Monthly Archives: January 2011

Bring back the inquisition

An article I wrote for Farrago in 1981!

What if there existed a group of people who, for a sufficient amount of money, would use their persuasive skills to argue for any cause their employer wished? And what if these paid persuaders could influence the administration of justice, and the outcome of judicial inquiries, be there a fine, a jail term or a death sentence at stake? What would you call such people? Amoral, putting money before justice? Intellectual prostitutes?

In fact, they are called lawyers. Continue reading

Let’s help the US government learn

Although an ad hominem anti-Wikileaks stance is to be expected of an intelligence insider like Paul Monk (“Hardly the Pentagon Papers of our era”, The Australian, 4/1), I would ask him why, if the leaks showed the “nuance and scruple…not authoritarian conspiracy” of the U.S. government, are they employing black ops to hunt Assange down?

Obviously Monk disagrees with Assange’s political objectives, but begs the question by concluding from this that the leaks were morally irresponsible. His aim was not “to help the US government learn” – as if they were naive children who didn’t know what they were doing was wrong – but to shine a light into dark corners.

The idea that the leaks should provide “finished analysis laying out the judgments of senior officials” shows a profound misunderstanding of both the principles of transparency and the new media.

This piece is typical of how conservatives are struggling to respond cogently to Wikileaks: their old authoritarian wing would cheerfully slaughter Assange and commandeer the internet itself if it could, while the newer libertarian Right is drawn to the idea of total government transparency and finds the U.S.’s machinations distasteful, but fears agreeing with the Left!

Earth mother’s invisible hand

Tim Flannery’s mystical notion that the Earth is a self-regulating organism indeed has no place in scientific discussion of climate change (‘Earth mother has no answer’, The Australian, 4/1), and as you call for scientists to “ask the eccentrics and extremists to shut up”, I trust you will be applying the same policy to the equally-unscientific deniers and “invisible hand” market-worshippers among your own columnists.

Left, right, smart, dumb

Margaret Pritchard (The Australian, Last Post, 31/12) would have it that a British brain study has shown “greater development in the conservatives and a certain thickness in the leftists”. What she omits is that the leftists’ “thickness” is a measure of a part of the brain concerned with complex rational cognitive function, and the conservative “development” is in a part associated with primitive emotional reactions – obviously rendering them unable to correctly interpret scientific studies. Like those on, say, climate.