Wednesday, 28 May 2003
Australia's Governor-General resigned
over the weekend, and it was front-page news in the local papers; in fact, it was the only news on pages one, two, three and four. Last week the family of the woman who accused Peter Hollingsworth of rape withdrew the court case against him, conceding that it would be almost impossible to pursue the case with the victim (who was also the only witness) dead. (She committed suicide when it became apparent that the press would learn of the story.) Hollingsworth continues to face accusations that he didn't do enough to protect children from pedophile priests during his tenure as Archbishop of the Anglican Church, but he does so now as a private citizen—not as the Australian head of state.
I mentioned earlier that Hollingsworth was in trouble, and have since learned a bit more about the position of Governor-General. There simply isn't anything like the role in the United States, where the Head of State and the Head of Government are one and the same; Australia, Canada and other ex-colonies of the British Empire (I think) have a separate role for the ceremonial leader, versus the hands-on leader who busies himself with running the country. In Australia (until now) the Prime Minister simply chose the Governor-General, with no input from Parliament or any other body: The closest analogy I can make would be if President Bush unilaterally decided who would wear the Miss America crown, and if Miss America were less a beauty queen and more an actual monarch.
It would also appear that the Australian Constitution is more a patchwork than its American counterpart, having been updated at various times to make Australia more independent from the British Crown; Australia's equivalent to the Supreme Court was actually a British court until fairly recent times, and the ongoing scandal with Hollingsworth raised a lot of interesting Constitutional questions. If the Governor-General had not resigned, it would have been very difficult to remove him—and at several points in the affair it became necessary to consult with Queen Elizabeth on what to do next about the man who was technically her representative. (The Queen discreetly said it was Australia's affair and Prime Minister John Howard's decision… perhaps realizing that any other course of action would likely end her reign over Australia. In a 1999 referendum a bare 54% of Australians voted to retain their country's ties to the British crown.)
The whole affair is a black eye for John Howard, who did no background checks at all before elevating a former Anglican archbishop to be Australia's head of state (and who was warned that appointing a person so closely tied to the Anglican Church created some awkward church-state separation issues.) Howard is a staunch monarchist, I'm told, so potentially this is an issue that the Opposition could use against him—although the Opposition here is, if anything, in even greater disarray than America's Democrats—and at the very least the Prime Minister will have to do some serious vetting and consulting before appointing the next Governor-General of Australia.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:38 am. comments.
Monday, 19 May 2003
Live from the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska
(and with apologies to David Letterman), it's the Top Ten Surprises from The Matrix Reloaded:
- First movie was all a dream; Neo is really a Texas oil baron
- Dreadlocked villains talk like Jar-Jar, provide wacky comic relief for the kiddies
- Agent Smith revealed to be a pirated copy of Windows Me
- Exciting freeway chase scene not a special effect—they just filmed a typical L.A. freeway at rush hour
- Wachowski brothers created Carrie-Anne Moss by wearing bras on their heads, hooking up doll to computer, and hacking into military mainframe
- CGI Keanu Reeves a better actor than the real one
- In surprise twist ending, Neo learns that Morpheus is his father
- Cornel West still on lecture circuit 200 years from now
- Rampant product placement as Neo enjoys a Pepsi at the Zion McDonald's
- Sir Ian McKellen inexplicably does not appear in film
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:20 am. comments.
Saturday, 17 May 2003
Will the mystery blogger please stand up:
A hearty g'day to readers from Karmic Inquisition who found themselves sent here by the spinning MysteryBlog wheel. (The obligatory joke: "Nobody expects readers from the Karmic Inquisition!") Feel free to wander around and explore the blog; you'll find travelogues from Australia and other parts unknown, day-to-day adventures of an American expat Down Under, random thoughts about foreign policy and its effects on the foreigners, and other assorted essays, mumbles, and rants. Enjoy!
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:37 am. comments.
Saturday, 17 May 2003
Of Vice and Men:
There's been much ado in the blogosphere about ex-drug czar Bill Bennett and his $8 million gambling losses, but to me the real shocker is this part of the story (from msnbc.com):
Bennett has long been known to be part of a small-stakes poker game in
Washington with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Associate Justice Antonin
Scalia and lawyer Robert Bork.
Get that? William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia are known criminals! I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on at the highest levels of the nation's judicial system! Has this influenced the Court's recent decisions? Were Scalia and Rehnquist blackmailed by Bush supporters who knew their secret vice? Why isn't the "liberal media" screaming and demanding a long drawn-out Kenneth Starr inquisition that destroys the lives of everyone it touches? Why isn't local DA following the "zero-tolerance" policies that Bill Bennett himself called for as drug czar? Somewhere in an alternate universe Bill Bennett is being hauled off to jail for possession of poker chips and playing cards, and the feds are seizing his house!
"The non-addicted or casual [gambler] is likely to have a still-intact family, social and work life. These are the users who should have their names published in local papers. They should be subject to drivers' license suspension, employer notification, overnight or weekend detention, eviction from public housing, or forfeiture of the cars they drive while [gambling]."
—Bill Bennett, give or take a few words
According to the MSNBC story, Bennett, Scalia and Rehnquist (oh my) were regular participants in illegal gambling—not a wholesome state-sanctioned casino or lottery, but a blatantly illegal backroom speak-easy "Richard Scaife sent me" den of iniquity and sin! Make your blood boil! Will Rehnquist and Scalia resign? Will they recuse themselves from cases involving gambling? If, say, Teddy Kennedy had let slip that he, Ginsberg, and Souter get together and smoke a joint every now and then, the conservative media would be baying like wolves to throw them out of office and spin conspiracy theories about perversions of justice. Where are the Morals Police when it's time to investigate one (no, wait, four) of their own? Where are the Clear Channel-sponsored events where liberals work themselves into a righteous lather and tear up their copies of Bennett's Book of Virtues?
Oh, but wait: This was a low-stakes poker game! Well that makes all the difference, doesn't it? It's a good thing we distinguish between "low-stakes" and "high-stakes" in Bennett's moral code, because otherwise we might be locking up marijuana users next to heroin dealers. We wouldn't want to overcrowd our prisons with harmless low-stakes gamblers, would we? Goodness, no. Besides, folks, gambling is a rich man's vice—as long as you can afford to spend $8 million on your depraved hobby, it's perfectly all right with Moral Crusader Bill. A bankrupt woman who's spent all her money on chemotherapy and needs marijuana to keep food down? Off to the gallows, you hellcat! But if Bennett's got the money to burn—if instead of, say, putting 100 children through college that paragon of "virture for thee" drops a few million tokens into the slot machines at Harrah's, well, heck, he's hurting no one but himself.
Our nation's drug laws are badly, badly in need of reform, and it's people like Bill Bennett who made them that way. If he spent just one lousy day behind bars for every life he's ruined with his draconian mandatory-sentencing zero tolerance drug policies, he'd have a life sentence. And yet that pretentious Puritan dares not only to walk among us preaching virtue, but to conceal his own vices when it furthers his interests. His belated "gosh, I'm not setting a good example—no more gambling for me!" is as hollow and self-serving as the rest of his morality, and the only example he sets is a demonstration that law enforcement and blue-nosed moral crusaders should not mix.
But, since the Vast Right-Wing ConspiracyTM controls all our media outlets, I'm sure this shocking story will be ignored while we focus on more pressing matters. I think Bennett should offer a refund to the gullible buyers of his book—if he has any money left over after his latest Vegas binge.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 6:56 am. comments.
Wednesday, 14 May 2003
Two months ago I stuck out my neck
and made ten predictions about how the war would unfold. Let's take a look at my March soothsaying, and see how well I did:
- America's next move. I'd score this prediction as right on the generalities, wrong on the details: Bush didn't read aloud from Resolution 1441, and it was Australian PM John Howard who proposed UNSC reforms (which, so far, have gone nowhere) — but the gist of my prediction was correct: Dubya gave Saddam an ultimatum, and that was the only part of the speech that mattered. Half credit.
- Britain's next move. In hindsight this forecast doesn't look as impressive, but in mid-March the air was buzzing with speculation that Britain might fold its tent and go home, and that Blair might face a rebellion within his party's ranks and be forced out of office. I was betting on Tony to see it through, and he did; and the question of whether Britain can continue to be half-Euro and half-Anglo is still an open debate, as predicted. Full points.
- Russia's next move. I guessed that Vladimir Putin would continue to play France like a violin, allowing Chirac to bear the brunt of the U.S.'s wrath, while his kleptocrat friends maneuvered to get their oil contracts honored by the new Iraq. Full points.
- France's next move. France's proxy defeat on the battlefield left no room for brazenly anti-American U.N. proposals, as I had predicted; perhaps if the war had gone badly for America, Chirac would have floated "peace plans" that put France in the catbird seat and gave America, Britain, and Israel short shrift… but we'll never know, will we? No points.
- Saddam's last move. The fate of Saddam and his WMDs remains a mystery: If Saddam didn't have any battlefield-ready WMDs, then why were his troops running around with gas masks? If he did have WMDs, where are they? Where is Saddam, for that matter? For all we know both he and his anthrax spores (and a billion dollars in hard currency) are tucked away safely in some hideout that he's had twelve years to prepare. My prediction was accurate only in that Saddam didn't make effective use of WMDs on the battlefield, after having his hands tied by the U.N. inspectors and the diplomatic strategy of denying their existence. No points.
- The war itself. This is the part where I do my Prognosticator's Victory Dance, because I called the war's duration and our battlefield strategy on this one: Our tanks raced from the Kuwaiti border to the Baghdad city limits, and the war ended when they arrived. (And, the number of mass graves we're digging up right now suggests that Iraqi civilian deaths are trending downward at last.) Full points.
- North Korea. I predicted they'd start an all-out effort to build the Bomb; if we knew whether I was right or wrong, we'd all be better off. Incomplete.
- Iran. Arguably Iran is approaching a tipping point, and the Iraq war may accelerate that movement slightly—but the timing of my prediction is off here. The mullahs are scrambling to retain power, and even going as far as making accomodating noises toward the Great Satan… but whether the Iranian people will overthrow their tyrant overlords remains to be seen. No points.
- Germany. This one wasn't hard to predict, really: We've been looking for an excuse to pull our troops out of Germany for almost a decade, because there's no longer a mission that requires their presence there. Schröder remains in office for now, but I don't think he's going down next to Bismarck or Brandt in the honor rolls. Full points.
- Al Qaeda. Right on the prediction, wrong on the timing. I've re-assessed Al Qaeda's capabilities based on their actions (or lack thereof) during the Iraq war; I no longer believe they have the ability to mount timely responses to U.S. actions, although clearly they still have the resources to make truck bombs (and, in the nightmare scenario, still have a small R&D team tucked away somewhere). This week's explosions in Riyadh tell us there's no shortage of morons and semtex, but the political impact on anyone but the Saudis is minimal. Half credit.
The net result? Five out of ten, or five out of nine if you throw out the North Korea question. I'm better than a Magic 8-Ball, perhaps, but not quite into Karnak the Magnificent territory.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 10:51 am. comments.
Tuesday, 13 May 2003
So I'm at the doctor's office
getting poked and prodded and examined, as part of my application for an Australian Permanent Resident visa (my three-year work visa is expiring), and this battleaxe of a nurse is preparing to jab a needle into my arm. As she's doing her thing with the cotton-ball and messing with my arm to make the veins pop out, she says, in a scornful tone, "You don't exercise at all, do you?"
Now, I'll be the first to admit that a little more exercise wouldn't kill me. I've adopted quite the sedentary lifestyle as of late, where both work and play involve me sitting behind a desk at a keyboard; I hop on the treadmill every so often and climb the occasional Ayers Rock, but not as often as I should. If the nurse had smiled and gently suggested that I get a little more exercise, I'd have nodded and said it was good advice. Besides, if I exercised more the veins in my arm would stick out more prominently, making them easier to find and jab with needles— and wouldn't that be a good thing for nurses everywhere?
Instead, I thought to myself that the nurse was a rude, bitter, self-righteous person whose only job satisfaction came from talking down to patients. I smiled politely and said nothing, this being the most civil reply I could muster.
"It's your heart attack," she harrumphed, and went about the business of drawing blood from my arm. She was professional in that brisk, harsh way that minimizes human contact. As she drew blood, she lectured, "You don't have to be fanatical about exercise, but once a week makes a difference."
To myself, I thought You are never going to be anything more than what you are today. I could come back to this office ten years from now, and you'd still be stuck in the same empty, meaningless rut that your life is; you don't know how to deal with people, and without that skill you'll never go anywhere. To her I made some noncommittal noises, acknowledging that she'd spoken but not agreeing to anything.
"I'm not saying this for my sake, I'm saying it for yours," she concluded. In the interests of keeping this a family forum, I'll omit part of what I thought in response… but the gist of it was You arrogant fool! Do you even realize the resentment and resistance that your petty scoldings cause? How many people leave this office each day thinking "well, maybe I should take better care of myself—but if that so-and-so thinks she can tell me off and boss me around like that, she's sadly mistaken!" Saying it for my sake, indeed. Your ego needs to find a source of validation besides lecturing other people about their shortcomings. I can only imagine how your co-workers and family must suffer.
Oddly enough my blood pressure was a bit higher than usual when the doctor got around to checking it a few minutes later. Maybe I should get more exercise.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:00 am. comments.
Tuesday, 13 May 2003
I am the very model of a modern Governor-General:
From what I can piece together, the Governor-General is some sort of anachronism from the days when Queen Victoria's government administered the Australia colony. He's the ceremonial Head of State and the Queen's representative in Australia, although he's appointed by the Australian Prime Minister… and (this is where it gets interesting) the Governor-General and the Prime Minister both have the sole power to remove each other. He's sort of like "Bones" McCoy on Star Trek, in that (under certain circumstances) he can relieve Captain Kirk of command—except that, in this case, the "certain circumstances" are not well defined at all. Likewise, the circumstances that call for a Governor-General to be removed from office are equally vague and confusing; since the G-G's only duties are to represent the Queen and dissolve the government if it goes insane, it's hard to say why and when the G-G should be found unfit for duty.
On the other hand, if your appointed Governor-General is the Australian answer to Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law… then things get really interesting. The current G-G, Peter Hollingsworth, was previously an archbishop in the Anglican Church, which is sort of a state religion in Australia and throughout the British Commonwealth (it was founded by King Henry VIII when the Pope refused to give him a divorce; Americans call it the Episcopalian church), and he has been accused of, well, spending the entire Sixties covering up and abetting pedophile priests. The initial accusations led to an investigation, which led to a government report, which was sharply critical of the G-G, and led to calls for from the opposition parties for Prime Minister John Howard to remove him. Howard didn't want to remove him, because that would mean admitting it was a mistake to appoint him in the first place, and so Hollingsworth remained in office.
And then, about a week ago, while the Prime Minister was off on his Iraq victory tour (his trip to the ranch with Dubya, his photo op with Tony Blair, et cetera), it was revealed that the G-G has been accused of rape by a woman who, two weeks before the accusation became public, committed suicide. She had claimed she'd been raped at a church-sponsored youth camp in the Sixties, and identified her assailant as the G-G from a photograph of him taken around that time. She filed suit in December, but the court records were sealed to protect both her identity and his—and then a Member of Parliament got wind of the suit, and asked a pointed question that the G-G was obligated to answer. (Apparently it would be illegal for an MP to reveal the contents of a sealed lawsuit, but while Parliament is in session he can ask "is the G-G involved in a sealed lawsuit, and if so what does it contain?", and the G-G has to answer. Tricky.)
In light of that bombshell, the Governor-General has now stepped aside "temporarily" (ahem) while an inquiry attempts to clear his name. With the only witness to the alleged crime (the victim) now dead, the statute of limitations long expired, and her identification of Hollingsworth as her assailant so tenuous, it's unlikely that a court case will proceed against him—but he can't represent the Queen with any semblance of dignity any longer, and the most recent polls say 83% of Australians think he should go. Australia is still technically a monarchy, with the Queen of England on all her coins and historical oddities like the governor-general; there was a recent referendum on whether to end the Australian monarchy and make the country a republic, which failed by a narrow margin on the strength of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" vote (and because Australian veterans feared it would mean changing the design of the national flag, which has the Union Jack in the corner). But the republicans are now renewing the debate over the monarchy and why Australia has governor-generals, since that part of the government appears to be broken after all.
Again with the glossary: Republicans in Australia are not like the American political party of the same name, but rather are a broad political movement to abolish the monarchy. There is an Australian political party called the Republicans, but it's a single-issue fringe group. The Australian political party that most resembles America's Republicans is called the Liberal Party, just to confuse you, and Australia's answer to the Democrats is spread across several parties, including Labour, the Greens (which are stronger here than in the States), the Australian Democrats, and maybe a few others. Australian PM John Howard is a Liberal, and his party has a majority in one house of Parliament and a plurality (I think) in the other. My understanding of Australian politics may not be 100% accurate, should not be read while operating heavy machinery, etc.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 3:53 am. comments.
Saturday, 10 May 2003
A different kind of writing.
I've been doing a little programming lately, just to keep my hand in; it's been years since I was a professional code monkey—I learned the power of the dark side and switched to management long ago—but I still write software as a hobby. Lately I've been re-writing the plumbing for my pet application, which is a program to help people with Macintoshes write old-fashioned text adventures like Zork or Colossal Cave. (I figure this is an audience of mmmaybe 20 people worldwide, though there is a thriving little community of text-adventure fans and authors out there, so perhaps I'm understating it a bit.)
For many people, "computer programming" and "hobby" go together like peanut butter and gasoline: It just isn't something they'd choose to do with their free time. It'd be like spending a nice, relaxing weekend cracking open the ledgers and doing some hardcore accounting. Of course many people enjoy stamp collecting or gardening or building model airplanes in their free time, all of which I find breathtakingly dull, so I suppose we all agree that other people's hobbies are much less interesting than our own. For me, programming is a creative outlet: I get to make things that other people find useful, which is fun and rewarding.
Unfortunately programming is a very time-consuming hobby: It's one where you have to get into "the zone" and stay there in order to be productive. In some ways it's like reading a book: You can read a lot faster if you're not being interrupted, and if you are interrupted it takes you a while to get back into it. Fog Creek Software CEO Joel Spolsky writes about this at length on his "Joel on Software" blog, more in the context of "how to succeed at running a software business," but nonetheless.
Anyhow, I've been blogging less lately because I've been programming more, which may be helpful to other REALbasic developers but isn't all that exciting for my loyal blog readers (both of you). Next week I'll write more exciting articles about Australian-American relations, how America is doing in the overseas propaganda fight, whether the war on Iraq made us safer from terrorists, and so on.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:47 am. comments.
Thursday, 01 May 2003
Australia's quack-medicine industry
suffered a major setback this week, as a government agency issued a recall notice for
several hundred products manufactured by a local Sydney pharmaceutical.
Sold under brand names like "Nature's Own" and "Golden Glow," these High
Potency Alfalfa and Super Papaya Enzyme tablets were made by a company that
had been previously cited for making paracetamol tablets without any paracetamol in them.
The company had apparently decided to cut costs by doing away with quality
control altogether; instead of curing boils and enhancing sex lives, the
recalled pills had excitingly random effects—the motion-sickness pills
could send you on an entirely
different kind of trip, and in general the pills may not have contained
what the bottle said they would.
The recall notice involved so many products that the entire Australian
vitamin supplement industry just about fell over: Every chemist in
Australia has some of this stuff on the shelves, and they're still trying to
sort the good pills from the bad. Because the pharmaceutical was a
subcontractor to several companies, there's no easy way to isolate the
problem drugs—you have to find the batch number printed on the bottle
and see if it falls in a particular range, which varies for each company.
The real irony, though, is that none of the real drugs are affected
by this recall: Just the bottles of Turbo Ginseng and Ultra Natural Herbal
Formula, the stuff that looks like medicine but has no actual value. One
reporter asked a doctor what the effects would be if patients had to stop
taking these "medicines" all at once, and the doctor, after looking through
the list, replied "nothing."
If it weren't for the motion-sickness drug, which apparently
contained an overdose of its active ingredient, the company could have kept
right on making sugar pills and labeling them Super Celery Extract without
anyone knowing the difference (except for the irate government inspectors
who were sent to the manufacturing plant, of course).
A quick glossary: "Paracetamol" is the Australian name
for acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, and a "chemist" is what
Americans would call a pharmacist. While I'm on the subject, "Panadol" is
the Australian answer to Tylenol, "Nurofen" is their Advil, and after years
of trying I still can't find the Aussie equivalent of Contac (my personal
cold-and-flu wonder drug), so I buy a box when I'm in the States and bring
it back with me.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:19 pm. comments.
Thursday, 01 May 2003
Back to work.
Monday marked the end of my six-week sabbatical, so I'm back to the weekday office grind—which means less time for blogging and other recreational activities. (Memo to self: Add tip jar, see if blogging pays better than engineering.) It was the longest holiday of my career to date, and I needed it: I had a severe case of burnout, and spent the months before mid-March croaking out the word "sabbatical!" the way a man crawling across the desert talks about water.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:47 am. comments.
Thursday, 01 May 2003
Last Friday was ANZAC day
here, the Australian equivalent of Memorial Day (or Veterans' Day, I suppose). Australia's military history (as I know it, which frankly is at the tourist-brochure level) began when the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps stormed the beaches at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, in an attempt to relieve pressure on Russia and open another front in World War I. Unfortunately for the ANZACs, the commander of Turkish defenses on the peninsula (Mustafa Kemal, the George Washington of modern Turkey) threw his entire regiment at the invaders, stopping them cold; the Aussies and Kiwis dug in and fought several months of trench warfare, but ultimately they were ordered to withdraw. Over eight thousand Aussies were killed in a campaign that achieved none of its military objectives; they fought well, but in a lost cause.
Foreign countries remember foreign battles, compared to the history you learned in school. Australians commemorate the World War II battle of Singapore, a Japanese victory that happened after Pearl Harbor but before the Americans were in theater. After that, though, comes the big one—the reason why all the later Australian battles sound familiar to American ears: The Battle of Coral Sea. For students of American history (like me) it was one naval battle among many, but for Australia it was a turning point in the war; together with the Australian land victories in Papua-New Guinea, it marked the end of Japan's march to invade and occupy the continent. The U.S. Navy played a major, major role in preventing a land war on Australian soil, and the Aussies have not forgotten. Since Coral Sea the Australians have backed us in every single war we've fought: They sent troops to Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, were the first to pledge military support after 9/11, and their Special Forces and Navy are in the Gulf right now. They have literally been fighting alongside us for as long as they've had troops to fight with.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:43 am. comments.