Monday, March 31, 2003

Iraq – a US “failure” already?

Suicide bombers have finally, irrefutably unmasked themselves – or more accurately, their tactics – as the proverbial smoking gun connecting Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda. Not that anyone has taken too much notice of this – media coverage on this point has been overwhelmingly negative, with the usual line being the war having entered “a dangerous new phase”, or some such.

Like, derr. Unless this war was, and is, the bloody-minded act of a psychopathic country, with money and armaments to burn, and needing no provocation to fire the first shot, then terrorism (/guerrilla warfare, /”unexpected resistance” – call it what you like) was bound to rear its ugly head. Suicide bombing is always terrorism – and never, say, an act of defence, born out of desperation – because it so cheapens life – most of all, that of the suicide bomber himself.

Unlike, say, highly-trained wartime kamikaze pilots, a suicide bomber does what any “loaded” dog could do (and often a dog could have done it better, with “it” of course being the maximum number of casualties, period). The reason that non-human bomb-delivery vehicles (/animals) are not used instead, despite the compelling sense that this would seem to make, is simple – the mastermind's aim is to lose the war in the vaguest, most-face saving way possible; that is by making the war as broad as it is thin.

Thus (in case you still really do not get it), Islamo-fascist terrorism is a war about nothing, with the whole world being its battleground. If Iraqis really believed what they say they believe about USA-as-the-evil-empire, then they would be fighting for their country – truly, madly, deeply. By instead opting to fight for, and against nothing of any reality, they are not fighting at all.

(below is a post from two months ago, about suicide bombers, that I’ve re-posted coz its dropped off the bottom)


Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Iraq is already the West’s new Vietnam – opinions in the street and at the dinner table are deeply polarized, but both sides are following agendas no deeper than about five dot points; all of which everyone has already heard (and on both sides), ad infinitum.

So here’s my take.

The “five dot points deep” syndrome is fed and sustained by an asymmetry of rogues. The enemy is variously personal (Saddam) and also a nation, variously unfinished Gulf War business and also the post September 11 new-Realpolitik, variously a proxy war to test and tame another country (Saudi Arabia) and also an annihilation by proxy of just one human being (Bin Laden).

I could go on – not least by going through the gallery of innocents, just as asymmetric as that of the rogues. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter, because they are inseparable – rogues and innocents, individual nutcases and whole countries. Both sides of dot pointers are nonetheless right, if only because they share the same defect of rationality, done to a high school debate lukewarmness.

Try instead to get inside the head of a suicide bomber - It’s not a pretty picture – nor is it even a clear picture. It’s not much to do with leaders (Saddam, Bin Laden) nor ideology and nationalism. It’s intellectually soft – soft as its targets – and as easily spread and mass-marketed as any other brand of pop-nihilism. Use of videotape by suicide bombers places them simultaneously at the crassest outlier of reality TV, and yet crowns them as maker-connoisseurs of sophisticated cinematic irony, a la Network (1976; Dir. Sidney Lumet, Wr. Paddy Chayefsky).

Just one referent somewhat grounds all this explosive, uncontrollable periphery – family. In an appropriately asymmetric gesture, Saddam/Iraq (as well as the other usual suspects) give a large sum of money to the families of dead suicide bombers. This makes him/them variously a go-getter production company of admirable flint-hardness, and also – just – a weeping spiral of pathos and self-righteous hypocrisy. Ah, family!

There may be no “smoking gun” in Iraq, then, but there sure are smoking nostrils - everywhere.

- Paul Watson 3:02 PM


Peter Arnett's pronouncements have got him sacked from both his American media gigs:

Whether these sackings were for simple mediocre journalism (calling the race well before anyone has reached the finish line),
or something more serious, is now probably a moot point. In true baby boomer fashion (albeit Arnett is 68), his career stalled for
a gold-card-trembling-in the-wallet five hours or so, at which point he was picked up by a pommy tabloid:

Thus, my quip:
Q. What's a one-word definition for the time a baby boomer may spend unemployed?
A. Lunch

Onto other matters to do with baby boomers and suicide bombers, Paul Sheehan goes too far with his
"those crazy Arabs"-type thesis:

As I say above, Islamo-fascist enmity is spread thinly, rather than running too deep, as Sheehan claims. If he had a clue as to the generational gulf that divides Gen X and older generations – in the Arab world and elsewhere – he would recognise that the problem starts, and currently rests, mostly with him and his generation. Osama is just a typical, two-bit baby boomer – a deputiser par excellence, operator of a shelf-company that employs young men to work in sub-standard conditions and be paid on a whim and deceit basis.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

When the music's over, the DJ's done a runner

As suggested here on Thursday (March 27), John Quiggin’s blogging on the Iraq war strike would end up hurting him more than it would cause grief to the Powers That Be.

For the record, John held out three days, three hours and 41 minutes (possibly not including a daylight savings variance of plus or minus one hour – I never have got the hang of adding and subtracting hours).

Anyway, the real reason I bring John up is something he wrote during his brief bloggus paxus period:

"As a trivial example, when I write a column for the Financial Review, the opinion editor expects that I will check my facts before I submit the column - (I flagged my uncertainty about the authorship of the airlines cartoon I cited recently, but as it turned out I should have asked on my blog first). For some columnists and some papers, this isn't a problem of course, but for papers that aspire to accuracy, it's easier to rely on contributors who are known to be reliable than to take on new writers who may require more careful checking. This kind of problem arises in all kinds of employment and contractual relationships".

I understand the point he is making about transaction costs, and note the caveat that his chosen example of their application – freelance writer recruitment by the Financial Review – is “trivial”. Possibly “hastily and unimaginatively chosen, and not a good illustration of the point I was trying to make at all” would have been a better, albeit verbose substitute for “trivial” here. Or perhaps, it was just a Freudian (or should that now be Slavoj Zizek-ian?) slip: John has, more-or-less involuntarily, turned his confessional tap on for a brief moment, so allowing insight into the very private world of baby boomer collective consciousness.

John’s exposition of freelance writer recruitment by the Financial Review is, of course, almost certainly correct in practice, at the present time. Here, I fully accept the Fin is a “closed shop”. It is in John’s broader theory, then, that the maggoty underbelly of his tenet emerges.

For starters, the Fin’s present stable of freelance writers must eventually retire – or die at their laptops. I’m not sure what the economic catchphrase is here, but doesn’t having to suddenly replace a large swathe of one’s workforce necessarily drive up the price of that labour? (And cheap labour, of course, is probably the only reason the only reason Gen X is even tolerated as ostensible full-citizens in this two-tier world). There’s also the somewhat delicate matter of depreciation, while on the job. While I don’t accept that all freelance writers who have been at it a long while will naturally slack off and/or intellectually wither for whatever reason, the risk of this happening in a “closed shop” is high.

Most of all, however, John’s “closed shop” for freelance writers theory offends simple logic, in its lack of a commencement basis or metric. That is, the shop must have been open to untested writers at some stage. Thinking about this, and then connecting it with matters cosmic, I came up with a theory that could be of some use in closing up this hole in John’s case – the Big Bang. Yes, the Big Bang – here, meaning the moment that the job market, housing affordability etc, suddenly went from being open to all comers, to closed - to all except the incumbents. Pointless to question why, because everything after it happened just is. Not sure of the exact date for this momentous event, but I’m pretty sure that it was sometime in the eighties.

Another way of looking at the Big Bang – someone suddenly decides, c 1985, that the world is henceforth a giant game of musical chairs. Baby boomers are told so explicitly, so they grab chairs for themselves, reserve them for their friends, stockpile them for later re-sale on the secondary market, etc. Meanwhile, Gen X doesn’t even know what’s going on, until the music stops.

Friday, March 28, 2003

What's in this for me?

Coinciding nicely with fourteen years olds taking to street en masse to protest the Iraq war, eternal sophomore Phillip Adams (see my Sunday March 9 post), flogged the same cause in print on the same day, and also seemingly allowed his hormones to impair his judgement in the process.

Or at least, this is the kindest way I can find to describe Adams’s badly-misfired, ostensibly-rhetorical question: "What's in it for us?" (re Australian military Iraq involvement).

There’s no URL for his Op Ed piece in The Australian 26 March 2003, but a few of today’s letter writers can be viewed having a go at Adams.

In the manner of an inexperienced cross-examiner, Adams obviously presumes to know the answer as he asks the question. Apart from the dubious “us” he refers to (is Adams talking about all his fellow Australians worth $50m+, or just the (much smaller) gang who have accrued their mega-wealth principally by milking the “public teat”, as one of today’s letter writers put it), there is an ugly, neo-Shylock-ian sting (self-inflicted, of course) in the question’s tail. If Adams doesn’t mean to be talking about money here, what else is on his bargaining table? Australia’s buying a sort of protection from Al Qaeda, by not joining the allies in Iraq? How grotesquely mercantilist does this man go?

For those interested in the life and mediocrity of Phillip Adams, there’s no biography yet available (which is a bit strange for an Australian with 30+ years in the media/cultural industries under his belt). In terms of Adams and the “public teat”, there’s some useful information in Anne Coombs “Adland” William Heinemann 1990, pb. As “Adland” is not indexed, Adams-hunters may want to go straight to pp 34-35, 51-56, and 86-92.

Apart from having long had the self-serving knack of convincing governments of all persuasions to funnel money into things worthily vague (“Life. Be in it” and the “Commission for the Future” being just two examples of Adams’s taste for expensive, expansive – and commissionable – projects), Adams emerges as a quite shameless political powerbroker in the 80s, one of an ilk now most associated with Sydney shock jocks. And, despite all his pseudo-left bleatings, Adams’s most distinguished contribution of all to Australian life and industry may well end up being the generous terms he negotiated for an exit from an ad agency that he then co-owned (and that he had originally been made an equity partner of, almost as soon as he walked into the already-established outfit). The mother of all severance packages and money for jam – a nice precedent Adams set almost two decades ago, for generations of spivs to come.

Finally, in the best Adams tradition, of haute jingoism mixed with "there’s gotta be a bob in this for me", I’d like to offer my readers a new national anthem (or at least the start thereof):

Australians all, let us re-voice –
What’s in this shit for us?
With brickies and bosses all in cahoots
Our home is girt by loot
Our land abounds in ad campaigns
Of duty, balloons and tack
In history’s amnesia, let’s ask who’s gonna please ya
Advance Australia Back

P.S. Not actually sure where the “bob” will be in this for me. I’d feel like a bastard taking royalties from school assemblies etc singing this. Perhaps if, on the strength of these inspiring lyrics, “we” established a taxpayer-funded “Commission for the Past”, and I was made its foundation chairperson.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Biggest media shake-up in a decade – Sleep on Fairfax, you crazy cubic zirconia,5744,6193796%255E2702,00.html

*If* these changes go through the Senate, then they won’t just be the biggest media shake-up in a little while – in my book, it’s actually the biggest thing since the newsprint kings were handed – almost free – the first (and last) commercial free-to-air TV licences in the 1950’s.

Understandably, the story (even if it’s still speculation, strictly speaking) got a big run in today’s Oz. Today’s Fin write-up, in contrast had the changes road-blocked in the Senate. Meanwhile, today’s Age – true to its wooden spooner form for the past five years or so – just said nothing at all, not even in its business pages.

Perhaps this is because The Age has so slipped from being a jewel in the Fairfax crown, that it’s all a bit too much for them to currently handle - just too sickly-sweet-and-fitting that its long-term future is now in the hands of three (perhaps four – I know nothing about Shayne Murphy) pariah senators.

As to Australia’s already way over-concentrated mass-media being further concentrated, of course this is a worry (and as if more ABC radio is going to ameliorate this, Meg Lees – you fuckwitted, baby boomer arsonist-of-the commons).

The only positive in all this is that mass-media have not so far – and I don’t think ever will – colonised the Internet. I could go on about this forever, but for now, it suffices to say that the “walled garden” model of commercialising the Net has been proved a total turkey.

On John Quiggin’s blog (he’s now on an Iraqi war content strike – which I think has a serendipitous parallel with the hash dealers of Copenhagen going on strike, to protest against police crackdowns), I’ve made come comments on mass media vs blogs in terms of covering the current war.

Also compare and contrast “Internet wins the info battle”,5744,6185239%255E7582,00.html with its quite-revealing little peak and reveal at the phenomenon of the white collar siesta (news web traffic usually peaks between 2pm to 4pm), with The Age’s truly sleeping-on the-job observation that the war has *not* been a ratings fillip for TV news:
Like derr, Ross Warneke – I wonder why that could be? (Hint: if you're reading this, you’ve magically got the answer!)

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Of books and houses II (click on “Advances”)

The Australian Book Review is a venerable publication indeed, being actually pre-Whitlam in its origins (founded 1968). I usually only occasionally leaf through it at the bookshop to see what token Gen X’er they have roped in for this once-off clutch at fame – the ABR is right up there with the worst magazine offenders in setting up a roped-off, baby boomer treadmill to power [cough, cough] both its content and its readership.

Anyway, there is a curious message from the ABR editor in the March issue. He sends out a call to Oz authors living overseas to send their books into the ABR for review (and so, some cheap, and perhaps also even good publicity).

Such lamington-drive like calls to authors are not, of course, the way ABR usually sources its books for review. Publishers, both Australian and overseas-based, are usually quite happy to forward free review copies, of any book which has an Oz nexus, to the ABR – as long as the book is intended to be sold in Australia.

And there’s the rub. From the tone of the editor’s call, it seems that Australian authors (albeit usually expats) are increasingly writing books that will not be distributed in Australia. Hence, the publisher’s decision (quite understandable) not to bother with any publicity measures in Oz at all, and hence, the ABR editor’s personal call to the authors themselves to raid their stamp and postpak draw.

Of this clearly sad situation, the ABR editor had this to say about publishers not forwarding of review copies of all Oz- authored books: “This strikes ABR as anachronistic — not to mention a tad provincial”.

Huh? While regretting the situation deeply, I don’t find being effectively told that I live in an intellectual backwater to be at all “anachronistic” or “provincial”. “Sobering” – yes. And as for making scapegoats of multi-national publishers for supposedly grudging the few stamps that would make everything all right again (as if!) – you see, Mr Editor, now *that* is provincial.


Re house prices:,5744,6180897%255E7583,00.html

The more than doubling in the ratio of household debt to income (56 per cent to 125 per cent over the past decade) can be somewhat defused by zooming in on to the actual balance sheets of households with mortgages. On such balance sheets, it is true, the asset valuation has bloomed alongside the capitalized debt. Nor, with low interest rates, are debt service ratios a problem, as least provided that the mortgagor keeps their job.

Only one ingredient is not addressed in such comforting analysis – that the global ratio of household debt to income (presumably) includes renter’s income, but not (because they have none, or only very low levels) renter’s debts. Of course, a renter’s notional balance sheet is another story …

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Of books, houses and improving our busts

The second-hand book market is stone cold dead, in Melbourne at least (plus my own observations as a *cough, cough* book owner facing reduced circumstances). Ergo, the housing price bust can’t be far behind. Pourquoi?

For starters, how is it that the second-hand book market has fallen so flat, while the new book market is doing okay? That is, they surely ride, more or less, together? In any case, aren’t second-hand books – like booze and gambling – things whose fortunes generally look up in times of recession? And what has any of this got to do with house prices?

New books serve as an analogue of house (“home”) ownership in several ways. Both are rarely bought purely for investment (capital gain) purposes. While there is no ready way of long-term renting a book, assuming that there was, and that it was priced at about 80% of the cost of owning the book outright, there would, I theorize, still be a clear majority (say 75%) of book owners in Australia. The attractions of book ownership, then, are non-fiscally rational, but nor are they solely practical (such as being able to annotate an owned book, but not a rental one). Owned books have a clear, if rather inchoate, quality of being “capital” on the proprietor’s shelves – irrespective of their prospects of capital gain (minimal in most cases, of course), or of rental income – being commercially to let out. Putting this another way: all books are ultimately owned as part of a library and no amount of rented books on a tenant’s shelves can ever form a library, because every volume already has a prior, permanent such “home”.

In practice, a liquid second-hand book market dispenses with, and rebuts all of the above paragraph. Long-term rental of a new book, for those unable (or very rarely, unwilling) to pay the upfront, or debt-financed, ownership premium is a nonsense, with all but the very-newest titles generally available for second-hand purchase at between about 20% and 50% of the new price. While such a market is rather imperfect from a consumer choice POV, the public library conveniently picks up much of the slack here (such as by stocking very new titles).

On the other side of the supply/demand curve, the hefty discount offered off the RRP at second-hand bookshops is a stark reminder of the non-existent capital gains prospects of most books, from an owner’s POV (and remember that the shop buys wholesale from them). Much more so than for new cars, a new book loses at least 50% of its value the instant it is proverbially driven from the showroom. Crucially, this doesn’t substantially detract from the “capital” value an owner ascribes to their books – if only because a minority of all owned books, and from a minority of all owner libraries, ever get exposed to the pitiless wholesale price scales of second-hand bookshops.

So, what is the significance of the second-hand book market losing its liquidity, as at present? At its simplest, the decreased demand for second-hand books (without a corresponding, premium-brand-switching, demand increase for new books) is an economic absolute. There is no tweaking (that I can think of, anyway) with price, stock, or anything else that is likely to ramp up buyer demand at the second-hand bookshop. In a kind of economic “perfect storm”, then, even a 90% discount for an as-new book contains no meaningful discount, as far as attracting buyers is concerned.

The weirdest thing about this (for me) is that the undiscounted, new book market is continuing on as before. In other words, the capital value of new books is being propped up at two discrete points. New book buyers are almost totally price insensitive, a state of mind that must partially be due to their decreasing familiarity with the insides of second-hand bookshops (both as buyers and sellers), which in turn (ironically?) insulates them from “out-of-the-showroom” capital loss jolt – which has clearly increased as a percentage in recent months, for the above reasons.

All this shows that capital value can clearly float in the ether. I am vaguely aware of an economic/tax term called the unrealised capital loss, but I don’t think that higher rates of such unrealisation (though they are clearly out there) lead to any elucidation of what’s going on. Rather, the key seems to be that the twin factors of price insensitivity and artificially high perceived capital value can, and do, perversely thrive when the floor has fallen totally out of the secondary (non-owner for houses, second et al owner for books) market. The “out-of-the-showroom” capital loss for a new book is now a median 100%, but does anyone even know or care? Having a roof over one’s head, of course, does usually qualify as a more essential need that having possession of any particular book, so making a 100% capital loss on housing an impossibility, but remember here – whatever actual percentage loss awaits will and can be determined only after a floor value has been re-built. Currently, as with books, there is actually no rational stopping point whatsoever.

So, what is the upcoming house price landing going to be like? Here, I really have no idea, for it is at this point that the analogue of book– and house-ownership falls away. Second-hand bookshop proprietors are evolved creatures of adversity, with their businesses (as the TV series “Black Books” showed) being forever on the verge of becoming hobbies-at-will, whose chief purpose is the generation of maximum social abrasion to all customers. Such bookshops’ landing, then, can and has been deferred indefinitely. For the housing market’s landing, however, there will be no such dishevelled man-mattresses to cushion the fall.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Baghdad cellars – Three different ways

Watching TV footage this morning of (i) Iraqi soldiers getting captured Americans to perform for the cameras, and (ii) hundreds of middle-aged-to-old Iraqi lined up along the river in downtown Baghdad and shooting into it with ancient-looking rifles (there were apparently two downed US pilots sub-aqua) made me wonder about the chemical powers at work. Specifically, I’m talking substances, and my guess is that there’s really only two intoxicants that would have any kind of circulation in Iraq at the moment – alcohol and dope.

I’m not a strong believer in the existence of atavistic blood lust as a stand-alone, natural intoxicant. Sure, with tight enough media control and tight enough production value of what does get on (a la North Korea), the state’s (or more correctly, the broadcaster’s) control of the minds of its subjects is almost total. Without Iraq being such a closed black box to be Saddam’s personal plaything, there must be some other explanation for the strange Iraqi behaviour outlined above. My guess here is intoxicants. Those anti-teen drinking ads actually are right, in one sense – alcohol can send the peer pressure reading right off the scale. When heavy drinking is combined with the peer-ification of war (not only by formal military call-up, hence the seemingly spontaneous dads’ army by the Baghdad riverbank), the resultant pressure effectively combines a large cross-section of “normal” society with the ordinarily not-for-publication antics of the end of season footy trip.

This is mostly blind speculation on my part, of course. I haven’t actually got a clue about whether alcohol (or dope) is ordinarily available and/or widely consumed in Iraq, much less at the present moment. Nonetheless, the 1990s wars around the break-up of Yugoslavia provide a clear precedent for the inter-relationship of alcohol, barbarity, and a rag-tag army (i.e. a grouping of people among whom peer pressure would ordinarily be weak).

If I am right, this means that the ground battle for Baghdad may be very different from the war so far. In particular, this means that the greatest threat to allied loss of life may not be from elite soldiers, but by informal, even spontaneous groupings (aka “irregular militia”) on barbaric rampages (I am thinking particularly of the Bosnian Serbs here).

The apparent war-weary, hardened cynicism of the average Baghdad-ite doesn’t, by itself, play either for or against the success of the rampaging groups. However, such confident cynicism can only last when it is backed by something solid – here, of course, it is having a convenient underground shelter to resort to.

That such shelters are widespread in Baghdad can be taken as proved by the cusp-of-war general insouciance of Baghdad-ites. Not only has their city been regularly bombed since the first Gulf War, the near certainty of a major escalation did not apparently see a mass-exodus from the city.

When just about everyone has an underground shelter; there is actually another word for them – cellars. These rooms (not to be confused with basements) are the original multi-purpose spaces. Apart from providing in-extremis living quarters, the more everyday connotation of a cellar is one of providence – of storage for alcohol.

Before moving on to the third great use of the cellar, it is worth taking a quick tour of the great cellar cities of the world. In Australia, the clearly pre-eminent such city is Adelaide. In the desert 800 km north of Adelaide is a settlement of a few thousand souls (I use the term loosely) called Coober Pedy, where most live in entirely-underground stone caves – so taking cellar living one step further. Coober Pedy’s population is reportedly one of the most psychological dysfunctional on earth. It also, for what it is worth, contains a large percentage of Serbian-born single men. I suspect, therefore, that Belgrade must be one of the world’s other great cellar cities.

But back to Adelaide. Without its residents ever having been under military attack, does this mean that the cellars of this fine city have only ever functioned as luxurious wine storage chambers? Well, no – funnily enough, Adelaide also carries the unwelcome tag of being a city of disproportionately uncaught serial killers, kidnappers and paedophiles. The third use of a cellar, then, may also be its oldest and most primitive – the dungeon.

And on to Baghdad, circa 26 March 2003. The dungeon is the only use of a cellar which seems equally suited for both wartime and peacetime. Not that the intent is the same – rather, the combination of cramped underground living conditions with breaking open the alcohol stash simply creates the intense peer pressure that beseeches: something, someone has got to bleed.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

From casbah to caliphate, via Clayton

"The Philosopher of Islamic Terror", by Paul Berman

Link via Arts and letters daily

Middle-class warriors leading a vanguard movement? It all sounds so-o-o Monash University, circa mid-1970s, which means, if you ask me, that Berman's deep pessimism as to the future persistence of Islamo-fascism is unfounded. If cheesy blond heterosexual virgin goody-goody Peter Costello can banish, almost single-handledly (?) the hard Left from the temple of student politics in Australia, then turfing out Al Qaeda should be a cinch. Rock that casbah!

And, as for your utopian caliphate: if you're still looking for it, then you plainly can't see the caliphate for the second bananas, the 2-I-Cs, the non-threatening blonds waiting in the wings. You see, my fellow crazed idealists, the revolution *was* televised. Yep - they lied; you missed it; it's time to now give up, go home and watch the edited highlights.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Baby boomers and melioration

The war in Iraq has already achieved at least one positive outcome – that of old baby boomer platitudes being wheeled out again. This time will hopefully be the last – they are as transparent as the skin on a corpse at an open casket viewing.

One example: “If this cannot be seen as an unjust and illegal war that undermines the advances we have made towards international humanitarian principles and the rule of law and democracy, nothing can be."

Everyone’s entitled to their views, of course, but I just gag every time I hear the word “advance” in this context. Says who? In my thirty-something years of life in an affluent (they say), ostensibly democratic country, I only have seen steady, near-continuous downward movement across all spheres: economic (unemployment and house price affordability for starters); political (bribing redneck “aspirational” voters with tax-free 4WDs); educational (no further comment required); and cultural (more about this below).

Even if the above statement is taken at its narrowest and most literal, any advances genuinely, if fluffily, made towards “international humanitarian principles and the rule of law” would seem to have been recently cancelled out by the two competing posses of international law experts, who have claimed in the last week that war on Iraq is respectively clearly mandated by the UN etc, or isn’t. To paraphrase: If this little ridiculous squabble isn’t rebarbative, subtle-as-cavemen-fighting behaviour, nothing can be.

“Melioration” has an interesting archaic use, from Scottish law, to describe improvements to land made by the tenant. Advances, in other words, must either be paid for, or achieved through the labours of others, if they are to be recorded on the capital ledger, as opposed to being pie-in-the-sky fluff. The sharp decrease in home ownership among Gen X is certainly not an “advance” from my POV, but, resurrecting its archaic Scottish law meaning, I suppose that this is indeed an unearned windfall for wannabe, and already-are slumlords generally. With everyone needing a roof over their heads being one of the few remaining certainties, together with skyrocketing house prices, this is a textbook neo-feudal “advance” for the rentier class – unpaid for by its beneficiaries.

I have previously blogged around this topic, and what I’ve termed a festering inter-generational fault-line (see February 19 and 20). A short news story today, Selina Mitchell “Public servants losing spirit” (The Australian 21 March 2003, no URL) shows the level of sheer fudging around this fact. The story’s gist: the public service pool is getting older. The good: the public service pool will therefore be more experienced. The bad: new entrants (and a majority of them are graduates, these days) tend not to stick around past four years or so. The unsaid: (i) in a bleak employment market for graduates, the public service must be doing something badly wrong if it can’t keep them; (ii) if “experience” outweighs formal education in the general estimation of the public service (the article implies that it does), then there is already a prime suspect identified for the malfeasances imputed in (i) – take a bow, Miss Marple. I am no advocate of credentialism for its own sake, but if the public service really prefers to hang on indefinitely to its current mainstays – semi-educated, apathetic forty and fifty-somethings – it could at least be honest and open about this depressing fact.

Onto baby boomers and the cultural industries. Case in point: Robyn Archer and the "Ten days on the island" Tasmanian arts fiasco; see Carol Altmann, “Dissident voices chip away on the island” (The Australian 7 March 2003, no URL) and Robyn Archer, "Ten days through the mill” (The Australian 21 March 2003, no URL). Accepting tainted money to sponsor the arts is a complicated and emotional issue, so I’m not going to into too much detail here (not to mention the fact that, not being a Taswegian, I don’t really have standing to be in either camp).

Anyway, something Archer, the “Ten days” festival’s “artistic director’ (= travel the world in search of the latest trends, spot ‘em, buy ‘em, then import ‘em – much like a gift shop wholesaler) wrote had me choking on my cereal this morning. In the midst of a long and impassioned (and I have no doubt, sincerely felt) spiel about the damage an artists’ boycott does at this time of culture industry cutbacks, Archer opined: “we must use new arts support strategically or risk losing young, emerging, creative and, yes, essential political voices”.

Fuck you with your “strategy”, Robyn. The voices you speak of are being used as human shields, in defence of an agenda and system that (whether good or bad) they are not franchised for, and never will be. They are already lost, and not only has the sky not consequently fallen for the boomocracy, your greed and cowardice have been rewarded with permanent sunlight for your ever-expanding patches.

But I should shut up now – the more I go on, the more “advances” I’m placing at “risk”, I’m sure.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

A private joke,8659,6154845-23209,00.html

The legal and moral fallout from a “private joke” being broadcast always gets far too much attention paid to the “private” bit. A joke – if it is truly a joke – is a robust thing, capable of being seen for what it is well beyond its intended or original audience. The actual humour may, of course, be heavily diluted in such a new context, but – as the motto goes – the joke remains the same.


Home, Maquiladora and Away,5744,6151712%255E2702,00.html

Australian local content rules – film and television production subsidies and television quotas – have been under a Damoclean sword for years. This latest development is a narrowing-down to bilateral Australia-USA negotiations, so moving the hydra-headed, shadowplay battle, of entertainment industry globalisation vs the need to maintain a distinctive Australian voice, to the sidelines.

Which is undoubtedly a step forward, in my book. Apart from the delicious prospect of, say, being able to trade-off Home and Away for the right to flog pig’s trotters tariff-free in Iowa, this sleeves-rolled-up, tit-for-tat argy-bargying allows the American entertainment industry to be put under the due diligence microscope.

This is a surprisingly sensitive topic for me, because it heavily concerns unionisation (ordinarily, a very good thing). In a nutshell, US showbiz is highly unionised (in terms of both employee and producer combines, which are in practice, of course, highly symbiotic). Australian showbiz, in contrast, operates more by a grace and favour system of state and corporate patronage.

Neither industry model is even close to non-deceptively being able to use the adjective in “free trade”. The Australian model’s uncompetitiveness is entrenched by three decades of baby boomer co-option, self-interest and flawless politicking, while the US system’s bloated cost base has lead to the mass export of production grunt work (to pseudo-glamorous maquiladoras, like Sydney) without anything otherwise changing back home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

"I'm not a comedian, but ...",1009408

*WARNING* (for Australians) This link contains a "Joe Millionaire" spoiler (link via alt.comedy.standup newsgroup)

If the stand-up circuit becomes a graveyard-cum-dumping ground for reality TV's discards, I say - on behalf of all legit comics - let's do a post-mortem of the carcass on stage, with a view to having those reponsible for its deplorable condition charged for their crimes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Media Whatcha?

Last night’s ABC TV Media Watch nicely followed up the previous Monday’s 4 Corners [see 10 March post, below] in the “Serve ‘em up dubious bombast” stakes. Three minutes or so were given over to showing that PM John Howard had stated, during last week’s address to the nation, three colourful examples of how awful Iraq’s criminal justice [cough, cough] system was – with his obvious (almost verbatim) source being unmasked as a US-authored book. “Plagiarism”, sayeth Media Watch presenter David Marr.

For a lawyer and writer of Marr’s calibre, this degree of misinfor-pinion is baffling. Reporting news is not just a legal, formalist defence to breach of copyright; it is elementary common-sense that the practice of journalism (and indeed of human communication in any form) could not take place without facts – of which “news” is a major, and increasing, sub-set – being public domain. Of course, in most cases when news is made material or disseminated, some value-adding to the bare facts has taken place, ensuring that the news program, as such, is copyrightable. (A world of only bare facts would be unbearably repetitive, for all its utopian ownerlessness). Did John Howard cross this fact/expression line, so free-riding on the US author’s ostensible keyboard labour, of dressing up three Iraqi laws in purpler prose? My own answer is a clear cut “no” – as stated, the PM’s three examples were certainly colourful (which quality, in fairness to Marr, is not often to be found in legal pronouncements generally), but that this colour came all the way from the source – Iraq.

Terror, Mr Marr, needs no intermediary to make it sound worse.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Aborigines need capitalism – or “Back off, and let us run our own Brownstone”?

For Massa Abbott’s information, Indigenous Australians already have capitalism. Goods such as ochre and axes have long been traded, and the pro-owner strictness of Indigenous intellectual property law is enough to make the lawyers at Disney, who are scrambling and stalling to keep Mickey Mouse (et al) out of the public domain weep.

Nor is communal title to land inconsistent with capitalism. I might have thought that Abbott, being a man of mean(s) living in Sydney, had come across the concept of company title. This form of communal title (as opposed to strata or freehold title) is quite close to the hearts and wallets of many of Sydney’s wealthiest apartment-owner residents. Ditto in New York, where the mid-town brownstone “Co-op’s” are famously toney.

Such communal title – unitizable via equitable interests, aka shares – has both advantages and disadvantages. Chief among the former are the veto power, which allows the incumbents to cast a close eye over newcomers, and say “no” if the circumstances call for it. (Bitchy personal vendettas do not seem to cause a “nyet” decision as often as you might first think – artificially constraining asset turnover usually works to the detriment of all owners).

Disadvantage-wise, unitized communal titles are generally inappropriate as investment/rental properties. Not only will the incumbents’ veto generally hold sway here, the basic economics and lifestyle reality of company title – lower upfront price, but higher neighbour interdependency – put any tenant in the awkward position of being a day-to-day “good neighbour” proxy for the owner. Another, closely-related disadvantage is that unitized communal titles are not as easily pledged as security (ie mortgaged) for bank finance etc. Living in a financial system that has invented, and then printed, trillions of dollars of “junk bonds”, this disadvantage should not be misunderstood as a structural or legal impediment, however – drafting can circumvent just about anything, other than the rare case of narky, malicious and hell-bent incumbent owners.

These various advantages and disadvantages of unitized communal titles would seem to, on balance, work in favour of Indigenous communal title owners. As far as I am aware, however, Indigenous communal title has not been, or sought to have been unitized, so far. I very much doubt that this is because the owners would so frighten the banks – as narky, malicious and hell-bent incumbent – to make it pointless to even try. Rather, it seems a case of over-defensiveness, a vestigial wariness of the sort of beads-and-blanket deals that Abbott implicitly but arrogantly dismisses, that is the real stumbling block here.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Gambler bitten back by bumper sticker karma

Not that much for me to add, really.

In today’s Australian report of this YAABBa-Do! (Yet Another Arsehole Baby Boomer’s Demise), however, was this little defensive admission by Crown Casino boss Gary O’Neil – that there were no obvious signs that De Stefano was gambling beyond his means during the time he spent at the casino.

Yeah, right. To lose $8m, a gambler, who never pockets their winnings on a good night and walks away (and gambling addicts never do), would have to turn over $50m-$80m at the tables, or pump $20m-$30m through the pokies. Billionaire owner of Crown Casino, Kerry Packer, may comfortably do those kinds of figures (at casinos he doesn’t own, of course), and there’s probably little point in trying to unravel the “means” of offshore high-rollers, but a Geelong-dwelling public servant is surely just a man ordinaire.

The good thing about Gary O’Neil’s admission is it seemingly implies that casinos should keep some kind of lookout over its customers for signs of gambling beyond their means. Hmmn – if only. Then again, just possibly O’Neil read my blog of Tuesday, February 25, 2003, “Small businesses under siege” and den saw da light!

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Sign that it's the end of the world

The first Volvo SUV [that's Yankee argot for a Toorak Tractor] is now on sale in Australia, according to a multimedia advertorial in today's Age online.

Volvos and Toorak Tractors have long been separate, albeit similar, hazards on the roads, of course. Now that they've combined, we can look forward to the joy of mini North Koreas coming to an intersection near you. They're insular, heavily fortified, driven by pyschopaths, and more than a little bit threatening to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Applied last week for an office job through a multinational recruitment firm, using their online form. Wading my way through the process – viz mainly cutting and pasting chunks of my CV into their tiny boxes – soon became tedious. When eventually, I got to the last online page to fill out – surprise, surprise – they actually wanted me to provide written answers to what are surely the four hoariest old interview questions in the world.

So I got thinking: surely some public minded individual out there has composed, and then posted online, model answers to such hoary old questions? Unlike with the download-a-uni-essay “cheat” sites, I can’t see how there could be any ethical problems using such a service to pin down a job; after all, if one uses sheer originality, and one’s own brain only, to compose the answer, one is very clearly NOT a “team player”.

Alas, my Google search turned up nothing of any use. It did turn up, however, an American food-court-in-the-mall sounding outfit that has a seriously scary application form that asks some hoary questions, and much more (one wonders what they may have left for the interview – a cloth hood and polygraph hook-up, perhaps?).

I’m posting the four hoary interview questions then, as a kind of challenge/competition for readers – model answers, please [email me] (no prizes, other than the winner being posted here, which will in turn hopefully lead to the answers finding broader Internet fame, and doing a public service too, of course.

If you’re up to the challenge, here’s your raw material:

(Note: in case it’s not immediately obvious, each question follows the same 3 part pattern: the situation, [your] actions and the outcome).

1. Tell us about a time when you found it difficult to deal with a customer. Describe the situation and your actions. What was the result?

2. Describe a situation where you were required to complete many urgent tasks within a tight deadline? What did you do to ensure a quality outcome in the work you produced? What was the end result?

3. Tell us about a time when you were required to understand and interpret complex policies and procedures. What actions did you take to ensure your understanding of the information? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a situation where you have set yourself personal targets to achieve a specific goal. What goals did you set and how did you achieve them? What was the end result?

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Gov't announces new spam for the dole scheme

“Tough new rules”? Err, not really – but maybe the sub-editor’s failure here shows how widely the corrosive penumbra of unemployment really extends.

On the surface, the changes are just another rejig of the ring of useless mendicants otherwise known as the Job Network. It is already a requirement for Newstart recipients to register with at least one Job Network member co. By the addition of a 45-minute (count ‘em) interview, the current registration process – fill in JN co’s form and hand over one’s CV, and never hear from them again – will become slightly less desultory. The extra compliance stick here, however, will hit the Job Network provider at least as hard as it hits the Newstart recipient. As the above article suggests, the JN ring – or at least those who survive the rejig – will presumably be well-compensated for this intrusion into the current blankness of their job-matching daily schedule.

For the Newstart recipient, the real sting in the announced changes remains to be revealed. The basically cost-free nature of all-electronic job-matching (email, SMS message, or seeking out a terminal at a JN member office) provides a reasonable clue as to how this may go – Newstart recipients may be electronically bombarded with job “offers”, headhunted, no less.

In reality of course, this kind of headhunting will lack the targeting precision and subtlety of approach that headhunting usually connotes. Most e-matches, then, will presumably be of the unilateral, shotgun wedding variety: “Do exactly what the spam says, Dolebludger, or we’ll cut you off”.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Tonight’s “4 Corners” on ABC was a curious beast indeed. While I wouldn’t call it anti-semitic, it did wilfully convey some strange innuendos (such as when the montage of “No War for Oil” peace rally placards segued into a “No War for Oil and Israel” placard). I though that kind of journalism was for the commercial TV pale equivalents of “4 Corners” (and kids educational TV).

The troubles with journalism-by-innuendo are viral in nature. The Online forum raging as I write has some posts that pretty much say the same thing, yet range in tone from friendly compliment to “You didn’t have the guts to tell the whole truth, monkey boy” (I’m paraphrasing). The common message across this bizarre tonal range – invading Iraq is about Israel/the Jews.

Personally, I find such a connection just dumb – at this point, it might help the reader to read my 29 January post on the topic. Of course, there is overlap in the issues of Israel vs Palestine and Islamo-fascists vs the West. However, there is an irrefutable difference of category between them. Israel vs Palestine is a border dispute between two countries, one of many such raging around the world at the moment. On the other hand, Islamo-fascism vs the West is both global and local – local because I, and many others, aint gonna flinch until every last terrorist fucker is dead.

From the Marie Antoinette (but this time for real ) department comes MP Victor “Let Them Eat Keyboards” Perton: (last para)

To be fair to poor Victor, I think that The Age may have got in wrong when it called him “[shadow] education spokesman” – his website
lists him as Shadow Minister for Technology and Innovation. For that portfolio to automatically include education-at-the-chalkface would be surprising, even for the dotcom-gullible Victorian Liberals (Victoria had the world's first – and also the last, funnily enough – Minister for Multimedia. Originally it was Alan Stockdale (also the State Treasurer at the time), but Victor Perton acquired the dubious, scaled-down title of Shadow Minister for Multimedia when the Libs lost power in 1999 - before quietly dropping the "M" word completely abut 2001.

In summary, Victor has ridden the great dotcom rollercoaster, from its highs, promising, as a mere backbencher in 1998, to turn Tasmania e-upside down-e, to the present-day end of the line. It’s been a wild, rough trip but old-trooper Victor has managed in the above quote one last tribute, even after the ride has ended. Yes, he has regurgitated the word “multimedia” – putting it, carrots’n’all, onto the public tarmac for one last time, before the benighted phrase is forever banished from its place on the shelf of the politicians’ pork barrel megastore of vague promises and even vaguer-lexicon.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

My other renaissance is an arthouse flick

“The Adventures of Barry McKenzie” and its 30th anniversary hype – surely this can’t be an attempt by a cash-strapped Oz government (the film’s financier, and therefore ultimate beneficiary of the lifetime royalties) to squeeze a few more drops out of the national fiscal toothpaste tube? Something makes me suspect that the answer is “no”, with the government having since long factored-out its Bazza receivables.

In any case, the above article is so awash with contestable quotes as to have a life of its own. According to producer Phillip Adams (yes the same one who’s been a tiresome sophomore – I’m talking junior-high here – columnist ever since), "the film was made on the smell of an oily rag". Gotta love such vapid mythologizing – for which Adams well deserves to be invested as an honorary baby boomer. There were, I assume, indy feature films being made in early 70’s Australia, just as now – and given that the production budget ratio of state-funded to indy-films is at least 10:1, I’m puzzled as to Adams’s sumptuous conception of an oily rag’s odours.

Then there’s: “Foster's lager wanted nothing to do with the character, despite the inordinate amounts of its product that McKenzie drinks in the course of the movie. Only when Barry Humphries [yes, that one] threatened to change to a rival brand did Foster's relent and agree to support the release”.

Just what digital tricks did this crew possess in 1972, to allow such a re-branding as part of post-production? More likely, of course, Humphries’s threat was hollow – but seat-of-your-pants out-bluffing “the system” is such an ingrained part of baby boomer oral history that presumably one such episode had to be mentioned here purely as a matter of form.

The article’s best apercu, however, belongs again to Adams: “Bazza” sparked a "renaissance of the Australian film industry". Well, it and other Oz state-funded films of the 1970s certainly did give that generation jobs in (what are now known as) the cultural industries for the next 30 years, at least. Whether this is a good thing generally – as "renaissance” must necessarily imply – is doubtful. Younger generations trying to get a foot in the door of the cultural industries might diplomatically suggest that the time is now perhaps ripe for a "re-renaissance” – which is code (in case you don’t get it) for “Fuck off, baby boomers and fellow travellers”.

Personally I’m too cynical about the prospects for a "re-renaissance” to bother asking, politely or otherwise. More realistic and achievable, I think, would be inventing and disseminating a pithy word to mean the linear opposite of "renaissance”. The absence of such an exact word is perhaps best shown by Gibbon’s awkwardly-conjoined title, “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. “Decline” lacks the drama and movement that an un-renaissance must surely have, while “Fall” is a boffin’s dessert, a mere military moment.

The literal opposite of "renaissance”, of course, would only mean to die again, which is a well-worn Buddhist solipsism. Thus, how about “denouessance” – with the prefix being a nice combination of denouement and denuding?

Friday, March 07, 2003

"A curse on your moustache"

Is apparently a serious insult in Arab parts of the world (David Chater, "'Monkey' insult one in a minion", The Australian 7 March (originally The Times); no URL ). Not being a fan of facial hair at all myself, I'm glad I don't live where this phrase [a Google virgin, BTW] might be reasonably common parlance. I could live (I think) with the social ostracism that presumably comes with being a clean-shaven man, but I don't think that I could ever hear "a curse on your moustache!" without falling down from convulsive laughter. Which act may, I suspect, be viewed extremely dimly by the average man on Arab street.

And how can a duly-cursed moustache get any worse, anyway? The pix illustrating the story show that the (Kuwati) cursee's moustache is already as droopy as a moustache can surely get (while, for what it's worth, the Iraqi curser's moustache is only moderately awful).

Which loosely segues (?) into the curious, topical matter of American actors speaking in fake Arab accents:

Like white actors going blackface, I think that a home-grown Yank speaking in a fake Arab accent is very rarely a good idea - they are similarly offensive, and in several different, major ways. Yet, after having a brief trawl through the Yahoo message board on this news story, I was struck by the fundamental lack of comprehension of this fact, by seemimgly all posters (who also seemed to be entirely (non-Arab) American). Not that there was a barrage of furious agreement, or anything like that, on the board. Instead, most people took positions - strident, angry positions - that were just apropros of nothing.

Together, they amount to a bleak barometric reading on the current state of the US national consciousness. The enemy is not just inside the citadel, the enemy is inside their heads. For an example:

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Ex-parliamentarian, missing the blowtorch of voter cynicism, gets $100,000 of taxpayers’ money (academic sidekick included) to go down memory lane

Being in a focus group is a strange experience – the one and only I have experienced was a cross between that dinner-party-one-upmanship comedy sketch, and a barely concealed majority mood of “Why don’t you just shut the fuck up, you annoying mature age student type?” – the trempe de salle of just about any undergrad arts tutorial (only this time I was the annoying mature age student).

My point here is that focus groups can only cohere, exchange and reassemble – that is, focus – when they roughly comprise a demographic. I’m sure that this is acutely obvious to marketers, the inventors and main users of focus groups. Indeed, focus groups seem to be behind much of the science (or alchemy, take your pick) of demographic segmentation. Whaddya get then, when you gather together ten groups, each drawn from across the whole adult age spectrum, from ten different communities across Victoria? “Err, nothing” is pretty much the correct answer.

Applying the undergrad-arts-tutorial/mature-age-student litmus test for a start, the opinions of all but the very youngest are completely predictable, yet are paradoxically the most reasonant (if only because they get the most “air-time”). Thus, “Politicians used to (i) be much more honest in my day, (ii) march in the first row of the Moratorium protests, or (iii) partake with me in a long lunch before FBT killed it off”, etc.

Other than duly voicing a litany of tired complaints on an age-before-beauty priority basis, the focus groups did – to be fair – also manage to make some concrete policy suggestions. Considering the sultry microclimate that must have existed in each room, I am surprised as to how this may have been achieved. “By consensus” seems an unlikely vehicle here, considering the naked age and gender fault-lines within each small group. Probably, the focus group facilitator(s), would have engaged in some end-result-oriented interlocutory prodding, stopping just short of shouting “Shut the fuck up! [grandpa/ma]”.

In the end, though, this speculation hardly matters – what the focus groups did apparently all agree on was a comforting chestnut – a nostalgic salute to the cheerless, fascist-hype laden years of former premier, Jeff Kennett (the man who got Victoria the Grand Prix, and so much else, and the man who would probably still be with us if only he had got Leni Riefenstahl to direct and film a day in the life of his omnipotence):

“According to the study, voters want their MPs to attract international events to Victoria, create partnerships with international companies and attempt to make the state the envy of others”.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Saudi Arabia – Steal like you run something (summary only) (full transcript)

Saudi Arabia is possibly the only country in the world whose economy has mimicked the net wealth graph of Gen X’ers in western countries – it has gone backwards, hugely so, over the last two decades. In both cases, the direct, domestic social fallout to date has been minimal.

In Saudi Arabia’s case, it may well be that scale, and its sheer incomprehensibility, provides a thick layer of insulation – just how can a nation with three-quarters of the world’s known oil reserves have its GDP per person cut by two-thirds since the 1980s?

The following exchange (from the above “Foreign Correspondent” transcript) only adds to the opaqueness:

REPORTER: Saudis admire much of what the west has to offer, in fact many are rich enough to buy what they want of it. But 60% of the population is under 25, a third of them, or 2.5 million people can't find jobs and without alternatives, wealth does not preclude extremism.

PRINCE ALWALEED BIN TALAL: Unemployment in any country in the world is a breeding ground for social trouble potentially, no doubt about that and Saudi Arabia's no different. There's an imbalance here that has to be looked at and that's another item that we're looking at very seriously.

Doesn’t Saudi Arabia have radio shock jocks, or their equivalent, to keep the young unemployed in line? (“in line” quite literally in Australia). Of course, the Prince is merely doing his best to beat around the “terrorism” bush – and the rather woolly phrasing of the reporter’s question (is it wealth or poverty that’s the "T" breeding ground?) allows the Prince a gracious, suavely-executed lifeline, that links extremism with a worldwide demographic phenomenon, oe that can then be duly and sagely deplored (although I doubt Tony Abbott or John Howard have ever expressed anything so moderate).

Which is not to say that Saudi terrorism has nothing to do with Saudi’s own Gen X – far from it. But the connection between the two things is a common head, one that simply asks: “If we’re so poor/unemployed [and/or so fucked up that suicide bombing seems like a pretty good five year career posting – no short term McJobs for us yoof, mind], then where did the money go?

Part of the answer on where the $$$ went: the huge Saudi Royal family, the US getting oil too cheaply, Saudi buying overpriced weapons from the UK – and the corruption that connects, lubricates and perpetuates all these. Oh, and in financing terrorism – but only to the tune of a few million; just spare change, really. For the most part, the money just somehow has gotten, and still keeps getting, lost.

Lost, lost in third-world urban anonymity like Osama. On the topic of Bin Laden, the two news stories above stood in striking contradiction. For the “Sunday” story, the line was that no Saudi would be willing to go on camera in support of Osama (presumably for fear of offending the Royal family party line). In the “Foreign Correspondent” transcript, however, three young Saudi women voice support for Bin Laden, albeit in a guarded way (and in pitch-perfect Oxbridge accents). This time, it seems that it is the clerics’ party line being appeased.

The real answers, and the real money trail, must go very deep indeed.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

The Rhode Island nightclub fire – silence = death

In October 2002, terrorists – including at least one suicide bomber – deliberately killed 188 people in Bali. The nightclub in which most of the victims died was a thatched roof affair in a high-walled compound, with no exit other than its narrow front door entrance.

In February 2003, pyrotechnics accidentally ignited a fire in a Rhode Island nightclub, killing 98 people. In a building that was ostensibly fire compliant, the body count is of such a magnitude that terrorists worldwide must surely be envious. A lazy spark was all it took – or so it seems.

There is no question that pyrotechnics were indeed the fuse here. Were they also, however, the bomb? If five or ten people had been killed in the ensuing fire, I think that this would be a reasonable enough line of inquiry. With such a high death toll, however, the ripples of blame and causation must go much wider – the pyrotechnics were the fuse, but possibly no more than that.

In my opinion, the “bomb” was the highly flammable polyurethane foam that was placed on the walls shortly after the current owners bought the nightclub in 2000, apparently after neighbours complained about noise. Meanwhile, (i) the current owners did not know the foam was highly flammable, and thus was obviously unsuitable as nightclub sound insulation, (ii) the foam’s supplier did not know the use to which the foam was going to be put, and (iii) the relevant authorities did not notice the foam in their two regular annual inspections after the foam was installed.

Who is to blame? The easiest, most tangible blame rests with the inspecting authorities. Their negligence is, on one hand, of stupendous magnitude. On the other hand, with fire inspection – like so much else these days – being a formalised, “tick the box” process, it is unlikely that the inspectors would have been looking for such a blatant, all-surrounding fire hazard. It is possible, then not to see a “fire trap” for the foam.

In all this blame-throwing circle of denial and ignorance, two special mentions should be made. One for the residents (baby boomers, I assume) who complained about the noise coming from a pre-existing (it would seem) nightclub – and got the results they wanted, all served up on a platter (but just don’t ask what went on behind the scenes here, mind). I hope that you all sleep okay now, folks.

And for the younger generation of nightclub patrons, at least some of whom would have had basic chemistry knowledge about the flammability of polyurethane foam and regularly noticed the reams of it everywhere as they danced . . . and never said anything – your silence has finally, belatedly, posthumously been noticed.

Message to a generation – if you don’t start complaining soon, complaining continuously and loudly until every rasping baby boomer has been finally made to shut up, then you will die.

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