10 September 2004


At the Widening of a War

Everyone was frightened of the sky.

Each night, Mars emerged at the zenith.
A bleb of pure rage tore off the sun.

For days, the living and the dead
hung in the air like dust
whirled aloft from tired roads.

The fuselage of a lobster lay abandoned.

The Isles of the Blest were receding
to their sailing distances
and the gunfire of tourist shoes was stilled.

Sports stadiums and crowds loomed from another age.

The blow struck now
would be weaker than the blow withheld.

Les Murray

Budget figures to help keep lid on rates, says Labor

The Federal Opposition says today's revised budget figures allow it more than $3 billion to spend before it dips into the surplus.

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello has revealed an $8 billion surplus for the last financial year.

The announcement comes in the wake of a revised Treasury surplus forecast for this financial year, required at the start of an election campaign.

The surplus for the last financial year is $3.5 billion more than expected.

Mr Costello says the $8 billion will go to retiring debt but he has announced that surpluses in the future will go to a new fund to pay for the Commonwealth superannuation liabilities.

"Having now repaid $73 billion of the Labor debt, it's time to invest in the future," he said.

Mr Costello says net debt is at its lowest level since 1977.

Treasury figures also out today have predicted a $5.3 billion surplus for the 2004-2005 financial year, double initial indications.

I suspect the splat we just heard was the Great Interest Rate Scare of 2004 splattering on the foot path. Labor has no plans to spend anything approaching the surplus so the issue of higher interests rates, insofar as they depend on aggregate government spending, is dead. This also emphasises the big difference between the Man of Steel and the Great and Powerful Dubya. The Man of Steel is much better at economic management.

7 September 2004

the mathematical logic of blenvy

Some posts immediately cause a deep and abiding sense of bloggers' envy. be warned. Notebooks on mathematical logic is one such post.

Our outsider would, of course, have been wrong. Mathematical logic was the inspiration for perhaps only half of twentieth-century philosohpy (that is, of honest philosophy; by volume, as Kolakowski says, Stalin was the century's most influential philosopher); many of our finest mathematicians, such as Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann and Andrei Kolmogorov cut their teeth on it, and notation (and notions) which began in the obscurities of Peirce and Peano are now to be found in every undergraduate math book. True, some early application --- one thinks particularly of Woodger's axiomatization of biology --- have, perhaps unfairly, gone nowhere, and McCulloch and Pitt's "A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity" is more important for launching neural nets upon the world than for using Carnap's formalism. But in one extremely important field, however, it reigns supreme, and that is computation. Programming is, simply, mathematiucal logic in action; the melding of theory and practice is so complete that most practioners have no idea that their speech --- recursion, lexical scope, data abstraction, even those banes of C novices, pointers, referencing and dereferncing --- is prose. (Speaking of speech, Chomsky of course began as a logican, and his early work (air force and navy supported!) on formal languages is as much a part of logic as it is of linguistics or the theory of computation.) Of course, some of the computer's intellectual roots were more obviously useful --- but since these were the study of Brownian motion, and the physics of crystals and spectral lines, not much. (Its practical origins were military needs and vast quantities of government subsidies, which continue, but let's not disturb the myths about private enterprise any more than we must.)


checking the blogosphere on Chechnya

I don't know a lot about Chechnya or Chechen history. The killing there, whther by local fighters or central government troops, is repugnant.

I don't plan on finding large blocks of Chechen analysis to blog after carefully selecting what my gut tells me is right. I leave that to the Bush administration and its henchcreatures.

I think Mark Kleiman has it right when he links to a moderately pro-Chechen screed and notes:

Mail accusing Gessen or the undersigned of defending terrorism will not be responded to. That the children are dead is horrible, but horror isn't a policy

This century is going to see increasingly untenable cases that just do not have solutions that are very thinkable. Refusing to think is, like horror, not a policy.

Did the First Americans Come From, Er, Australia?

But Silvia Gonzalez from John Moores University in Liverpool said skeletal evidence pointed strongly to this unpalatable truth and hinted that recovered DNA would corroborate it.

"This is very contentious," Gonzalez, a Mexican, said with a smile at the annual meeting of the British association for the Advancement of Science. "They (native Americans) cannot claim to have been the first people there."

She said there was very strong evidence that the first migration came from Australia via Japan and Polynesia and down the Pacific Coast of America.

Skulls of a people with distinctively long and narrow heads discovered in Mexico and California predated by several thousand years the more rounded features of the skulls of native Americans.

One particularly well preserved skull of a long-face woman had been carbon dated to 12,700 years ago, whereas the oldest accurately dated native American skull was only about 9,000 years old.

"We have extracted her DNA. It is going to be a bomb," she said, declining to give details but adding that the tests carried out so far were being replicated to make sure they were accurate.

She said there were tales from Spanish missionaries of an isolated coastal community of long-face people in Baja California of a completely different race and rituals from other communities in America at the time.

These last survivors were wiped out by diseases imported by the Spanish conquerors, Gonzalez said.

Weird, weird headline. If one first people proves more first than another first people does that really call for dispute?

6 September 2004

hitting reverse gear on Guantánamo I

The November 2003 speech by Lord Steyn, a judicial member of the House of Lords, is the best place to start:

Let me now turn to the second matter. The question is whether the quality of justice envisaged for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay complies with minimum international standards for the conduct of fair trials. The answer can be given quite shortly: It is a resounding No. The military commissions contemplated by the United States government have been described by Professor Ronald Dworkin as the type of trials one associates with utterly lawless totalitarian regimes. David Pannick, Q.C., invoked Kafka's The Trial in which the great novelist describes how Joseph K's advocate warns him of the difficulties of presenting a defence when "the proceedings were not only kept secret from the general public, but from the accused as well." But as David Pannick observed, Joseph K could see his lawyer, however incompetent, and there was a court, however imperfect, making the decision. The military commissions are not independent courts or tribunals. The term kangaroo court springs to mind. It derives from the jumps of the kangaroo, and conveys the idea of a pre-ordained arbitrary rush to judgment by an irregular tribunal which makes a mockery of justice. Internationally military commissions at Guantanamo Bay will be so regarded. Trials of the type contemplated by the United States government would be a stain on United States justice. The only thing that could be worse is simply to leave the prisoners in their black hole indefinitely.

Australia is the only allied government which has accepted the Guantánamo process for its citizens. If Australia, or rather the Man of Steel, had been daring enough to object it is probable the whole thing would have been abandoned. The Guantánamo 'operations and procedures' cannot be the problem because they have not changed since Bush first issued a series of executive orders on 13 November 2001. The military commissions are not the same as regular courts-martial. There is no appeal to an actual judge.

Since nothing has changed in the operations and procedures it follows that Downer and Ruddock either have just discovered problems they previously ignored or have chosen to try and avert criticism in the context of the election. More later.

Australia to tackle US over Hicks trial

The Australian Government will raise concerns with the United States about the handling of the military commission trial of alleged terrorist David Hicks.

That follows concerns raised by Australian officials who attended the preliminary hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, last month amid fears that the proceedings lacked fairness.

The Age has been told that the officials felt that the details of an agreement on trial procedures reached by the US and Australian Government had not got through to the US military personnel handling the hearing.

In a joint statement yesterday Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the officials identified a number of problems with "operational and procedural aspects of the military commission process".

Problems included a lack of agreed rules of procedure that could lead to uncertainty for both the prosecution and defence in preparing cases.

This is outrageous. Downer and Ruddock have again and again defended these same operations and procedures since they were first announced. I'll update with their previous comments in the morning. This is not a Damascene conversion. This is realising that the Hicks trial could get very embarrassing, very quickly.

It also sits very strangely with Rudocck's endorsement of military commissions in Australia.

5 September 2004

the week that was

Rod Cameron on Lateline:

Yeah, but the impact will be less and less.

What's it's done, it's forced a number of expert commentators and economists to question the validity of Howard's statement that interest rates are always higher under Labor - not so.

The market itself has judged it to be fallacious, because the people who put their real money in are not factoring in higher interest rates other than the expected small increase no matter who wins, and in fact it gave Mark Latham the chance to respond in values terms and I think his best performance so far was his response to the interest rates scare.

He was able to deflect it in terms of aspirationalism and the battler versus the big end of town and he was able to be reasonably convincing at his biggest vulnerability, so I think Labor would be well pleased that it came in the first week of a long campaign.

All in all, I think the government is sounding a little tired. The Costello never, ever thing took up Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday were dominated by the interest rate claims and the magic documents from the prime minister's staff which disproved the Scrafton evidence but can't be be seen by the select committee on the Scrafton evidence. Friday of course, was the sad news that the safe seat of Wentworth had suddenly gone marginal with the sitting member running against the Liberal candidate.

In the background the crepuscular Ruddock managed to relate the Beslan atrocity to the ALP and the deputy prime minister (the Mini Me of Steel, perhaps) suddenly discovered that the ALP are haters. Perhaps if the Man of Steel is re-elected he could hire Zell Miller as governor-general. Better, he might like to think about the Kennet election that used negatives from the outset and managed to convert a sizeable majority in the Victorian parliament into an election loss in one easy hit. Nick Greiner almost achieved the same unhappy result in NSW in 1991.

Both parties have been guilty of high interest rates in the past. It's a pity no-one's mentioned that the low interest rate regime is a major factor driving the housing bubble. The market is not factoring high interest rates under Labor. Running on a furphy is not quite as easy in Australia as it is is elsewhere.