Weekend reflections

This regular feature is back again now that I’ve worked out what I was doing wrong with comments. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board.

Please post your thoughts on any topic, at whatever length seems appropriate to you. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

30 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. There is currently a lot of fear and loathing regarding the Liberal’s newfound control of the Senate, and many (including basically myself) tend to regard this almost as dangerous and likely to lead to a parliamentary dictatorship or monarchy. But I think of comparable nations, and they seem not to have effective upper houses. To what extent is the concern unwarranted fearmongering, or have we actually fared better, as a democracy, than other nations?

    For instance … Queensland has not had an upper house for most of the century, whereas in Victoria, our upperhouse will’ve been controlled by either the government or the opposition until the next election in 2006. New Zealand’s got another parliament without an upperhouse, as are all of the Canadian provinces. Canada and the UK have upper houses, but they’re in the control of the government inasmuchas the Prime Minister appoints the members (for instance, when the Canadian PM wanted a GST but the Canadian Senate didn’t, the PM simply appointed a few extra members to give him a majority!). I don’t know how the Irish Senate works, but I do know it’s different. Is it generally relevant?

    To the extent you can compare the US system and ours, given they only have two parties of any worth the legislature and executive (which I think is the best comparison between Westminster upper and lower houses) are often in the same hands, and when they aren’t; well, the opposition controls it, which is hardly much better.

    Do any of those countries fit better the definition of elected monarchy than Australia has? Have we been spoilt for the last thirty or sixty years or however long it’s been since the contemporary era of Australian politics began?

  2. Actually, change that last post: I think the US legislature and executive is the best comparison between our (not ‘Westminster’) upper and lower houses, considering especially the context of the rest of the post.

  3. Having a single parliamentary chamber is no guarantee of good governance, as Queensland’s example clearly shows. For most of the 20th century its single house allowed minority Governments (first Labor, and then Country/Liberal Party) to remain in power through a jerrymander. If this was not a Parliamentary dictatorship, then I don’t know what is.

    But having 2 Houses is also no guarantee of good governance. All but one US state legislature (Nebraska) has 2 chambers, and nobody could argue that the legislatures of (eg) Texas or Arkansas are anything to look up to.

    I think that far more important for good governance than the number of chambers is the existence of powerful and independent parliamentary standing committees. This is where the real power of a legislature over the executive can be seen (as in the US) or not seen (as in the UK).

  4. So farewell then Mark Latham,

    Or “that lout from Liverpool” as Gran always called you.

    Our hearts took flight when you became leader.

    But in the end you broke them.

    And now you trail your own tell all diary

    By giving juicy quotes to the Bully Tories

    To chew over and spit out at us.

    Gran had you banged to rights.

  5. One must wonder whether Latham has a diagnosed terminal illness. The self-interest paradox in his post-election behaviour is that he is retrospectively justifying the vote against himself. Not the sort of thing one does with a view to the future. Something seriously sad seems afoot.

    Meanwhile, the Wallabies play France tomorrow. Yes, the first of the big ones for 2005, should there be any economists out there, wondering whether to dip their toes in the game that’s played in heaven. Go the Wallabies (except Sailor). Just sayin’.

  6. My observations of these things are, that a two house system is best provided it reflects external realities (no artificial Bunyip aristocracies and no Tony Blair “reforms” either), and provided the two houses are indeed taking two separate proxies of “the people” – no “let’s make it more democratic” by making it go through the same motions all over again.

    For what it’s worth, when I studied these matters it turned out that many respected independent analysts considered the Irish system pretty bad (people on the inside don’t agree, but many other Irish do). It seems to have been designed to go through a transition reflecting Eamonn de Valera’s changing roles in the state. Also for what it’s worth, Jim Duffy who contributed the Irish appendix to the Republic Advisory Committee has done much of the contributing and editing of the Irish historical and constitutional material at wikipedia but romanticising Irish Americans will keep creeping in.

  7. Strong parliamentary committees might well be one of hte best ways to ensure accountability, but on this score, Australia has in the past had a very mixed record. I would hazard that there are two key reasons why the Committees are particularly strong in the US. The main reason seems to be that party discipline seems far less strong in the US than it is in either the UK or here in Australia. A second reason (related to the first) is that it seems like bills can be genuinely killed in committee (perhaps because those undisciplined Congressmen and Congresswomen pay attention to what the committees say). Compare Australia, where we heard just recently that any number of committee reports have gathered dust.

    That said, there are cases, it seems, where committees have had an impact despite the party discipline here in Oz – usually, it seems, where the issues are just that strong that government senators get convinced the basic government position is wrong. Take the anti-terrorism laws, which were held up for months and resulted in a unanimous report (ie, including government members) recommending changes to the legislation (George Williams spoke about this recently).

  8. There was a discussion here a few weeks back about Brisbane weather.

    After last week’s rain, we’re now having one of those wondrous periods that make living in Brisbane worthwhile.

    It’s pleasantly warm without being hot; there’s next ot no humidity and the sky’s a magnificent shade of light blue.

  9. I’ve just been doing the rounds of my favourite blogs, and something has occurred to me (as it often does on Saturday afternoons, when I’m avoiding studying):

    One of the problems with debates on internet based fora is the level of invective and abuse which seems to rapidly creep into most discussions, and the accompanying extreme points of view which emerge. I theorize that this has to do with the fact that the protagonists cannot see eachother. Think about it – how much harder is it to abuse someone, or dismiss thier point of view out of hand, when they are physically with you, and looking at you?

    Which, leads me to ask, what are the implications of the widespread use of this tool to foster public debate?

    Any thoughts?

  10. Regarding that Michael, but taking a slight tangent, reading some of the pollie’s speeches in the House of Representatives is just amazing, the way the opposition seems so capable of insulting the government (and vice versa). It’s not that there are better ways to achieve greatness for Australia and the Australian people, and those in favor of the government’s (or opposition’s) tactics are merely mislead and need a good, well thought-out argument about why an alternative plan is better; it’s just a chance to insult people as much as possible. Honestly disgusting.

    On the other hand, I read Thomas Babbington Macauly, a member of the British House of Commons, speech from 1841 on the dangers of extending copyright much beyond death (one point of which was that people will no longer respect copyright, and start pirating stuff with society’s consent … how apt). He was very well-mannered, argued the points not the people and was in most ways a very decent person about it. And, strangely, he even managed to convince some proponents of the bill that it was problematic. Not going to see that in a Parliament any more!

    So anyway, I suppose the worst the Internet can do is change usual arguments into something like the House of Representatives, and if you believe differently, you aren’t any better than people who shoot children’s pets in the dead of night, or something (or nothing).

  11. Good points TAM, I suspect that what happens in the house of misrepresentation is more about providing theatre for the nightly news than anything approaching debate. It does illustrate how such behaviour entrenches previously held views rather than challenging them – but of course that isnt the aim anyway. And of course, you see the same thing in blogs. Your example of the English Parliament is instructive – but of course their aim was different.

    Oh, and I’ll leave the pets alone in future.

  12. T. Alexander: It is easy to pick one speech from the thousands given in the UK House of Commons in its history and conclude: “Not going to see that in a Parliament any more!” Go back 50 years before Macauly and see the invective — personal, abusive, nasty, emotional, witty and scandalous — hurled between supporters and opponents of Pitt the Younger, and you would not conclude with this statement. Canberra is a polite lady’s salon in comparison with the House of Commons in Pitt’s time.

    The real question is why are our politicians now so polite to one another? Don’t they realize just how much is at stake?

  13. CS Wendell got the try (50th minute) but risked it when he thought he’d go for the posts, I thought he was a little lucky to get it down. Unlike Jonah Lomu at full steam running at the opposition, W seems to hit an invisible force field about a metre in front of the person most likely to tackle him. Have you noticed that?

  14. Peter, my ‘not going to see that in a Parliament anymore!’ was in reference to the statement immediately preceding it—that he changed people’s opinions in the House. Sorry about the confusion.

    In general though, your point is well-taken. My point, though, wasn’t that Parliamentarians *were* gentlemanly and are now rude, insulting and unreasonable, so much as they *have been* gentlemanly but now generally aren’t (nor even ladylike!), and that there is some (unspecified) relationship between the gentlemanly behavior and changing people’s opinions.

    And more importantly, my point was that in spite of what Michael said, and how I generally feel, it obviously is possible to be rude and insulting to other people, even of such high standing, directly to their face, so I think that Michael’s perception of invective and abuse in non-face-to-face communication is probably due to a lack of practice and training in such media (we’re all told to be nice to people, but not to computers, which you for all I know may be), as well as the well-known problem of the lack of unwriteable contexts (except smileys, to the extent they’re used).

    Except that I didn’t say it, so I take your observations in good faith, and you may be better than people who kill children’s pets in the dead of night.

    Also, I wanted to pimp that article, because I disagree with the current developments of copyright law. That was my hidden agenda! 🙂

  15. In the last few hours there is news from the USA which may land Bush in a major crisis. It concerns the “Valerie Plame” affair,which has been bubbling on for 12 months,but may be about to boil over.! Plame is rhe wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson,who was went sent to Niger , and failed to back up Bush’s claim that Niger had sent yellowcake to Saddam in Iraq. To pay him back, someone in the White House told some persons in the media that Velerie Plame was actually a senior CIA official. This was sheer spite,as it instantly destroyed her cover(She was in the process of setting up a CIA”sting”involving fake computer companies) This is a criminal offence under US law,and is being investigated by a Grand Jury. Now three reporters are faced with jail unless they reveal their source. Time magazine is turning over all its records including emails,and they are said to implicate Karl Rove,Bush’s top assistant and long seen by many as the evil genius in the White House(a book called :Bush’s Brain” says it all)The US press is predicting that within the week Rove ,who denied such actions before the jury may be uindicted for perjury. This is real Watergate stuff.! It may prove a terrible problems for Bush,and a total distration for him. The Democrats will seize on it and it will further depress support for war. Hopefully it will be a major blow tothe Bush regime,and further worsen the crisis that threatens them in Iraq. A matter worth watching in the days ahead.!!

  16. >In general though, your point is well-taken. My point, though, wasn’t that Parliamentarians were gentlemanly and are now rude, insulting and unreasonable, so much as they have been gentlemanly but now generally aren’t (nor even ladylike!), and that there is some (unspecified) relationship between the gentlemanly behavior and changing people’s opinions.

    Listen to a few Parliamentary broadcasts – Parliamentarians are still capable of courtesy and of genuine debate.

    It may happen less often now that control of the Senate has passed to the government, but it has been relatively common for Opposition amendments to government bills to be incorporated.

    Unfortunately, a speech about the unintended impact of the Customs Act Amendment Act (no.3) (2005) on pearl farmers in Broome is a lot less interesting than a good-old slanging match.

  17. I think that one of the advantages of a bicameral system is that the two chambers tend to be elected by different methods and for different terms.

    No electoral system currently in use – first-past-the-post; party list; single transferable vote etc. – is perfect. They all have the potential to throw up the occasional result where the outcome doesn’t reflect the popular will (such as the 1998 Australian Federal election where Labor got around 51% of the lower house vote and still lost). Additionally they can all be manipulated in various ways. (For example, in the Australian system, by running dummy candidates to split theo pposing vote.)

    Using two different systems for the different houses makes anomalous results less likely and makes large-scale manipulation more difficult.

    Similarly, the different terms of the two houses in most bicameral systems means that the impact of single events that skew voting patterms (9/11 for example) have less impact.

  18. TAM,

    I’ll engage on your comment regarding my original post. Just to disclose, I am by training and qualification organisational Psychologist, and have for the last 14 years been employed by a large complex organisation in a variety of roles requiring extensive consultation and negotiation and occasional conflict management/resolution. My comments were based on observations I have made both through my professional life and the more generally the 41 years I have been on the planet, and my private observations of the various blogs I follow and occasionally contribute to.

    When a discourse is taking place at a distance – and telephone calls are as good an example as blogs, people are much more inclined to engage their emotions and indulge in relatively extreme expression, and stick to a previously held view. However, get the protagonists together face to face and the whole dynamic change. Often you observe a change from conflict to conciliation and solution finding – face to face communication is one of the key techniques specialist negotiators and mediators use. This is particularly the case when there is nobody else watching, and someone is not required to risk ego by changing their position and cooperating – one of the skills of mediation is finding a solution which preverves everyones ego and dignity.

    Notice what is different in a blog – its disembodied, there are people watching (and hence the probability of ego investment via having taken a public position on an issue), and the other person is probably someone you’ve never met.

    There are psychological theoretical underpinnings to this, including the “risky shift” phenomenon – wherein people will move to a more extreme position if they are required to state something publicaly and then defend it, and the coercive power of group processes. As well as the simple fact that when you actually see the other person you have access to that majority of their communication which is not conveyed in the content of their words alone (body language, facial expression etc).

    Parliament is not the same thing because that is essentially theatre for the masses, so I question the validity of the comparison. All the players know eachother, and probably have for years, in many cases there are cross party friendships behind the scenes.

  19. I was going to contribute something erudite, but then read through posts earlier in this section about a posse of small Australian macropods (aka wallabies) playing a bunch of french people at something John in another post called a cultural pursuit. Call me misguided if you like, but as far as I can tell the game in question goes like this…

    There’s two mobs who mostly tend to run, all together, towards the spot where the ball is – much like a 6yr old soccer team, really. When they get there, they all jump on the ball, and eventually someone holds on to it long enough to kick it up to the other end of the field. The two mobs then run as fast as they can to where the ball lands up, and all jump on it again. This is repeated until one mob gets tired enough to let one of the other mob put the ball down somewhere behind a special line, which is very trying.

    If one of the members of the mob does something the referee doesn’t like, he blows his whistle, and they all bend over to sniff each others bums for a minute or two. At the end of this, someone grabs the ball and kicks it up the other end…(see process described above). Some teams like this bum-sniffing activity a lot, so they provoke the ref. to blow the whistle as often as they can get away with it.

    For some inexplicable reason, sometimes when the referee blows his whistle the opposing mobs queue up in straight lines to catch the ball as it is thrown in from the sides – then the kick and chase (see above) starts up again. This is presumably to demonstrate the English origins of the game – there’s nothing like a good queue to boost the spirits.

    Every now and then the ball will get passed from the person holding it to another member of their own team, but the purpose of passing seems to be so that person can kick it away again, in order to start up a good chase and falling-over episode.

    Sometimes the kicker will accidentally kick the ball through the two sticks at the end, but mostly they miss – of course, if there were four sticks they might get the ball through more often.

    It seems to be quite acceptable to tread as heavily as possible on the face, hands or indeed any other part of a member of the opposing mob while falling on to the ball – and if you can get in a good eye gouge as well it attracts bonus points. The boots have specially sharpened spikes to make the treading on the opponents more fun. Unfortunately for lovers of a good stoush, players don’t seem to be allowed to do this at times when the mobs are not falling on the ball – which is presumably why they kick the ball so often.

    At the end of the game they all sing private school drinking songs and have jolly showers together.

    there…that’s the basics isn’t it?

    (PS this is not not not a serious post – no correspondence from irate rugby lovers will be entered into).

  20. Brian J McK: It seems Karl Rove has some ‘form’ in this area of chief headkicker/political assassin. Funny how in 1992, (see below), the very same Bob Novak was involved. What makes these people so vicious is a moot point especially in the case of Valerie Plame, where her job was to suss out those who might give WMD to the bad guys. So much for the war on ‘terrorism’. Of course, Rove is the same guy who thinks conflating S11 with the Iraq war can still win brownie points, proof positive of the neo-facist delusional parallel universe they live in, firmly believing their words make reality and revise history as they go along.

    From the net somewhere:
    ”Karl Rove, senior political advisor to George W. Bush, is a very powerful man. That is not to say he has never been in trouble. Rove was fired from the 1992 Bush Sr. campaign for trashing Robert Mosbacher, Jr., who was the chief fundraiser for the campaign and an avowed Bush loyalist. Rove accomplished this trashing of Mosbacher by planting a negative story with columnist Bob Novak. The campaign figured out that Karl had done the dirty deed, and he was given his walking papers.”

    We perhaps can look foward to a nice little perjury case from the grand jury to clip the wings of this latter day muckraking Machiavelli.

  21. Was it Rove or Cheney who declared that Reagan had proven “deficits don”t matter”?

    Whichever oen it was demonstrated that winning elections is considered the only measure of “importance” – never mind trivialities like the economy or saddling future generations with massive amounts of debt.

  22. I’ve been trying to post a long-ish post abotu Australia and Kyoto but thw software won’t let me for some reason.

    Here’s the short version – given that Australia is on track to more than meet its Kyoto target, how much revenue has John Howard cost us by shutting us out of the emission trading mechanism of Kyoto?

  23. Ian, email me and I’ll try to post it for you or detect the objectionable word.

  24. Sorry, Ian, no luck at all with this one. I’ll send it on to Textdrive and see what they make of it.

  25. It turns out that the Australian emissions Trading Forum has anserwed my question.

    Click to access ReviewOctNov2003.pdf

    They argue that potential export revenue over the period 2008-2012 would be worth A$ 0.5-1 billion per year. Given that the AETF represents companies with an interest in promoting trading, that may be an overestimate but it seems to me highly likely that there’s a substantial amount of revenue being foregone here.

    But in exchange John Howard gets to sleep in the White House so I guess we’re getting value for money.

  26. One of the following passages is a description of torture used against Iraqi dissidents by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

    The other is a description of treatment of suspected insurgents by the current Iraqi government.

    Would people care to guess which is which?

    1. “A little lower are a series of horizontal welts, wrapping around his body and breaking the skin as they turn around his chest, as if he had been beaten with something flexible, perhaps a cable. There are other injuries: a broken nose and smaller wounds that look like cigarette burns.

    An arm appears to have been broken and one of the higher vertebrae is pushed inwards. There is a cluster of small, neat circular wounds on both sides of his left knee. At some stage an-Ni’ami seems to have been efficiently knee-capped. It was not done with a gun – the exit wounds are identical in size to the entry wounds, which would not happen with a bullet. Instead it appears to have been done with something like a drill.

    What actually killed him however were the bullets fired into his chest at close range, probably by someone standing over him as he lay on the ground. The last two hit him in the head.”

    2.”[His] arms were tied behind his back and he was suspended from a hook. Later, he was shot at with a pistol and his feet and hands were mutilated with gunshots.

  27. Yes Peter Kemp….Rove is unspeakable…interesting he also dudded a fellow Republican,Senator John McCain who ran against Bush in the Rep. primaries in 2000… In Sth Carolina,has was found to have put around the story that McCain,who has adopted a number of children had actually fathered one of them…a negro child..by a negro woman(not his wife !) It wasa lie but did McCain a power of harm in Sth Carolina…Ambassdor Wilson is said to have remembered recently that he looks forward to seeing Rove taken from the White House in hand-cuffs..and what…as with Nixonif the President actually knew of this matter!)…as they said of Nixon..what did the President know,and when did he know it…???????!

  28. Strange Doonsbury cartoon today (July 3), basically an all out attack on blogs. Basic conclusion that if a blogger had anything important to say, the blogger would have a real paying job as a writer. Wow.

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