT-tard from the Red Cross is suggesting that “the AIDS community” (meaning malicious gay men) could potentially hack the Red Cross system, so as to contrive false HIV-positives within the blood supply. Ron Hicks was happy to put on his best propeller-hat* to give the guy a platform for this bullshit. As to why any such maliciously-minded (and IT-whizz) gay men would hack to create false positives, instead of much nastier false negatives is left curiously unexplored by Hicks. Possibly, he thinks that gay men’s inherent ditziness would mean this is a hack too far for them.

Coming right up to the present, after a once-off foray into the Cronulla-riots aftermath (the gay link here escapes me, apart from the “X was a camel-raping faggot” t-shirt wearer no doubt being as drunk on homophobia as Hicks), it’s almost back to business as usual.

As we’ll see, this latest time Hicks doesn’t expressly invoke Kirby as seedy side-show (Hicks’ mate (I’m guessing) Paul Sheehan had already done that). Instead, Hicks’ shows a uncharacteristic single-mindedness and determination, in trashing a recently dead man’s reputation.

First though, there was a brief, late detour en route:

Split on judges' standards
Ron Hicks
Australian 25 May 2006

THE federal Government has rejected calls to establish a statutory organisation to deal with complaints against judges and magistrates . . . Senator [Bill] Heffernan raised the case of a judge who died last year. The NSW Coroner's Court has issued a suppression order on all matters concerning his death.

Well, we all know what that’s about, don’t we? (Hint: “judge” plus “suppression order” plus “Bill Heffernan” spells “P-A-E-D-O ….”)

Detour over with, Hicks’ latest foray has the late John Marsden squarely in his sights.

High-profile lawyer's child sex offence
Ron Hicks
Australian 3 June 2006

Prominent Sydney lawyer John Marsden was found by a NSW District Court judge to have sexually abused an eight-year-old schoolboy when he was a swimming and football coach at a Catholic boarding school in the late 1960s.

The 2001 civil case, in which the plaintiff was awarded the then maximum amount of $40,000 in victim's compensation, could not be revealed until now because it was subject to a court suppression order.

But now that Marsden - a former New South Wales Law Society president - has died of cancer, his alleged victim [Paul Michael Fraser] has come forward to The Weekend Australian [sic – Hicks is freelance].

In his judgment of July 6, 2001, NSW District Court judge Ken Taylor accepted "on the balance of probabilities" that Marsden had sexually abused Mr Fraser . . .

Resistance to his version of events has been slight . . .

Mr Fraser did complain to school authorities [after the final incident, when he was nine], but said he was not believed over the respected local solicitor and former trainee priest. Mr Fraser took his allegations against Marsden to Wood royal commission investigators in 1996, but Marsden was never charged by police.

Mr Fraser then began a civil action in the NSW Supreme Court, but said he was "threatened with financial ruin" by the rich and powerful lawyer. On legal advice, he sought victim's compensation instead.

Who knows what is the truth here? What doesn’t ring true is that a nine-year-old boy would have complained to the school, and matters would apparently rest there. Surely his parents would have been brought into any complaint? Also, with Marsden being 25 y.o. at the time, I very much doubt that that he was then a “respected local solicitor”.

Then there’s the line: “Resistance to [Fraser’s] version of events has been slight”. No shit – despite the imprimatur given by the District Court reference, victim compensation cases are one-sided affairs, in which the evidence of the (alleged) perpetrator of the underlying crime, or indeed of anyone who might challenge the victim’s victim-ness, is neither expected nor welcome.

On slightly dodgier ground, if Marsden did indeed molest the boy, it is highly likely, based on paedophile typologies, that there were many other victims, most likely other boys at the same school. Where are they?

In any event, probably the most damming evidence here comes from Paul Fraser’s own mouth:

"I think I would have been one of the most credible witnesses [in the Marsden defamation case against the Seven Network] . . . I went to private schools and I had not been in any trouble, so Marsden did not have any dirt on me".

Umm sorry, Paul Fraser – you attended, inter alia, an unprestigious Catholic primary school in Sydney’s boondocks. Whatever John Marsden may have done to you, I doubt that the making of you into a laughable snob can be pinned on him. Ditto for your purveying of ancient media morsels to the likes of Ron Hicks.

* "It was supposed to be based on an Oracle 8 relational database management system, but much of the program was written in Visual Basic language." Err, right, Ron - but for your general readership, couldn't you simplify this into, say, a Judge Walks into a Public Toilet anecdote?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Make (thought-) bombs, not seditious talk

To be honest, I haven’t followed the anti-sedition law threat – and the recent apparent backdown – that closely. As a writer/academic, the prospect of going to jail for my words (and thoughts?) is obviously a thing that affects me, but one glance at the names who are all het-up about it confirms for me its Boomer Establishment Heartland origins.

Like refugees-in-detention, the cause of “sedition” is an intellectual equivalent of scarf-knitting for the troops. To a rational mind, would-be hand-knitters of scarfs should instead help to buy/build a scarf-making factory (it is not as if troops get anything extra, tangible or intangible, from the hand-knit factor*). But of course, this is not the point: so much care and time of the upper-middle class is invested into the act of knitting. In other words, the supposed “cause” is about them, and their needs, rather than its ostensible subjects.

And the need for a “factory” rather than “boutique” model of countering terrorism-related threats to freedom of speech has never been any greater than right now.

Over the weekend, two high-profile raids occurred, in the UK and Canada. The UK raid was an interesting one, in its variance from typical “terrorist” demographics, viz Xer (or Xer-mentored) intelligent/highly-educated males, with little or no criminal history**. Not surprisingly then, two bog-ordinary East London thugs, who presumably (and characteristically) once casually big-noted themselves as terrorists, have lead the police to a cul-de-sac. No chemicals – and no books, even.

Meanwhile, the Canadian raid did uncover heaps of chemicals – all of which seem to have been supplied by the police. A clear-cut case of entrapment, akin to an undercover cop waving his erect penis around at a gay beat, and then arresting the first person to respond to the bait.

So what have these unproductive farces got to do with Australia? The answer is in the law as applied to inchoate (or entrapped) “terrorist” offences. At some point, arrests will be (and already are being, IMO) made for mere thought-crimes. And because of the twisted logic of terrorism’s being an exemplary offence (orange jumpsuits and all that), such a thought-crime charge will usually need to be followed with a thought-crime conviction, and hence then a thought-crime appropriate sentence.

Are you with me? I’m suggesting, inter alia, the coercive “re-education” sort of thing. While I’m not trying to suggest that 60s-Soviet gulags or Mao/Pol Pot-esque class-cleansings are just around the corner, if I was a Muslim, Xer, highly-educated male anywhere in the West (or the “pro-West”, like Saudi Arabia), I would be very afraid right now. (As it happens, all the boxes apply to me, except “Muslim”.)

In Saudi Arabia, about 750 men are currently being jailed as thought-criminals; i.e. for being “terrorist”-sympathetic, but otherwise not having committed an actual offence (and I’m confident that Saudi’s criminal code doesn’t have glaring loopholes in this regard). While a Saudi spokesman maintains that these men’s re-education/de-programming is voluntary, how could he say otherwise, given the UK’s enthusiasm (same URL) for the Saudi approach?

Maybe some, or even most, of these men have been successfully “nipped in the bud” – caught before they inevitably became real (/physical) terrorists. Be this as it may, what then happens is when things get interesting. (Hint: to extend the bud metaphor, “nipped” terrorists don’t then oh-so-exquisitely flower in the vase.)

Human rights groups – doing their best scarf-knitting act, as always – have denounced Saudi Arabia, re these 750 men in jail, for its detaining them without trial (same URL). Well, derr.

Would they prefer it that instead, such men get framed, tried and convicted for a minor terrorist offence? If so, do they then recognise that a few years in jail will only re-double the resolve of a thought-criminal? Meaning that the State will have to fall back on coercive “re-education” measures, after all; i.e. that the Saudi approach actually saves a pointless, middle step.

Australia’s Mick Keelty falls somewhere in between here. Officially and/or not yet, he is not in favour of detention of thought-criminals per se, but he is definitely an enthusiast for “re-education” measures for Australians “terrorists” who only get modest jail sentences. Which is surely to say, Muslim Xer highly-educated men whose “offence” was too inchoate, or entrapped, to justify the life (or nearly so) sentence that “terrorism” otherwise automatically merits.

As I said, coercively “re-educating” a highly-educated cohort within Australian society doesn’t amount to a Soviet Gulag et al, yet. On the contrary, the two are still a whole hand-knitted scarf’s length away.

* The refugees-in-detention lobby might here counter that their personalised, upper-middle class services can contribute something extra to their cause: viz a social or professional “in” with the Immigration Minister (who has a wide-ranging personal discretion to intervene in refugee/asylum-seeker cases). In the third world, this sort of leverage is (rightly) termed “corruption”.

** "What we're really facing is not a clash of civilisations, but a clash of generations"
- David Rothkopf, a former acting US under-secretary of commerce.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Passing the hat around for broke NSW

With the Snowy privatisation now off, the state of NSW has a ~$1.5bn hole in its coffers. So let me play Financial Adviser to the Distressed for a moment.

Firstly, Morris – you need to economise. Rationalising your mutiple public transport modal empires (and ticketing systems) would be a big help. It may even encourage interstate visitors to Sydney, many of whom currently find the cost of, say, a public transport return day-trip from Manly to Bondi Beach ($30 or so, across three modes) ample reason to stay on the sensible side of the Murray/Tweed.

But this sort of tweaking is still not going to give you the monetary equivalent of three-thousand, run-down Bexley fibros (aka $1.5bn), I know. So here’s the real money-spinner, Morrie: flog the Royal Sydney golf course off, for housing. While this is a (very) private establishment, I assume that the members don’t hold the land as freehold; i.e. that there is some sort of Crown title to it.

While the 5,000 or so RSGC members would loudly bleat about this, I can’t see any of them living in a remotely marginal seat. In addition they could either join the adjacent Woollahra Golf Club (albeit 9 holes only, compared to RSGC’s 27), or pay a quite reasonable price (possibly less than the public transport fare Joe Public pays just to get there) of $15/$20 per weekday/weekend session to play as a general public member.

Royal Sydney occupies about 500,000 square metres of prime Rose Bay real estate. At a conservative $1,000 per square metre (so allowing for roads, etc), it is worth half a billion dollars.

That’s a third of NSW’s immediate fiscal shortfall solved with one, simple transaction. And unlike with privatisations of taxpayer assets, where everyone’s a loser, bar the big end of town – here, everyone’s a winner, bar the big end of town. So get to it, Morrie.

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