Wednesday, November 30, 2005

plant 1

I’ll try to identify a plant a day, of those strugggling out in my garden. Doing quite well and flowering nicely out front at present is a purple-flowered low-lying thing with many-toothed basal leaves. The flat flower-heads are on long stems. My first idea was that it was a scabiosa, but research in The reader's digest gardeners' encyclopaedia of plants and flowers suggested that they usually had rounded flower heads. However, online research online has confirmed my first guess. It's a variety of scabiosa caucasica, commonly known as pincushion flower, the image obtained from this site.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

clouded futures

I'm depressed. Here's a review.

Beneath clouds is an Australian film, made a couple of years ago, with a simple, intensely focussed narrative line. Two young people, Lena and Vaughn, are bent on escape from stultifying lives. They meet up on an outback road, both vaguely heading for Sydney. They have a wary relationship from the beginning. There’s a sexual tension between them, but it’s finely understated and isn’t allowed to develop.

The script is very economical, but also very realistic, as it fits with the laconic, defensive nature of the protagonists. A great deal of the film’s complexity and subtlety is conveyed without words. For example, the pair (and it should be pointed out that Vaughn is clearly aboriginal, while Lena, whose mother is aboriginal, passes for a white girl, and is thought of as such by Vaughn, until near the end of the film) are picked up by a kindly, elderly white man in a black Mercedes. No words are spoken during this car ride, which lasts for several minutes of screen time, nor are words exchanged when he drops the pair off and turns into his property, yet the emotional complexity of the scene is palpable. In fact the whole film has a heavy emotional weight, achieved through the extensive use of close-ups and the clear framing of symbolic moments, in terms of landscape (and the film beautifully illustrates the point, obvious perhaps but still worth emphasising, that landscape is all construction), and human interaction. All credit to the director, Ivan Sen (who, like Kubrick, started out as a photographer) and his cinematographer, Allen Collins.

Beneath clouds, which came out at the same time as a number of films on Aboriginality, such as Rabbit-proof fence, Australian rules, and The tracker (none of which I’ve seen, mea culpa), succeeds in its treatment of the theme by personalising and particularising the experience of Aboriginal culture, family, identity and belonging, through two contrasting but equally sympathetic characters.

We first observe the girl, Lena (Dannielle Hall), in her school uniform, chatting to a friend who reveals that she’s pregnant. Lena herself clings to an image of her Irish father, and dreams romantically of his land. Next we learn something of the circumstances of Vaughn (Damian Pitt), who’s spending time an a gaol/remand centre – for stealing cars, we later learn. He’s visited there by a family member, who informs him his mother is ‘real sick’. Though he refuses to show any emotion at this, he breaks out soon afterwards.

I don’t want to provide a précis of the film here, but I want to try to capture with a few examples what I liked about it.

Subtlety and no easy sympathy or side-taking. When Vaughn is in gaol, or in remand, he plays the tough guy. A white guy working next to him tells him to cool it, and he flares up. The white guy flares up in his turn, and the two confront each other, chests out, testosterone oozing from every pore. Neither have any intention of backing down, and the tension is broken by the intervention of a prison guard. There’s a shot of the white guy’s eyes blazing – with what? Is it racial hatred? Is it a more personal hatred of Vaughn? Or is it just part of playing the uncompromising tough guy? It’s a simple scene, on the surface of it, but its near-wordlessness, together with the raw anger/hatred displayed, helps create an atmosphere of nameless oppression, an atmosphere that pervades the world of both protagonists – though it weighs most heavily on Vaughn.

Landscape and perception. Vaughn and Lena pass a high wooded bluff. Lena is struck by it. Vaughn agrees that it’s beautiful, then tells her of an Aboriginal massacre that apparently took place up there. Again the camera focuses on the bluff, and our perception is transformed. In another scene, Vaughn, feeling alienated as Lena enters a pub to try for a lift, comes eye-to-eye with a magnificent sandy-coloured horse in a boxcar. We’ve just been watching the whites in the pub watching horses racing round a track., so we associate the perception. Perhaps we’re also invited to consider Vaughn as a proud solitary stallion, but then his eyes stray to the writing on the boxcar, something about country meats. Again our perception flips.

Beyond clouds is visually magnificent and emotionally complex and nerve-wracking. It has haunted me since I’ve seen it, and I think I understand why. A number of personal resonances. It captures the contrasts of the Australian interior, its menace, its savagery, its monotony and unpredictability. It offers no solutions for its characters, though it offers them examples of genuine kindness and of brutishness – it’s up to them to negotiate matters, to gather what resources they can to push in what direction they choose. It’s neither a hopeful film nor one that underlines hopelessness. It simply gives us a glimpse into the lives of two troubled, bright young people trying to make their way out of unhappiness. It should be applauded and rewarded for what it’s trying to do and what it actually achieves.

There’s an anonymous but extremely useful and agreeable review of the film here.

Friday, November 25, 2005

a sceptic to be sceptical of?

can we trust this man?
I’ve been having a look at the self-proclaimed sceptic Richard Webster’s website, and though I generally approve, I do have a few qualms. For example, his response to a criticism of his Bryn Estyn book is certainly thorough, but his description of the critic as unscrupulous goes a little too far – though he’s at pains to explain his case, and considering that the critic is solicitor Richard Scorer, who wrote his review for ACAL, the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, and who has represented some of those who have come under attack from Webster, it’s understandable that there’s a bit of personal biffo going on here.

Of course I’ve not read Webster’s book, and I’m about to order a copy online, or at least price one, but I’m already becoming a little sceptical of the sceptic. He’s thorough, but I sense the thoroughness, if not obsessiveness, of the crusader rather than the sceptic. My own scepticism tends to undermine my obsessiveness, and if you think that’s just me looking for an excuse for slackness, you’d be right.

There’s no doubt that Webster successfully counters most of Scorer’s critique, and I think he’s especially strong on Scorer’s attempts to undermine his personal integrity. For Scorer to imply, as he does, that Webster’s ‘true views on the subject of child abuse’ are somehow unhealthy or even doubtful, is to attempt a very low blow indeed.

This, though, is very easy stuff for Webster to counter (not that it shouldn’t be countered all the same). The more interesting question is one that I’ll probably never be able to answer, at least not without a lot of research work. That is, was the Bryn Estyn case and its corollaries really a witch-hunt, or did the verdicts reflect, as Scorer has described them, ‘a far more balanced characterisation of the evidence than appears in this book’. Unfortunately, it won’t be just a matter of reading the book, all 700 pages of it, to find out.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

from Wales out of Nova Scotia: the CWC is born

The careworkers’ coalition session at Regal Park Motor Inn was both informative and at times highly emotional. Ill-informed as ever, I’d never heard of the Mullighan inquiry into the sexual abuse of children in state care until this day. Interestingly, tonight’s meeting marked an anniversary of sorts, as it was on this day twelve months ago that the Commission of Inquiry (Children in State Care) Act 2004 was proclaimed and came into operation. I’m not sure it was entirely coincidental.

All the relevant details of that commission of inquiry are here. Apparently it was triggered by the death of a child in state care. An initial perusal suggests that the inquiry will deal largely with historical matters, whether allegations were dealt with adequately in the past, and whether adequate records were kept. Sounds reasonable enough, but an unfortunate reference to compensation by certain government ministers has created an incentive for people to come forward with stories of abuse. According to a hand-out from the meeting, more than 700 people have presented complaints to the Mullighan inquiry, and some 60 of these have been referred to the police. The time-frame of the inquiry has been extended twice. Is there a possibility that a witch-hunt might develop?

And this brings us to the special guest of the meeting, Dale Dunlop, a lawyer who acted for careworkers under fire in Nova Scotia. The handout summarises:

From 1993 to 2005, the Canadian Privince of Nova Scotia spent over $150 million, firstly investigating and compensating 1500 alleged victims – and then compensating falsely accused carers. there was not a single conviction, let alone a single charge being laid [this should surely be the other way around?] against over 400 accused carers.

So the task of the coalition is to prevent this situation from being repeated, to nip the situation in the bud, before hundreds of innocent care-workers are falsely accused. As the hand-out says, ‘Compensation is the main incentive, followed by persons seeking attention’.

Now, listening to all this, I was certainly gobsmacked, but I wondered about where my situation fitted into the aims and objectives of the new coalition. Compensation wasn’t an issue in my case, and it was unlikely to be covered by the Mullighan inquiry. Which was just as well, as I’d already been charged, and so my case would spoil hopes of a spotless record…

However, the question-and-answer session afterwards made it clear that the coalition’s brief was broad. They wanted as members anyone who’s been accused or was under investigation or was a friend or relative of someone under investigation or who just had a concern about justice in this issue.

A hulking great well-dressed gent came up from the floor to speak about his case. He was too emotional to get far into the detail, but apparently he and his partner had been foster carers for nine years. The girl under their care had been two years old at the beginning, but after nine years an accusation was made, by whom it wasn’t clear. He wasn’t guilty, he assured us. He was charged without ever having been questioned, which sounds familiar, and in the past several months he’s made four court appearances, without feeling that he’s gotten anywhere. He’s on bail, like me, and part of his bail conditions are that he’s not allowed to spend any time in the company of children under a certain age. He’s tried to get this condition clarified or amended, to allow him to be in the company of a child when accompanied by another adult, but all to no avail. This has meant that he’s not allowed to see his own grandchildren, or children, I’m not sure which, he was clearly unaccustomed to public speaking, he blustered and choked and finally broke down, and the silence in the hall was complete.

Later, others related bits and pieces of their stories, and a pattern was emerging, of lengthy procedures, with-holding of information, and assumptions of guilt (people being described as offenders rather than alleged offenders, accusers being described as victims rather than complainants, etc – which of course is exactly what was put in the police report in my case), though most of these people were talking not of the police or the courts, but of the relevant government department’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

The handout provided details of the careworkers’ coalition’s rules as an incorporated body. They’re quite similar to the rules of La Luna Housing Co-op Inc, so it’s fairly familiar territory for me. Though it was difficult to get her undivided attention at the end of the meeting, I approached the founder of CWC, Julie Halifax, who was most sympathetic and interested to hear of another case before the courts. We exchanged details, and I offered my services, as a person with some skills, in speaking, writing, computing and the like. She seemed delighted at all this and promised to be in touch soon. We'll see.

At a side-table there were a couple of copies of what one of the speakers described as a 'little book' on the UK experience, written by Richard Webster. In fact it was a huge tome, and the copies disappeared before I could properly peruse any, but I intend to order one out of my next pay.

Webster's website is a great find for we urbane sceptics. As he shows, even the beeb is not immune from telling it like it most certainly isn't, and the suffering this causes can't be exaggerated.

Friday, November 18, 2005

didn't tony play well

Little time to write about the soccer, and in many ways it was too emotional an event to be able to analyse dispassionately. I was invited to watch the second leg at a nearby pub, and the atmosphere, comme on dit, was electric. On reflection, bringing Kewell on after half an hour was a master stroke. He was into everything, and quickened the pulse of the whole team with his advent. But particular thanks and congrats must go to Tony Vidmar, who managed to stand out in an outstanding Oz performance. Just hope he can hang in there for Germany – but my god it’s only a little over six months away.

A thoroughly deserved victory.

you'd be safer working as a missionary in Iraq

Now for some detail on the matter I'm not supposed to write about.

I attended Port Adelaide magistrates court on Wednesday, as instructed. I arrived just before 3pm, the appointed time. I was alone, having told Sarah that it would be likely a formality, another adjournment. Secretly, though, I wanted Sarah to accompany me. Or, more accurately, I wanted to be accompanied.

As always, I had vague but intense hopes that the matter would be withdrawn, that I would at last be free to seek some justice for myself.

I’d spoken to my lawyer the day before. He said that he would press on with an application to ‘test the witness’ (said witness being my accuser), ‘unless I wished to plead not guilty and take the matter to the district court’. I wasn’t at all sure what he meant – wasn’t I pleading guilty all the while? I said that I was happy to leave the matter in his capable hands. Good, he said.

This seems to have meant that he has gone ahead with his application. I suppose this is a good thing. I don’t know. Presumably the ‘test’ will try to show that the inconsistencies in his story are so great that the only conclusion that can reasonably drawn is that he’s lying. If so, the lawyer may need more data from my perspective to test him against.

As always – and I’ve made about four appearances now – I hung around the court courtyard for between thirty minutes and an hour. Usually I get called in after that tedious time, and my case is ‘processed’ in a matter of thirty seconds. At least for this period I get to step inside the courtroom and to hear the mumbled deliberations of the defence, the prosecution and the judge, so that I have some vague idea about why my case has been adjourned or postponed or whatever the term is. Today, though, I was never invited inside. After forty minutes of waiting, pacing, and occasionally trying to read Paul Krugman on the economic vandalism of the Bush administration, I was approached by the young female prosecutor from the DPP. She’d spotted me from inside courtroom 2 – the courtroom that has always dealt with my case – and she came out to inform me that my case had already been processed for the day. Unfortunately, nobody from my defence’s office had been able to turn up (!)

There’d been an exchange of ‘information’, she said, and a new date had been set, for January 26. Now, I believe that’s Australia Day, so maybe I heard wrong. So, it’s not over, and I’ve got this shite hanging over my head through the festive season. And what’s this information? I mean, what information could they have? I’ll no doubt find out over the next week or so. They could dig up some dirt about me I suppose, but nothing directly relating to the allegation…

Anyway, my young prosecutor assured me that the court would be informed of my attendance. I vaguely wonder if she has any opinion about my guilt or innocence, or if she’s just going through the motions. Withdrawal of the case seems to be off the table of options at present, so I’m wondering if she’s dug up some dirt. It’s enough to drive a body insane.

Which brings me to something most relevant, but more hopeful. Sarah’s good friend Rose contacted me a week or so ago regarding a talk coming up about caregivers and the false accusations they have to suffer. It’s been advertised in The Sunday Mail over the past couple of weeks, and even my lawyer mentioned it to me in our last phone conversation. He was hoping to get a transcript of the talk, or something like. So I’ll go, and be the eyes and ears.

A bit more info on this event. It's a talk to be given by Canadian lawyer Dale Dunlop, as part of the inaugural meeting of a new group, which I should consider joining - the careworkers' coalition of SA (Inc). Dunlop won a $20 million settlement for falsely accused government employees in Canada, where over 10,000 allegations were made against more than 70% of all government careworkers by 1500 former state wards. 98% of these allegations were 'found to be false', the ad in the paper claims (but I suspect this means that in 98% of cases insufficient evidence was found, and clearly the matter of evidence is tricky in historical cases). Anyway, I'll report more fully on this meeting/lecture later.

the mood worsens

I’ve been sunk in a stupor, as it sinks in that the case has been adjourned for another two months or more, that it seems neverending, that nobody seems interested in uncovering the truth, that the method of handling claims such as these is as bad as it could well be, that my life is in limbo until the matter’s resolved, etc etc. I try to seek solutions. One possibility is a letter, perhaps to the boy’s father, explaining the situation, demanding a response, demanding action to stop this farce from proceeding. This would not be illegal (I’m not supposed to approach the boy, as part of my bail conditions), though I doubt if my lawyer would approve. He seems to want me to sit tight, speak to nobody, and let him take care of everything. So I’ll have to back my own judgment on this. Still deciding.

My mood wasn’t improved when I switched on the radio this morning and heard Gerard Henderson speaking to Fran Kelly about Australia’s ‘importance in the world’ compared to that of New Zealand. This, he ‘explained’, was why Australia had a free trade agreement with the US while NZ had no chance of getting one in the current climate. He cited, as evidence of Australia’s importance in the world, only two matters – Rumsfeld’s attendance at meetings in Adelaide and Condoleeza Rice’s intended visit here in January. This, together with the FTA was apparently enough to prove that Australia was a big player on the world stage while NZ was on the outer. The fact that Henderson constantly talked about ‘the world’ or ‘the world stage’ testified, IMHO, to the complete dishonesty of his argument, an argument essentially – indeed totally – about ties with the USA, and this US administration in particular.

The fact is that this US administration has been the most divisive, quite possibly in US history. And when I say that, I’m only talking about US domestic attitudes, for the rest of the world isn’t divided, but overwhelmingly opposed, especially with regard to the foreign policy that our federal government has endorsed. Here’s a survey of European attitudes – it’s certain that attitudes outside of Europe would be much more negative.

It’s reasonably clear that the FTA, which in any case isn’t so favourable to us as it might be by all accounts, was largely enabled by the cosiness of our government’s ties to the Bush administration, especially regarding the invasion of Iraq. You could call it a reward for services rendered. Blood money. However, there are times when standing up for principles is more important than seeking financial gain, as last night’s ABC program Political Football stirringly suggested. Meanwhile, Henderson’s lack of integrity rankles.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

still wild about Harry

Having attended, a couple of nights ago, a quiz night to raise funds for the kinder-gym Courtney attends, with a whole heap of Sarah’s family and friends, I revealed myself as a secret quizzwhizz (a secret even unto myself), with expertise particularly in the field of sport. We won third prize, though we might’ve done better, it was very tight. A box of goodies was accordingly delivered to our table, and of the loot, I received, among other things, a bottle of Gramps Cabarnet Merlot, six wine-glasses and a book, Matthew Burke: a rugby life. Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be about fagging, hazing or even floreat rugbeia…

Anyway, as I’ve probably never once mentioned sport in my blog, I think it’s about time I came out. And what better way to begin than with Sunday morning’s bleary viewing of the first leg of the Australia-Uruguay World Cup qualifier, in Montevideo.

I’ve always been a big Harry Kewell admirer, in spite of the trouble he’s been through. Skill-wise, and build-wise, he’s always reminded me of George Best, a player I’m old enough to recall watching at his George Best. So I was happy to see him given a full run in
Montevideo. True, he wasn’t at his George Best, but there were flashes, and I don’t think it’ll be long before he does something sensational. If we get past the hurdle of Uruguay, Kewell may at last re-establish his rep in the World Cup finals.

And we have every chance of winning the second leg at home. From a purely dramatic perspective, it’s an intriguing situation, almost the precise reversal of four years ago. Then, we took a one-goal advantage over to foreign soil, whereas this time we have to peg back a one goal deficit on home soil.

It’s been said that we were unlucky to lose over there, but I’m not so sure of that. They had the better of the second half, and probably should’ve scored a second goal in the last twenty minutes. They’ll be kicking themselves about that, it may cot them their place. Having said that, Australia defended solidly, and they were unlucky in one sense about the goal, as it came from a free kick that should never have been awarded. Then again, they marked poorly on the far post.

Uruguay were also robbed of a definite penalty, in my view, when Schwarzer fouled Recoba at the edge of the box. So all in all I think the result was fair.

Uruguay have a better reputation for defending than attacking these days, and there’s no doubt they’ll be all out to defend their advantage in Sydney, but if Australia can come out fighting like they did in the first half of the first game, and this time score an early goal, it may turn out to be a helluva match. Kewell just might win it for us. Oh and we have a few other talented players too.

Monday, November 14, 2005

the Hicks farce

I’ve been meaning to write on the David Hicks case ever since the four corners program recently. My view on Hicks as a person, from what information can be gleaned about him, hasn’t changed much since I first heard about him being arrested. That’s to say, he seems naïve, not too bright, and generally well-intentioned. The remarks of former detainee Moazzem Begg, who had conversations with Hicks, bear this out fairly well. He’s been caught up in something way beyond his depth, and you could say he was partly responsible for that, but the consequences for him have been absolutely horrendous and disproportionate.

The greatest tragedy for Hicks may well be that he has been detained throughout the ascendancy of the Howard government, though I’m not sure if Labor, under Beazley, would’ve been more humane, or more assertive against the Bush administration. But really the Howard government’s behaviour in this matter has been appalling.

Take Downer. Please. This is his first remark in the four corners program:

We do have quite a lot of information on his activities. And I can only say to you on the basis of that he's not somebody to whom I extend a great deal of sympathy.

This comment is a lame attempt to give the impression that they, with their spectacular intelligence resources, know something about Hicks that we don’t. This is pretty definitely bullshit, but it’s become standard practise for this government. No doubt they’d say the same about Scott Parkin, after all the lowdown provided by ASIO.

So Hicks spent some time in Afghani training camps (before September 11) and he wrote a few anti-American letters. For these ‘crimes’ (and let’s be clear that Hicks’ actions weren’t illegal at that time) he has been tortured, abused, held without trial for four years and totally abandoned by his government.

In an interview just after this program was aired, Downer said, in a voice of faux astonishment, that Hicks had never complained to the Australian government about his treatment at the hands of the Americans. It seems that Downer was actually trying to get us to believe that these allegations were new and a complete surprise to him, but this is absurd. The torture claims have long been a matter of public debate, and have been posted on websites for a long time. It’s hard to know what opportunities Hicks may have had, if any, to inform the Australian government of these claims. His letters, as we know, are heavily censored, and I doubt if anyone from this government has attempted to contact Hicks to ascertain the truth, or even his version of events. In any case, considering what has happened to Hicks, he would be wary of saying anything that might get him into any more trouble. Making allegations against a power that apparently has control over whether you live or die would seem to be an unwise move.

Howard assures us that the US government, no doubt through its defence department, has investigated the matter and found no evidence of abuse. This is the same government that is fighting the US senate in a bid to retain the ‘right to torture’, which is as much of an admission as you’ll get out of it that it has been exercising that right throughout the so-called war on terror. And absolutely nobody that is in any way trustworthy on such matters (and that excludes Downer and Howard) doubts that torture, through the process of ‘rendition’, is being carried out and has been carried out on behalf of the US, with the tacit approval of the US administration, since September 11 2001.

The David Hicks farce is being carried through to the bitter end. Many far bigger fish have already been set free, but the supineness, or connivance, of the Australian government, has allowed a corrupt administration and a corrupt military-legal system to use Hicks for their sport.

Still, there’s a lot of support out there, and Hicks’ US lawyers, Josh Dratel and Dan Mori, are certainly doing their best under ridiculous constraints. There’s a useful interview with Dratel here. It mentions the affidavit signed by Hicks some time ago outlining the abuse he received in detention in Afghanistan and Cuba.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rumsfeld's war

Speaking of Rumsfeld, he made an appearance on ‘Dateline’ the other night, addressing the troops in Iraq shortly after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.

Obviously Rumsfeld isn’t a person after my own heart, but I’m going to try to stand back from all that to look at the claim, presented with surprising boldness by Dateline, that Rumsfeld was largely responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib because he encouraged the use of torture in Iraqi prisons. So how responsible is he, and how indictable is he?

Watching Dateline, I noticed that, when addressing the troops, and bringing up the subject of the Abu Ghraib revelations, Rumsfeld focused entirely, in his condemnation of events, on the ‘unAmericanness’ of such behaviour. No attempt to humanise the situation, or to speak of unnecessary suffering. That of course, isn’t a crime, even if it’s ethically smelly, but if it can be shown that Rumsfeld authorised the use of torture, then the speech can more accurately be seen as a deliberate distancing of himself from the consequences of his own directives – it’s their fault for not being able to tell the difference between ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ torture.

On last night’s news, it was mentioned that the US, presumably the defence department, has only just banned torture, which might come as a surprise to those who believe torture’s illegal everywhere, or at least in open societies. Apparently Dick Cheney has moved to have the CIA exempted from this ban, which would seem to render the ban more or less useless, as it would simply mean handing over to the CIA those the authorities consider to be eminently in need of torture, or worthy of its benefits. As should be well known by now, the CIA has secret detention centres scattered around the world.

A great deal about Rumsfeld’s more or less covert attempts to increase powers of ‘interrogation’ and the like, in order to deal with Iraqi insurgents and Al-quaeda, has been researched and presented by the indefatigable Seymour Hersh here. It also deals comprehensively with the rationale behind Rumsfeld’s decisions.

What Hersh reveals, basically – and his article was published back in May 2004 – is that Rumsfeld, and more particularly Stephen Cambone (a Rumsfeld yes-man who was appointed under-secretary of defense in intelligence in March 2003, a position created by Rumsfeld), had presided over a gradual widening of powers of interrogation, initially carried out covertly under a ‘special-access program’ or SAP, and that this had created an ‘anything goes’ culture, percolating down to inexperienced military police and army reservists responsible for prison security. It seems that Abu Ghraib was crawling with military and intelligence people, some uniformed, some in civvies, some part of the special-access program, some not, and the officer then in charge of Abu Ghraib, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, was quite bewildered about these comings and goings. Karpinski, demoted after the scandal burst, has since written a book about her time at Abu Ghraib, and has laid the blame for the abuses squarely on Rumsfeld, via military intelligence practices. She has argued that military intelligence was de facto running the prison, or at least the interrogation side of things.

Jason Vest, in this article for The Nation, published online in May 2004, pointed out that Major General Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib crimes, confirmed Karpinski’s view that military intelligence was essentially running the show, a finding that Cambone sought to contradict. An excerpt of Taguba’s report, dealing with the 800th Military Police Brigade (officially in charge of Abu Ghraib) is here.

Rumsfeld himself testified before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees on May 7 2004. Naturally this is a more measured performance (though it’s full of that ‘last refuge of the scoundrel’ humbuggery, so peculiar to American politics), and one of it’s more startling admissions is that Iraqis are human beings too. In fact, one of the paragraphs may well be worth following up in the light of last night’s ‘Dateline’ program (in which two former detainees, who claimed to identify themselves in the infamous abuse photos, were interviewed). This is the paragraph:

… I am seeking a way to provide appropriate compensation to those detainees who
suffered grievous and brutal abuse and cruelty at the hands of a few members of
the U.S. military. It is the right thing to do. I’m told we have the ability to
do so. And so we will – one way or another.

I’ll try to follow up on whether anybody has in fact been compensated, or on any efforts made to locate them. Perhaps we can point them in the right direction.

As to torture and who's really responsible, it doesn't look as if charges are going to be laid very far up the chain of command, and the SAP stuff I mentioned has been highly successful apparently, in terms of combatting the insurgency (which as everyone can see, has been completely defeated), so there's a strong motive to protect certain 'practitioners', but i suspect that this latest directive against torture is due to the continuing reverberations from Abu Ghraib. Oh, by the way, Rumsfeld 'takes full responsibility' for these crimes. Isn't that nice?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

call ASIO, there's another terrorist on the way

Bought a copy of The Advertiser for the first time in months. Bad move, but at least I learned something new, that Donald Rumsfeld is soon to visit our fair city – and have since received emails breaking the ‘secret’. Apparently he will be here between November 16 and November 18, and various protest activities are being organised, though from my reading of The ‘Tiser, security will be such that clashes will be inevitable. Another opportunity for the government to test out its new anti-terrorism laws.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

some right royal bastards

Amused by a recent program on Richard III of England, in which substantial evidence was claimed for the ‘illegitimacy’ of Richard’s big bro, Edward IV, thus throwing into question all the wearers of the crown thereafter.

I read an impressive biographical tome on Richard III at age fifteen or sixteen, and many of its findings are echoed by this program – that is, that Richard was a loyal brother during Edward’s reign and a good administrator in the north. His seizure of the throne was generally popular, and its brutality should be seen in the context of the time. There’s virtually no evidence that he had the hunchback of Shakespearean fame, and some of his portraits were touched up in Tudor times to make him look more villainous.

All of this was more or less familiar ground for me, including the probability that he had the princes murdered in the tower, as he felt he had no real choice in the matter.

What was new was the claim, based on recently unearthed evidence, that Edward was a bastard.

Edward IV - a likely bastard

This was a claim made by Richard at the time, in order it seemed to undermine the claim to the throne of Edward’s son, Edward V, the elder of the two princes in the tower. Up until now most historians have dismissed the claim, understandably enough, as a ploy by Richard to bolster his right to the crown, even though it was often noted in Edward’s time that he looked nothing like his dad, Richard Duke of York, the Yorkist claimant to the throne during the wars of the roses.

Even the current Wikipedia article on Cecily Neville, the mother of the three bros, Edward, George (Duke of Clarence) and Richard, argues against Edward’s illegitimacy, on the basis that he was very close to and much supported by his dad. The claim goes that the rumour was spread not by Edward’s ever-loyal youngest bro Richard, but by the treacherous middle bro George, of butt-of-malmsey fame.

The latest evidence, though, seems decisive. It turned up in a church at Rouen, where Edward was born. The precise date of Edward’s birth is there recorded, and it seems it was impossible for dad Richard to have been in attendance at the conception, as he was away at the wars. Always a bad sign. Historian Michael Jones, who made the discovery, also made the point that the birth wasn’t much celebrated, it was rather hushed up compared to the birth of an earlier son (who died in infancy). Very unusual for a son-and-heir of a major noble not to be feted with full ceremony.

There’s also the fact that Edward was a strapping six-footer who looked nothing like his little dad, whereas little bro Richard was his dad’s spit, so to speak. Lots of thought-provoking info on the subject is provided here.

As I say, I find all this highly diverting, because even if you take seriously the notion of blue blood I suspect you’ll find, as far as the British monarchy is concerned, that it’s been tainted several times over since 1066. Presumably Edward’s bastardry wouldn’t have made too much difference since his line ended at Bosworth Field, two years after his own death. The first Tudor king, Henry VII, had very little claim to the throne, in terms of blue blood, as far as I’m aware (I’d have to check on that), and I very well recall that Henry IV (of ‘uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’ fame), who deposed Richard II, was ever-concerned about his legitimacy.

So for fun, let’s do some research.

Bill the Conk - the original bastard

How blue-blooded was William the Conqueror? Not at all, since he was ‘illegitimate’. To his contemporaries he was known as William the Bastard. Not that this stopped him from cutting a formidable figure in Normandy before invading England. He was only a distant cousin of Edward the Confessor, but in any case in those days the crown usually fell to the most powerful nobleman (eg Harold). Arms mattered more than blood, by and large – though William was grand-nephew of Emma, wife of Ethelred and later Canute.

After William the Bastard's death the succession was legitimate enough, but there was some dispute on the sudden and possibly suspicious death of William II in 1100. His younger brother quickly had himself crowned as Henry I, even though the crown had been promised to the eldest bro Robert (who after William the Bastard's death had succeeded to the lands in Normandy). So you could say this was a different sort of bastardry (though apparently Robert was unpopular and would probably have been a disastrous king, so hey the end justifies the means).

King Stephen - a good-natured bastard

Henry's death in 1135 caused more succession problems. His only surviving legitimate offspring was a woman, Matilda. He'd tried to secure her succession, but the nobles didn't like the idea of a woman ruling them, so Stephen, Matilda's cousin, and William the Bastard's grandson through his very smart and talented daughter Adela, staked his claim. He'd been brought up at the English court so he was acceptable enough to their nobles, but it proved a bumpy ride, because Matilda was keen to claim the throne, and Stephen turned out to be a good-natured bastard without his grandad's ruthlessness. So there was a civil war of sorts, only resolved at Stephen's death in 1154, when the succession returned to Matilda's line, her son becoming King Henry II (Stephen's son and heir, Eustace, having conveniently died the year before).

Richard I - bloody anti-semitic bastard

Now, the whole issue of bastardry becomes quite confusing at the end of Henry II's reign, since most of his legitimate sons (including Henry 'the young king', Richard, Geoffrey and John) were quarrelsome, murderous bastards (Richard eventually doing the old man in), whereas his bastard son Geoffrey remained steadfast and true throughout his life, and was the only child at his deathbed.

Richard of course became king, and was succeeded by John when he died childless (apart from the odd bastard), though there was a rival claim and perhaps technically superior claim by Arthur, son of John's late older brother Geoffrey. John eventually had Arthur murdered (a murder which makes for a memorable scene in Shakespeare's King John).

John's son was crowned Henry III in 1216, and the succession was straightforward for a while, until Richard II's reign came to an abrupt end in 1399. He died in Pontefract Castle, possibly having been starved to death, and the bastard responsible for this, his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, naturally succeeded him as Henry IV. Now, Richard died childless, but he'd named an heir, Roger Mortimer, who was in fact technically next in line. Roger died a year before Richard, but he had a son, Edmund, who should've been king, but, being only eight years old at the time, he was no match for the usurper (who in any case treated him relatively kindly). This rival line to the throne, though, fueled the later wars of the roses.

The wars of the roses was a dynastic struggle between the houses of Lancaster (in the red corner) and York (in the white corner). Henry IV was the first Lancastrian king, and he traced his claim to the throne through his dad, John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster, third son of Edward III and uncle of Richard II. After Henry IV usurped the throne, he was succeeded by his son Henry V, but the Lancastrian grip on power hit a snag when Henry V died relatively young in 1422, leaving the throne to his three-month-old son, Henry VI.

Meanwhile, the house of York also claimed descent from Edward III, through his second son Lionel. Lionel was the grandfather of the afore-mentioned Roger Mortimer and great-grandfather of Edmund Mortimer, but as Edmund died without issue it was through his sister Anne that the Yorkists claimed the throne. Anne married Richard, Earl of Cambridge, in 1406. Richard was also a grandson of Edward III. Their son Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, born in 1411, became a very powerful noble, and began to press his claim...

So, to return to the reigning king, Henry VI. The brothers of Henry V acted as regents during his infancy, but he began to assert some authority from 1437. In 1445 he married the formidable and fascinating Margaret of Anjou, who bolstered the Lancastrian side. However, the king's deteriorating mental condition, not to mention the deteriorating state of the nation, worked in favour of the Yorkists under Richard.

The wars of the roses got under bloody way with the first battle of St Albans in 1455, which was a complete victory for the Yorkists. Henry VI was taken prisoner. Events see-sawed for a while culminating in the battle of Towton (1461), the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil. This battle was a victory for the now-known-to-be-a-bastard Edward, son of Richard of York (who'd been defeated and killed a year before at the battle of Wakefield).

Edward, though a bastard, turned out to be a reasonable king, at least an improvement on Henry, but fortunately his bastard line was snuffed out by his younger and more legit bro Richard in 1483. But Richard was killed two years later by the forces of Henry Tudor, a more or less obscure apirant to the crown.

And so we get to the shenanigans of the Tudors - but let's stop there. So many bogus claims to legitimacy, you can't take too much of it seriously (except when you realise how much blood has been shed). Of course it's fascinating to trace ancestry (and I've just learned that Jesus Christ was most likely a bastard, but more of that anon), but in terms of blue blood, royal lineages etc, it's a huge joke. I'll let Wikipedia have the final say:
Henry's claim to the throne was tenuous and based upon a lineage of illegitimate
succession. However, this was no barrier to the Throne; inheritance was not the
sole method of becoming Sovereign. Claims could also be based on nomination (by
the previous Sovereign), statute, prescription (de facto possession of power)
and, as was the case with Henry VII, conquest.

Anyway, the rich and powerful usually have the most impressive lineages - they pay the best genealogists and historians to prove it.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

American Splendour

We’ve joined a DVD home delivery service. It doesn’t have near enough non-American DVDs on its lists, but it does allow us to keep up with some interesting stuff currently coming out.

American Splendour is the filmed story of the comically serialised story of Harvey Pekar, a doleful denizen of the city of Cleveland. I found it confusing and unengaging at first, but it soon picks up momentum. Harvey, played by Paul Giametti when not being played by himself, slouches through life maintaining a blackly humorous internal monologue re its little ironies and problems. An underground comic fan, his life, such as it is, is given a fillip of sorts when a comic illustrator he has befriended, Robert Crumb (apparently now regarded as a ‘seminal underground cartoonist’ – needless to say I’m not au fait with that world), agrees to collaborate on a comic of his life as file clerk and drudge-about-town. So American Splendour (the Americans spell it Splendor but I can’t bring myself to follow them) is born. It a-chieves a moderate (another word for underground) success, and leads to other vital developments in his life, most notably in attracting to him his eventual wife Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), and even to guest appearances on the David Letterman Show.

These appearances provided the most thought-provoking aspect of the film for me. It’s noteworthy though unsurprising that the mostly American reviewers gathered at Rotten Tomatoes (who were overwhelmingly favourable in their responses) barely mentioned Pekar’s clashes with Letterman. Perhaps they didn’t want to get bogged down in the psychological-cultural analysis this might’ve led to, or perhaps they’re peculiarly blind to this kind of focus, as they seem to be, for example, when reviewing Michael Moore’s films.

I watch Letterman from time to time, against my better self. Like Oprah he’s a conduit for America’s obsession with celebrity, his guest list reading like a who’s who of who’s in. It’s a kind of mutual creative thing, the invited guest knows he or she has or still has the requisite je ne sais quoi, and his or her appearance allows ole young Dave to bask in the knowledge that he still has the je ne sais quoi to pull em in. Beyond that there’s not much to it – a televised version of Who magazine, peppered with in-jokes.

Harvey Pekar was invited on the show, clearly, because he’s an anti-celebrity. This allows Letterman to maintain his obsession with celebrity while also trying to claim an element of daring and edginess, again for the purpose of establishing or maintaining the street cred deemed necessary to pass himself off as more than just a breathlessly star-struck scalphunter. It also allows him to indulge the notion of himself as gracious bestower of favours upon the dubiously deserving. It seems to me that the ongoing guff about Oprah on his show really captures Letterman’s motivation and ambition. She’s his rival and nemesis, it seems, and his dislike of her is all about professional jealousy. It seems people like Oprah really matter to Letterman, whereas people like Harvey Pekar are both bizarre and insignificant to him, in a way that’s actually quite chilling.

I’ve seen the film for a second time, and perhaps I’m overly tough on Letterman, it may well be that he does, or did, enjoy reading the comics, but it still seems that his interest in Pekar is more an interest in a peculiar specimen, one that can be exploited, even goaded, for a bit of fun and profit, a bit like the way animals are taunted in the zoo by hubristic kiddies. To his credit, Pekar tried to give as good as he got, despite the massive power inbalance built into such a show. ‘Megalomaniac’, says Harvey’s wife Joyce after witnessing one of these interviews, and this refines down beautifully all the discomfort and frustration any Pekar supporter might feel. It’s also the ‘brevity is the soul of wit’ response that’s no doubt essential to the comic’s success.

I enjoyed the film more the second time, and didn’t find the opening scenes anywhere near as slow and dull or confusing. To tell the truth I can’t put my finger on why I found them a problem first time around, though many critics found the same. The film’s design is clever and effective, incorporating actors playing the parts, the real characters those actors play, and the comic-book versions, allowing us glimpses into comic book construction, film construction and real struggling lives, without ever being heavy-handed about its approach.

In fact it’s the apparent lightness, effortlessness, seamlessness of the film’s construction that has ensured its success, I think. It’s a great little film that tells us about an America we need to know more about, a no-bullshit place of small victories and small defeats and unheroic stoicism, something we can respond positively to at a time when the arrogance of certain Americans threatens to bias us irreversibly.

There's a good summary of Pekar's issues with Letterman here.

Friday, November 04, 2005

so why?

Thanks to one Iain Murray for posting a comment to my old blog, updating the news on peace activist Scott Parkin. The Age on November 1 published something – and online it’s very brief – to the effect that he was ‘blameless’. This was the newspaper’s word. ASIO have admitted that he wasn’t involved in anything violent or dangerous. So why the adverse security assessment? They’ve also ‘revealed’, or at least claimed, that no US pressure was exerted on authorities to act against Parkin, who has written much about Halliburton’s devious business practices. It’s just appalling that this government, so often having been found guilty of lying to us about immigration, detention and foreign policy decisions, is now using the ‘secret men’s business’ excuse of national security concern to trample on the rights of someone who doesn’t share their ideology and doesn’t himself make a secret of the fact. Are they really hiding anything important from us? In the case of Parkin you can bet your bottom dollar they’re not. It’s sickening, and it’s a disgrace. And what does this tell us about Beazley? I’m sorry, but it’s time he was removed as opposition leader. I recognise his expertise and vast experience, and his good work in the industrial relations, taxation and social equity areas, but his me-tooism about civil liberties has quite frankly lost me. I wonder how Julia Gillard feels about all this.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

checking ID

Courtesy of Barista, I’ve read the full letter to Oz newspapers sent out on behalf of ‘more than 70,000 scientists and science teachers’ recently on the subject of intelligent design teaching in schools, and I’ve also read Barista’s valiant attempt to improve on that relatively brief epistle. He’s been more combative, and there’s nothing he writes that I don’t agree with, but I wonder if in outing the fundamentalists behind the intelligent design fiasco he isn’t entering territory into which some of those thousands would be reluctant to follow him. I won’t say he’s politicising the debate, because it’s already politicised, though of course the ID proponents are trying to depoliticise it (or dereligify it), to make it seem like simply a plausible scientific position, as if it were born out of sheer scepticism about the claims of evolutionists.

The point is, Barista is trying to widen the issue, whereas the actual published letter wants simply, or largely, to focus on ID as bogus science, regardless of the ideology behind it. You could say that the weakness of the scientists’ approach is that, by keeping the terms narrow, they’ve followed the lead of the ID merchants, thereby allowing them to dictate the terms of the debate. Or so it would seem.

I like Barista’s ambition, but the letter suffers from a blurring of focus, which leads to him getting caught up in some too-tricky side issues. Also, there are specific claims made, both about the goodies (‘almost all believe that their religion is compatible with evolution’) and the baddies (‘they believe that God created the earth and everything on it in the relatively recent past. Most of them believe in the literal story of Genesis, Adam and Eve’) which may or may not be true, but which might well be vigorously denied by combatants, which would just add to the smoke. For example, I myself am quite firmly convinced that Judeo-Christianity, to say nothing of other religions, is incompatible with evolution, and so, were I a scientist, I’d feel a little uncomfortable signing a letter which seems to endorse their compatibility (though of course it doesn’t). On the other hand, I’d have no problems signing the scientists’ letter.

I’m quite impressed with this paragraph though:

Those who want us to teach ID in science classes are not suggesting we should raise the topic in order to perform a scientific analysis of the beliefs. After all, we will have to say that ID has no evidence to support it, and is not believed by reasonable people. Instead, we will be forced to say that ID has some validity, and covers weaknesses in the theory of evolution. We will be compelled to say things which we know to be logically and scientifically untrue.

This is a vital point that needs to be hammered through the thick skulls of some politicians. The very integrity of scientists and science teachers is at stake, and that’s a horrible position to put them in.

Courtney Love

Well, I’m really falling behind, and with so much to write about…

I have to say I’ve been doing a bit of child-minding lately, and it’s no small task, and that’s only with one admittedly dynamic three-year-old. I suppose I don’t help my cause by being unable to say no to a kid, and by forgetting that I’m supposed to be the one in control, but really when there’s a kid tearing around your home, demanding attention for all her momentous discoveries and activities, it’s quite impossible to settle to anything else. It gives me a glimpse into a mother’s harried life – and I’ve only changed Courtney’s nappies a couple of times, and had to cope with only a handful of her innumerable tantrums and traumas.

My experience of it is of a life divided, between an ineffable weariness, boredom and frustration, occasionally rising to that pitch of anger at which you come to some scary understanding of child abuse – of the unpremeditated, child-shaking variety of course – and an awe and bedazzlement at the inventive genius and emotional wholeheartedness of a child’s adventurings. Not to mention an overwhelming love for her naked delight and despair, her gung-ho vulnerability, her flattering mimesis.

A funny example of this last – she’s taken to insisting that she has a handbag with her when going out in the car, full of odds and ends that might fit – a puzzle, a Care Bear, a toy mobile phone, some pencils, and, most important recently, a book.

In this, she’s particularly copying myself and Sarah, who usually take books with us on our travels. She doesn’t take a kids’ book, she prefers one of Sarah’s old hardbacks – R L Stevenson, or Kipling or the like. Sometimes she’ll even take it out and study it, and tell its story – usually a variation on Goldilocks or Cinderella.

If this bores you I won’t be too surprised, for I’m also experiencing – as I did before with Isabelle, but more intensely this time – that sense, almost of disillusionment, that other people just don’t see anything to be fascinated about in your brilliant, hilarious, astonishingly precocious little tot. And yet… I have had comments (he said swelling with pride), once from an amused fellow-shopper, who’d watched her chatting with me about the products in the supermarket, trying to persuade me to put all sorts of wonders in the trolley, and said, ‘what is she, five going on twenty-five?’ (Courtney was in fact still only two), and once from a very beautiful and warm-hearted bartender at the Royal Oak, with whom Courtney had struck up a brief friendship. When we were leaving, she said, with a real amaze, ‘that’s a really bright kid you’ve got there...’

Why I should be so proud I’m not quite sure. She’s inherited none of my genes. And yet… I like to think she’s chipped something off the old block and incorporated it into herself.

Recently I watched an absorbing Chaplin special, which discussed and showed scenes from his classic The Kid. That kid reminded me so much of Courtney at her most vital. Jackie Coogan was six, I believe, when he played that role. I’m really looking forward to experiencing Courtney at that age, at least for snatches of time.

pavlov's cat