Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Post#200 How I Defend Lloyd Rayney

The closing arguments have been made in the trial of Lloyd Rayney for the alleged unlawful killing of his wife, Corryn Rayney. Brian Martin, who has heard the matter as judge alone, is now considering his verdict and expects to render it on Thursday, 1 November, 2012.

I've followed the proceedings and now wish to propose a defence for Rayney which I feel is superior to the strategy followed by his defence counsel.

Many matters are attested to in witness statements which were tendered to the court by both prosecution and defence. I'll summarise here the most important evidentiary issues.

First, here's a review of the arguments of the prosecution:

The Crown's Case

Lloyd Rayney, a legal practitioner in Western Australia, is accused of having killed his wife in their home in the Perth suburb of Como on the night of Tuesday, 7th August, 2007. The killing is supposed to have occurred between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. after Mrs Rayney returned from a bootscooting class at Bentley Community Centre. The Crown's contention is that this was a premeditated murder, carried out while their daughter, Sarah Rayney, then aged ten, was sleeping in her bedroom. They propose that Mr Rayney attacked his wife without warning after she entered the house and then took her body to her car which was parked at the front of the house, dragging her so that her boots were damaged by friction with the brick paving in the driveway. The scuffed boots collect particles of soil and paving while being dragged. He may have attempted to place the body in the boot of the car, then decided to put it in the rear of the cabin. Her boots may have come off at this point; they are later discovered in the boot of the car. He also managed to catch several seed pods from a liquid amber tree on the body. He then drove the car to a place nearby and walked back to the house.

He then maintained a pretence of normality until after his other daughter, Caitlyn (then thirteen), was returned home from attending a concert. A friend of Caitlyn who was with her in the friend's mother's car saw Mr Rayney in his pyjamas and noticed that Caitlyn commented that her mother was not home yet.

In the early hours of the following morning, Mr Rayney left the house in which his daughters were asleep and walked to his wife's car, perhaps carrying a shovel from his garden shed. He forgets to check the bedroom in which Mrs Rayney has been sleeping during their period of estrangement and fails to see the black coat which she wore to the dancing class and placed on her bed before he confronted and killed her in another room. He does, however take her purse with him, or he may have done so on the first trip with the car; the purse is found in the boot with the boots.

He drives the car to a place in Kings Park which he had scouted for the purpose, digs a grave and places the body of his wife in it, on top of a Stanley Adams brand handkerchief which he drops from his pocket. After filling the grave and putting leaf litter and a fallen branch over it he takes his shovel to the car, in which he has left the boots and purse and reverses the vehicle over a metal bollard, damaging the transmission and causing a leak of fluid.

He then drives the damaged car to Kershaw Street in Subiaco, leaving a trail of transmission fluid as he goes. After leaving the vehicle he disposes of the shovel, perhaps by dropping it into a bulk bin. He walks back to his home in Como, somehow conceals the dirty grave-digging clothes and returns to bed in his pyjamas. When daylight arrives, he pretends that he believes his wife came home and went out again. To bolster this he puts a coffee cup in the ensuite next to her bedroom to create the appearance of her having been home. He then engages in a role-play of pretending that her absence is news to him.

In the time between this night and the discovery of the grave, a place card from an event attended by Mr Rayney, with his name on it, is found on the ground in Kings Park. The Crown contends that he dropped it while scouting the site the day before the murder.

The Defence by Rayney's Counsel

The defence has attacked the scientific evidence offered to support the contention that Corryn Rayney was killed at her home. They have attempted to discredit the soil and paving samples on the boots and the seeds as not being unique to the Rayney driveway and have suggested that the police planted the seeds (Okay, find another way of saying it) on the body. The Crown's experts agreed that they hadn't conducted extensive comparative tests of the soil and paving and at least two expressed unease over the behaviour of police and the way in which the seeds turned up, two in Mrs Rayney's hair and one in the body-bag used to transport her corpse.

The place card had been explained by Rayney as being in his wife's car because he left it there on the evening of July 28 after the dinner. The Crown presented two witnesses who testified that he had given them a lift in his own car from the event. The defence does not appear to have countered this except to suggest that Rayney's memory is faulty as to when he placed the card in the vehicle.

The defence mamaged to create doubt that the coat on the bed was the one worn by Mrs Rayney to her dancing class if she did wear a coat. There was no unanimity among witnesses from the class.

No definite witness is available to any of the events proposed by the Crown and the method of killing appears to be manual compression of the neck - hence, no weapon to be found.

My Analysis and Alternate Defence

The Crown's case looks good if you accept that the fatal assault occurred in the Rayney home. If the Crown can prove that Corryn Rayney arrived home after the dancing class, that circumstance alone would do it. Likewise, if it can be proven that Lloyd Rayney was outside the home in the early hours of Wednesday morning, he's had it. The place card could be the most damning piece of material evidence but there's a few logical anomalies in presenting it as proof of Rayney's presence at the grave site.

The Place Card

This really seems to be a perfect instance of the cloth being cut to fit. The police wanted to use that card as a piece of significant evidence but they had a problem. The event at which the card was used was one to which LLoyd Rayney went wearing a suit. Consider the difficulty that creates: If he was observed in his pyjamas on the night of the murder and it isn't very likely that he wore them to drive a car up to Kings Park and dig a grave, what was he wearing? Is anyone going to believe that he dressed in a pair of suit pants, with or without a jacket to do such a task? Not likely either. He would have changed into jeans and a tee-shirt or tracksuit or something else appropriate to dirty work. Once that's accepted, it doesn't follow that he would have had the card on his person. This plausible scenario is more consistent with the card being in the car and that permits that a killer other than Rayney ejected it from the car by having it stick to his shoe or being dragged out with the body.

Let's just go back to why the card ever left the room where the event was held. Why did Rayney take it with him? Probably because, like a lot of people, he doesn't like odd bits of paper floating about with his name written on them. After the event he may have looked for a bin to place it in after tearing it up. Not finding one he would have put it in his back pants pocket with the intention of binning it at home.

He drove his own car home, giving a lift to a couple of people on the way. At his home he may have had to move his wife's car and discovered the card poking him in the backside as he sat in the driver's seat. He then may have pulled it out and put it on the console or dashboard meaning to dispose of it once the task of moving the car was complete and then forgotten it. The card subsequently is knocked onto the floor of the vehicle, perhaps into the rear floor area. Or the card may have been in his inside jacket pocket and been discovered as he sat in the car with his wife for some reason, with the same outcome. There are several further possible scenarios but these examples suffice, for the purpose of demonstrating reasonable doubt about the usefulness of the card as probative evidence.

In order to use the card the police needed to get around the problem of that suit and this is how the charge of wilful muder came to be. Proposing various scenarios of their own, the police couldn't see Rayney going to the site of the grave after the event; not with all the heat on. So when could he have dropped that card? The only story that works is that he did it before the murder. That necessitates him being in the vicinity where the grave was dug and the only reason that fits is that he was scouting for a gravesite, hence the killing must have been well and truly premeditated. How he would have been so negligent as to lose that very thing from a pocket and not notice is a challenge to credulity in itself but it's all the police had to work with. Thus the piece of cardboard and the urge to use it to prove Rayney's guilt turned the matter from simple murder or manslaughter into wilful. This actually makes a lot of what is supposed to have happened next very hard to believe.

The Liquid Amber Seed Pods

This could be very damaging evidence: Three seed pods from a liquid amber tree were discovered; two caught in the hair of the deceased and one loose in the body bag in which she was transported to the morgue. The Crown alleges that they were collected by the dragging of the body from the Rayney home, across a paved driveway. The defence has attempted to create suspicion that the police put the seed pods into the victim's hair and in the body bag. The chain of custody of this evidence is somewhat sloppy and the defence have the benefit of a forensic pathologist saying that the pods were discovered during his second examination of the body and that he was puzzled as to how he could have missed them at first. I feel that this is an unnecessarily long bow for the defence to draw. A better approach is to stick to the banal explanation that the pods were simply on the floor in the rear of the car and that the body made contact with them when pushed down on the floor in the rear to conceal it. How could the seeds be in the car? By being carried in by passengers, such as the Rayney daughters; caught on shoelaces, socks, backpacks or bags that had been placed on the ground and then knocked loose onto the floor in the car.

The Purse

It is alleged by the Crown that the deceased's purse was placed in the boot of the car by Mr Rayney as part of a half-baked plan to pretend that his wife had come home and gone out again before being killed, a plan he later abandoned. The  Crown also tendered evidence from Rayney's daughters that their mother did not usually take her purse when going to the dancing class.

I would propose that, whatever her normal practice, Corryn Rayney did take the purse with her that night. A possible reason is the intentiion to buy something from a late-night chemist on the way home. She was 44 and not likely to be menopausal, so it may have been a need to buy supplies for an ongoing or impending period which prompted her to take her purse. This has not been explored, as far I know from the reportage of the case. Other reasons also can be suggested which come to the same outcome: a break from what her daughters perceived as a usual practice.

Why was the purse in the boot of her car? Imagine her arriving at the car-park at the class venue. She doesn't trust the people she's practicing with enough to leave the purse on a chair in the hall nor does she want to leave it on the seat in the car. The first place to conceal it would be the glove box, but if it was like most glove boxes it would be already filled with odds and ends, leaving no space for the purse. The last option is the boot and she takes the purse to the rear of the vehicle and puts it in.

The Handkerchief

This item was tracked back to a department store in Bali. It is a "Stanley Adams" brand man's handkerchief and the Crown contends that Corryn Rayney bought it for her husband as a gift while they were holidaying in Bali a few weeks bfore her death. The transaction records available don't specify what it was she bought, nor does the price paid perfectly match a set of this type of handkerchief. I doubt the proposition that she was in a mood to be buying her husband gifts in light of the degree of estrangement between them. If she did buy that piece of cloth I think it's more likely she bought it for herself, not to blow her nose with but as a wiping-cloth to mop her brow. Women's handkerchieves seem to be flimsy by intent and a perfumed man-sized hanky is more likely to be useful to someone doing something strenuous like dancing. It may have been tucked into her sleeve and dislodged as her body was placed in the grave. The handkerchief may have been the killer's and fallen in the grave as he finished digging it. Lots of Western Australians or their associates have been to Bali and there is no particularity in the possession of such a handkerchief. No one has been able to prove that LLoyd Rayney ever had such a handkerchief. It also could have simply been a piece of debris in the park; lost property which stuck to the body as it was dragged to the grave and nothing to do with the murder.

The Grave

The Crown has tried to draw a sinister implication from the shape of the grave and the posture of the body within it. The grave was shaped like a cup. with a shallow trench as the handle and a rounded pit at one end. The body was placed so that the head was at the base of the pit, the torso tilted upwards and the legs resting in the shallow part. The Crown argues that this was a cunning plan to cause the corpse to rot from the head first and thereby conceal the cause of death if the body was ever found. This seems to me a type example of the practice of making a strength of a weakness. If the Crown's filter is removed, what do we see? Someone starting to dig a standard trench grave and succumbing to impatience stemming from extreme anxiety and deciding to make do with a half-finished effort. The body is placed in the grave head first because that's the part which is closest to the deep part when the killer drags it there. Calm reflection would show that placing the body in an upright foetal position would fit it in more efficiently. And what proof is there that the decomposition would follow the pattern suggested by the Crown? Perhaps the highest part of the body would decay fastest; as far as I heard, no scientific evidence was offered on this point. It seems to be simply an imaginative assertion.

The Coat

The coat which the witnesses disagree about may have been the black coat found on Mrs Rayney's bed on the morning of 8th August. It may simply be that the witnesses who thought they saw it were confusing which particular night at class they saw it. Alternately, it may have been another coat, perhaps dark blue or some other shade that may have been mistaken for black under the lighting in the hall.

The Coffee Cup

The easiest explanation for the cup in the ensuite which the Crown claims was planted by Mr Rayney is that he did put it there - absentmindedly while wandering the house looking for a clue as to what happened to his wife.

An Alternate Scenario

Here's my simple explanation that covers the evidentiary bases without all the complex backs and forths that Lloyd Rayney would have to have completed to do the deed:

Corryn Rayney goes to her bootscooting class wearing no coat or a different coat to the one later found in her bedroom. She takes her purse and places it in the boot of the car for safety. Being inconsistent, as most people are, she fails to lock the car doors. It has been attested that she was in the habit of jogging alone at night and brushed off warnings, so she may have been careless about vehicle security with respect to her own person.

At this point I propose a hypothetical offender who is a stranger to Mrs Rayney. Earlier in the day he has scouted a house in the vicinity which is unoccupied. The usual occupiers are overseas or interstate or the house is vacant and for sale or scheduled to be demolished. He knows that women attend a class at the hall and that they often arrive and leave alone. He observes Corryn Rayney leave her car and enters the vehicle through an unlocked rear door. The security guards who are supposed to check the carpark haven't been around much lately so he hunches down on the rear floor of the car and waits. Mrs Rayney leaves the class and enters the vehicle, either forgetting the purse or meaning to retrive it from the boot when she arrives at the place where she means to use it. The offender waits until she is driving from the carpark to ambush her with a knife or some other means of coercion and forces her to drive to the unoccupied house.  He may climb from the rear to the front and knock the place-card from the console and onto the rear floor.

Alternately, the offender may have been lurking at an intersection controlled by traffic-lights waiting for a lone woman to stop and just stepped out and opened the front passenger door as Mrs Rayney stopped for a red light.

At the house he intends to sexually assault her. By the time they arrive and she has driven the car up the side driveway she has recovered her nerve enough to resist as he tries to undo her pants. The offender ahs put his weapon down in the belief that she will submit and has to put her into a headlock. He receives a nasty shock when she dies of heart failure from the stress. He decides to conceal her body by burying it in Kings Park and takes a shovel from the garden or a shed and places it in the car. He drags the body to the rear of the car, across paving similar to that at the Rayney home (and a great many other places). As he does this the friction draws Corryn Rayney's boots from her feet. The killer picks them up and puts them in the boot of the car. He either fails to notice the purse or doesn't care about it. He then discovers that he can't get the body into the boot and places it on the rear floor of the car. To do this he removes any coat she nay have been wearing, opens the right rear door and climbs in, dragging her by the armpits and clambering backwards across the seat. He pushes open the rear left door and completes the drawing-in of the body. He pushes her down onto the floor of the car face-up, catching the seed pods in her hair. He places the coat over the body to prevent someone driving past in a higher vehicle looking down and seeing it.

He drives to Kings Park, digs the grave, opens the left rear door of the car and drags the body from it by the arms. He pulls the seed pods and the card out with it. He drags the body to the grave and presses it down into the deep part, head-first. At this point he drops his handkerchief or it falls from Corryn Rayney's sleeve where she kept it to mop her brow during the dancing class. He fills in the grave, places a fallen tree branch and leaf litter over it. Now seeing the end of the tunnel, he starts to "choke". He forgets about the boots, which needed to go in the grave with the body. He leaps in the car with the shovel and reverses roughly in his eagerness to get clear. He runs over a bollard and wrecks the transmission. The car starts playing up badly, the automatic transmission not having enough fluid pressure to change gear and the engine over-revving. Any plan to take the car to a decoy location, such as the airport carpark, has to be abandoned. He ditches the car in Kershaw Street and dumps the shovel in a bulk bin, perhaps wrapped in Mrs Rayney's coat.

This is a perfectly plausible scenario, some form of which the defence should have presented in detail.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Post#199 Death Of An Astronaut - Farewell Sally Ride

Astronaut Sally Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck of the space shuttle Challenger during her historic space mission in 1983. Floating in front of her is a flight procedures notebook. (From MSNBC Site.)

Sally Ride has died and the event has made small news in Australia. I discovered the event by accident when perusing the outlying parts of the ABC News site. Ride was the third woman to travel in space, preceded by the now 75 year-old, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova and 63 year-old Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya. Ride made only two journeys in space, both aboard the shuttle Challenger which later exploded during launch in April, 1986.

Ride was only 61 and died after enduring pancreatic cancer for 17 months. Ride was a low-profile noteworthy who just got on with the job. She was a contributor during all of her adult life and it is a damned shame that she has gone. She had much more to give.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Post # 198 Man Bites Shark

Last Saturday morning, at 9am local time, Ben Linden, a 24-year-old surfer, was killed in a particularly horrific attack by a Great White shark to the north of the city of Perth in Western Australia. It's a news story I reported on BrooWaha, the online paper, simply as a story (Shark Bites Surfer in Half, 15 July

There are aspects to this tragedy that made me uneasy, specifically over the slightly hysterical reaction in the Australian media. However, with the death so fresh and the shock so apparent, I felt it best just to report the bare facts. I did, right until the end. It was only after I found out that surfers were still using the beach in question, despite a local ban, that I felt a brief observation was necessary;

Comment is superfluous in the face of such tragedy, though I think it only right to say that there are some risks simply not worth taking, or if people are prepared to take them the sharks themselves should not suffer the consequences of their foolhardiness. Jaws-style hysteria seems wholly out of place.

Sadly Jaws-style hysteria is what we are getting. Great Whites have been a protected species in Australian waters for more than a decade, after the International Union for Conservation of Nature identified them as vulnerable. Now, in the aftermath of Ben's death, there have been repeated calls for a cull. Norman Moore, the Western Australian Fisheries Minister, said that is now time to reassess the species population numbers and its protected status. "Regrettably", he said, "people are being taken by sharks in numbers which we have never seen before.”

Greater numbers, yes, they are, but what exactly are we talking about here? Precisely this: five people have been killed in Australian waters in the past ten months. I agree; it's not a statistic - its five individual tragedies. Still, the matter should not be taken out of proportion. We have to understand why sharks are taking a greater interest in human swimmers, clearly not part of their routine food population.

The answer is we have attracted them, with new and thoughtless forms of high adrenaline tourism. Cage diving with sharks is a popular pastime in both South Africa and Southern Australia. When you look into the abyss, Nietzsche wrote, the abyss looks back into you.

For sharks this baiting with bait has made them more familiar with a human presence, with humanity as a source of easy food. Great Whites feed mainly on seals. Even the rare human attacks have not often resulted in the total consumption of the victims, little comfort, in that a single bit from these powerful jaws is likely to be fatal. The bites, though, are clearly tests. In future they may become something more.

There were proposals to introduce cage diving into Western Australia. I understand that operators have now been told that they will not be allowed to go ahead for fear of attracting more sharks and more attacks. The link here has been a matter of controversy. Research by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation produced findings which are ambiguous at best. They concluded that baiting kept sharks in an area for longer, but did not prove a link between baiting and attacks on humans. Well, I can only go on a level of simple intuition here but I think it reasonable to assume that more sharks means more attacks. If human are there and sharks are there the rest will surely follow.

Sharks are ancient creatures. They were swimming the waters of this planet before humans appeared. How much longer, though, is now open to question. In all of last year twelve people across the entire planet died as a result of encounters with sharks. In the same year, as reported recently in Prospect magazine, a million sharks died in encounters with humans. The story surely has to be man bites shark, not shark bites man.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Post#197 It's A Tax, Not A Price! (Carbon Tax And Why Barry Cassidy Is Wrong About It.) )

"Labor will tax you, Liberal will encourage you". said the Liberal Party's campaign slogan from the 1980's. They didn't anticipate the new mode of taxing: calling it a price. I've been listening to the Labor Ministers chanting the word "price" as they try to sell the new impost. I think it's to help Julia argue that she didn't breach her promise to not introduce a carbon tax.

A price, dear Julia, is what you pay for something you choose to do or receive. Where statutory coercion is involved, it's a tax. Taxes are also known as levies, duties, excises, imposts, charges, fees. These terms all carry connotations of compulsion and properly admit to being what they are; the state taking away your property without your consent.

I've got all the carbon I need and I don't want to buy more at any "price".

I heard Barry Cassidy on Insiders on Sunday last offering a lame apologia for this rip-off and arguing that  popular animosity will subside. He used the GST as the analogous model for this. Barry, you're dead wrong. The only connection is what happened to the Australian Democrats because of it. The GST we have today is not the GST of 1985 (aka Consumption Tax aka Option C) proposed by Paul Keating. Nor is it the GST of John Hewson which was famously denounced at the 1993 election. It's not even the GST Howard and Costello took to the 1998 election. It's a hybridised, Coalition/Democrat GST. The Democrats moderated the impact of the GST and gave themselves a gold star and an elephant stamp for being such constructive negotiators. The only problem was that their constituents didn't vote for it. They didn't care about the moderation of it. They didn't want it in any way, shape or form. This betrayal of their constituency to kiss Coalition arse was the doom of the Democrats. It was the second step, after the defection of Cheryl Kernot to Labor, on the path to oblivion. In the subsequent elections, the Democrats disappeared from the Australian political map.

It's the lying that does it, Barry. We won't forget and we won't forgive.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Post#196 "Thanks, Far Quit!" - Why Do Fools Yell From Cars?

A tribute to Australian journalism. This delightful lady was doing a "stand up" by a roadside and was subjected to the unwanted honking of passing vehicles.

Okay, with a camera you may be asking for it. But why do so many fools now yell as they pass people on the roadside? The noises range from clear insults to incoherent roaring. Women receive particular attention with the perenially favourite, "Show us your..." and the concise "Slut!", "Bitch!" and worse.
I think it's a combination of the car being a portable "coward's castle" and the imitative principle. At some point it became prolific enough that it began to seem normal and acceptable to a certain type of person.
I often imagine beginning the reversal of the process: Some cretin does it to me and I step into the road. In his rearview he sees me raise the RPG launcher...or the fifty-calibre machine gun and point it after him. It's the last thing he ever sees. If only. Oh, yes, and it's almost always him.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Post#195 Whirlwinds of Climate Change? (Perth Tornado)

On Thursday, 7 June, a tornado struck in Marmion Street, Dianella, a few hundred metres from where I'm writing this. The appearance of tornadoes is not that unusual in the Perth coastal area but for them to appear 16 kilometres inland is a novelty. Here are a couple of videos to give an idea of the scale and effect.

Is this climate change? Damned if I know.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Post#194 Craig Thomson Is Guilty!...But He May Be Innocent (Union Corruption - Why The Coalition Loves It)

I previously stated that Craig Thomson is "guilty as sin". I speculated that his statement to the Parliament was a stalling tactic to allow a rat to be groomed to bolster the ALP's numbers in the House. If there is a rat I don't suppose they'll show themselves until they have to. As to the statement, it was the first time he's actually lied to the House In the course of doing so he has used parliamentary privilege to defame various people and made himself fair game for the privileges committee.

This may be the only thing of which he is ever convicted. When I wrote "guilty as sin" I meant that he had done the deeds of which he is accused. This is a matter of fact; I can't believe his increasingly shambolic denials any more than most other Australians can. The catch here is that his actions may not have been statutorily or tortiously unlawful.

The laws governing the administration of industrial organisations in Federal and State jurisdictions may not have been breached by the unethical use of funds for Thomson's own purposes. Even the famous "escort services" might turn into allowable travel expenses for entertainment. If Thomson's contract of employment essentially says, "Thou mayest squander the union's money as thou pleasest", and this did not contravene the union's rules or the law of the land, he's scot-free.

The laws in this matter have been patchy for a long time. The most important issue here (which the media won't notice as long as there's a sex-scandal in the field of view) is why the law controlling governance of unions now needs to be tightened. It's easy to see why the Labor Party, a beneficiary of union funding, isn't eager to tighten the purse-strings in unions, but what is the Coalition's motive? Malcolm Fraser, who was hardly a syndicalist, was in control of both chambers of the parliament from the final declaration of the 1975 double dissolution poll in early 1976 to June, 1981. John Howard, a renowned union-basher, took control of the Senate from 1 July, 2005 and could ram through all sorts of anti-labour laws until his defeat in November, 2007.

The Federal/State jurisdictional obstacles could have been legislated away as part of the revised laws; so what stopped them? I can only conclude that, if the idea ever occurred to them, some clever strategist would point out that reforming the labour movement would have the effect of making unions shiny clean and impeccably prudential...and thus more attractive to members. The Coalition certainly isn't interested in making unions more attractive to prospective members. Thus, despite the crocodile tears of Tony Abbott for the poor HSU folk, I expect he will show some reluctance and find quibbles to put against whatever the Labor party proposes to reform union governance. If ever elected to government, I expect he will show no enthusiasm for buffing the image of unions either. Having the officials squander the members' funds on self-indulgence is perfectly to his purpose. That is the withering away of the organised labour movement.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Post#193 Flight Centre Boobed (Workplace Bullying, Boob Apron)

Here is a story from the Herald-Sun of Melbourne, dated 14 May, 2012:

"A WHISTLEBLOWER who lost his career after standing up for a bullied co-worker at one of Australia's biggest travel agencies has filed Federal Court action.

Richard Barnes was a high-performing assistant manager at Flight Centre company Student Flights when he became concerned another employee was being severely bullied by store manager Kelly Gallasch.
The case centres on claims Ms Gallasch made an employee wear a boob apron (an apron with fake breasts) to a work awards night.

She allegedly told her "no wonder your husband left you" and told other workers the worker was "useless" and "stinks".

Mr Barnes made several complaints about Ms Gallasch's behaviour at the Frankston store but alleges Flight Centre failed to take action.

He is also claiming Ms Gallasch then targeted him as a result of his complaints about her.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers on Monday filed the action in the Federal Court in Melbourne on Mr Barnes' behalf.

The firm's employment law principal Josh Bornstein said the company's response was unacceptable.

"Our client blew the whistle on extreme bullying behaviour at Flight Centre and as a result, was victimised, demoted and ultimately lost his career with the company," he said.

"The fact that a company which has won awards for being an excellent employer has tried to sweep this under the rug, ignoring obscene and belittling bullying in its own ranks and then turning on those that try to expose it, reflects an unacceptable work attitude."

Flight Centre Limited (FCL) says it will "vigorously defend" the case.

"The company considers it acted appropriately and denies various allegations that have been made against it," it said in a statement.

FCL said it investigated and acted against several people when the complaint was received last year, including complaints made against Mr Barnes.

It said it takes such allegations seriously, has measures in place to prevent and discipline such behaviour, and has a whistleblower's facility staff can use to report alleged wrongdoing.

The case was lodged in January at Fair Work Australia but the parties were unable to reach resolution.

The latest action was filed under the Fair Work Act's adverse action provisions, which protect whistleblowers from victimisation and retribution.

Mr Bornstein said national workplace bullying laws are needed because no law directly addresses workplace bullying and makes it illegal."

This is one version of the story; others say the employee was "asked to wear the apron" and refused.

Here is a cut-and-paste of the staff details for the Frankston office of  Student Flights which are still on the Internet:

"Store Team Members

Kelly Gallasch - Manager

My passion in life is travel! I have been in the travel industry for 6 years and have loved every minute of it. I have backpacked through Europe, cruised down the Mexican Riviera, visited Mickey Mouse in the USA and ridden a camel past the pyramids in Egypt. I have been to Bali numerous times and ridden motorbikes throughout Vietnam. My last trip; I braved the 45 degree heat in India, experiencing a fascinating country with all its culture, amazing people and food!

Spoken Languages:


Richard Barnes - Assistant manager

I've had weird, wonderful & bizarre experiences on my travels-backpacking in Europe ,driving thru USA & travelling thru Sth America.I've climbed through an ice-cave in Austria, played bongo drums with a Colombian bongo band, taken a 4a.m. swim (wearing devil horns) during Rio's Carnival, been scuba diving in Fiji, to Red Square in Moscow & slept in a capsule in Tokyo.

Spoken Languages:


All good mates together. Just goes to show what lies (lies!) behind those cheerful public relations puff-pieces.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Post#192 Day Trip to Bangor - Fiddler's Dram

Here's something sweet and harmless to wash away the taste of all this recent politicking:

Didn't we have a lovely time
the day we went to Bangor
A beautiful day, we had lunch on the way
and all for under a pound you know
But on the way back I cuddled with Jack
and we opened a bottle of cider
Singing a few of our favourite songs
as the wheels went around

Do you recall the thrill of it all
as we walked along the sea front
Then on the sand we heard a brass band
that played the Diddlely-Bump-Ta-ra-ra-ra
Elsie and me had one cup of tea
then we took a Paddler boat out
Splashing away as we sat on the bay
and the wheels went 'round

Didn't we have a lovely time
the day we went to Bangor
A beautiful day, we had lunch on the way
and all for under a pound you know
But on the way back I cuddled with Jack
and we opened a bottle of cider
Singing a few of our favourite songs
as the wheels went around

Wasn't it nice, eating chocolate ice
as we strolled around the fun-fair
Then we ate eels in big ferris wheels
as we sailed around the ground but then
We had to be quick 'cause Elsie felt sick
and we had to find somewhere to take her
I said to her lad, what made her feel bad
was it the wheel going 'round

Didn't we have a lovely time
the day we went to Bangor
A beautiful day, we had lunch on the way
and all for under a pound you know
But on the way back I cuddled with Jack
and we opened a bottle of cider
Singing a few of our favourite songs
as the wheels went around

Elsie and me, we finished our tea
and said goodbye to the seaside
And on the bus, Flo said to us,
Oh isn't it a shame to go
Wouldn't it be grand to have cash on demand
and to live like this for always
Oh it makes me feel ill, when I think of the mill
and the wheels goin' 'round

Didn't we have a lovely time
the day we went to Bangor
A beautiful day, we had lunch on the way
and all for under a pound you know
But on the way back I cuddled with Jack
and we opened a bottle of cider
Singing a few of our favourite songs
as the wheels went around

La la la la ...

The lady singing is Cathy LeSpurl. When I first heard this I thought it was a rework of a music-hall song of the first decade of the 20th Century. Not so; it was composed by Debbie Cook in 1979.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Post#191 Craig Thomson - A Conspiratorial Speculation

When I heard that Craig Thomson was going to make a statement to the Commonwealth Parliament in response to the allegations against him I thought, "What can he possibly say? After all, he's guilty as sin, so he can't refute the allegations." Then I realised I wasn't being remotely cynical enough, so I tried a thought experiment:

Step One: Assume that the statement itself is insignificant.

Step Two: Note the timing. It is scheduled for Monday, 21st May 2012. A week is a long time in politics and ten days is a very long time. There was one sitting day left in which the independent members might have been persuaded to vote to suspend Thomson and deprive Labor of his vote. The week between now and the 21st is a non-sitting week.

Step Three: Find a(nother) rat in the Coalition ranks to stave off Labor's doom.

So there's my conspiracy for the week: Thomson's move is to stall the independents until the ALP has completed the grooming of the new rat.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Post#190 The (Script) Page Turns for Craig Thomson

Craig Thomson (from The Canberra Times)

Today, the Fairly Worthless of Australia have published their report on the three-year investigation of the Health Services Union. To the great amazement of none, the report contends that Craig Thomson used his position of trust in the HSU to bilk them of thousands of dollars to pay for his sexual indulgences and self-serving electoral campaigning.

Hitherto, Thomson has insisted that he is so innocent that no-one could ever make a finding against him and that every irrelevant comment by any public figure constitutes vindication for him. The epitome of this was his assertion that the inability of the Director of Public Prosecutions to use a rambling report from FWA as a brief for prosecution meant that he had been declared innocent.

The next trench line in his layered defences is to turn the page of the script called, "I Didn't Do It - It Wasn't Me!!" to the scene where the allegations "will be vigorously defended against".

I surely wish that I could skip to the part where the Full Bench of the High Court of Australia says, "The applicant's appeal is denied." Of course that will be many a weary year from now.

In the meantime there will be further scenes of a government using this wretch as the piton with which they cling to the cliff-face of power. I wish they'd show a departure from usual practice and accept that he's had it and grant a pair to the Coalition with respect to his vote. This, of course, should be in reciprocation of the Coalition granting a pair for him also...just in case he decides to say "thanks" to the comrades by voting no-confidence in them !

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Post#189 Is There Hope? How to Reform Australian Politics (Peter Slipper, Craig Thomson and Cincinnatus)

I've been very disgusted and downcast contemplating the contents of the sewer that has cracked open in Canberra in the past year. I'll put it bluntly: The Gillard government is being propped up by a grubby, shameless little thief and a heinously hypocritical, drunken, dirty old man. I think of the alternative offered by the Opposition and see no prospect of a torrent of integrity from that direction.

When did Australian politics start on this trend to the nether regions? Was it rotten from the outset? Can we look to the Rum Rebellion as the archetype of public affairs conduct in these islands? I don't think so. Then there was a man named Lachlan Macquarie. He isn't coming to rescue us now. No-one is coming to rescue us.

We're going to have to dig ourselves out of this, vote by vote. But where shall we find the candidates to vote for? What decent or intelligent person wants to leap into the mess that is contemporary political life? There's a simple truth in this: The quality of the candidates is led by the motives which can be attributed to them. Our parliaments have been colonised by a parasitical political class whose objective is to make a career of being an MP. Parliaments exist for many reasons. Providing sinecures is a purpose to which they are being put, not the one for which they were intended.

Here is the model we need to follow:

Portrayed in this statue in the American city named for him, is Cincinnatus, hero of Rome. He is shown in the act of returning the fasces, symbol of power, and returning to his plough.

So it should be with our parliaments. The electoral laws should permit only one full term of service in any parliament. By that I mean that a term as a State MP would be a disqualification from candidacy for the Commonwealth Parliament and vice versa. That's right: one term in one parliament and that's your lot for life.

The objectors to this proposal would make the predictable argument that Ministers would not have an opportunity to develop skills and that we would lose the services of the good ones after only one term. This would be a significant objection to anyone who wasn't acquainted with the quality of the Ministers we already have (and have suffered already).

A nation whose parliaments were comprised entirely of oncers would be an interesting place. To make it more interesting we can abolish ticket voting for the Senate and State legislative councils. This would increase informal voting but I believe that anyone who can't fill in the ballot paper isn't depriving us of much. I don't mean by this people with physical disabilities who require assistance in voting. Nor do I wish to disparage those whose faculties are failing through illness. I mean knuckleheads, pure and simple.

Also, by whatever means it takes, the people of Queensland should have restored to them a house of review so that they don't have to elect a dictatorship if they don't want to.

Now I have lit a candle and may return to cursing the darkness with an unafflicted conscience.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Post# 188 419 Hell - The Meeting in St Louis (Scammers, Scambaiters)

The best scam-bait of all, from 419 Hell:

Captain Jean-Luc Picard, for you barbarians who don't know, is the character played by Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Ferengi are a species of ruthlessly mercantile aliens.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Post#187 Still Scamming After All These Years (419 Scammer from Senegal)

At Post#137 I told of the email scammer who was filling my message box at with persistent and insolent invitations to be ripped off. I responded by wasting some of his time with a discourse from my alter ego, Bogus Maximus. He or others from the same crew (going by the style) are still at it. Spicypage appears now to be moribund and the most recent of the following messages was from last year. Read, enjoy, send them nasty messages, waste their time with false enquiries. Whatever you do, DON'T BELIEVE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING MESSAGES. The person sending them is male, for starters.

Hi dear,am miss favour I am attracted to your
profil. I am very romantic, caring, passionately and lovely. I have a bright future  and also very hard working. I believe that you are the man that I wiil share my dreams, and my future without disapointment. One thing I am promising you is that you will never regret of knowing or having  me in your i will like to know more about
you and to get along with you soon so write to me directly to my email here;
( also i will like you to send me your pictures when
you will reply me that i will send you my pictures  throug your email  address you will send to me thank you my dear lovely one.I will be hoping  to hear
from u soon .


Hello Dear,
Permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business relationship with you.
It is due to the political crisis in my country.
introducing myself, I am Bella Duncan Gavin, the Only Daughter of the late Duncan Gavin, my father was a gold and cocoa mercahnt based in accra, Ghana and Abidjan (Ivory Coast), he was poisoned to death by his business associates on one of their business trips recetly.
Before his death, He called me on his bedside and told me that he has a sum of $7.500,000USD deposited in one of the prime bank here in abidjan ivory coast, that he used my name for the next of kin in depositing of the fund.
Moreover, I am willing to offer you 15% o the total sum as compensation for your effort/input after the successful transfer of this fund to your nominated account overseas.
For more details.
Reply to my private e-mail box below: (  )
Awaiting your urgent reply.
Please reply to my e-mai:(  )
Bella Duncan.


Hello Dear,
Hope you are doing just fine over there.My name is Tina. I am here on this dating site to look for my soulmate and also real and true love Friendly, funloving, gentleminded, romantic, erotic natural  lady  seeking for someone special.I am hoping to meet an exciting enthusiastic male . I just want to let you know that after going through your profile l found you intresting, hope you don't mind. Hopefully you would reply - let's explore !! I want to hear from only genuine and sincere man like you, who wants the same as myself.

I need  a serious commited relationship. I am an honest person at all times and detest lies thats the truth quite compassionate and loving like kissing and cuddling. also would like someone to love me for
I appreciate with enthusiasm, sincerity and real needs for sharing intimate fun / friendship and wanting a great relationship. I also love submissive personality, which I like to Love and be submisive to. I have been put through the mail a bit but not given up on hopes of something special and a brighter tomorrow. If you are intrested in knowing more about me and for me to send you my picture then feel free to contact me at my private mail addresse( (

Have a lovely day and stay blessed.

I wish you best Compliment of the season
My name is sofia, a good looking girl.
Well, i am sorry that i did not say much about myself because our profile cannot say everything about us.
I have a special reason of contacting you so i would like you to respond to my email address ( there i can tell you everything about myself, and the reason i am contacting you and also send my pictures to you.


my name is Mary,to be honest with you after i carefully read your profile on this site i decided to develope a good relationship with you,please i will like you to contact me here ( i have a guest for you and then tell you more about me and my pics.


HI dear
i hope that all is well, as is my pleasure to contact you after viewing your profile in this beautiful
site which really interest me in having communication with you if you will have the desire with me,
here is my email box ( as i will be waiting to hear from yod soon also my picture will be in next mail
yours new friend

For the record, the profile which provoked all this intense adoration is nothing but a user name. Nowt else.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Post#186 Hot Pants and What They're Not Pants

In Post#185 I referred to "hot pants" and discovered that a belief exists among some folks that any women's shorts from the 1970's qualify for the title.

This sketch from the cover of Simplicity 9597 sewing pattern's packet shows the model for the true hot pants design. The full figure wearing the brown shorts with straps is the only one in hot pants. The others are just shorts.

Both the designs shown above are hot pants. The essential characteristic of hot pants is the presence of braces/suspenders, sometimes with a bib section. The inspiration for this female garment is...

Jawohl! Lederhosen! These German workmen's garments, originally made of heavy leather and designed to fit over other work clothes were meant to be robust protective clothing for doing work involving sharp objects, hot metal or abrasive surfaces. They were both in the familiar short-breech form and in a long-leg form called Bundhosen. In the late 1960's, early 1970's the lederhosen design was adapted to make a type of "active" women's costume. This was a response to the change in societal attitudes which was allowing women to wear leisure wear which was of simple design and exposed their legs and arms to a degree which had previously been proscribed. Patterns were also offered for designs called "playsuits" and "jumper suits" which were single-piece and usually had short leg and sleeve sections.

As with most notorious fashion trends, in practice hardly anyone wore them in real life. Models posed in them, patterns were published, performers wore them on stage and the vast majority of women never even considered wearing them. Here is a very scratchy and fragmented clip from the 1970's TV series "The Partridge Family" in which Shirley Jones shows off the real thing...and some hot pants. To the discerning male eye it looks like they're side-seamed (discovered from the rear view) and made from a light velour fabric. As Susan Dey points out, they "won't wear them in public - only to perform."

The contrived bemusement of the visitors reflects the attitude of the times that they were hot indeed. (The gist of the scene is that they wrongly believe Shirley is making a play for their teenage son and have come to have it out with her).

This photo below, I borrowed from The blog "Life is Dynamite".

This is a jumpsuit, not hotpants. The author comments: "The reason she had to pose on the back porch (I can't believe my dad left the mop in the photo) was because it was 1972 and we lived in Tripoli, Libya. She would have caused a riot if she had stepped out on the street in this little pink jumpsuit." (Well, they've had more to worry about since then...)

The contraption shown below is what is being passed off as "hot pants" today. This is a perfect image to demonstrate what hot pants weren't and aren't: Vulgar, overdone erotica. This is from Agent Provocateur. Well named. If a little more suaveness was evident, e.g. some fabric, it still wouldn't qualify. To be hot pants a garment must have integrated shoulder supports. Suspenders attached by clips, studs, buttons or any other non-permanent connection don't meet the test.

The essence of hot pants was 1970's sexuality; "naughty and nice". The reason for the plethora of micro shorts and simple boyleg shorts that appear if a Google Images search is done for hot pants is good ole GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out), the computer programmer's maxim which reminds us that electronic circuits only reflect the quality of what is put into them. Those photos have been labelled by people who just don't know what hot pants really were.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Post#185 I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper - Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip - 1970's Disco

Enough with the politics! Here's some much juicier gossip: Hot Gossip! Sarah Brightman and the crew perform their only hit song; but what a hit. What moves! Quel maquillage!! Quelles femmes!!! (French? I have no idea why. But why not? It's the extravagance of the 1970's. The eclecticism of crocheted hot pants and leg warmers. This is a strange video. I can laugh right through it, but I love it.  It sends thrills up my spine. It speaks to me of the hope of that time...that things really can change and life can be fun and...hand in hand we could conquer space.

Sarah Brightman - I lost my heart to a starship trooper

Speaker 1:
X-ray X-ray delta niner niner zero
This is Starfleet Control
You are clear to go hyper space
Speaker 2:
Affirmative, Star Comm
We have situation gold
Speaker 1:
Niner niner zero, roger
You're looking good for trans-light
Sarah singing:
I lost my heart to a starship trooper
I lost my heart to a starship trooper
Hey, Captain Strange, won't you be my lover
You're the best thing that I've ever discovered
Flash Gordon's left me, he's gone to the stars
An evil Darth Vader, he's been banished to Mars
Tell me, Captain Strange, do you feel my devotion
Or are you like a droid, devoid of emotion
Encounters one and two are not enough for me
What my body needs is close encounter three
I lost my heart to a starship trooper
Flashing lights in hyper space
Fighting for the Federation
Hand in hand we'll conquer space
Listen, Captain Strange, what's our destination
The scanners seem to indicate a small deviation
Static on the comm - it's Starfleet Command
Requesting your position, it's their final demand
You're intentions are known, they've found out at last
So if you're gonna take me, please make it fast
Touch me, feel me, do what you will
I want to feel that galactic thrill
I lost my heart to a starship trooper
Flashing lights in hyper space
Fighting for the Federation
Hand in hand we'll conquer space
Speaker 1:
Niner niner zero
This is Star Comm
We got a problem
On your vector
Request status check
Sarah singing:
Oh, baby...
Speaker 3:
This is Strategy Control
You have course deviation
At five mark six
Sarah singing:
I love you...
Speaker 1:
We show condition red
Sarah singing:
Love me...
Speaker 3:
What's going on out there
Sarah singing:
I lost my heart to a starship trooper
Flashing lights in hyper space
Fighting for the Federation
Hand in hand we'll conquer space
I lost my heart to a starship trooper
Space suit is lying on control room floor
Pulse rate increasing as the heat factor soars
Take me, make me feel the force
Ignore the computers, we're locked on course
I lost my heart to a starship trooper
Flashing lights in hyper space
Fighting for the Federation
Hand in hand we'll conquer space
I lost my heart to a starship trooper
Flashing lights in hyper space
Fighting for the Federation
Hand in hand we'll conquer space
Speaker 1, while Sarah sings
the previous lines repeatedly:
Niner niner zero
This is Star Comm
Be advised
You have serious vector deviation
I repeat: serious vector deviation
Niner niner zero
Do you copy
This is Starfleet Control
To all ships in sector five
Be advised
Niner niner zero
Is off course
All ships squawk  ident
Starship Arcadia
This is Starfleet Control
Squawk ident
I repeat: squawk ident
Nope, they're too busy with a very special docking manoeuvre, but I'm sure they'll squawk when it's finished.

Here's another spin on it; overlaying the song over Star Trek clips:

Hand in hand we'll conquer space.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Post#184 Lies, Damned Lies and Political Promises -Keating/Hawke is to Rudd/Gillard as...

In 1988, Paul Keating, then Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, went to see his good mate, Bob Hawke, then Pime Minister of the same venerable Commonwealth. Paul wanted to remind Bob of the deal they'd made bfore the 1983 election to transfer the leadership of the ALP and the Prime Ministership from Bob to Paul. Bob told Paul he must have imagined it all. Deal? Never heard of it. Paul and Bob had a full and frank. Plenty of the latter. It came down to a simple choice for Bob: make a deal for real or face an immediate challenge from Paul. Bob agreed to a witnessed meeting at which they would agree the terms of the arrangement.

The meeting took place at the Prime Minister's official residence in Sydney, Kirribilli House. The two seconds chosen by the contestants were: in the Keating corner, Bill Kelty, union official; in the Hawke corner, Sir Peter Abeles, prominent businessman. Those choices, alone, say quite a bit about the two men. Kelty and Abeles sipped coffee and chatted in a corner of the lounge while the two politicos thrashed it out. When the terms were agreed they witnessed the final form of what would become known as "The Kirribilli Conspiracy". Bob was to hand over to Paul in mid-1991. Of course, came June 1991 and ol' Bob found that, in the best interest of the Party and the People he couldn't keep the deal. At that point Paul did challenge, lost and went to the back bench. In the spirit of scrupulous honesty exemplified by Bob he said, "I had only one shot in the locker." He then started ruthlessly planning the next attack. In the week before Christmas he gave Bob the arse for a present, winning the second challenge by a few votes. Bob went to the back bench, promising to serve out his term to 1993 as a good constituency MP. A few months later he quit Parliament, blessing the ALP with  a by-election which was won by an independent.

This is a story which contains the template for leadership challenges. The recent vicious struggle between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard has been fashioned by Kevin on the same strategy (if it works why change it?). The second phase is now in play; the long stew on the back bench while garnering the votes to make the grade in six months. I listened to the concession speech which Kevin gave yesterday and recognised it for the fine of piece of work it was; lovingly crafted over many months and delivered with the best of Kevin's efforts in method acting. It opened with a display of masterfully confected adultness and reasonableness to show that he's not a bitter obsessive seeking revenge. Throwing himself into the part he covered the bases with glory: profusely praising the Foreign Affairs officials to show that he's not a bastard of a boss; thanking everyone in sight and out of it. This is to show that he's not a miserable ingrate. I gave up at that point. He may have gone on to thank the ants and earthworms in the grounds of Parliament House for their efforts but I turned off with the salutation, "You lying bastard."

Anyone who believes this is really over is off with the fairies. He's not going to just sit on the back bench and work for the reelection of the government. The only question is how long he will take to show his hand.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Post#183 Nazis, Burqas and Reason's Shirkers

I recently discovered that some teenage girls in Japan like to dress in facsimile SS uniforms. This is part of the same practice of costume play which sees others dressing as bobby-soxers, French maids or superheroes. The gist of it seems to be competing to come up with the cutest, most extravagant outfits within the chosen genre.

Anastasia has also recently written about the phoney furore over some people with political connections burlesqueing the Nazi gear at various events.

There seems to have been a lot of vexation about the symbolism of clothing lately. I've come to believe that this is a futile preoccupation and that the world would be better off if people could leave the overwrought arguments out of it. Particularly, they should refrain from demanding that governments do something about it. The French government has banned Muslim face-covering garments for being an affront to French cultural values and has thereby made an issue of a piece of cloth which, in itself, does no harm to society. The two objections seem to be that some women are coerced to wear them and that the idea of face-covering is an assault upon egalitarianism and social inclusiveness. It seemed to me more like muslim-bashing to buy votes and to show a gross lack of cultural memory and respect for individualism. Women who are genuinely oppressed aren't going to be allowed to take advantage of the relief that the law is supposed to provide. They'll simply be forced to wear clothing in violation of the law and suffer the penalties or will be confined to their homes and thereby deprived of a measure of liberty. Those who wish to dress in the prohibited costume are being imposed upon by the state from the other direction. And what is all this stuff about the alien culture of Islam and its weird costumiery? Don't any of these meddlers ever look into any picture-books showing antique European costume? There they will find robes and cloaks and hoods and masks worn by men and women. And the masks were not solely worn for entertainments; people at various times in various places did wear them for anonymity and in the eras when paleness of complexion was a sign of social status and female beauty (contrary to the modern fixation on tanning), aristocratic women wore them for cosmetic reasons.

The obsession with Nazi regalia also has a flaw of unselfconsciousness at its heart. No-one would make a major scandal of it if Prince Harry appeared at a party dressed as a Roman legionary or a Mongol or Hun warrior. All of these costumes are associated, indisputably, with robbery, rape, torture and mass murder. If Julius Caesar was to be available today, or Marcus Crassus (vanquisher of the Spartacist rebellion), both would be prime targets for the International Criminal Court. As for Genghis Khan or Attila...'nuff said, guv.
So why isn't there an outrage when people hire such get-ups for party-wear? Simply the caprice of human nature. The further the deeds of the past recede, the fewer can be bothered being passionate about them. This is the inevitable and necessary process of forgetting the fine detail. We couldn't remain aware of and enraged by every turn of history's pages and have time to live our own lives.

Exasperating and offensive as it is to see the emblems of evil made into toys and party-favours, we cannot prevent it and the centuries to come shall not be commanded to maintain our rage.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Post#182 Why Australia Must Get Out of Afghanistan Pronto

Victoria Cross for Australia from

Ben Roberts-Smith, recipient of the Victoria Cross for his work in Afghanistan, has been reported recently as saying that the troops in the Ghan are becoming irritated by their compatriots who are discouraged by the progress of the war and calling for withdrawal.

I'm reluctant to dispute any recipient of the VC but I can't share Ben's faith in the cause. Ben is very good at killing the Queen's enemies but he doesn't have a realistic historical appreciation of the situation. In particular, the reports of progress in the training of the Afghan National Army and the police are irritating me. Anyone who can remember Vietnam must find the booster stories about the great advances being made by our proteges utterly fatuous.

This is the same drivel that was cranked out by the Free World Forces command as the doomed process of "Vietnamisation" took place. That was the programme whereby the indigenous lovers of democracy were mentored into being able to hold their own against the communist enemy. The phrases are being borrowed by the wagon-load for the Afghan scenario: "The province is secured"; "The enemy are demoralised";  "The quality of the local forces is greatly improved"; etcetera.

In Vietnam, although the commies gave the foreign forces of the USA, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand a few severe canings they never triumphed on the battlefield. It's only predictable; where the opposing forces on the ground are not the main forces of a superpower such as the USSR or the People's Republic of China, they can't hope to win major land battles and are restricted to guerilla operations and probing attacks. Of course, once the forces propping up the South Vietnamese government were removed the house of cards fell within two years. Likewise, in Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are hardly up to beating what is essentially the main force of NATO and ANZUS combined. There is no reason to believe that the Taliban will lose heart between now and the projected US withdrawal in 2014. The question is whether the Afghan forces can hold or defeat them. Once the foreign cat goes away, the Taliban meeces will play.

I suspect that most of the Afghan forces under foreign tuition are signing up to receive regular meals, clothing, boots and shelter. The little that I've seen of them indicates a great degree of slovenliness and timidity that makes a mockery of the propaganda stories. This is very similar to the experience of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (aka The Men Who Persevered). They were on site from 1964 to 1973 and were still trying to inculcate the basics when they were withdrawn. The capacity of the majority of the trainees to absorb and apply was pitiful. A major reason for this is the unwillingness of foreign trainers to apply the sort of disciplinary pressure that is needed to make the training stick. In Afghanistan, where the recruits are making an increasing habit of shooting the trainers, there is good reason to be cautious.

The problem with the analysis by Ben Roberts-Smith is that he and his colleagues are looking at the quantitative progress under foreign guidance. The qualitative durability is another matter. It's not a question of how many schools are built or how many villages receive electricity; these are not military achievements. Even the killing of footsoldiers doesn't win the war if there is a relentless supply of fanatics to replace them.

To clarify with a metaphor. Consider a sandcastle built below the tide-line on a beach. It matters not whether it's a child's effort made with a few upturned buckets of sand,

or the product of a professional sand artist.

When the tide comes in, the sandcastle washes away.
Infrastructure in Afghanistan is like that. Improving it will simply provide more targets for the enemy when they resurge. We can't civilise Afghanistan and we can't guarantee that Al Qaeda will not return to the place, any more than we can guarantee to eliminate terrorist operations anywhere else on earth.

I now believe that the place isn't worth the wastage of any more life or limb. No amount of effort can make the impossible possible and  there comes a time to walk away from a futile task.

In particular, I am repulsed by the injuries being suffered by our soldiers. Defence Department press releases don't contain words like maimed, blinded, deafened, brain-damaged, paralysed, amputated, horribly burned and so forth. If they did, people wouldn't react with relief at hearing that someone has "only" been wounded. I don't think that it's an accident that they don't specify detail. It wouldn't help recruiting; particularly when people come to know how shabbily the Australian Government treats wounded veterans.

Ben may not like to hear that he and his comrades are on a fool's errand, but that's the truth. Any decent citizen won't want to see it proven by repeating history.