7 June 2003

Why Societies Collapse

I can't help wondering what the Islander who chopped down the last palm tree said as he or she did it. Was he saying, 'What about our jobs? Do we care more for trees than for our jobs, of us loggers?' Or maybe he was saying, 'What about my private property rights? Get the big government of the chiefs off my back.' Or maybe he was saying, 'You're predicting environmental disaster, but your environmental models are untested, we need more research before we can take action.' Or perhaps he was saying, 'Don't worry, technology will solve all our problems.'

Or maybe he was saying that the Murray-Darling Basin can be saved without spending any money. Or that the Kyoto Protocol threatens Australia's economy. Or that Iraq really, really truly did have weapons of mass destruction ready to fire in 45 minutes. Or that gross violations of human rights by the Indonesian state are evil in East Timor but permissible in Aceh and West Papua?

People, as Jared Diamond mentions, love drawing comparisons between Easter Islands catastrophic history and our own. There's one major difference. We can ask if the rulers of Easter Island at least thought about where the next tree was coming from, but their ecological science must have been fairly limited. Ours is not. If we cut down our last metaphorical tree it will be because our leaders refuse the science, not because they lack it.

Sadly, the recent inability of governments to receive or promulgate the truth suggests that our leaders' ingenuousness is just as dangerous as the Easter Islanders' ignorance.

6 June 2003

Address by The Honourable Sir William Deane, 29 May 2003
At the outset, I acknowledge the traditional custodians on whose ancestral land Queensland's first University stands.

It is now approaching eight years since I retired from the Bench. In the time since then I have effectively ceased to be a lawyer. Consequently, I do not feel qualified to offer any really worthwhile professional advice to those of you who are setting out on legal careers. The most I can do is to urge you to be true to your own personal principles and to the ethical standards which are essential to the proper practice and administration of law in this country. That having been said, I venture to share a few thoughts with you about the nation which will be increasingly reliant on the leadership of people like yourselves as it passes through its third half century.

Perhaps the most significant thing about our country that my years as Governor-General brought home to Helen and me is the importance, particularly in this modern turbulent world, of maintaining the mutual respect and acceptance which lie at the heart of our Australian multiculturalism. One sometimes hears well-intentioned suggestions that multiculturalism is divisive. I respectfully disagree. I'm convinced that it is our multiculturalism which has made possible our national unity notwithstanding that we Australians directly or indirectly come from all the regions, races, cultures and religions of the world.
For me, multiculturalism means inclusiveness not division. It's enabled us to blend the many into a pretty harmonious whole without bringing to this new land old hatreds, old prejudices and old conflicts. It is our multiculturalism in that sense which inspires and sustains our modern Australia.

Our multiculturalism is not, of course, the only thing of which Australians should be justly proud. There is our land itself - this matchless continent, its islands, its surrounding seas. There is the commitment to democratic government under the rule of law which we have maintained tenaciously in war and in peace. Very few other nations can look back on more than a century of democratic rule unbroken by dictatorship of the left or right, civil war, military coup or conquest. And there are all the achievements of our Australian people who, as the preamble to our Constitution makes plain, are our nation. All that they are; all that they have been; and all that they have done.

Let me add a few words about what I see as the principal challenges which our country faces in the years ahead. There is the challenge to reverse the damage we have done to our land, its rivers and its coasts, and to make good our failure as a nation to do enough to help safeguard the world environment for future generations. There is the challenge to face up to the completely unacceptable yet growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in this the land of the so-called fair go for all. For the plight of the disadvantaged even in affluent Australia is an overwhelming problem which no one of us who has a voice to speak or the means to help can in conscience ignore. And of course there is the challenge to achieve true and lasting reconciliation between our indigenous peoples and the nation of which they are such a vital part.

There is one challenge for the future leaders of our nation which I would particularly emphasize in this gathering. It is the challenge of justice and truth. The challenge never to be indifferent in the face of injustice or falsehood. It encompasses the challenge to advance truth and human dignity rather than to seek advantage by inflaming ugly prejudice and intolerance. Who of us will easily forget the untruths about children overboard? Or the abuse of the basic rights of innocent children by incarceration behind Woomera's razor wire? Or the denial of the fundamental responsibility of a democratic government to seek to safeguard the human rights of all its citizens, including the unpopular and the alleged wrongdoer, in the case of the two Australians indefinitely caged, without legal charge or process, in a Guant�namo Bay jail? Some may think that these and other similar unpleasant things should be left unmentioned. But if our coming generation of leaders refuses to honestly confront the denial of truth or responsibility which they reflect, our nation will surely be in peril of losing its way in the years ahead.

Finally, I sincerely thank the Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, and all the members of this great University for the honour done me by the conferral of the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. I am truly delighted to be admitted to your company. I also offer my sincere congratulations to all my fellow graduates. Or should I say 'classmates'? May all your plans be successful, all your ambitions be fulfilled and all your dreams become reality

I found this morning's press conferences sad. Neither prospective opposition leader found any of the issues in this address important to mention. That's very sad.
Proof of WMD is Bush trailer trash
On March 30 on US television, the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said of the prohibited weapons: "We know where they are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

Now we know that the Bush administration know where the weapons are, then why don't they just produce them? Or was the Baghdad and Tikrit statement untrue? And if so why should we believe the rest of the WMD tale?

Maybe the Rumsfeld directions for east, west, south and north somewhat should be altered to: "Second to the right, and then straight on till morning."?
Matrix Preloaded: Gulf War II
Not only does this miss the entire point of the Matrix films, but it fundamentally rewrites what would otherwise be a telling diagnosis of the problem. There can be no reality once the possibility of its manufacture overwhelms and surpasses reality's innate capacity to provide truth. Everything now comes with its antecedent, and every fact situates itself within a narrative always already adapted to feed the power of the simulation. Blair and Bush, as malevolent as their practices have been, may not be orchestrating these practices to the extent that we would like to believe. I mean it would be comforting to think that if we could just remove these power-hungry and militaristic leaders from their place atop the world stage that the world would be a better place. It might be, and I'm all for their removal, but it would be a mistake to view that removal, and the "truth" of their warmongering as a panacea. Both leaders, and the subordinates that support (and/or control) them are products of particular ways of being-in-the-world, and foreign policy will continue to reflect the belief in the positivity of its intelligence, just as Bush will continue to declare that the truth will (someday/inevitably) be found about Iraqi WMD. The continual modernist refrain - that the truth is out there, even as we trust no one - creates a self-fulfilling mythos. We don't know it, you cannot know it, but we will one day know it. And given the absolutely necessity of knowing it - of getting the facts! - we must keep looking for it. It's a recipe for disaster, over and over and over again.

A must-read.

5 June 2003

delenda est New Zealand!
Those sneaky swine across the Tasman, ruled as they are by a brutal woman in trousers, are developing a WMD capacity. We cannot wait! Time is pressing! This threat must be eliminated! Resistance is futile!

So, in order to prove my case, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and build a cruise missile in my own garage, on a budget of just US$5,000.

I like to think of this project as the military version of "Junkyard Wars".

Obviously the goal of this website is not to provide terrorists or other nefarious types with the plans for a working cruise missile but to prove the point that nations need to be prepared for this type of sophisticated attack from within their own borders.

A detailed level of documentation will be provided to those who qualify and are willing to pay a small subscription for full access to the project diary.
snark of the week
Whatever, the game is certainly joined and the ALP will be in paralysis until it's run it's course - and "running it's course" might not be just a simple matter of a leadership vote. Crean is the most uninspired ALP leader since Arthur Calwell.

He is the compromised, dynastic scion embodiment of a faction-ridden, apparatchik politics which produces a leader on the basis of the sum total of his least negative qualities, rather than his most positive, and then querulously chides the electorate for it's inability to appreciate him.

Wow. It's awhile since I've tasted vitriol that good. It's also good to see Troppo Armadillo is back to life.

2 June 2003

snark of the week
Robin Cook, former UK foreign secretary and home secretary,answering question from MSNBC:

Question: Isn?t it possible that Saddam Hussein ordered their destruction, as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suggested?
Cook:�No. I don?t think it?s even remotely possible. I just cannot follow the Rumsfeld logic; that watching CNN and seeing the American build-up Saddam said to his generals, ?It?s obvious that the U.S. is going to invade; we had better destroy our biggest weapons, so that when I am toppled there might be some very difficult questions for Donald Rumsfeld to answer.?
Iraq's arms: Hill raises new doubts
[Defence Minister] Senator Hill said it was important for Australians' confidence that "the full story is told".

"On the basis of what we understood, the action was the right action to take," he said in Singapore. "If it turns out there were flaws in what we understood, then I think we ought to say there were flaws. But it's too early to say that.

"We do need to establish the full picture because it's important as we move on to learn all that there is to learn from this experience, including the intelligence side."

Australia had relied mainly on US and British intelligence pointing to the stockpiling and continued development of weapons of mass destruction. Despite some differences in emphasis, analysis of that information by government agencies had "all pointed in the one direction".

"I'm quite comfortable that we made the right decision on the basis of the information that was available to us. In relation to intelligence, when you are dealing with a regime of deception such as Saddam Hussein's, it's not just black and white; you can't get absolutes. You've got to make a decision on the basis of the best information available and this was not a hasty decision."

An unnamed intelligence official has told the BBC that a vital claim in a dossier released by the British Government last September - that Iraq could launch a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes of an order - was inserted on the instructions of officials in the office of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Pressure on Britain intensified at a gathering of world leaders in St Petersburg, where Germany's Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, said: "I made it very clear that if there were no weapons of mass destruction then he, Tony Blair, should admit he has misused intelligence reports and has misled world opinion."

At the same time, the senior US marine officer in Iraq, Lieutenant- General James Conway, has conceded that intelligence reports that chemical weapons had been deployed around Baghdad before the war were wrong.

Senator Hill said 12 Australians with the weapons investigators in Iraq would eventually reveal the truth about weapons programs, and that information should be made public.

"I actually think that it's important for public confidence that the full story is told, even if it leads to a debate as to whether the intelligence was good enough or not. In terms of public confidence it needs to be open and frank."

I think this is important because it kills the silly theory that the lies don't matter because the alliance is all-important. I wonder what popular support for the alliance will be if the lies are confirmed as a matter of public record? I wonder also how far we can trust US intelligence if they are prepared to give us inaccurate information as persuasion to follow them into a war?
Giant tree destroyed by fire
An independent report has confirmed Australian environmentalists' claims that fire has devastated Australia's tallest tree on the island of Tasmania.

Standing at 260 feet (79m) the massive hardwood, known as El Grande, stood unharmed by man for almost four centuries.

Forestry officials in the southern Australian state have admitted a routine burn-off went out of control.

But environmentalists have accused the authorities of being unfit to protect one of the world's most diverse rainforests.

Forestry Tasmania should do a better job of protecting the Huon pine..

1 June 2003

If you really want to know, ask a blogger

First, there is the contempt for 'amateur' writers, endemic in professional journalism. Hacks are always astonished by anyone who writes for no pay, so upwards of half a million such amateurs now publishing blogs leaves the pros speechless. It also leads them to deride blogs as an epidemic of vanity publishing rather than the glorious outbreak of free expression it actually represents.

Second is the assumption that anything written by an amateur is, by definition, worthless. Yet journalism has always been, as Northcliffe observed, 'the art of explaining to others that which one does not oneself understand'.

In fact, when it comes to many topics in which I have a professional interest, I would sooner pay attention to particular blogs than to anything published in Big Media - including the venerable New York Times. This is not necessarily because journalists are idiots; it's just that serious subjects are complicated and hacks have neither the training nor the time to reach a sophisticated understanding of them - which is why much journalistic coverage is inevitably superficial and often misleading, and why so many blogs are thoughtful and accurate by comparison.

Third, there is the problem - not often touched upon in the New York Times, by the way - that many controversial public issues are ignored by Big Media for the simple reason that the ideological and commercial interests of their proprietors preclude it.

I'm amused that the journalistic community, so committed to globalisation and market forces, is terrified of having to compete in a market of ideas.