News from September 2001



Ballot '01: With the CHOGM postponed, we'll almost certainly have an early federal election. It's going to be messy, with the "war" on terrorism, the collapse and possible resurrection of Ansett, and asylum seekers all as hot issues here. The polls give the conservatives a huge lead. Let's see how this short election campaign plays out. Interesting comment and analysis, as ever, will be found on the SMH webdiary.


The thought for today comes from Nuel Belnap (specifically, from his syllabus for PHIL1500).

“Everyone should join a study group. The great ideal provided by the Vienna Circle should live: Although a lonely genius can be a marvelous sloppy thinker, rigorous thinking is done best in public.”


You wonder how a satirical magazine like The Onion might respond to the Current Situation. Wisely, they took a week's hiatus. Even more wisely, they responded with satire like this. You get theological insight in the strangest of places.



I am a person of such little faith! Upon reading in the Newspaper's joke page yesterday of the National Public Toilet Map, I doubted their veracity! I had no idea of the detailed glories to be found. Indeed, hard at work on the National Continence Strategy, our Federal Government have produced an internet resource to rival all others. Australia's very own, glorious National Public Toilet Map. When you have to go, when you're on the move, this is the one bookmark you'll be glad you've kept.


Stanley Hauerwas has some provocative theological comments on the hijackings and attacks on September 11. It is part of a series of comments from academics, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. It provokes this question for myself: what distinctive contribution might a philosopher make to public discussion at this time?

Also today, the first of a series of photographs taken on a most enjoyable harbour cruise, last Saturday, with Christine and Zack and friends from Japan. It was a glorious spring day, and the photos serve as a reminder of the splendour of Sydney and its harbour.



More experiments with my playlist. 29 of the 740 tracks on my computer at work feature love in the title. 2 hours, 17 minutes and 29 seconds worth, 156.8 Megabytes of very different sentiments.

All is full of Love
All ye whom love or fortune hath betray'd
Be My Love
Can't Help Falling In Love
Caravan Of Love
Come again, sweet love
Do You Feel Loved?
I Can't help Falling In Love
I Love Them All
I Loves You Porgy
I'm Through With Love
Like Someone In Love
Lost, Without Love
Love at First Sight
Love Is a Dead Language
Love Is Blindness
Love Is The Law
Love Loves You Too
Love Shack
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
Power of Love
Reincarnation of a Lovebird
Take Me Back to Love Canal
Tell me true love
The Rub of Love
What Is This Thing Called Love
When I Fall In Love
When Phoebus first did Daphne love	
Why Do I Love You? (live)
Somewhat surprising to me is the fact that the pop brigade are completely outclassed here by the 16th/17th Century lutenist John Dowland, with 4 entries in the list, and the jazz piano of Keith Jarrett who rockets to the top of the charts with 5 of the 29.


Another point on yesterday's topic of electronic publishing. The fact that I can access Allen Hatcher's textbook on algebraic topology online makes it the first place I search for an intro to the field. The freaky thing is this: he's convinced hid publisher, Cambridge University Press to let him continue to freely distribute the electronic version, after they publish the hardcopy. That's a coup.


At Nature a debate on electronic access of research results. Electronic publishing and scholarly discourse can interact and influence one another in any number of ways. I hope that however things shake out in the next decades, there's more widespread access to scholarly material (especially in the non-Western world, where access is limited by scarce resources) and we form the tools and techniques (both technological and social) for healthy discussion and communication. It's hard to see how a lock-down on the "industry" by a small number of publishers aids these goals.

An interesting piece of information on this point: Free online availability substantially increases a paper's impact. That's why you can access my stuff here.


From midnight our time here in Sydney, the net seems to have come under rather a serious worm attack. From 28 seconds after midnight, this site got a request of the form

GET /scripts/root.exe?/c+dir HTTP/1.0
(which looks to me like a request designed to try to exploit some weakness in some Windows webserver) from another machine on the Macquarie network. Then a few more requests from the same server, obviously trying to do something tricky. From then on, I'm hit with at least five attacks per hour, mostly from other servers on the same local network, but also from other places. No wonder the net has ground to a halt.

An email from Phil Agre gives a pointer to an article about it, but I can't access that site at the moment. Oh well. It's just as well I've got classes to teach, instead of research on the 'net to do today.


Here is some very interesting analysis of the current crisis from Margo Kingston posted on her webdiary (which is a very important piece of journalistic experiment, by the way, which could be helped a little by some elementary web design expertise thrown at it to help readers see who wrote what, but I digress...). This analysis is from an Australian in Germany, who understands well both the feeling of dread we westerners get from the events just passed, and what we might do about it. Go, read.



On Sunday afternoon, I went to one of my church's art workshops. The theme for that day, contrast. My charcoal technique is terrible (maybe that's understandable, because the last time I used charcoal was over 20 years ago) but the exercise was theraputic. This picture? Bang!


If you were the President of the United States, attempting to build a broad coalition of support for your mission to bring terrorists to justice, and attempting to explain how it is terrorists you're after, and not people of any particular faith, you wouldn't call your proposed course of action a "crusade", would you? You'd know that it bears those terrible historical resonances of centuries of wars to rid Jerusalem of the so-called infidels. You'd never think of using a word like that.

You wouldn't? He did.



"Help me" and "Thank you". They are two very important prayers.



Today, a reminder that the ground is not stable below us.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.





I will know that I am a really good teacher when I can explain to the author of this paper how Cantor's diagonal argument works.

Alas, I don't think that my rhetorical or educational skills are up to the task. Yet.



More interesting items on the Tampa crisis, from yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald Web Diary. I'll quote a few juicy tidbits. First, some important insight from Margo Kingston, the proprietor of the web diary:

Outsourcing refugee processing, that's what this is. The refugees lose the protection of our laws. As I write, there's no answers on who will process, and under what laws on Nauru. Nauru is not a signatory to the United Nations convention on refugees. I think Howard is leaving the way open for our warships to intercept the boats outside our territory, and pick them up provided they go to Nauru. This is Howard's fuck-you to the lawyers and the Courts who have insisted that refugees are people too, with the same human and legal rights as the rest of us.
It's one of those interesting tensions between our government and the court system. The ruckus over native title is not unique. Similarly, reacting to criticism of the perceived bias in the Sydney Morning Herald's reporting of the issue (a person wrote that the typical "left-leaning elite", such as Tim Costello, is wheeled out to criticise the decision)
Our readership is strongly against the Tampa actions, by more than two two to one, judging by letters to the editor. The left "elite" died a long time ago. It's now in a small minority, as the events of last week showed. I assume you're not suggesting minority opinion shouldn't get a run? You'll notice that despite our reader's opinions, our editorial line has been positive to Howard's actions on the Tampa. I would have thought the Herald is maintaining good diversity of views on this. What I can't understand is that even when the masses are winning hands down, they and their supporters still cry foul when people who've lost hands-down insist on a say. A sign of the darkness to come?
I hadn't noticed that, but checking, yes it's the case. The Herald's own editorial position is in favour of the government line. So much for the claim that the paper is the mouthpiece of the left-leaning "elite."

A final point, from an Australian living in Denmark:

One last point. I have heard the refugees being described many things, such as "criminals" and "fakes" ... one of the central tenants of our justice system is the concept of innocent until proven guilty, and I feel that these people deserve the benefit of the doubt, at least until their bonafides can be checked out.
Indeed. Is that too much to ask? Apparently, in contemporary Australia, it is.


Concerning the Tampa crisis, which is gripping this country and the region: some people just don't get the sense of outrage that some of us feel about the treatment of the asylum seekers, stranded on the Norweigan freighter off the coast of Christmas Island.

The issue is not about whether or not these people would be recognised as "genuine" refugees by the UNHCR or our immigration authorities. The issue is straightforward. We are treating these people inhumanely whether or not they are "genuine" refugees. Our country is acting in a way which is undoubtedly racist. Had this been an illegally loaded boat of New Zealanders, and had we known that 60% of them would overstay their visas in staying in Australia, we would at least let them land in Christmas Island and process their applications with care. The fact that these people are from elsewhere seems sadly relevant in the national psyche. (The comments about Muslims and violence and dissolving the moral fabric of our country which were repeated on talkback radio are just sickening.) If people come to our doorstep in some kind of need, we ought to be generous with our resources. There is no need to run an "open door" policy on immigration, but we at least ought to process applications for refugee status quickly, politely, and humanely. Is that too much to ask?

It also seems relevant that the Australian coastal authorities led the Tampa to troubled boat of asylum seekers and directed them to help. If I were the captain of that vessel, I'd be feeling more than slightly let down by Australia. As an Australian citizen, I feel more than slightly embarrased by my country: how can we think that it is acceptable to palm off a significant proportion of the processing work to Nauru.

Two more salient facts are worth considering in this discussion.

First: The world seems to be constructed in such a way as to allow the free flow of money, but not of people. Why is that? Is money more important than people? Why is it called "international commerce" when it comes to capital, but "people smuggling" when people employ other people to get them from one place they don't want to be to another place they'd prefer to be?

Second: Did the First Fleet which came to invade or colonise this continent in 1788 follow the required immigration checks with the prior population of this land? If not, why not?


Found in this weekend's magazine in the Herald, a quote from Michel Houellebecq's book Atomised

Children once existed solely to inherit a man's genes, his moral code and his name. This was taken for granted among the aristocracy, but merchants, craftsmen and peasants also bought into the idea, it became the norm at every level of society. That's all gone now... there's nothing for my son to inherit. I have no craft to teach him. I haven't a clue what he might do when he's older. By the time he grows up, the rules I lived by will be meaningless--the world will be completely different. If a man accepts this... then his life is reduced to nothing more than the sum of his own experience--past and future generations mean nothing to him. That's how we live now. For a man to bring a child into the world now is meaningless.
Found, courtesy of Google, a thoughtful essay entitled Politics for Babies, by Laurie and Michael Taylor. Michael Taylor, the director of the UK based IPPR, which is a centre-left think-tank.

This is another example of how one thing leads to another.

[P.S. The US edition is called The Elementary Particles.]



I’m Greg Restall, and this is my personal website. I am the Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, and the Director of the Arché Philosophical Research Centre for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology I like thinking about – and helping other people think about – logic and philosophy and the many different ways they can inform each other.


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