Dispatches From the Moderate Left

Monday, October 30, 2006

It's Over

I think it's time to make official what has been pretty obvious for the past few weeks... this blog is no more. There's various logistical reasons, exams, sporadic internet access, employment next year, but mainly I don't have much left to say. I was thinking of converting my recent essay on the WTO and Democracy for a final post, but it's a fairly technical subject and I'm not sure I can condense the essence of the argument into a post which isn't ridiculously long.

Anyway, blogging has been a fun experience, I like to think I wrote some fairly thoughtful stuff on a lot of subjects, thought I'm sure much more of what I wrote would inspire cringing if I re-read it. I've maintained a reasonably consisteny readership of about 20 visitors a day, about half of which are from search engines, which is pretty much what I expected given how technical and sporadic my writing tends to be. Thanks to everyone who's read and especially to those who've commented (if you've read and not commented, I'd be interested to hear from you now!).

I'd like to finish with some witty and enlightening summary of my political philosophy and the world around me, but I can't really. I think my last quote of the week does a pretty good job of summing why I've become so pessimistic about politics over the past couple of years - "as a rule we disbelieve all facts and theories for which we have no use". Very little political discourse I see on the web or elsewhere makes any attempt to meaningfully grapple with opposing views and data, which is a depressing state of affairs.

My further political pessimism comes from a slow realisation at how little impact the sort of political discourse I observe and occasionally participate in has on the wider electorate. Parties and Presidents don't seem to get voted out of office unless factors largely out of their control go haywire (the economy, petrol prices). Fuzzy concepts like good governance, civil liberties (I'm still somewhat depressed that the US legalised torture), parliamentary/ministerial responsibility, openness and accountability are essentially ignored and even things like basic competence seem to take a back seat to the image which can be projected.

My pessimism is fuelling my current feeling that the US Republicans won't lose either house in the midterms, that the Bracks government will leave its promises of open and transparent government further behind when it's re-elected and that the only thing thing which will put Labor in power Federally is a recession. That's not to say I don't believe that the political process can generate good outcomes, overall the Australian political system seems to me one of the most moderate and rational around. I just think there's a massive disconnect between what the "political class" cares about and what influences voters, meaning political discussion can be interesting and occasionally enlightening, but very rarely a catalyst for actual change.

So much for a short final post... that's all, I'm out.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

This is Not Me

Just in case you were wondering (as one sharp-eyed reader did!):

That is my name, but it's not my face. Nor would I do this:
Strict Mormon Campbell Walshe is taking legal action against his league, claiming discrimination after missing a premiership play-off last month.

The midfielder and two teammates, ruckman Jeremy and fellow midfielder Stephen Hoare, abstained because their religion forbids sport on Sundays.

"Sunday is the Lord's day," Walshe said. "It is a day devoted to worship, attending church and spending time with family and friends."

I mean, even if I played footy, I'd have the same attitude to playing on Sunday, but legal action seems to be going way too far. I mean what happens if Sunday is out so they have to go to Saturday and then a Jewish player invokes the 4th commandment? I can't see how that'd work...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Quote of the Week

The way our pre-existing biases influence the way we interpret new data is something that has long been of interest to me. For example, I find it fascinating the way that political radicals and conspiracy theorists have a habit of using the fact that something is verified by mainstream sources as a point against its veracity and openly embrace claims by 'fringe' sources without much critical examination. On that note, I recently ran across a quote by an American philosopher/psychologist, William James, from a collection of his late 19th century writings:

[A]s a rule we disbelieve all facts and theories for which we have no use.

So very, if regrettably, true.

Picture of the Week

Following on from my previous post, this telling photo is doing the rounds:

How many countries in the world are dangerous enough that Condi needs to wear a bullet proof jacket at while disembarking at the main airport? And in how many of them has the US spent a few hundred billion dollars and a couple of hundred thousand troops in an attempt to establish security?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mission Impossible

Ever since the occupation and insurgency of Iraq began in earnest, right wing commentators and bloggers have been attempting to spread the meme that things in Iraq aren't as bad as the media makes it look like and that the country will soon be stable. Some three and a half years of unabated violence later, it's pretty clear that the rosy picture in those people's minds is far from reality. There were reports last month that 7,000 civilians had died in violent circumstances in the previous two months, a conservative estimate given that data was not collected from two regions due to them being too dangerous. This represents a death toll of about 120/day, which is an enormous figure in a country of some 28m people and, sadly, empirically comparable to the average number of people killed by Saddam's regime.

The Brookings fact sheet, which is a fantastic resource for Iraq statistics, gives a further impression of the continuing high level of violence. Bearing in mind that the line graphs there look somewhat misleading because they count figures from the first few days of October, almost every indication of the level of violence in the country has either been roughly steady for the past two years (US and Iraqi troop fatalities, car bomb levels) or increasing (multiple fatality bombings). And while some of the polls in that fact sheet show Iraqis to be fairly optimistic about the future in the face of this violence, a recent poll also seem to indicate that they don't think that international troops should stay around to help them to a more peaceful future.

These statistics are genuinely depressing but not of themselves useful to those of us less interested in beating anti-Iraq war horses and more interested in the question of what should be done now to try and fix these problems. Unfortunately, as a recent Slate rundown of foreign policy thinking on the subject shows, no one really seems to know how to answer that question. The hawkish wing of the spectrum is advocating that the US send more troops, which might be an idea worth thinking about if there weren't no more troops to send.

The opposite end of the spectrum continues to advocate short-term withdrawal, without any real attempt to grapple with the question of what that would do to the security sitiation in the country. Those in the middle have put up ideas ranging from an "oil-spot" approach to a radical breakup of the country, which have either been tried and failed in Iraq already (the former) or seem exceptionally likely to create failure in the region formerly known as Iraq. And, finally, the US ambassador to Iraq has another idea - involving "manipulat[ing] the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds to coerce them to negotiate" - which seems somewhat crazy to me, given that it would involve the US to attack milita belonging to the Shia majority.

To conclude - the US is losing the war in Iraq, the Iraqi people are being killed by terrorists and their fellow citizens at an alarming rate and no one, of any political leaning, has any real idea of how to make the situation better. And looking at all the options, I'm not even sure which is the best of a bad bunch. These are the sorts of problems you get when you invade a country with cavalier optimisim and no real plan for what to do once you conquer the place. I get absolutely no satisfaction from concluding this, but I haven't read anything in the past six months that isn't consistent with it. And it's yet more confirmation that war is the H-Word.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Disillusion Everywhere

What popular lefty blogger Atrios writes isn't usually frothing at the mouth extremist stuff. It's militant and regularly somewhat over the top, but it usually has a hint of moderation and insight into reality. But for whatever reason (perhaps because of their completely open nature) his comments attract a very extremist crowd which responds to most posts with at least a hundred voices crying out in almost perfectly uniform rage, repeating perfectly predictable hyperbole. So Atrios' comments are a good place to go to gauge the mood of the far left. And while the far right is certainly disillusioned with their party in the leadup to November's US mid-term election I think I might have underestimated just how disillusioned the far left is.

Before voting against the recent Torture Bill Hillary Clinton gave a fairly stirring speech higlighting America's long, principled opposition to torture. It's a little long (5:29) but it's worth watching:

Atrios recently posted the full text of the speech, without comment. As of today he has received 1621 comments in reply. Now, comment mining is usually uninformative, but I think a sample of the comments gives an extraordinarily strong impression of disillusionment at Democrats among the far left, to the point where it is going to be extremely difficult to motivate a lot of them to vote. Ellipses in between each comment, edited for language and some comments in italics:
Wasted words, I'm afraid.
She's filibustering, right?


Otherwise I don't want to hear from the b****
And as for Mr. Barack, I assume 'Osama' is the word in some indigenous Kenyan language for 'trimmer'. I have no idea what this means, but I'm pretty sure it's a fairly nasty slur at Rising Democrat star Barak Obama, whose speech opposing the amendment was previously posted in the same manner
So what? Stirring words, but so the f*** what.
More purty words.

So what?
They are all cowards and they cannot be trusted lead. In short, they are afraid.
The silence of the Democratic leadership is deafening and disturbing. Even if they win in November, is it worth this? Chucking habeas corpus? Allowing the Prez to determine FOR HIMSELF what the Geneva Conventions are, what torture is? Rendering prisoners in the fight against terror into a veritable black hole of hell, with no recourse for those who may be innocent?

If they think it is, then they are as damnable as the fascisti they're seeking to replace. They say they want to show they can govern, but if they can't stand firmly behind intrepid constitutional values, and a day or two away from the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg laws, then they don't deserve anyone's vote.

They won't be getting mine.

These aren't entirely representative as there were some positive responses, but they're indicative of the fairly widespread anger there. Specifically, the commenters are mostly angy that no Democrat filibusted the bill which is a procedural tactic which minorities in the US Senate have previously been able to use to indefinitely stall debate on an issue unless they are overrided by a 60 senators (out of 100). I say previously, because it's not a tactic realistically open to the Democrats at the moment after the Republicans showed their willingness last year to abolish the filibuster entirely (the 'nuclear option'), a move which would only take a straight majority vote. The Democrats don't have a majority in the Senate and it's fairly unreasonable for their supporters to hold them to a standard of 'if you can't stop the majority, we won't vote for you', but looking over the comments there, that's pretty much what I see. And if their supporters are that disillusioned then that doesn't bode well for the Democrats in a few weeks time.

Update: I should also mention that the Republican senate has pretty much appeased the base on the issue I thought they were cracking up on - immigration - by passing an act which will create a fence/wall between the US and Mexico across much of the border. I'm going to go and make a rash prediction that the Dems will make electoral gains across the board in November but will not gain majorities in either the House or the Senate. Creepy sex scandals notwithstanding

Friday, September 29, 2006

This Week In History...

...The US legalised torture. Not the very most severe torture, but torture nevertheless. I've said it before and I fear I'll have cause to say it again - it's not about them, it's about us. And the fact that the between the two just narrowed a litle bit in a crucial way is a sad fact worth noting.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Pope and Islam

I'm in essay writing mode at the moment, so in lieu of a proper post, I'll exceprt parts of an interesting interview (via Sullivan) with a dude with a fancy title - "president of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome" - on the Pope's recent and somewhat controversial comments regarding Islam. I found it interesting because it closely echoes my thoughts on the subject:
Q. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan has said that Surah 2:256 (“There is no compulsion in religion”)—to which the pope made reference in his speech—is not from the Prophet’s early days, as the pope asserted, but from when the Prophet was ruler of Medinah. Samir Khalil Samir, SJ, disagrees and says the pope’s dates are right. Who is correct? More important, can one make sweeping statements about Islam’s views on violence and religious tolerance relying solely on the Qur’an while ignoring the Hadith (commentary), the Sharia (law), and the entire history of the religion?

A.The consensus of scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim, is that Surah 2 is from the Medinah period, when Muhammad had increasing political power.
The second part of your question is more important. It seems to me essential not to lock Muslims into one particular reading of their texts and traditions. It is nonsensical to say to someone who claims that Islam is a peaceful religion that he may not believe such a thing because the Qur’an says such-and-such. She should be encouraged to believe that Islam is peaceful and held to observe that.

There is much more violence in the Bible than in the Qur’an. Here is a line from the Psalms, the backbone of Christian and Jewish daily worship: “A blessing on him who takes your babies and dashes them against the rocks!” (Ps. 137:9). We cannot deny the presence of such verses in our Scripture and worship, yet we do not think of them as defining our attitude to enemies. As for the New Testament, it is not without verses open to a violent interpretation: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt. 10:34).

The point of quoting these texts is not to claim that Christianity and Judaism are inherently violent religions, but to offer proof that scripture passages which apparently justify and even glorify violence do not necessarily make for a violent religion. Christians and Jews have ways of reading their scriptures that allow them to maintain their sacredness without considering large parts of them normative for behaviour or attitudes. Muslims have traditionally used similar methods of interpretation.

This is why trawling the Qur'an for violent verses and extrapolating from the findings to the actions and beliefs of modern day Muslims is an intellectually bankrupt exercise. Yes there do exist Muslims who justify their cause by using these verses but to declare all other Muslims guilty by association is as offensive/ridiculous to them as it is to accuse Christians of sharing the beliefs of the Crusaders or the Dominionists. Actually, it's worse because far too many people buy into the "Islam is a religion of the sword" argument.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Picture of the Week

A post over at Brendan Nyhan's blog highlights the somewhat bizzare practice of US government departments' childrens mascots. I think this hyperactive bunch, the National Security Agency's CryptoKids, is my favourite:

Stanley Stat and Pie Chart Pam ("Agriculture and Maths Fun!"), from the US Department of Agriculture, have to be a close second.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Quote of the Week

I'm reading some reasonably arcane international law stuff at the moment. The following quote, discussion some definitions in the GATT treaty, is unfortunately not satire:

The terms "directly" and "indirectly" do not refer to "direct" and "indirect" taxes. On the contrary, a tax applying "directly" to "products" is an indirect tax, while a tax applying "indirectly" to "products" is a direct tax. This terminological anomaly can be resolved by switching one's perspective.

Source: Kenneth W. Dam, The GATT: Law and International Economic Organization (1970).

Monday, September 18, 2006

LEO, Revisited

I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of using a "Liberty, Equality, Order" spectrum for analysing political idology, in contrast to a simplistic left/right divide. I ran into this spectrum early on at university, and so I found a political scientist's attempt, at The LEO Test, to create a program which could automatically analyse the ideology of political writing very interesting when I ran across it a year or so ago. This spectrum sees the political landscape as populated by (some combination of) three distinct ideologies which can be reflected in moderate or radical positions - Liberty (libertarians, anarchists), Equality (progressives, communists) and Order (Conservatives, fascists).

Cam over at the fairly new (and quite good) group blog, Polemica, recently wrote a post expressing his dissatisfaction at the traditional left/right divide and in the ensuing discussion I brought up the LEO test. One commentor there thought that the spectrum wouldn't properly capture the ideology of post-left/right divide, community-values based parties like People Power so I decided to give the program supplied by Jonathon York another try (my last attempt at doing this showed the limits of the test as applied to judicial writings, more than disproving it more comprehensively I think). So I went to their web site and collated all the relevant text I could find, from their "about" and policies documents. Just to give an overview, here's what the party has to say for themselves (in broken html on the site):

  • families: the foundation of society but unrepresented by any broad, mainstream movement
  • consumers: our two main parties represent employers and employees, but not consumers
  • people with disabilities, chronic and mental illnesses and their families/carers: the most invisible and vulnerable Australians
  • the aged: regarded as not glamorous, important or productive in our culture
  • volunteers in communities: who are the glue in society but are unrepresented in any of our halls of power
  • small businesses and independent owners: the backbone of our economy and employment but overlooked by governments
  • individuals and communities who practice self-help: whose voices are rarely heard

Now, just looking at that you get the strong underlying message of "society is only as strong as its weakest member" which is a paradigm Equality value. This impression is borne out in a textual analysis of the 5000-odd words I put together from the web site:

The bars represent percentages of ideological keywords (ie 55% of keywords used reflected Equality values). Now, it's a relatively small sample of words but I think the analysis has hit on the essential ideology of the party. It's strongly egalitarian with no secondary preference for either order or liberty, given that order/conservative values of "family" and "regulation" co-exist with a respect for the dynamism and freedom of small enterprise.

One of the Polemica bloggers suggested I try the analysis on the Labor and Liberal party platforms, these being the two dominant political parties in Australia. The Liberal party likes to identify itself with small-l liberalism values, but also has a strong socially/traditionally conservative element in it which is in tension with these values. The Labor party has historical roots in the union movement although moved away from those roots somewhat when it was in power in the 80s and 90s by governing in a style in some way foreshadowed the "Third Way" of Clinton/Blair.

These platform documents aren't ideal source material for two reasons. First, while the Labor platform is very large (100,000) which is good, the Liberal one is quite small (4,000). In addition, potential nuances in the party's policies in different areas such as law and order, social areas, welfare, economic regulation, industrial relations etc. aren't reflected in such a broad brush analysis. Still, given that I don't have time to do a full analysis I decided to see what the numbers brought up. I excluded one of the data source files from the analsyis because the word "Liberal" was included as an ideological key word, which is obviously inappropriate in assessing the Liberal party. This left me with three source files, and these are the averages of the results.

Some might be surprised that these aren't exactly the same, but I do think that these graphs are reasonably reflective of reality. The Liberal party, if you read its platform (I didn't, I just scanned, but you know what I mean) likes to fancy itself as a bastion of traditional liberalism and that preference is very strongly captured. The document also emphasises the "Australian" value of egalitarianim in its emphasis on "opportunity for all", which I think explains the relatively high E score. Now, the Liberal party's actions frequently belie their rhetoric, but I do think the simple test here is picking up the ideological flavour of their rhetoric quite well.

Likewise for Labor. The emphasis is much more clearly on Equality, with no strong secondary preference, although a slight leaning towards order which is not at all incosistent with the Labor party (it has only weak committment to civil liberties issues, for instance, and is unafraid to regulate private business quite heavily in some areas). I think it's also pertinant that neither party had particularly strong ideological preferences for their primary value (the highest marker was about 47% each) which is to be expected from relatively moderate mainstream parties. All in all, I think these rough analysis confirm the usefulness of the blunt textual analysis of The LEO Test in analysing the ideological content of political writing.

Off Topic

In lieu of posting a proper post while I'm busy reading endless pdfs on international economic law, if you have Adobe 7.0 then load up any pdf and hit control shift v. If nothing happens, highlight the next bit of text - turn your speakers up! And make sure the .pdf is text-readable and not just an image. Maybe it's just me, and maybe I'm just board, but I found that way cool...

PS. Once you've done that, the answer to your next question can be found by highlighing the next piece of text - control shift e turns it off :).

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Institutional Knowledge vs Spouting From the Sidelines

Given that I can't be an expert on everything, I have a habit of defering to people with relevant expertise and experience on particular questions, unless they clearly have a conflict of interest or if I've seen relevant compelling evidence contradicting their position from someone with equivalent knowledge. I try not to base my opinion of an expert's opinion on my prior prejudices. Of course I might do that unconsciously anyway, but I do make a conscious attempt not to.

Take racial profiling as a police tactic. My gut instinct is that it's not a good idea for all the usual reasons - it gives both too many false positives and negatives as well as alienating the targeted group, which is the group which law enforcement is most likely to receive unsolicited tip-offs from if it doesn't feel too alienated. However, I am prepared to conced that it might be a valid tactic for law enforcement to utilise. A group like the Australian federal police or the US FBI have a strong vested interested in keeping potential sources of information open. They have institutional experience as to both the effectiveness or otherwise and the negative effects of profiling. Given that they are the ones who bear the retaliatory consequences if they're wrong and the ones with the hands on experience, I'm usually prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. So I'm not prepared to say that, for instance, the FBIs "voluntary" request for interviews with thousands of Islamic-Americans in the immediate aftermath of September 11 was unjustified, for example.

This evidently isn't the approach that Tim Blair takes to these sorts of issues. This week the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mick Keelty, criticised profiling as a tactic:
In a revealing interview with The Weekend Australian, Mr Keelty said racial profiling was self-defeating because it risked alienating mainstream Muslims while ignoring the real danger of homegrown non-Muslim terror.

"I remind people that the firstperson who was convicted of a terrorist offence in Australia was a person with the unlikely name of Jack Roche," the police chief said.
Mr Keelty said the danger of mistreating people who felt "the least bit alienated" was that they would become permanent outcasts in the community.

I'm sure he's mindful, too, of the fact that the latest UK terror plot was apparently thwarted by an unsolicited tip-off from a member of the Islamic community which the suspects were a part of and that such a vital source of information may be jeopardiesed by rough handed police tactics. I'm often a bit sceptical of police statements about policing when they're asking for more powers, because they have a natural insitutional inclination towards wanting more power and a disinclination to take competing considerations into account. But that concern is irrelevant here - the federal police have the powers to adopt a profiling policy if they so desired, but taking local considerations into account they've decided that it's not a good policy.

Anyway, Tim Blair, former Bulletin Journalist, Blogger and pontificator extraordinare apparently knows more about policing than the head of Australia's federal police, responding to Keelty's interview with the statement "Modern policing apparently involves a disinclination to examine evidence." You know, I'm not big on shouting "double standard" but it seems to me that Blair is showing a disinclination to examine evidence about policing provided by our own chief policeman. Or maybe Blair has a secret career which has given him expert knowledge on policing that I'm missing? And, no, "reading conservative opinion pieces" doesn't count, I'm afraid.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Speaking Too Soon

This has to be something of a record in me being proved wrong. This time last week I wrote a post on double jeopardy and in response to the apparent reluctance of Australian State governments to abolish the rule, I noted:
it seems the Labor Attorney generals managed to restrain their authoritarian impulses in this instance, which has to be something of a first.

Well, this'll learn me:
An 800-year-old legal principle that prevents people being tried twice for the same crime twice looks set to be overturned in Australia.

The New South Wales Government has now introduced legislation to scrap the double jeopardy principal.

And the other states and the Commonwealth are now considering following suit and are expected to release a report on the issue by the end of the year.

The piece quotes Morris Iemma, the NSW premier:
Where compelling new evidence comes to light to solve a serious crime, criminals shouldn't be able to hide behind what is a legal technicality. It's just common sense.

Providing yet another example where "thinking about an issue" provides a better basis for policy making than gut feeling. Now, because the media's reporting of legal issues is universally imprecise to the point of uselessness, I'm not actually sure what the substance of this proposal is. There's 3 possibilites that I can see from what was said there:

  • Allowing retrial where the acquitted person secured the acquittal by committing a peversion of justice offence (eg. intimidating the jury).

  • Allowing retrial if evidence which, scientifically, could not have been discovered at the time of the original trial (eg. DNA)

  • Allowing retrial if any "compelling new evidence" comes to light

That's a pretty broad spectrum. I actually would support the first. If an accused doesn't play by the rules of the criminal justice system, they shouldn't be afforded its protections (within reason of course). The accused in our accusatorial is permitted to "wage war" against the state only to a point (eg. by remaining silent, vigorously questioning evidence, instructing a lawyer to conduct their defence, demanding the prosecution meet its burden of proof) but there are justified limits placed on this ability, and intimidating witnesses, bribing officials and otherwise perverting the system goes beyond what is justified I think. In situations where the accused has perverted the course of justice and where this perversion is causally linked to their acquittal, the prosecution and police have done their jobs and quite possibly would have secured a conviction without the accused's conduct. In this situation, there is only minimal justification for not allowing a retrial.

The second possibility, I'm much, much more equivocal about. In those sorts of situations the accused has played by the rules and, presumably, secured an acquittal by holding the prosecution to their burden, a burden they were evidently unable to satisfy. In this case it was the State's fault that the accused wasn't convicted, their fault for bringing a case against a person with insufficient reliable evidence to secure a conviction. The problem with allowing a retrial in such a situation is that it implicitely encourages and condones the State bringing to trial marginal cases. Police and prosecutors love bringing charges against people, especially in cases which reach the media spotlight, in fact doing so is a large portion of their reason for existence. This isn't to cast personal aspersions against people in these bodies, far from it. It's simply an inherent aspect of an adversarial prosecutorial culture. Just as 'ambulance chasing' tort prosecutors gain professional satisfaction in nailing the next big company, so to do public prosecutors relish the process of prosecuting the criminal bad guys. This isn't a bad thing, but it's why society needs rules to constrain them and to encourage them to take into account the interests of the person they are accusing because that person might just be innocent.

Now, I acknowledge that a specific DNA-exception is, on its own, singularly unlikely to encourage a more aggressive prosecutorial culture given that it would only apply to cold cases. But the message it sends isn't unlikely to have an effect. What it says is that, if you bring a case against someone now without enough evidence to convict them, then that isn't the end of the story. Some day in the future when we have ever better forensic technology, you might be able to charge them again. So you can be more aggressive now because there will be less consequences for you if you don't get the desired result. This is a worrying message to send.

As for the final possibility, which is as wide or wider than the English exception, it's extremely worrying. All of the above factors are relevant, but to a stronger degree and with more negative baggage. Not only would it encourage agents of the State to bring more marginal cases before the courts, it would implicitly encourage them to not diligently seek out all possible evidence safe in the knowledge that if the accused is acquitted and one of the leads they didn't seek to pursue eventually turns up "new and compelling" evidence, they could ask for a retrial. This is bad public policy, pure and simple.

The fundamental problem with the "victim's rights" movement, for all the perfectly valid feelings which underpin it and the occasionall excesses which give it just cause for complaint, is that it sees the job of the criminal justice system to produce factually correct outcomes, nothing more, no matter what the cost. But the job of the criminal justice system is to regulate social behaviour on a broader level and the rules of the system are designed to both give legitimacy to a system which takes away citizens natural rights (of self defence and retribution, for example) and prevent the State abusing the assymetric power which it has relative to its citizens. The rules are also designed to reduce the ability of the media and citizens (whether aided and abetted by the political power of the day or not) to carry out witch hunts on unpopular or superficially guilty individuals. Thhe potential (partial or full) abolishment of double jeopardy in Australia adds another worrying bow to the quiver of the populist crime media. If double jeopardy goes, and the public megaphones kick up a big enough stink then they potentially have a new prize within their grasp - retrial.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Alright, I'm Curious

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about a James McConvil newspaper opinion piece from late last year "Law of the Jungle is the Best regulator." Ever since I wrote that I've been getting a consistent stream of Google hits, about half of which are people searching for the exact phrase "Law of the Jungle is the Best regulator" and half which are just searching for those words. Now, this isn't a particularly common phrase on google. The exact phrase gives 6 hits - two for the original newspaper article, one for a reprint of that one for this blog and another two for a different (and interesting) blog post on the article. The non-exact phrase obviously gives many more hits, but the newspaper article and my post come up first and second because they're obviously the closest.

My question is... why is this phrase being searched so regularly? I'm really at a loss. With the exception of the slightly creepy "black market kidneys" searches I regularly get (my posts on the subject will not help you find one, sorry people), this is the most common source of my google traffic. I've had a few dozen, perhaps close to 50 hits from either the two previous searches which is a lot by the standards of this blog. It's especially weird to me because so many of the searches are the exact phrase. It's almost as if McConvil is camping google, searching for references to his article which I would believe, except I can't believe he'd keep on clicking on the link and in any event, a reasonable number of the searches are from international sources.

Anyway, I'd really like it if someone who finds this post by searching for that phrase could clear this up for me! Is this article being studied at schools/universities? Is there a book or something with that as the title? I've turned anonymous commenting back on so hopefully someone will be able to enlighten me...

Update: Problem solved! An anonymous commentor left this in the original post:
hey mate
I'm studying Comp Law and Policy at Deakin univsity. Believe it or not we have to do a compulsory assignment critiquing James' article, focusing on s 45 and 45A of the TPA. I'm citing your blog in mine - don't whether i'm supposed to or not.

I knew there was something!


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