27 February 2010

Shake, shake your archival booties

In November last year I noted plans by the National Archives of Australia (NAA) to close its regional offices in Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin (plans seen by some as part of a broader strategy to consolidate all NAA holdings in Canberra and Sydney or to flick responsibilities to the NAA's state/territory peers (most of which look underfed and unloved in an era where government archives are perceived as readily disposable desideratum).

The NAA Director-General's announcement that the three offices would be closed was seen by some as contrary to past statements by the Prime Minister when the NAA's Brisbane office was under threat. It attracted little attention, arguably attributable to unsuccessful marketing by the archival profession (never as effective as the library lobby) and by the NAA.

It does not seem to have resulted in a damning report by the NAA Advisory Council (an autonomous body that might be considered as guardians of the archival part of the national estate and that has found time to commission and launch an official history of itself).

The Director-General has now announced a sort of decaf closure, perhaps the sort of closure you have when you don't want too much embarrassment and when the stakeholders can be fobbed off with indications of benefits now, costs on the never never.

He indicated that -
Tuesday was an eventful day for the National Archives. As well as the planned Shake Your Family Tree Day in all our offices, there was welcome news from our Minister Senator Ludwig's office that the National Archives would maintain face-to-face services in Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart.
Cue trumpets, dancing sheep and loud huzzahs!

In a nice example of publicservicespeak the Director-General states that -
Immediately following the announcement in early November 2009, I began meeting with our Consultative Forums and concerned local organisations to explain what was happening and to develop a collaborative approach to the ongoing delivery of the National Archives' services. I have only praise for their understanding and assistance. That assistance will be required even more now that we have the Minister's announcement about the way forward.
And the way forward? The NAA will 'share' - or at least hopes that it will share - with its state/territory peers.
One of the solutions looked at was the co-location model already in place in Melbourne with Public Record Office Victoria. Senator Ludwig acknowledged the successful working of this approach in his media release on Tuesday. I am pleased that this approach is the focus of his announcement. As some of you will know I was involved in the introduction of the 'Victorian model' when I was at the Public Record Office.

Over the past few months I have also received correspondence from people concerned about the closures. I would like to thank those of you who took the time to contact me and to suggest possible alternative solutions. I look forward to continue working with you as we develop a new co-location approach to providing National Archives’ services in Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart.
The implication seems to be that the NAA will save some money on leases relating to its 'own' premises in Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory (the extent of that saving is unclear, given uncertainty about whether the organisation has to remediate the vacated premises or indeed whether responsibility for those premises will be shouldered by its new partners). The cost of shipping records - remember, we are talking kilometres of paper files, film, photographs and other media - to the east coast is presumably avoided (although there may be costs if records are transferred from a former NAA facility to a state/territory facility). The NAA will presumably need to provide some funding to the state/territory archives (the SA Attorney-General, after all, needs every dollar he can get in the ongoing war against OMGs and gamers, thus being unlikely to embrace a further cost in storing Commonwealth records for free).

26 February 2010


Tony Abbott mortifies his flesh with a cilice. I do bad things to my head by reading postmodern texts such as Peter Hulm's 'Baudrillard's Bastards: 'Pataphysics After the Orgy - Some Lessons for Journalists' [PDF], which appears in III Semiophagy (2010), "a non-profit journal, composed and published entirely by volunteers".

Semiophagy (perhaps Coprophagy was so so yesterday) is
an interdisciplinary forum for scholars, artists, and activists to engage in semiotics, broadly construed. More than abstractly saying what signs are generally, Semiophagy pushes the concept of the sign toward questions of praxis. Instead of asking 'what' a sign is, it questions 'how' we discover and interpret signs in the first place.

Semiophagy aims to trace the being of signs from their phenomenological emergence to their existential significance, asserting that insofar as all signs must be interpreted, the search for every sign’s meaning is a creative urge expressed as art. This includes but is not restricted to philosophical and critical inquiries, visual works, pataphysical experiments, manifestos, comics, spoof ads and articles, dada, ethical treatises, as well as the history and myth of semiotics itself.
The same site promotes The Tupperware Blitzkrieg, elsewhere commended as -
Simultaneously his most accessible and his most extreme book, Anthony Metivier's The Tupperware Blitzkrieg is a powerful concoction of sexual excess, self-deification and terminal violence. In this hallucinatory novel, plastic surgery, psychoanalysis and the pornography of American politics provide the hellish tableau in which Doctor Umbilico, founder of 'People for the Advancement of Lying' turned PCP swilling nightmare priest of the surgical ward, executes biomorphical atrocities culminating in the capture and radical transformation of an eerily Bush-like apocalyptic president. Multiple characters tell the story of this twisted visionary as he careens forward with his own maniacal pitch for world domination. As The Tupperware Blitzkrieg hurtles toward its unforgettable conclusion, Metivier depicts the most sordid aspects of contemporary commercial life in a complex, obsessive, often poetic and disquieting chronicle of aesthetic anomie, erotic entropy and the 'slurrealistic" threat of cosmetic inefficiency. No reader of Metivier's most inflammatory work to date will emerge unscathed.
Hulm more modestly announces that
From his earliest writings Jean Baudrillard has been a media provocateur of such Nietzschean brilliance that it has blinded many theorists to the depth and originality of his critique of the news business and television in the DisInformation Age.

In addition to smarting at his accurate and aphoristic barbs about current affairs production, mainstream media feels even stronger resentment at his dismissal of the industry’s claims to be a major force in shaping public consciousness. For Baudrillard, scientific jargon, Wall Street, disaster movies and pornography have deeper impact on our imaginations than the news industry. Television and written media, he wrote in 1970, have become narcotic and tranquilizing for consumers in their daily servings of scary news and celebrity fantasies. Only 9/11, he later declared with his usual withering acerbity, has been able to break through the nonevent barrier erected by media to the world.
In a Baudrillardian pomoland presumably terms such as 'smarting', 'resentment' and 'accurate' presumably don't need to mean what one might think they mean or indeed mean anything at all.

24 February 2010

Seemed like a good idea at the time

From today's transcript of an interview with national Education Minister Julia Gillard -
FRAN KELLY: Let's move on to a couple of other issues quickly. It's 11 minutes to 8 on Radio National Breakfast.

Julia Gillard, in your education portfolio too in terms of schools, a report today in the Sydney Morning Herald says that you have a plan to assign every school child an identity number so that parents and teachers will be able to track their progress throughout their school life. Now the SMH says that you say concerned parties will have access to that number. Who would they be, concerned parties, and what limits would there be?

JULIA GILLARD: Fran, of course there would be proper privacy protections and as a public policy question, I’m not interested in individual child’s results. But what I am interested in is if we look now at this year of national testing, this will be the first year that we are re-testing students how have participated in earlier national tests so to make that more simple, we test grades 3, 5, 7 and 9. We first tested in 2008 so this is the first year that say a child in grade 3 is retested again.

Now that gives us the ability to measure what’s happened in that child’s learning between grade 3 and grade 5 – how well has the school done in extending that child over two years of learning.

Now, Fran, kids move school, they move school between the state system and Catholic system, they move interstate, they move suburbs, they might live in the same suburb but still change schools, so if we have a way of tracking then we can obviously have better measures of how schools are going in developing student performance.

And then for individual parents and teachers, it obviously would be of assistance to be able to track the records of a child’s schooling if they need to move school several times during schooling and many children do, children of defence force families for example routinely move at least once every two years and sometimes more frequently, so being able to seamlessly track how that child has gone throughout education when they get to a new school is vitally important.
Sadly reminiscent of the fumbles with the Australia Card Lite under the Howard Government ... an interesting and potentially valuable mechanism vitiated by weak recognition of community concerns (or the ability of opponents to beat up concerns) and problematical assurances such as "of course there would be proper privacy protections".

Do we need to tag every child in order to assess the effectiveness of teaching at the school level? Just because we can tag does not mean that tagging is the best or only mechanism.

23 February 2010

Companion Animals

Findlaw features a short item by Sherry Colb on a civil suit in Vermont, where the state Supreme Court is considering the question whether plaintiffs may recover damages for emotional distress and loss of companionship from a defendant who killed the plaintiffs' dog.

The plaintiffs claim that reimbursement for the dog's adoption fee, veterinary bill, and the cost of cremation would fail to take adequate account of what the loss of their companion animal has meant to their lives. They are making a claim for emotional distress.

Colb comments that -
In some ways, the civil damages remedy that the Scheeles are requesting for their suffering as a result of Shadow's death resembles the relief available to parents in Vermont (and elsewhere) when someone kills their child – a damages award that includes the emotional distress and grief that follows from a wrongful death.

One might ask what greater evidence there could be that the law values a nonhuman animal than a requirement that a defendant pay a plaintiff substantial money damages for the loss of the animal's company? Indeed, as some critics of the "loss of companionship" claim have pointed out, grandparents in Vermont are unable to recover emotional distress damages for the loss of their grandchild. Could it be, then, that Vermont law might value dogs more than it does grandchildren?

One might characterize Vermont law in this way, but only if one were to ignore virtually everything about how human beings treat nonhuman animals – including dogs – and focus exclusively on the potential award of damages for the loss of companionship.
She goes on to note that "some proponents of animal welfare argue that such an award would represent progress for the status of non-human animals, perhaps leading some day to a world in which nonhuman animals have rights", albeit attenuated rights.


A friend has kindly sent me a short article about the head of "fearsome Baltic pirate" Klaus Störtebeker (leader of the Vitalienbrüder), decapitated in Hamburg in 1401 and among other achievements noted for walking, headless, 12 metres along that city's shoreline -
He had struck a deal with the elders of the port: any of his 70 men that he managed to pass in his post-decapitation walk should be spared. The quivering corpse passed 11 fellow pirates before the executioner put out a foot and tripped him up.
Störtebeker (aka Nikolaus Storzenbecher) had reputedly offered to pay for his freedom with "a chain of gold long enough to enclose the whole town of Hamburg", and then asked the authorities to release as many of his 73 companions as he could walk past after being beheaded.

His alleged skull, stolen from a Hamburg museum last month, has reportedly "become a trophy in the turf wars between rival biker gangs" for control of "northern Germany's lucrative drugs trade". Police have been unpersuaded by the skepticism of the museum's head of archaeology - why let facts get in the way of a headline - with claims that -
"The piratical skull and crossbones is certainly part of the insignia of aggressive motorcycle gangs," a police investigator said. "Störtebeker is a hero for some of these people."
My interest was piqued by the report that -
The Hamburg Senate failed to keep its promise to Störtebeker and the 11 men were not spared. After chopping off the heads of all of Störtebeker's pirates the executioner was asked if he was not a little tired. He replied that he had enough energy to execute the Senate elders as well. This was probably intended as a joke - but the Senate ordered the executioner to be beheaded.

21 February 2010

Bank of Potemkin goes belly-up?

The Economist reports this week on litigation in New York over the collapse of the Bahrain-based but Saudi-controlled International Bank Corporation [TIBC], which collapsed in 2002. It refers to an investigation of TIBC by Ernst & Young, submitted to the Central Bank of Bahrain last July. The report makes for surreal reading.
According to Ernst & Young's findings, TIBC was a bank whose chairman and executive directors never appeared at board meetings (although the minutes carried their signatures anyway) and whose staff never interacted with its supposed borrowers. It made loans, rolled them over and increased them, to people who deny ever taking them, the report says.
Fans of financial black humour and governance weirdness will apparently find more, much more -
Ernst & Young found that the desktop computer of Glenn Stewart, TIBC's boss until the default, could be accessed from afar, using "pcAnywhere" software. Mr Stewart was supposed to log in and authorise the bank’s electronic payments. But according to Ernst & Young, these authorisations were made by remote control from outside Bahrain.

The alleged impostures were not confined to the digital realm. The bank's former chairman, Sulaiman al-Gosaibi, was purported to have signed its annual report on February 12th 2009, even though he was in an intensive-care unit in Zurich at the time. The investigators mention a report by Audrey Giles, a forensic scientist, who examined documents given to her by AHAB. She identified at least 200 forged signatures, The Economist has learned. In many cases the signature was photocopied or printed, then traced over with a felt-tip pen.
The Economist goes on to report that -
The investigators found little evidence that any of the Saudi borrowers in TIBC's $2.2 billion loan-book were genuine. The bank's staff never interacted with them directly. Letters of reference from the borrowers' banks "could have been forged", the investigators write (although they could not say for sure). They note that Deloitte, which AHAB had appointed as a consultant, made "drive-by" visits to the borrowers' addresses, discovering that "the premises were not occupied by the borrowers or used for trade purposes".
A population of phantoms might be consistent with claims - as yet, just claims, rather than proven to a US court's satisfaction - that a former TIBC director "siphoned" money out of the group by various means and "misappropriated" a mere US$9.2bn.
If Ernst & Young's suspicions are correct, TIBC appears to have been a Potemkin bank. Its executive directors paid it no heed, and the borrowers on its books never asked for loans and did not receive them. The victims of this alleged fraud, the Gosaibi family, seemed blithely confident that the financial arm of their business empire would run smoothly without their intervention or oversight.
The US litigation reference is Mashreqbank PSC vs. Ahmed Hamad Al Gosaibi & Brothers Company (Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York) index number 601650/2009.

The E&Y report is an 88pp exhibit [number 10] as part of a 374pp filing on 5 February 2010. It was originally a 29 July 2009 report for the Central Bank of Bahrain on an investigation into TIBC.

As with this blog post it is not a judicial finding of guilt, innocence or negligence. Anyone interested in the dispute and in broader questions of finance sector regulation, banking practice, corporate governance in emerging economies where guanxi is important should conduct their own research before drawing any conclusions.

Overall the report is fascinating reading, and worth the pain of digging around among the e-filed documents on the NYSC site.

Freudlose Gasse

This blog recently featured comments on anti-Hoon statutes in Western Australia and elsewhere, aimed at increasing the safety of life on the streets and as a byproduct reinforcing the authority of the thin blue line.

The Victorian Police has today announced "10,000 hoons taken off the road" in that state over the past three and a half years.
At a rate of almost eight per day, police have confiscated vehicles for 48 hours from drivers who choose to exceed the speed by over 45km/h, engage in dangerous driving practices or street race against other motorists. ...

Deputy Commissioner Ken Lay (Road Policing) said ... "The fact that we have impounded 10,000 of these hoons shows that some people have just not got the message. Speed and dangerous driver behaviour kills, and it is time for everyone, not just some, to wake up and realise that".
The media release is a nice example of marketing by a justice agency -
Police recorded a triple-impoundment in November 2008 when three 18-year-old P-Plate drivers from Craigieburn had their cars removed after residents, fed up with the trio’s burnouts and doughnuts, dialled the hoon hotline.

The residents watched and applauded as the Holden Commodore Ute, Ford Falcon Sedan and Holden Commodore Sedan were towed away.
It is also of interest for basic statistics. Male drivers represent about 96% of the penalised Victorian hoons. Female hoons increased one percent in the past year, from an undisclosed base. The average age of hoon drivers remains at 24. The majority of impounds take place over the weekend. A 29 year-old Mooroopna man had his motorcycle impounded in January last year after he exceeded the speed limit by 150 kmh. Presumably just dashing out at 200 or 230 kmh to buy a carton of milk.