Friday, September 30, 2005

Sawing logs

Look, if you haven't figured out by now that I am uncomfortably short in this once in a generation commodity boom, you just haven't been paying attention. If you have been, then you will understand the source of my shrill; it's called talking your book. That said, I don't intend to stop shrilling yet. Let my tombstone read: "I told you so."

Look at the picture of the Sydney Share Price Index, going back roughly 22 years. Look at the left side and then the right side. The left side rises dramatically and then collapses in the "Crash of 1987". The right side rises dramatically and then, what?: keeps on rising dramatically?

Well, maybe. But not likely. That kind of exponential action has a way of burning out when you least expect it; regardless of whether you expect it or not. It's always a timing thing, and most people will be either too soon or too late to the party. I'm too soon, evidently, again; I always tend to hit to left field.

Putting some numbers on it, the SPI corrected from 3500 down to 2700, which it briefly pierced in March 2003. Today the SPI got to 2000 points above that low, at 4700. Recognise that the SPI is simply a derivative of the broad stock index, currently the S&PASX200, but until only a few years ago, the All Ordinaries Index. You can see a chart of the All Ords going back to 1900 from 2003 here:

What you find is the All Ords went from effectively zero to 2700 in the 103 years shown on that chart. Then in the next 30 months it increased its value by almost another 75% (2700 x 1.74% = 4700 +/-). If the market had grown at that rate (1.75% per 30 months compounded), assuming it started at 1 (one), it would have taken a little over 40 years to reach its current level, not 105 years. The point being, it didn't, and that any such sustained rate of growth is highly fanciful.

There are those who say you can't look at the shape and extent of the current rise off 2700 to 4700 and compare it to 1987, unless you use a log scale comparison, which compares moves by their percentage gain, not their lineal, nominal gain. (Fair enough, but the percentage relationship of expecting 1.74% gain every 30 months has already shown to be pretty fantastic.)

But accepting that challenge, I've already produced that chart. See That was way back 10 days ago, on September 20, when the SPI was about 4580. See the top line of the channel going back to the '87 drop? That line has not been broken except for the rise into the '87 crash -- until now. That puts it in pretty treacherous territory.

But, it is not just territory that characterises the technical status of stocks. There is also a not very well defined concept of time. I don't have a clue what Gann was all about, but I think he did pretty solidly establish the notion that, like grieving, there is a respectable amount of time that prices (and widows) "should" stay in a range before moving on. It is the galloping and accellerating pace of this recent ascent that makes it dizzying, not simply the heights reached (or to be reached).

But don't pay any attention to my rants. I'm only talking my book. I'm not really good at technical analysis or maths. You really wouldn't want my track record in the market. And I need to do this for therapy.

There goes another of those darned pink elephants. Did anyone mention the '87 crash took place in October? Shoosh. There he goes again. Can't you control him?

Labels: , ,

How do you boil a frog?

Frogs are very reflexive little buggers and will spring away at the slightest stimulation. If you want to boil a lobster, you just chuck the sucker in the boiling pot, and there it'll stay. But not so with frogs; they're off the moment they hit the surface. No, to boil a frog you have to be more gentle. Put him in nice a slow like, then slowly, slowly gradually, gradually turn up the heat. He'll be lulled into an easy sleep and wake up cooked and eaten.

And that's one way to turn up the heat on our liberties, too. Don't go for the big grab all in one hit. Divert with your left hand, and take a little quickly with your right. Lie low a while. Make another diversion with your right hand and pinch a bit more with your left. A little here, a little there. You get lulled into a nice soft sense of security and wake up bound and gagged.

That's pretty much the description of what's been happening in Australia as told by David Marr in the SMH today:

We only think the recent Howard rollback of presumptions of innocence, rights to counsel, notice of charges, habeas corpus, freedom of speech, freedom of association, etc., is an unprecedented and right wing Liberal party conspiracy. (Well, some of us only think that, those of us who think that our personal freedoms are under attack. Others don't think or don't think so.)

But David Marr shows us the water temperature was turned up long ago. He suggests (but doesn't say) that it may have something to do with the legacy of the White Australia policies, or of the fear of the Asian hordes to the north and our fear we cannot fend for ourselves. He reminds us (and how could we have forgotten -- shame on us) that "Labor introduced the virus back in 1992 to save the nation from a couple of hundred Cambodian boat people."

His conclusion is that Labor and Liberal are in cahoots to wind back our freedoms and liberties with few safeguards because "the real "safeguard" that makes mandatory detention of boat people and the prospect of tagging, searching and detaining terrorism suspects acceptable - even welcome - has nothing much to do with promises of sensitive policing and judicial review. It's simply the belief these days that these measures will only ever be used against Muslims. All along, it's always been about race."

And evils such as this don't usually end up as designed. Jews weren't the only ones to feel the jackboot of Naziism. You might want to have a read of his piece. And if you still don't think that panic and subordination of individual rights to due process is a concern, read this; it won't take long:

Labels: , ,

The Sisters of Mercenary

Whenever I'm in a charitable mode (having both the mood and the moola at the same time), I tend to give to the Salvation Army; the Salvos as they are affectionately known in Australia. I'm no great study of charities, but what I've seen in Australia is that whenever there's a disaster of some sort, they're always johnny-on-the-spot with a cuppa, a blanket, an arm and a shoulder and, if you want it, a bit of prayer -- and if you don't, how's your coffee? The Australian Salvos are pretty earthy people. They're direct, simple, personable, non-sanctimonious, low-overhead and effective, and I have never seen their aid appeals based on any desire to preach or convert, only to serve. I don't believe in their religion, but that isn't important to them or me; we both believe in their mission.

So, if there were an extraordinary emergency and the Salvos were in the thick of it and a government had the goods but not the means of getting the stuff to where it was needed and the Salvos were there to handle it and were running short of their own goods, I would be quite happy to see the government hand off the stuff for the Salvos to deal with it.

But if, say, the Hare Krishnas were there offering aid, or the Watchtower folks, or others who would make as much or more about their "message" as the aid, I'd have an entirely different think about it. People who want to make you beholden to them for the aid they offer should not be allowed to push their brand of religion with the aid of government support.

And the catalyst for this post is the announcement by FEMA that, in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, they will be making aid available to certain faith-based groups.

(Anything that is "faith-based" is Christian. It's code. Christians speak of their religion as "faith", which it is. Other religious groups don't refer to themselves as "faith-based" even though it is technically accurate to say that any religion is based on faith, i.e., an unprovable belief. Bush's use of the term is intended to be inclusive all non-Christian groups, but it must grate on them. They could be referred to as "belief-based" groups, but that would put the Christians off-side, because in the code of Christians, "faith" is of a higher and probably more specific order than belief. Sigh.)

Anyway, this little can of worms is troubling. Is tax money going to support evangelical "reaching-out"? Or is this simply a pragmatic way to get support where and when it is needed in the most effective way? Is it a one-off, or the thin end of the wedge of tax supported ministry? It will all depend on how it works out. And that's the rub. How accountable is the government and how accountable are the "giving hands" who are finding it better to receive?

There are many issues and questions simply because we cannot trust those who come to do good to refrain from doing very well indeed.

For instance, if the government pays the Carnival cruise lines to provide emergency accommodation, the shipping lines must pay taxes on the subsidy. (Oops, bad example: But they would have to if they were registered in the US.) Shouldn't the faith-based group so so likewise?

And there is the issue of misrepresentation: if you get put up by Carnival, you have to know they are being paid by the government. But if a faith-based group is looking out after you, isn't it a bit of a misrepresentation to imply it is out of the goodness (and faith) of your group if you don't disclose that the government is underwriting your "hand-out"?

And the misrepresentation cuts both ways. Say you feel the "calling" to minister to people in need as part of your out-reach mission. Don't you think it undercuts your sincerity if the people receiving your care think you are doing it as an agent of the government, or for mercenary purposes and not religious ones? Isn't there a difference from really giving and only being seen to give? Isn't there an obligation to be honest about it; isn't that part of spreading "the truth"?

I don't know. The more I want the idea to work, the more problems I see coming from it. So much so that I'm not sure it's worth getting involved with. That's probably one reason the founding fathers put that separation of church and state thingy in the whatsit. It's the entanglement conundrum.

You can see what others think about this at: The reference to the program as a "Faith accompli" probably says it all. And don't overlook the assessment of what a dirtbag the new acting FDA chief is -- from their perspective.
I particularly like the tasteful side-bar ads that show up on this and so many like-minded sites (yes, I do go there; plumbers often find themselves up to there with other people's stuff).

And there's lots more around. If it's not already in your email inbox it's not too hard to find on the net.


No sex please, we used to be British (and before that ...)

Bollywood (India) probably makes more romantic movies, and probably with the most beautiful women, than any place on the planet. Yet for the thousands of such films made, and for all the steamy celluloid romance, they do not so much as kiss. And this in the land of the Kama Sutra.

For an insider's casual look at the whys and wherefores, see:

I'd be inclined to challenge you to read it without moving your head, but I wouldn't want to offend the author or anyone else. Nevertheless, I do like his narrative style of blogging (well, let's call it his); it's like he's sitting there talking to you.


Police come down hard on activist

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Why do dogs bury bones?

For the same instinctive reason that dogs bury bones, mankind has anticipated and planned for disaster and done what it could, within reason and capacity beyond mere survival, to deal with it so as to live and fight another day. We know this because we would not have been a viable species today had we not done that.

I get to this subject because I was looking around the net and kept coming up with the almost verbatim-identical evil conspiracy theory about FEMA. The premise of this thought is that FEMA was designed, under the guise of planning for disaster, to provide a ready-to-hand vehicle for the President and his crowd to take over the country in a legal, dictatorial coup. It's a non-party political idea; presidents of both parties have borne the brunt of its accusation. It's a pretty scary thought and a hugely scary theory. And, like the idea that aliens built the pyramids, that there's a commie under every bed, that we ought to just take out President Chavez, there's a bunch of folks out there who seem to fervently believe it. And that's vewy, vewy scawy.

Here's a sample of what I'm talking about: and and and and the Townsman's blog

Some of these, for example that last one, seem quite rational, if either toward the left or right "wing" of thinking. Take the Townsman's posts, for example: Left leaning, but you wouldn't put him up their with the alien fairies. There are others who seem like the type to live out in the mountains, boobytrap their property and play war games. Did these people always believe in the monster in the closet?

That said, there are others, some of whose sites look like something better at home under a huge crystal, really try to connect the dots in a tantalising way. At least in such a way as to not be blatantly implausible, and even if highly improbable. See, e.g.:

What all of that says to me is that there may be too much secrecy surrounding all the FEMA mystique, and some kind of "expose" might be in order. Some kind of independent and empowered investigation that can find facts and not follow suspicions. It wouldn't hurt if we knew what was going on behind the FEMA scenes, would it?

And maybe it has already been done. I don't have the time or tools to look into this anymore than I have. I would point out that there is a wiki-sober look at the subject here:

I'm not particulary worried about it, myself. I am worried that someone else who is a "true believer" may do something stupid, like the Oklahoma bombing. It is the kind of theory that would, I'd suspect, send the marginal paranoids right off their perch.

I'm not worried because, first, if it was all so easy as described, wouldn't Bush have already used it in 2001? Moreover, if it was so essential to his control of the country, would he have put low-level functionaries in charge of FEMA? And finally, if FEMA really did have all the powers at hand to do whatever it wanted, wouldn't the Katrina aftermath and the Rita foremath have gone a bit more efficiently and effectively?

Bah. The world's full of crazies. And how do I get these pesky pink elephants off my computer screen?



When did the tech boom become the boom? When anyone with any kind of "business model" slapped a ".com" to the end of their business name, and their stock took off by association, not by analysis or valuation.

When does a commodity boom become a dot.commodity boom? It's when former ".com" types start popping up in the mining index (

And when "explorers" are ramped up by the company they keep, not the company they are: "Executives at uranium explorer Redport are proving to be devotees of the fad of "nearology". Nearology is a mining industry theory that if a big miner like BHP Billiton or Rio Tinto has a good deposit, each surrounding tenement could be just as good. That seems to be the only explanation as to why Redport shares rose 0.5c to 7.3c yesterday on extremely high volume after acquiring an option on a Kintyre uranium project in Western Australia." (

And when, "A senior vice-president for commodities trading with three or more years of experience would probably get a bonus of more than $US500,000, up 20-30 per cent...." (

It's when "... the Australian sharemarket clocks up gains for a 10th consecutive quarter - having risen more than 60 per cent in the past 2½ years - [and] investment managers are again wondering just how long this run can last.

Nearly one in two investment managers believes the sharemarket is overvalued, the Russell Investment Manager Outlook survey revealed yesterday. The survey of 50 managers found that half think the market is fairly valued, 46 per cent think it is overvalued and only 4 per cent think it is undervalued. Despite this cautious outlook, 36.7 per cent of the managers have a bullish outlook for equities over the next 12 months...." (Id.)

It's when things like this happen: "South African millionaire Brett Kebble, who helped create two of the country's four largest gold producers, was shot dead on Tuesday.... "He was one of the brightest corporate financiers I ever met, and I've met some clever ones in my time...." As a result of derivative contracts Western Areas holds, it sold its gold at $US308 an ounce in the quarter ended June 30, compared with an average market price of $US427.88. Production costs were $US426 an ounce."

It's when insiders get the gold and outsiders get the shaft. (

Now, I don't want to sound like the demand for commodities is going to suddenly disappear (though the normal careful balance of supply that has been upturned by the sudden surge in demand [] will eventually work out that bit of disequilibrium). I certainly would not question anyone's estimation that BHP or Rio Tinto might be worth a gazillion dollars today or tomorrow. I'm just saying that the rush to the few proven commodity stocks is both driving money into wannabees and into other sectors of the stock market that just do not have the growth potential, and maybe not the valuation, of the big miners. It will come unstuck. It happened before, once in October 1987, right here in downtown Sydney, not that past performance is any prediction of future value.

But in the mean (and boy do I mean mean) time, as Randy Newman sang, short people go no reason to live.

Labels: ,

In praise of Ceasar

For as much as I harp on about John Howard and his policies, I can't deny that he will likely be seen by history as one of the great PMs since Federation. I won't resile one inch (in his language) from my criticism, but he has had the good fortune and/or good administration to be steward of the country during one of its most wealthy decades ever. His social policies could have been better but I don't think he actually did too much to make it impossible for later governments to fix. He certainly has "resonated" with the general electorate.

We compare him to Bush a lot; it makes for cheap and easy hits, sometimes deserved, other times just to make a point by exaggeration. But we should also compare him to Bush from the standpoint of what Bush has done so horribly wrong. Bush has ushered in a era of corporate cronyism in the US that is the most breath taking since Hoover. The perceived alignment of general business interests with the government's policies has been a hallmark of Howard. The perceived alignment of particular business interests with the government's practices has been outstanding in Bush's administration. The former is a form of debatable political philosophy; the latter a form of political corruption. I have never heard or read a word of any corporate crony charges being leveled against Howard. Nor have "jobs for boys" charges been more potent under him than we saw with Labor. (The comments section is open for those who want to post non-libelous and otherwise resepectful dissent or correction.)

His success is acknowledged in this:

"Australia has stolen a place ahead of Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom on the World Economic Forum's leader board of the 10 most competitive global economies. Moving up four places to 10th, Australia received praise in the think-tank's annual survey for its "world-class" public institutions, corruption-free governance and high levels of innovation.
The emerging power-houses of China and India ranked 49th and 50th respectively, with the survey highlighting concerns about their governance systems.
Nordic countries nabbed half the top 10 places despite intrusive tax and welfare regimes. "The Nordics are also challenging the conventional wisdom that high taxes and large safety nets undermine competitiveness, suggesting that what is important is how well government revenues are spent rather than the overall tax burden per se," the survey concluded.
The US would rank top in an index based on technological capacity and innovation alone but this was offset by its shaky macro-economic environment, the forum said."

OK, hugs over. Let the slanging (and NON-LIBELOUS comments) begin (again).

The problem with his security at whatever the cost plans and other measures is that we can't know in advance where he or the next person is going with it. So much of his policy has been on a "trust me" basis. And I'm sure we'd rather trust him than not, but can we? If he refuses time and again to build in transparency and accountability and review in his social policies, you simply loose faith. Why did he toss aside a sunset clause for the new terror tactics with a waive of the hand, then finally allow it after much wrangling, acknowleding that it probably was a good idea after all? Maybe he means well, maybe we ought to trust him, but why didn't he insist on the sunset clause in the first case? As letter writer Mike Goodwin asks in today's SMH letters column, "If we were on the road to fascism, how would it differ from this?"

Labels: ,

Driven by fear

One of my favourite blogs is the Les MacDonald blog, otherwise known as the SMH letters page. Don't know, never met him, but have read his letters almost daily for years. He seems a ripe, old, crusty comrade type. That he is from Balmain, once union blue collar now trendy top dollar, just adds to the image. Sometimes I want to sit at the bar and share a beer with him. Other times I wouldn't want a bar of him and what he says leaves me needing a beer. Today, it'd be my shout:

"To get an idea of the blind panic into which John Howard has encouraged us you only need examine two statistics.
The first is the number of Australians who have been killed or injured in Australia by terrorism. That number is zero, zilch, naught, nil, zip.
The second statistic is the number of people killed or injured every year in Australia by motor vehicles. That number in 2004 was 1598 deaths and 11 times as many injuries.
An issue which has caused no deaths or injuries in Australia has caused our collective governments to deprive us of basic civil liberties without apparent concern, yet an issue causing thousands of deaths or injuries yearly causes no government to even contemplate any infringement on our civil liberties.
This is an outstanding triumph of the propagandist's art."
Les MacDonald, Balmain



"The number of indecency complaints filed against radio and TV broadcasters by consumers has dropped to a two-year low, based on Federal Communications Commission records. After writing a record-setting number of fines last year, the FCC hasn't written a single Notice of Apparent Liability for indecency this year." If you can't define what obscenity is but know it when you see it, it is in your own eye.


Feeling threatened

Who determines if something poses a security threat? The government. Which is to say, the politicians in control of the government. Not Parliament. Not the courts. The pollies in charge.

Who determines if something poses a political threat? Same folks.

Who undermines genuine security threats by trying to hide political threats behind the skirts of national security? The press? Protesters? Nope, same folks.

Who do we go to if we question the decision that something is a security threat? (Come on... can't you see the pattern here yet?) That's right -- the pollies. The same folks.

The funny thing is, I heard Peter Debnam, the leader of the (opposition) Liberal Party in NSW, yesterday on Kath McKenzie's show yesterday (, earnestly saying, without the slightest sense of irony, that the Labor Government of NSW repeatedly refused to publicly release reports on the (poor, unsafe?) condition of the state rail infrastructure, hiding behind the claim of national security. (See,,20281,16745134-5001022,00.html.)

He's from the same party whose national leader refused to give any reason why Scott Parkin was deemed such a threat to national security that he was deported ( Isn't that rich?

When is this little light of mine going to shine, I wanta let it shine, on that decision making process so we can feel secure our security is at stake and not some politician's?

Labels: , ,

Keep It Sharia Soldier

The Kiss. How many times have you seen the same old photo story: soldier/sailor going off to/coming home from duty, getting a departing/returning kiss from his wife/girlfriend? It's almost a cliche in Western press.

But Western values, by definition, apply in Western society. Great swaths of the world have different values, different cultural norms, different beliefs. We Westerners are shocked when we come face to face with some of these differences. No less are non-Westerners shocked when they come face to face with our differences.

So, I'm of two minds about this one. Aceh is an ancient province on the northern tip of Sumatra, an island in Indonesia. It was historically an independent islamic sultanship, but Indonesia has laid claim to it from the time of its independence emergence in the late 1940's. It has valuable oil and gas resources. The Aceh independence movement and the Indonesian government have been at war for years. The result has been that the outside world has basically been kept out of the region for decades, and it has remained more traditional than other places that have had greater absorption in "modern times".

The place may sound familiar. It was the place where the Great Tsunami and Earthquake hit first and hardest, temporarily pulling the sheets back from the bed of unrest and life in the formerly locked-down area.

Having made this short story long, what happened this last week was the Indonesian army was pulling back some of its forces. It was a publicity event for the army and a lot of press was present. A soldier and his girlfriend were being separated. They grabbed a quick kiss. The press grabbed a quick photo shoot. The local muslim hardliners went balistic. They want the soldier flogged. The traditional consequence for the girl is stoning.

It is not for me to tell them that their ways are wrong for them; you know: "when in Rome...." But they are certainly wrong for me. And it is the great conflagration that arises from these little incidents that will, I'm afraid, characterise the times ahead as the shrinking new world embraces more and more of the traditional, reclusive one. Cool heads on both sides will be required. We can either live through these times or kill through them.

Read about it:

For a similar observation:

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Of checks and balances, accountability and transparency

"pro•cure Pronunciation: (prō-kyoor', pru-), [key] —v., -cured, -cur•ing. —v.t. 1. to obtain or get by care, effort, or the use of special means: to procure evidence. 2. to bring about, esp. by unscrupulous and indirect means: to procure secret documents. 3. to obtain (a person) for the purpose of prostitution. —v.i. to act as a procurer or pimp."

"...David Safavian was an important, if obscure, cog in the government’s Hurricane Katrina response operation. He and his small staff at the Office of Management and Budget were scrambling to complete instructions to agencies on how to use rules allowing speedier contracting for relief and reconstruction in the Gulf Coast and other disaster regions. His instructions, issued Sept. 13, told agency heads how to guard against the misuse of those rules as agencies raced to spend tens of billions of dollars on new Katrina-relief projects.

"But three days after he issued that guidance, Safavian abruptly quit his post as OMB’s administrator of federal procurement policy. The next Monday morning, Sept. 19, federal authorities arrested Safavian at his home in Alexandria, Va. Safavian is just the latest figure to be ensnared in a widening investigation of high-powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The criminal complaint against Safavian also alleges he improperly applied his influence in 2002 in an unsuccessful attempt to help Abramoff, a friend and former colleague, acquire two federal properties. At that time, Safavian was serving as chief of staff at the General Services Administration, which owns and manages federal properties....

"The charges, if true, “frankly have more to do with influence peddling, rather than procurement fraud,” he said. “It’s kind of premature to arrive at any conclusions, because he was just arrested,” Couture said. “We’re not going to prejudge what he may or may not have done. I just don’t think there’s enough fact out at this point. We’ll let the legal system do its work and arrive at its conclusions.”

"After law school, Safavian began his legal work at the Washington office of Preston Gates Ellis LLP, where he met friend and mentor Jack Abramoff. The two men started their stints at Preston Gates Ellis within two months of each other in early 1995, according to the firm’s records. At about the same time, Safavian married his wife, Jennifer, who is now chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. The committee is responsible for overseeing GSA and federal procurement. When Safavian was confirmed as OMB administrator for federal procurement policy, his wife recused herself from any involvement in the committee’s oversight of her husband’s work.

"Pugliese, now managing director of DuPont’s government business development group, said Safavian was qualified for the job. “He has good credentials. He is a lawyer who’s worked on procurement,” he said. “There have been all levels of people that have held that job over the years. You become a gatekeeper. If you are a political chief of staff like Safavian, you also become the link between the agency and the White House. That’s not unusual at all.

"Despite the alleged conspiring between Safavian and Abramoff to secure the federal properties for Abramoff, neither deal panned out and both properties remain available today. Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management, said he interviewed four or five people for the administrator position. He said he was looking for someone who understood federal procurement policy, had prior experience working with different agencies and knew how Capitol Hill operated. “He had all three of those things and was the most qualified person, so my recommendation was that he be nominated to the position,” Johnson said.

One of the important checks and balances in order for any system to work is to have adequate transparency and accountability mechanisms, and there are not. They are not adequate at the present point in time,” Walker said in an interview. Without adequate transparency and accountability mechanisms, Walker said, people will hold themselves only to the standard of what’s arguably legal. “We have to keep in mind that the law represents the floor of acceptable behavior, not the desired state. We want people who do things that not only are certainly legal, but they are ethically and morally right, and both in fact and appearance,” Walker said. “Some have strayed from that, and we need to get back to it.”

This and more at:

When connections corrode:,0,5132888.column?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

Old Stew bits still stuck in the teeth:

Labels: ,

Where the Buffalo roamed

"Sgt. Matthews joined up at the end of the Buffalo Soldiers' colorful Western exploits. The regiments that made up the Buffalo Soldiers -- the 9th and 10th cavalries and 24th and 25th infantries -- stayed together for years afterward, however, fighting in World War I and II and Korea. The all-black regiments were disbanded in 1952 after the Army desegregated.

"Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where he was first stationed, was still using local Indians as guides. He served along the U.S.-Mexican border as part of Gen. John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing's 1916 expedition into Mexico, on the trail of Mexican bandit and revolutionary Pancho Villa. In 1931, he was assigned to Fort Myer, where he trained recruits in horsemanship, helped tend the presidential stable for Franklin D. Roosevelt and played on the polo team. Ten years later, although he was in his late forties when the United States entered World War II, he saw action on Saipan in the South Pacific (sic).
He retired from the Army in 1949....

"Retired 1st Sgt. Mark Matthews, 111, one of the last of the nation's legendary Buffalo Soldiers, died of pneumonia Sept. 6 at Fox Chase Nursing Home in Washington."
This and more at

And see


Back of the frig, 28/9/05

Well, it's time to clean out the frig. These are items that I tagged to go into the Stew, but I planned to spice them up first, and they just got shuffled to the back of the refrigerator. So, before they go completely stale, let's eat 'em up and tip out those leftovers.

> "China reveals limits to transparency on death tolls": This is a report on China's new policy to be more transparent with the details of and damages from natural disasters (good thing), which will not be retroactive (bad thing).

> "Latham’s Diaries reviewed": This is the trip to Damascus for a Latham agnostic, nay, critic, who finally read the good book and became converted.

> "Pakistani girl begs Musharraf’s protection from honour killing": " A 15-year old Pakistani girl living in fear of becoming an honour killing victim...."

> "Eggheads and Bookies: How `Scientific' Wagers Beat Wall Street": A book review. "Almost 50 years ago, two scientists at AT&T Corp.'s Bell Labs discovered a formula for beating the odds in Las Vegas and on Wall Street...."

> This is the best overseas report I read in the immediate aftermath of Katrina.

> "Overpaid CEO? Here's how to find out":

> "Having private insurance and being willing to pay cash may not eliminate the difficulty in obtaining urgent follow-up appointments.": And, "Private insurance gives patients a far better chance of getting appointments within a week of treatment than does Medicaid or no insurance, according to the study of 430 clinics in nine U.S. cities. Most clinics inquired about patients' insurance status but not their conditions, the researchers found.":,0,6295486.story?coll=sns-ap-health-headlines

> "Health-insurance premiums grew at a rate far exceeding inflation and wage growth again this year, but 2005 ended four years of double-digit premium increases, according to a new survey.":

> "Fewer US firms offer health insurance, cite costs": "mostly among smaller companies that said they could not afford the coverage...."

> "Investors are mad for risk-appetite indices. What do they actually tell us?" "...Investor sentiment seems to be most predictive when it is near historical extremes, and then only in the short term. In the longer run it has less to say, for returns should reflect the business cycle and corporate earnings. The big question now is what the impact of sharply higher oil prices will be. If they act as a brake on global economic growth, as seems likely, it will knock investor sentiment and returns, both short-term and long-term, for six."

> "": "Don't Think 1218: The S&P is at 1080".

There's more, but I've lost my stomach for it.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

You gotta have faith

FEMA keeps and promulgates a list of groups that qualify for tax-deductible charitable contributions, to help people who want to donate, but don't know where, to help with things like the Katrina/Rita efforts. One of the organisations is the American Red Cross. (Must be my day for them: ) The American Red Cross is not a "faith-based" organisation. There is one other group on the list which also is not a faith-based group. Now, FEMA is a government department, but all the rest on that list of helping groups are faith-based.

And, as you would know, Pat Robertson has a great deal of faith, of a particularly strident evangelical Christian brand. (You can get a free history lesson coupled with one of his recent visions here: It appears one of his organisations is on that FEMA list, and his group has also been the beneficiary of other arrangements and connections, perhaps not all one-way, with various sympatico political bodies. I'm not one to judge the veracity of this, and this may be libelous material, and if so I certainly do here and now renounce it, but there is a story about all of this at:

Labels: ,

Get a download of this

This may interest you

In Australia, "Rates will rise in early November. Don't take my word for it - take Mal Brough's."

Say what?? The Howard and Costello comity team would have us believe that everything is just swell. Too swell, maybe: "What has been blindingly obvious for a year or more is about to come true. The boom in the resource states is overwhelming the bad times in the latte-society states. The housing bust is not restraining the economy sufficiently; the exchange rate has been too low in the face of such extraordinarily favourable terms of trade; the labour market has been too tight for too long; and high and higher oil prices have been too high for too long and are leaking into wage rises."

To find out who Mal Brough is, and the author of this piece is, see

And my thanks to for the tip.

Too much, too late

Yesterday I poked fun at Beazley's terror tactics, wherein he suggests we lock down whole suburbs and conduct house by house searches for suspicious terrorist activity ( Well, the joke is on me.

"The Prime Minister, John Howard, said yesterday that there was overwhelming community support for tougher laws.... The federal Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, has called for powers allowing police to lock down entire suburbs and carry out house, vehicle and people searches without judicial approval, but Mr Howard said these laws already existed. Mr Beazley said that while the powers did exist in NSW, they did not exist uniformly across all jurisdictions."

Howard mailed out "be alert but not alarmed" refrigerator magnets to us a year or so ago. So I tried. But now I cannot help but be both.


But what is the question?

In his commentary today ("The 'ayes' have it on anti-terrorism laws",, Gerard Henderson writes, "John Howard and the premiers - Morris Iemma, Steve Bracks, Peter Beattie, Geoff Gallop, Mike Rann and Paul Lennon - believe in the importance of national security. ... Conservative and social democratic leaders alike understand that there is a demand among a clear majority of Australians for a greater focus on national security at a time of terrorist threat."

So, if you asked any leader, "all in favour of national security?", don't you think the ayes would have it every time? Every where? He then spends the rest of a very long column poking the ayes out of anyone who objects to an unqualified endorsement of a "whatever it takes" approach to national security matters.

Those members of the public in favour of national security (and who isn't) must fall in line behind the country's leaders, because they are all clamouring over everyone to be at the front of this pack. "It's not only that the electorate demands security; if the worst eventuates, politicians do not want to be accused of having failed to act when something might have been done to thwart a terrorist attack.... It's about being in touch with the electorate, as most successful politicians are. The same cannot be said of many members of the intelligentsia."

"Sure, there is opposition among large section of the intelligentsia to the national security stance of both Howard and Beazley. Yet these politicians' slightly different positions are popular within the Australian electorate - which helps explain why the Labor leaders will possibly be inclined to give broad support to the Prime Minister in Canberra today."

And that is it in a nutshell. If you can scare enough nuts to shell out their votes to get you into office, it doesn't really matter if the issue passes muster with the folks who think about these matters -- the intelligentsia. To hell with them. Its the majority vote that counts. Has anyone stopped to consider, with due respect to my fellow and loved countrymen and women, that half of the population has an intelligence level that is less than average, and that it only takes those folks plus one to make a majority?

The really critical point of Henderson's appraisal is that at no point does he suggest that the intelligensia is wrong in its analysis. They are only wrong in their judgment of popular politics. And how stupid of them is that?

Labels: , ,

Who's your Daddy?

"For historical reasons, we've come to have a childlike faith in the ability of governments to solve our social and economic problems. It doesn't seem to matter that the solutions are in social relationships or economic dynamics outside a government's sphere of operations; we still want them to fix things. There is no public voice in Australia saying loudly, consistently, that governments cannot solve the important problems we confront. As a result debate about welfare, health care, schools, mental health, environmental sustainability, universities and problems in the bush remain on a treadmill, going nowhere. In these areas, our political culture is out of sync with the culture of enterprise and collective self-help we need to create solutions."
More at:

"It is my firm belief that all the efforts of government and industry will come to naught unless the good citizen and consumer takes the initiative. There is no need to wait for government to act. You can do it yourself.
You can, in a few months rather than the 50 years allowed by some governments, easily attain the 70 per cent reduction in emissions required to stabilise the Earth's climate. All it takes are a few changes to your personal life, none of which requires serious sacrifice."
More at:



It was a great and happy surprise to be sitting here in Sydneytown and see my sister-in-law (via a marriage or 2), Carol Yelverton, come across the news screen (OK, it was Fox: what of it?) from the US. She's a Boston based media presenter pro and has, over the last few years, been involved with various social service organisations. Now a PR type with Red Cross, she has been busy throughout the hurricane areas this last year. (See, e.g., and Her proud Poppa can show you a good time; click the "good time" link in my link collection.

Shake THIS booty

"The biggest treasure in history has been located," said Fernando Uribe-Etxeverria, a lawyer for Wagner, the Chilean company leading the search.
Mr Uribe-Etxeverria estimated the value of the buried treasure at $US10 billion ($13.2 billion). The stash reportedly includes 10 papal rings and Incan gold statues.
The hoard is supposedly buried 15 metres deep on Robinson Crusoe Island, part of the Juan Fernandez Islands. For centuries treasure hunters have scoured the island - home to the Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk, the adventurer immortalised by Daniel Defoe as Robinson Crusoe - in search of booty that was reportedly buried there in 1715 by the Spanish sailor Juan Esteban Ubilla y Echeverria.
Foreigners have made so many claims of discovering the lost treasure that islanders are usually sceptical."


Monday, September 26, 2005

Unrepresentative swill (Part 2)

To my mind, in my short 17 years in Australia, the scariest thing I ever heard uttered by a major political leader was Keating's castigation of the Senate as a bunch of "unrepresentative swill". It was the upfront honestly uttered frustration that many other leaders have only hinted at. At its core it was the curse and scorn heaped by a hobbled monarch. It was symptomatic of the rot of corruption that all in power must at some point feel, if there is any truth to the observation that "power tends to corrupt". Mr Howard has shown similar frustrations, but he is both too much the political genius and ingenuous to say so in so many words. His Gollum-like cooing over his control of the Senate was not hubris; it was crowd control.

You see, once you're Prime Minister of Australia, and particularly if you have the usual control of your party and the unusual control of the Senate, there is not a lot of institutional checks on the balance of your power.

The traditional rough description of governmental checks and balances is the three legged stool concept consisiting of a tripartite arrangement of shared powers and responsibilities composed of the executive, legislative and judiciary. And typically you find ancilliary checks and balances within each of these parts to further ameliorate the tendency of power to concentrate and aggrandise.

I think the most classical embodiment of this system is the US system. (Hold on, I might think it is the best system, but I'm not saying that here. Just consider the framework.) The executive is the President, elected by the people, who has administrative control over the government. The President does not make law; does not declare it, vote for it or interpret it. While he has undoubted huge influence over it in the way it is administered or not, he cannot have any legislative authority to make law even if Congress were to try to delegate the power to him. This prohibition extends so far that executive departments (Ministries here) cannot make regulatory law that extends beyond the scope of the enacted law, and there are plenty of cases where this demarcation has been upheld by the courts. The power to make law lies independently with the Congress (which, being a federated republic of states, is bi-cameral with a proportionally popularly elected House and a Senate made up of equal representation from the various States).

History has shown that even when the President is from the same party as the majority of either the House or Senate, or both, the independence of the legislature is carefully and jeolously guarded by its members, often in contradiction to party loyalty to the President. There is the ancillary check that even within parties, there is a tradition of deferring to constituency over party, resulting in frequent cross-party line voting.

Compare that to the Australian system. The Prime Minister, as executive, controls the administration of law and, as leader of the governing party in Parliament, controls the making of law. This is so much concentration that nobody is surprised when a government "proclaims" law by press release to be backed up by written enactment later. My first introduction to this was when Keating, as Treasurer, issued a press release over night restricting foreign ownership of residential property during the 1980's property boom. No law was ever enacted to my knowledge; my enquiries to the then FIRB simply referred me to the press release!

Add to the lack of any checks and balances between the executive and the legislative branches the tradition of strict party control of members, and the government of the day has a pretty free hand to impose its whim. The only institutional obstacle in the way of a government is the Senate.

By definition, the executive controls the House, but often fails to muster the votes to control the Senate. In that case, there is a real contest for the making of laws. Real contests mean open debate, airing and consideration of minority opinions and interests, and the survival of more consensually agreeable law and the failure of more divisive law. In those times when the government does not control the Senate, then, there is a modicum of checks and balances that impede the concentration of authority, control and power. I believe the Westminster system also contains a check and balance that the US system doesn't hold up as an ideal, that of strict Ministerial responsibility. But I leave it to you to decide if that is truly alive and well and compatible with the ducking and weaving of the governments we have seen of late.

Since democracy is always a system of government by majority rule within the context of the consent of the minority, this messier rubric of checks and balances leads to a more robust democratic state. It's untidy, time consuming, frustrating, expensive and humbling, but it is more democratic than an autocratic system lacking in the checks and balances. We don't have to have a democracy. We can have autocracy if that is what we want or if that is what we allow to happen by default.

A word also ought to be said about the role the judiciary plays as a check and balance. The judiciary does not, in the first or last instance, make law. The legislature makes law, the executive enacts and admisters it, and the judiciary is there to enforce it, which involves a degree of interpreting it if is in need of clarity. Moreover, in a constitutional democracy, it is the final authority on the interpretation and application of constitutional law, not the legislature or the executive.

Have you ever read any of the laws of the land? Have you ever seen one that was imminently clear and concise? Some rare ones are, but more are obtuse if not internally inconsistent. This act of bringing meaning and interpretation and application of law to particular facts gives the courts an appearance of declaring law, but that is not what they are doing. Otherwise, they could just sit in the parliamentary library and declare away all day.

It is always within the power and right of the legislature to write clear and concise law to narrow the scope of judicial review. It is also always within the power and right of legislature to rewrite laws to correct perceived misinterpretation or misapplication of law. Those people who decry "judicial activism" fail to mention this, and I'll get to one reason shortly.

But first I want to mention "judicial activism" in the context of checks and balances. If a court never found that a government had exceeded its powers, if it always rubber-stamped the government's interpretation or application of law, it could never be accused of judicial activism. Neither would it fulfill its role as an independent review. Independent review is an essential part of checks and balances. Without it, the government sits on its own one legged stool.

And where a government controls the executive, the legislative and controls the Senate, the court stands as the last line of defense against potential tyranny. This is not a strident criticism of the government; I do not accuse Mr Howard of being a tyrant. It simply is meant to underscore that unchecked governmental powers do tend to lead to abuse, and that is a form of tyranny. A "strict constructionism" court does not constitute the robust check and balance that a more scrupulous court provides, but that may not be so necessary where other more democratic checks and balances prevail.

The usual fodder for whether a court is "interventionalist" or involved in "making law" is the constitution and cases based on it, because, as noted, the judiciary has the final say on matters constitutional. It is always a power of government to try to change the constitution, just as it may change any other law, but such changes involve political considerations that usually put it in the "too hard" basket. But it is not beyond its power. The government has the greater power if it can marshall its strength.

And the particulary contentious constitutional issues arise in the usual subjects found in bills of rights. Bills of rights give tend to protect individual rights from government interference, involving subjects such as freedom of or from religion, speech, association, due process, etc. In Australia, these are not subjects devoid of some form of protection now. But, the current protections are laws, not constitutional protections, and the government has much more latitude to alter the nature and extent of such protections than would be the case if enshrined in the constitution where, barring constitutional amendment, the constitution has the first say and the court has the last say.

All of which is a lead in to a discussion of an opinion piece in today's SMH, entitled "Let's draw a line through a bill of rights." ( This piece is not so much about rights that individuals should have or not have as about checks and balances. And bear in mind that the Australian system, with a traditionally "laid back" (deferential) judiciary that often accepts form over substance, has relatively few checks and balances, at least as I've described it, anyway. If there are other checks and balances of significant order, I'm not aware of them, but would gladly acknowledge because I feel the more the merrier (to a point, a point that is far away from present circumstances).

The author's argument is that these personal rights are "messy" and the courts should not have any checks and balances over the government when it comes to the details of these rights. Let him say it:

"The case against bills of rights ... at core it is that these instruments ... transfer too much power to unelected judges." Why would that be? Because, as mentioned above, as such rights become a constitutional matter, the constitution has the first say and the courts have the last say over such matters, barring a constitutional amendment.

And why is that a bad thing? "Bills of rights offer us all an emotionally attractive statement of entitlements and protections in vague, very broad terms.... The problem, however, is that the effects of bills of rights are not felt up in these Olympian heights. They are felt down in the quagmire of detail .... Tough calls have to be made about where to draw lines."

His argument is that politicians are better equiped and prepared to make the tough calls and judges are not. Every day politicians weave and duck the tough calls. Every day politicians write laws that are vague, broad and require an ultimate judgment by a court. Every day politicians hand off the tough decisions to committees, study groups, their underlings, the courts, anyone but their own accountable selfs.

Take the case of negligence, since this has been in the political ball court for a while. Can politicians write laws that tell us if this particular person entering this particular beach under this particular set of circumstance is entitled to recover for this particular damage in this particular amount. No. But judges do that every day.

Take family law. Do politicians write laws making the tough calls, drawing the difficult lines about how this man and this woman will divide these particular assests and share the responsibility for their children in this particular way? Again, no, of course not. But judges do that every day.

Take terrorism laws. Do politicians write laws that tell us what "incite to violence" means, or do they leave that up to judges? Do politicians have trouble defining why someone might be a suspect, and is that the reason they want no interference if they want to "detain" someone for days on end? Do politicians who cannot even articulate what makes a person a suspect have any greater moral compass than a judge? Can politicians define when it is "malicious" to leave an unattended bag at an airport subjecting you to fine or imprisonment? Would you want that decision determined by politicians or a judge?

Do you want to leave it to politicians to determine for themselves if they have "credible evidence" of babies overboard, weapons of mass destruction, incitement to violence or an imminent terror event?

The argument against a bill of rights, and by extension, using the courts as a check and balance against executive power, is that judges cannot make moral judgments but politicians can: "What makes a bill of rights, and its transfer of power to judges, appear attractive is the unspoken assumption that the moral lines drawn by judges are somehow always the right lines...."

This is truly a fatuous statement; judges make, as best they can a legal judgment. Cutting judges out of that process raises the unspoken assumption that our politicians will be the ones to draw a moral line, the "right" moral line, rather than the politically expedient one, because they have such a great track record in drawing the right moral lines rather than politically expedient ones.

If I had my druthers, I would prefer a judgment based on reasoned legal lines that may be influenced by a judge's moral compass than one based along expedient or influence-peddled political lines that may be influenced by a politician's moral compass. What about you? Would you prefer your fate to be decided with the wisdom of a Solomon or the crowd-pandering of a Pilate?

As the Scott Parkin case showed us, the government doesn't have to explain itself to us. It doesn't have to give reasons. As the weapons of mass destruction arguments bear out, governments can play with the information that they officially "rely" on to make a decision. As the Rau and Solon cases demonstrate, governments do not have to bear responsibility for the tough lines wrongly drawn.

But for judges, their decisions must be legally reasoned and transparent and not driven by some philosophical dogma or ideological end. Even the author of that opinion piece acknowledged:
"Victory does not go to the judge writing the most moving judgement or the one with the most references to moral philosophy." And thank our lucky country for that.

Labels: , ,

Beazley supports individual liberties

The ALP Opposition leader, Kim Beazley has seen his opposite number's plans to crack down on individual liberties in the pursuit of terrorism, and he is not having a bar of it, no-sir-ee.

He's going to bloody well crack down on the liberty of entire suburbs! By golly, that's being an opposition party with a difference!

I'm just overwhelmed by my choices of available leaders.

Labels: , ,

Playing the system for a bunch of Hicks

Now I'm someone who doesn't have a lot of sympathy for anyone who takes up arms as a mercenary in a foreign war, be it a soldier of fortune or a onward christian soldier or a muslim convert who leaves Australia and goes to war in support of muslim forces fighting their conflicts overseas. I can understand their motives, not question their sincerity, even admire their ardour in some cases, like the guys who made up the Flying Tigers air squadrons fighting with the Chinese in WWII.

Where I park my sympathy at the door is when they fall victim to the conflagration they throw themselves into and look to their government to extricate them. I mean, you just cannot expect, in those circumstances, to get the same legal treatment you would at home. You cannot expect the affairs and relationships of your homeland to bend to your own peculiar design.

At the same time, I feel a country has an obligation to ensure that, whatever the outcome might be, it's citizens who do run afoul of other authorities do get some form of justice. Maybe we should not always run to their sides to hold their hands, but we should, on principle, expect other countries to behave in a civil manner towards our fellow citizens. That's a very elastic concept, but you can use, as a guideline, an expectation that the other country will afford, at a minimum, the standards of judicial review that the other country is obligated to provide under international treaties that it signs and its own constitutional demands. We demand it of countries who are holding Australian drug runners, murderers, child abusers and corporate scallywags. We ought also to demand it in cases of mercenaries.

My point is, we do so, not in support of the individual, but in support of the principle. My ideal is that we govern ourselves by laws, not by crowds.

That said, I think the Howard government has been too coy and precious in its efforts on behalf of David Hicks. (See, This is a judgment I came to after seeing Tony Blair's government obtain the release of its citizens from the clutches of the US military in Guantanamo. I don't think it is radical or unchivalrous to expect the same effort of the Australian government.

It would be indicative of the slavishness of the Howard government to the Bush government if Hicks' lawyers succeed in getting Hicks dual UK citizenship which results in getting his release from custody by the UK government while the Australian government sits on its hands. (See, I'm sure if that happened, Howard would not be so vindictive as to repeal the Australian citizenship of the newly dual citizen Hicks under the mooted new terrorism legislation. Would he?

Labels: ,

"Unrepresentative swill"* (Part One)

Do you vote? Well, if you're Australian you probably do; it's mandatory. I got fined $50 because I overlooked a bloody local council election.

But citizens of other countries don't always vote. Indeed, the Iraq election got a greater turn-out than a typical American presidential vote. Really, what's the point of going to all the trouble to have a democracy in the first instance if citizens don't vote? Voting is the purpose and power of democracy.

So let's assume you do vote. You're Australian. You've voted for the local Federal member who got elected. It's your local member, right? Your representative in the national government. Elected to represent the desires and aspirations of the majority of people in your electorate, right?

Well, let's talk about political parties. Not the kind where high rollers put on lavish digs and have the pollies in to try to influence them, but the kind that actually determines who runs the country. John Howard's Liberal (which, for those non-Australians is actually conservative) party and its coalition partner the Nationals have held control of the government for over 10 years.

And woe betide any member of his party who failes to toe party line; sort of like the stereotypical communist party. And the ALP opposition pretty much demands the same of its members. In party politics Australia, independent thinking, sorry voting, is only allowed in extraodinarily rare and politically difficult "conscience" matters. In almost every case (or so it appears to this admittedly casual observer) voting proceeds pretty much strickly along party lines. Unlike, I might point out, America where crossing party lines is pretty much a routine affair. Indeed, for years the Republican party punched way above its weight because of the regular support of the Democrats from the South.

So, your "representative" will abide by the demands of the party, pretty much regardless of the desires and aspirations of the people who elected her. Your representative does not represent you at all; she represents her party. In party politics, the dominant philosophy of the party determines the way the whole party votes.

That doesn't sound real democratic, does it? But since all of us are voting, it probably all works out to the wishes of the broad electorate, right?

Well, you'd better bloody hope so. Because I read some (if true) absolutely astounding details in the SMH this last weekend. This was in the comment column by Mark Latham's biographer ( It has nothing to do with Mark Latham, so whatever you feel about that subject, check those guns at the door now.

The shock to my politically nervous system was this quote:

"Perhaps the biggest change in politics in the past half-century has been the dramatic shrinking of party membership. Parties are reluctant to acknowledge numbers any more, but Latham estimates the ALP now has only 7500 active members. This is terribly few, and the Liberals would have fewer."
So, if you have millions of Australians voting, and either the Liberals or the ALP control the government, notwithstanding all those voters, you have a party of maybe as many as 7,500 members running the whole show, kit and caboodle.
* "Mr Paul Keating recently became the first Australian Prime Minister to be censured by a vote of the Senate, after publicly describing the Senate as an unrepresentative swill."

Labels: ,