04 September 2010

Vigilantes and the rule of law

Having caught up with invoicing and dome a question for the LexisNexis National Constitutional Law Moot (inc immortalising, if that's the word, a colleague's favourite hen) I've finished Christoph Rehmann-Sutter & Hansjakob Mueller [ed], Disclosure Dilemmas: Ethics of Genetic Prognosis after the ‘Right to Know/Not to Know’ Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2009) and am reading Martin Dimitrov's Piracy and the State: The Politics of Intellectual Property Rights in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2009), which considers state capacity in discussing the enforcement of intellectual property rights in the People's Republic.

The Summary Crime blog meanwhile offers a perceptive post on vigilantism and recent Victorian judicial decisions, such as Sumner v The Queen [2010] VSCA 221.

Martin Krygier offers a 53 page paper on 'Four Puzzles about the Rule of Law: Why, what, where? And who cares?' (University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series 2010. Working Paper 22, June 2010) [PDF].

Krygier comments that -
Rule of law is today an international hurrah term, on the lips of every development agency, offered as a support for economic growth, democracy, human rights, and much else. RoL promotion is booming. Lots of people and organizations are contracted to work on it, lots of money is spent on it, lots of academics study it. To a partisan of the rule of law, and I am one, that should be good news, and in a way it is. But only in a way. For it is hard to boast of much success in actually fostering it, let alone understanding what the 'it' is. Nor, given the proliferation of people wanting a slice of it, is it as clear as it once may have seemed, what it might be good for. Some still doubt whether it is good for much at all.

Over some 30 years, I have struggled to reach some clarity about the rule of law and why, as I believe, it matters so. This paper gives some account of the reasons for the quest, some of the dragons that needed to be slain along the way, the glittering but elusive prize, and why, after so long a trek, there still appear to be long tunnels at the end of the light.

Central among the many unclarities that attend the rule of law are those named in the title of this paper. I move through this array of puzzles, in the order in which they appear there. One could rearrange the order, and many do, but I suggest that is unwise. I conclude by reflecting on the extent to which where we stand in relation to the rule of law often depends on where we sit. The concept has today become so protean, partly because people can have so many reasons for being interested in it. That can lead to confusion, but it also can reflect real differences in perspective. I distinguish between two such perspectives that matter over a broad range. One is that appropriate to efforts to establish the rule of law where it has not been much in evidence. The attempt, always difficult and often fruitless, is to generate it. The other occurs where the rule of law is already in place and more or less well established. People seek to analyze it, and may well want to defend it or criticize or improve it. However they have it and can draw on it, though they might well want more or better of it. Before we say what the rule of law is, what it depends on, and what it’s worth, it helps to clarify who is asking, and in what circumstances.

03 September 2010

a call to arms

A call to arms by Anthony Grafton & Jeffrey Hamburger in the NYRB - 'Save The Warburg Library!'

academic vetting

Curtin University is reported as introducing police checks on all staff after an adverse 137 page report by the WA Corruption & Crime Commission [PDF] regarding allegations against former Curtin academic Nasrul Ali.

Dr Ali has been accused of pressuring vulnerable female students in what WA Today dubs the 'Sex For Marks Scandal'. Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Jeanette Hacket is reported as stating that Dr Ali did not undergo any screening or police checks when he was first employed on a casual basis in 2004 but that the process had been altered so that every employee would be subject to rigorous checks.

Ali's employment was terminated after two students made complaints to the university in late April 2009. He subsequently gained an academic position at Murdoch University. WA Today reports that -
Professor Hacket said she didn't know if Curtin provided a reference to Murdoch University for Dr Ali but that she was unable to notify them of his misconduct until this morning.

"I was only permitted to indicate to the other university at 10.30am today because once the Commission commenced the investigation there was a non-disclosure notice applied, so I was not permitted to advise others," Professor Hacket said. ...

Murdoch University's senior deputy vice-chancellor Gary Martin said: "The university has just become aware of the situation. The member of staff concerned is currently on leave while we consider the outcomes of the Commission's investigation."
Aside from interest in the operation of the Corruption & Crime Commission, the WA counterpart of NSW's ICAC, the investigation offers a perspective on university vetting of long-term and sessional academics. It is likely that Australian universities will adopt the Curtin model and undertake police checks of permanent staff. Checking of sessional academics may be more difficult, given that some institutions acquire the services of sessional lecturers and tutors at the last moment. (US vetting of students is highlighted here.)

It should be noted that although the report features five claims of serious misconduct against Dr Ali those claims were not proven in court. The Commission will reportedly not pursue further action, as none of the complainants were prepared to be involved in a criminal prosecution.

02 September 2010

PADI whacked

The National Library of Australia has announced the demise of its very useful online PADI (Preserving Access to Digital Information) subject gateway and associated listserve.

The two services, which have gained an international readership, were launched in 1997 "as a service to the digital preservation community and ... in order to collocate selected information on digital preservation. The PADI gateway currently includes links to around 3,000 resources over 60 topics.

The NLA statement indicates that -
As is to be expected with any portal to Web based documents maintenance of web links becomes progressively more demanding over time. Websites are redesigned, migrated to new platforms, URL's are changed, projects and their websites cease, so called persistent identifiers are not, and even when web documents or pages are archived in a web archive, questions arise as to which version of an archived page to link to (which date or even which archive as copies may be held in multiple web archives with different levels of completeness). The current structure of PADI requires the Library to commit around 0.5 of a fulltime staff member to locate, describe and enter links to new information sources and to maintain links to existing resources. Although originally conceived as a cooperative contribution model, increasingly the burden of adding material to PADI has fallen to the NLA as input from elsewhere has almost ceased.
That statement reflects the reality that although 'information wants to be free', its collection, assessment and presentation often involves costs that are not eliminated by uttering the magic word 'wiki' or '2.0', much to the amazement of digital fundamentalists and pundits who emoted about the Engage: Getting On With Government 2.0 report (aka 'Getting It Off With Blogs, Wikis and Buzzwords').

The NLA statement continues ...
The information-seeking and information-providing mechanisms of a community also change over time. After reviewing the gateway service the Library has concluded that the existing website, database and list no longer meet the current needs and that the Library's resources are best invested elsewhere. While there may be more efficient ways of building a service like PADI today, using Web 2.0 tools, the Library is unable to make the investment in converting the existing service.

Reluctantly - because we still find PADI useful ourselves - we believe we cannot sustain PADI, and have decided to cease maintaining it.
The NLA has traditionally shown an ability to play hard ball in seeking funds or justifying its spending, and 0.5 of a person is presumably less than the organisation's spending on refurbishment of its executive suites. Having said that, given the useful of spreading information about digital preservation I can't help wondering whether the Government's enthusiasm for online openness and innovation - the 'e-government revolution' and so forth - questioned in past posts of this blog should be substantiated through funding for that 0.5 of a body ... even 0.75 of a body. Assisting preservation of a digital present for a digital future is a worthy way to invest government funds, irrespective of who occupies The Lodge in six months time.

In the interim the NLA has indicated that -
A copy of the website has been archived in PANDORA, Australia's Web Archive. The existing live website will remain available until the end of 2010; however no new resources have been added since the start of July 2010 and the existing links will not be actively managed. The archives of the padiforum-l list will continue to be available, however no new postings will be accepted from 30 September 2010.

01 September 2010

an economics of cultural policy

Have read - quickly, between marking - David Throsby's The Economics of Cultural Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Andrew Pettegree's The Book in the Renaissance (Yale University Press, 2010).

Pettegree is engaging, although lacking the bite of the great Elizabeth Eisenstein's The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. It offers a perceptive introduction to publishing, distribution, authorship and reading.

Throsby's book offers a tour of copyright and other cultural economics, for me somewhat less engaging than Richard Caves or Tyler Cowan but a good introduction for non-specialists with a legal rather than economics background.

Red noses and clean hands

he Northern Territory Government has announced a $6 million plan to roll out a Territory-wide "banned drinker register" by July next year. The plan is envisages that all problem drinkers will be identified on an online database linked to all takeaway liquor outlets.

The ban is part of a five-point plan aimed at reducing the estimated $642 million per year cost of alcohol-related harm in the Territory, with new laws giving courts the power to ban repeat problem drinkers from consuming or purchasing alcohol for up to 12 months. The current Alcohol Court will be replaced by a new Substance Misuse Assessment & Referral for Treatment (SMART) Court to deal with people charged with a criminal offence where alcohol or drug abuse is involved.

Identification of 'problem drinkers' will reportedly involve scanning of identification documents every time anyone wants to buy any alcohol in the Territory, with people on the 'banned' register being unable to complete the purchase.

Alcohol Policy Minister Delia Lawrie indicates that inconvenience is a small price to pay to reduce the number of people taken into protective custody for problem drinking.

New legislation will also allow police to ban violent problem drinkers for 48 hours from the Darwin and Palmerston CBDs and the waterfront precinct.

'The Politics of Surveillance: Big Brother on Prozac' by Stuart Waiton in 8(1) Surveillance & Society (2010) [PDF] meanwhile -
explores the rise of CCTV in society during the last two decades. It concentrates on state sponsored surveillance schemes in an attempt to answer the question of why it is that CCTV surveillance emerged at this particular point in history. At one level, advancing technology can allow a ‘surveillance society’ to emerge, yet the extent to which CCTV cameras have spread into city centres and residential areas suggests something more profound has changed in ‘public’ life. The exponential rise in the surveillance of society is often understood to reflect the rise of authoritarianism, perhaps particularly in the UK. Whether from a Weberian, a Foucauldian, or even – and perhaps in particular – a neo-Marxist perspective, this development is often understood as an enforcement of power, resulting from an ideological consensus built around 'rampant' neo-liberalism; public life is, in part, understood to be undermined by private interests, the power of capital, or techniques of governance associated to one degree or another with neo-liberalism. In this paper, the neo-liberal framework for understanding the rise of surveillance is questioned. Building upon arguments by Baudrillard, Lasch, Bauman and Furedi it is argued that, rather than an aggressive and purposeful moral or neo-liberal authoritarianism lying behind the rise of surveillance cameras the opposite is in fact the case. The diminution of 'public' space both reflects and represents the decline of political purpose and meaning within society and especially within the political elite.
Overall I was more impressed by Irus Braverman's 'Governing with Clean Hands: Automated Public Toilets and Sanitary Surveillance' [PDF] in the same issue.

Braverman comments that
To anyone familiar with the story of urban decay in major American cities in the 1980s – and with the subsequent abolition of toilets from city streets – the introduction of automated public toilets (APTs) to urban spaces sounds like very good news. This article explores the re-democratizing message that commonly accompanies the introduction of APTs to North American city streets as well as their on-the-ground manifestations. It focuses on two major components of APTs: privatization and automation. The process of privatization, which characterizes most APT operations in North America, carries with it various exclusionary effects that stand in stark contrast to the democratic aspirations of public space. Additionally, the APTs normally feature automated devices, and, most prominently, the auto-flush and the automated faucet and dryer. On the face of things, these devices eradicate the injustices that sometimes accompany human discretion. However, they also conceal the necessarily social and value-ridden human decision making that goes into their design. The article proposes that both the privatization and the automation of public toilets are part of a broader and increasingly expansive sanitary regime, one that imposes a morality in practice on its users. The latter are left with relatively limited options as to how to use the space of the washroom and at times join the nonhuman devices themselves in “kicking-back” at their programmers. By comparing automated toilets with attendant-based ones, the article suggests that the project of sanitary surveillance exemplifies the fluidity between traditional and new forms of surveillance.

31 August 2010


Video of Michael Kirby on Gough Whitlam's Human Rights Legacy -
Much has been written and discussed about the reformist attitudes of the Whitlam government. Delivering the 2010 Whitlam Lecture at the University of Western Sydney, former high court judge Michael Kirby examined Whitlam's prodigious legal engagement, especially in the area of international human rights. Between 5 December 1972 and 11 November 1975, Whitlam's government ratified in excess of 130 more international treaties, statutes and conventions, more than any other since Federation.
There is much to be said for that Prime Minister and, of course, for the excellent M Kirby.

30 August 2010


The Australian Bureau of Statistics paper An analysis of repeat imprisonment trends in Australia using prisoner census data from 1994 to 2007, Aug 2010 [PDF] suggests that reincarceration in Australia is strongly associated with being young, being Indigenous, or having been previously imprisoned (that is, being a prisoner who had already served time in prison). The rate of reincarceration in all jurisdictions except Queensland in recent years was higher than in the mid-1990s. The paper builds on ABS research such as that noted here last year.

The 64 page paper by Jessica Zhang & Andrew Webster comments that -
Reducing the number of prisoners who are repeatedly imprisoned is one of the goals of any correctional system. However, while a period of imprisonment may deter some people from re-offending, in others it may foster further criminal behaviour. This paper presents the results of a study based on a longitudinal dataset constructed from 14 successive Prisoner Censuses between 1994 and 2007 to follow, over time, two cohorts of people who were 'released' from prison (where 'release' is a proxy measure derived from the absence of a prisoner's record in a subsequent Prisoner Census). This paper expands on an earlier study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics by using logistic regression models to examine the factors associated with repeat imprisonment and assess whether or not the propensity for reimprisonment has increased over time. This paper also examines trends in criminal career development using descriptive methods, looking at patterns of specialisation, and of movements from one type of offence to another.
The authors explain that -
Since 1994 the Australian Bureau of Statistics has collected data, including the National Prisoner Census, from administrative data sources maintained by corrective services agencies in each state and territory. The annual National Prisoner Census provides a snapshot of the prisoner population at 30 June each year. The Census data provides information on certain demographic and sentencing characteristics of the prisoners including age, sex, Indigenous status, most serious offence, and an indicator of prior imprisonment episodes.

To follow the prisoners over time, a longitudinal dataset on the prisoner population was constructed by linking the annual datasets. The longitudinal dataset constitutes a series of snapshots rather than a complete picture of prisoner inflows and outflows over time, however analysis of the dataset provides unique insights into
reimprisonment trends.

Because the Prisoner Census does not collect information on the release of prisoners, this paper uses people’s disappearance from the Prisoner Census between successive years as a proxy for their release from prison, and their reappearance in the census as a proxy for their reimprisonment. In this paper, the term 'release' is therefore used to refer to 'disappearance' from the Prisoner Census. The two limitations associated with this indirect measurement of release from prison are:
1) that there is no precise date for release available; and
2) that imprisonment episodes of less than one year would be missed if they did not span 30 June.
Despite the limitations, the 14 year longitudinal dataset (1994–2007) is a valuable source of information for exploring the characteristics of prisoners with multiple imprisonment episodes, especially those imprisoned for a year or more.

This study uses the longitudinal Prisoner Census dataset to investigate two broad topics:
= Factors associated with reimprisonment and whether the rate of reimprisonment has changed over time, and
= Trends in the criminal career paths of prisoners with multiple prison episodes.
These topics are explored by primarily studying the cohort of 28,600 prisoners who were ‘released’ during the period July 1994 to June 1997. This release cohort were followed from their release until June 2007, a span of at least ten years. To investigate whether the rate of reimprisonment has changed over time, the reimprisonment rate for the 1994–1997 release cohort three years after release is compared with a second release cohort of 26,700 people released from prison in 2001–2004.
Findings by Zhang & Webster include the observations that -
= nearly 60% of prisoners released during the period July 1994 to June 1997 had not been reimprisoned by 30 June 2007.

= Rates of reimprisonment and specialisation (a high rate of reimprisonment for the
same offence) differed considerably by original offence type

= There was a high degree of specialisation in illicit drug offences, sexual assault and road traffic offences. However, prisoners who were originally imprisoned for committing offence types other than illicit drug offences, sexual assault and road traffic offences did not tend to move into these offence types.

= There was also a high level of specialisation in acts causing injury, robbery, burglary and theft. A high proportion of prisoners also moved into these offence types for their second and subsequent prison episodes. Therefore, irrespective of their original offence, many repeat prisoners were reimprisoned for committing these offences.

= Many offenders were reimprisoned for offences against justice (eg breaking parole) at some stage. This may be attributed to breaches of justice orders.

Back to the future, yet again

The bien pensants at LINK have pointed to proposals for a Direct-Technocratic Party of Australia (DTPA), likely to be an initiative by over-indulged and under-socialised geeks with an inflated sense of their own expertise and a disregard for those who don't code (or a disregard for those who simply aren't reduced to paroxysms of outrage when receiving a tweet about internet filtering).

Some hyperbole on my part of course ... the DTPA people are presumably just self-involved and unaware of issues regarding past expressions of 'technocracy', highlighted in for example Technocracy and the American dream: the technocrat movement, 1900-1941 (Berkeley: University of California Press 1977) by William Akin, Technological utopianism in American culture (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press 2005) by Howard Segal, Power in the highest degree: professionals and the rise of a new mandarin order (New York: Oxford University Press 1990) by Charles Derber, William Schwartz & Yale Magrass and The technocrats: prophets of automation (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press 1967) by Henry Elsner.

The DTPA call to action - of course on a wiki - welcomes readers to
the temporary home of the Direct-Technocratic Party of Australia. We need five hundred genuinely interested voting-age Australian residents in order to register the party.

The party's name alludes to the combination of two forms of governance: direct-democracy and the technocracy.

Technocracy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technocracy)
Technocracy is a hypothetical form of government in which engineers, scientists, health professionals and other technical experts are in control of decision making in their respective fields. The term technocracy derives from the Greek words tekhne meaning skill and kratos meaning power, as in government, or rule. Thus the term technocracy denotes a system of government where those who have knowledge, expertise or skills compose the governing body. In a technocracy decision makers would be selected based upon how highly knowledgeable they are, rather than how much political capital they hold.

Direct Democracy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_democracy)
Direct democracy, classically termed pure democracy, is a form of democracy and a theory of civics in which sovereignty is lodged in the assembly of all citizens who choose to participate. Depending on the particular system, this assembly might pass executive motions, make laws, elect or dismiss officials, and conduct trials. Direct democracy stands in contrast to representative democracy, where sovereignty is exercised by a subset of the people, usually on the basis of election.

Put very simply, the DTPA would be a political party that features policy determined by a weighted direct democratic system. You vote on the issues you are the most knowledgeable about or which you have some stake in. As an example, consider the proposal of an internet filter. The issue would be reviewed and decided by service providers, network administrators, engineers, computer scientists and anyone that feels strongly enough about the problem to vote on it.
The call is, alas, pseudonymous, so readers are not in a position to assess its authority. It could be from a 16 year old (setting up a virtual state that encompasses your bedroom is so so yesterday), one of the crustier executives in an Australian domain name registrar or someone in a university IT faculty.

We might be wary about a system of governance that expressly privileges people merely on the basis of passion - "anyone that feels strongly enough about the problem to vote on it".

29 August 2010

nimby policing

A contact has kindly pointed to official explanations that a NSW Police employee's alleged leaking of files to associates of the Comanchero 'bikie gang' (ie an entity potentially proscribed under the state's controversial outline motorycle legislation) was a "very rare" case and did not jeopardise crucial police work. The Comancheros have allegedly obtained the contents of more than a dozen NSW Police files affecting up to eight investigations and - in the finest tradition of Casablanca's Captain Renault - the police force is exclaiming that it is shocked and staggered by that exceptional incident.

NSW Police deputy commissioner of specialist operations Nick Kaldas thus reportedly commented that it is rare to have an informant among police ranks -
"We need to keep this in context. There are 20,000-plus employees in NSW Police. This a very rare occurrence and the vast majority of police in NSW are ethical."

"[The leaks weren't] crucial to a particular operation or any individuals.
A history of unauthorised - or quasi-authorised - disclosure of information to criminals, journalists and politicians by police in NSW, Victoria and Queensland suggests that misbehaviour is somewhat more common than substantiated incidents of reincarnation or messages from the dead. The Victorian government has for example expressed concern about inappropriate access to sensitive police files in that state.

In 2008 for example the ABC reported that -
the Victorian police force is again rejecting calls for a Royal Commission into corruption, despite a leak of confidential information which now threatens investigations into drug trafficking around the country.

The information was allegedly leaked from the State Surveillance Unit which is involved in investigating organised crime and terrorism threats.

Victoria Police has confirmed that the information did reach crime bosses and included data from national bodies like the Federal Police.

In Melbourne, Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: When Victoria Police arrested a suspect in the murder of a police informant last year, they were shocked to discover in he had top secret surveillance information in his possession.

It had apparently been produced by the force's State Surveillance Unit, a covert group that's instrumental in investigating top-level crime threats. Soon after, the force discovered several copies of the profile circulating in the criminal underworld.

A second leaked profile was then located in the hands of a suspect in the Solomon Islands.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Simon Overland has confirmed that lives could have been put at risk by the leaking of the documents.

And there were two other significant risks.

SIMON OVERLAND: One is that they're aware that they're being surveilled, and as I said, in this case there's also inappropriate material that's found its way into those documents, and so there has been some further release of information that ought not to be contained in the document.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Deputy Commissioner Overland confirmed that the leaked documents contained information not only about suspects, but also about the way the police work and information about other law enforcement agencies.

Simon Overland says he can't say for sure that investigations haven't been compromised.*
One response to comments by NSW Police spokespersons might thus be that the vast majority of police in NSW are indeed - or are presumed to be - ethical but that their virtue does not eliminate concerns regarding misbehaviour. A more cynical response might be along the lines of how do we know? Policing necesserily involves some respect for a 'black box' approach but that respect should not be abused.

Deputy Commissioner Kaldas reportedly indicated that the NSW Police are not going to revamp their systems.
"I can't accept that it was handled badly, or that the systems are flawed in any way," he said.

"In fact, out of this case I don't see any need to revamp our systems."
To adopt a phrase from Mandy Rice-Davies, "he would say that, wouldn't he".

* One upshot of problems in 2005 and 2008 is the 56 page Information security and the Victoria Police State Surveillance Unit report [PDF] by the Victorian Office of Police Integrity earlier this year.

why no garbage collectors?

Friday's NY Times features an indulgent piece on authority figures with very nice degrees who believe in reincarnation and are presumably doing quite nicely in expressing that belief.
IN one of his past lives, Dr. Paul DeBell believes, he was a caveman. The gray-haired Cornell-trained psychiatrist has a gentle, serious manner, and his appearance, together with the generic shrink décor of his office — leather couch, granite-topped coffee table — makes this pronouncement seem particularly jarring.

In that earlier incarnation, "I was going along, going along, going along, and I got eaten," said Dr. DeBell, who has a private practice on the Upper East Side where he specializes in hypnotizing those hoping to retrieve memories of past lives. Dr. DeBell likes to reflect on how previous lives can alter one's sense of self. He, for example, is more than a psychiatrist in 21st-century Manhattan; he believes he is an eternal soul who also inhabited the body of a Tibetan monk and a conscientious German who refused to betray his Jewish neighbors in the Holocaust.

Belief in reincarnation, he said, "allows you to experience history as yours. It gives you a different sense of what it means to be human."
It's a nice echo of the Akashic Field gurus questioned in this blog over the past year, whose patients - in 'recovering' memories from 'past lives', on occasion with the help of LSD - typically report that they were Marie Antoinette or Cleopatra or a photogenic victim of oppression rather than someone particularly nasty or merely particularly humdrum. Strange how people don't seem to remember being paedophiles, accountants, actuaries ... (Only a hoary sceptic - true believers are, sigh, pointed to the health warning here - would wonder whether the oh-so-scientific memories of pharaonic excess, glittering guillotines and crinolines are attributable to a recollection of B grade movie rather the quantum holotropic memory in which the 'oneness of the universe' allows communication across time and space with snakes, cows, carrots, coffee cups and cleopatras ... and, according to Ervin Lazlo of World Futures in one of his funnier videos, extraterrestrials!)

Paul Bostock, another believer, reportedly
says that in the early 1880s he managed a large estate — possibly Chatsworth — in Derbyshire, England.

In a twist that would make Jane Austen blush, he thinks he was in love with the soul of his current wife, Jo-Anne, then embodied as a cook in the estate's kitchen. Married to someone else, Mr. Bostock could not act on his feelings.

He says he and his wife share the kind "of attraction and recognition that a soul makes when it encounters the familiar.” In that spirit, the couple traveled last month to Rhinebeck, N.Y., where they and more than 200 others paid $355 each to attend a weekend seminar run by one of America's pre-eminent proselytizers on the subject of reincarnation, Dr. Brian Weiss.
Oh dear.

I'm more struck by the incredulous comments on the Times site in response to the article -
I think that I was a gazzilion-aire in my previous life! A recent check of my bank account seems to indicate otherwise! No, wait! I think I was a porn star in my previous life? My gal, Suzy, seems to disagree....not sure why she disagrees? In this life I am a premier athlete. Just ask my worn out remote and the dent in my couch cushion that looks suspiciously like my flat butt! Okay, that was fun, but I must admit that I sometimes wonder how I can dream about something and then have something similar to my dream occur in everyday life ?
I remain perplexed by Western approaches to reincarnation, and how past lives often appear to be educed by an adherence to a perpetual (and presumably eternal) form of narcissism. Isn't it convenient that Dr. DeBell was not only a Tibetan monk, but also a conscientious German during WW2? Or that Julia Roberts was a "peasant revolutionary"? And finally how Catherine, the patient, was an Italian merchant and a freed slave who healed and ministered the needy?

Why weren't any of these people slave owners? German SS army members? Non-revolutionary peasants who worked and toiled the land? Or like my recently deceased Italian grandfather, an immigrant who worked as a garbage collector?
This article should be the inspiration for a really funny movie. The fact that these people take themselves so seriously and that they get any credence at all for their nutty beliefs is a comic goldmine. But in fact I only believe that because I was a frustrated joke writer in a previous life.
Or, most succinctly,
There's no business like show business.

Let's call the whole thing off

You say either and I say either,
You say neither and I say neither
Either, either Neither, neither
Let's call the whole thing off.

You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto,
Let's call the whole thing off
A review by Joshua Dorman of Slavoj Žižek's Living in the End Times claims that Žižek’s new book -
is sure to be an immediate success among the Žižekian types. It is classic Žižek: profound philosophical erudition, cerebral cultural analysis, and sardonic and (often) salacious humor. In Living in the End Times, Žižek argues that the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. For the first time, we have a serious philosophical analysis of the Sitz im Leben of the current global capitalistic system, its coming demise, and an analysis of (what Žižek calls) its "four riders of the apocalypse" — the ecological crisis, the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property; forthcoming struggles over raw materials, food and water), and the explosive growth of social divisions – in light of Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

There is no denying that Žižek is the sexy philosopher in contemporary philosophy. He provides stunning socio-cultural analysis, while using movies, television shows, etc., to illustrate his deeply complex philosophical analyses. As someone who leans heavily on the philosophical and theological traditions, I must say that I am drawn toward (nearly) anyone who can work in the fields of Hegel, Marx, and Lacan, while also drawing from the wells of Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, John Howard Yoder, Rowan Williams, et al.
I'm underwhelmed by contemporary chiliasm and the sort of nonsense peddled by World Futures guru Ervin Laszlo (his Mayan Calendar 2012 endism is highlighted here and here) or the diarrhetic Mr Žižek. We can indeed deny Žižek's sexiness and question his "stunning socio-cultural analysis" or "deeply complex philosophical analyses", which - like writing from Laszlo and his followers - are often full of non sequiturs and utter absurdities that impress people with a taste for the portentious but underwhelm readers who have actually looked at the works being cited.

You say 'potato' and I - when it comes to nonsense such as claims that reincarnation, precognition and communication with the dead via valve radios are hard science - say 'barking dingbat'.