30 October 2010

It's in the stars

Was going to take an early mark, today, and read Ronald Desiatnik's Without Prejudice Privilege in Australia (LexisNexis Butterworths 2010) but have been pointed to Stanislav Grof's 'Holotropic Research and Archetypal Astrology' in 1(1) Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology (2009) 50-66.

In my opinion it is a zany piece, of interest because it raises questions about Grof's authority, an authority invoked by some exponents of 'quantum holism' - the belief system that is arguably more accurately characterised as quantum mysticism and that encompasses phenonema such as remote healing, precognition, reincarnation, dowsing and other matters that are not endorsed by Australian law, irrespective of any valorisation in "wisdom traditions".

Elsewhere in this blog I have been snarky about Grof's statements regarding reincarnation: if you feed LSD to a cancer patient that individual's statements regarding a past life as Marie Antoinette or Cleopatra might be construed as a confused recollection of a bad movie rather than hard proof of reincarnation or what the sublimely weird World Futures guru Ervin Laszlo describes as those who are "no longer living in the familiar form in this world but are alive nonetheless". Gotta wonder about the credibility of people who use 'quantum' to describe ghosts and who claim that you can receive messages from said ghosts via a valve radio.

In 'Holotropic Research and Archetypal Astrology' Grof reveals that -
after years of frustrating effort I finally found a tool that made such predictions possible, it was more controversial than psychedelics themselves. It was astrology, a discipline that, even after years of studying transpersonal phenomena, I myself tended to dismiss as a ridiculous pseudoscience. I came to realize, however, that astrology could be an invaluable tool in the work with both psychedelics and with other forms of non-ordinary (or "holotropic") states of consciousness such as those induced by powerful experiential techniques of psychotherapy (primal therapy, rebirthing, and holotropic breathwork) or occurring spontaneously during psychospiritual crises.
Grof claims that his work -
has shown that astrology, particularly the study of planetary transits, can predict and illuminate both the archetypal content of non-ordinary states of consciousness and the timing of when particular states are most likely to occur.
After the standard sniff about 'Western science' and 'materialism', a materialism incapable of discerning deeper truths, Grof laments that -
the emphasis that astrology puts on the moment of birth does not make any sense in academic psychology and psychiatry, which generally do not see biological birth as a psychologically relevant event. Academic and clinical psychiatrists typically use a very narrow conceptual framework limited to postnatal biography and the Freudian individual unconscious. They do not usually recognize the perinatal level of the unconscious pertaining to the deep-seated memory of the birth trauma and its powerful influence on the adult personality and biographical experiences. The rejection of the psychological significance of birth is based on the highly questionable assumption that the brain of the newborn cannot register the traumatic impact of the birth experience, because the process of myelinization (formation of the fatty myelin sheaths covering the neurons) in his or her brain is not fully completed at the time of birth.
Never fear, it seems, if you are confronted by nasty materialists and others who think that astrology and alchemy are hokum. Grof responds that -
Since the 1950s, however, several decades of systematic research of holotropic states have generated vast amounts of data that undermine these basic assumptions of materialistic science and bring supportive evidence for astrology.
A sceptic might raise her eyebrows at the claim, often seen in World Futures, about "vast amounts of data" and "supportive evidence".

Those observations are claimed by Grof to reveal -
1. the existence of transpersonal experiences that point to an ensouled cosmos permeated with consciousness and creative cosmic intelligence
2. the possibility of direct experience of spiritual realities, including archetypal figures, motifs, and realms, and empirical validation of the authenticity of these experiences
3. the critical psychodynamic importance of the birth experience for the psychological development and life of the individual
4. the existence of synchronicities that represent an important and viable alternative to the principle of mechanistic causality
5. the striking correlations between the psychodynamics of the birth process and the planetary archetypes associated with the four outer planets
6. the extraordinary predictive potential of astrological transits for the nature, timing, and content of holotropic states of consciousness
7. the recognition of the profound connections between the archetypal pattern of birth charts and COEX systems in the individual psyche
8. the relationship between astrological world transits and patterns of incidence and diagnosis of psychopathology.
Oh, "direct experience of spiritual realities"!
We have observed innumerable cases in which subjects described information about past eras or specific historical events, or detailed subjective descriptions of animal behavior or plant life, that the individual had not known nor had access to prior to the experience, yet which proved upon subsequent research to be accurate. Challenging the most fundamental assumptions of materialistic science, transpersonal experiences suggest that human consciousness is continuous with the inner nature of the universe, which from this perspective appears to be a unified web of events in consciousness permeated by interiority and intelligence. Such experiences provide empirical evidence suggesting that the individual human psyche is part of a greater psyche that has no boundaries and is essentially commensurate with all of existence.
Not very surprising, given his statements elsewhere about transcending
the limits of a specifically human experience and tune into what appears to be the consciousness of animals, plants or inanimate objects.
Quite ... nothing like tuning in to the consciousness of a brick, some sea-weed or the Atlantic Ocean. ("It is possible to experience the consciousness of all creation, of the entire planet or the entire material universe.")

In this article Grof goes on -
Most academic psychologists and psychiatrists have so far considered Jung’s idea of the archetypes to be unfounded and speculative and have refused to take it seriously. However, modern consciousness research has confirmed the existence of archetypes beyond any reasonable doubt by showing that in holotropic states of consciousness they can actually be directly experienced. I have published in other contexts case histories illustrating how transpersonal experiences involving archetypes can provide new information about mythological realities of cultures unknown to the experient and open new therapeutic possibilities (Grof 1985, 1988, 1992, 2000, 2006).
I do love the "beyond any reasonable doubt".

Why stop there? Grof explains that -
An important characteristic of the archetypes is that they are not confined to, and do not originate from, the human brain, but operate from transcendental realms and exert a synchronistic influence on both individual psyches and events in the physical world. The marriage between astrology and archetypal psychology based on Jung’s work represents an extraordinary advance in both fields. It brings the mathematical precision of astronomy into the interior and imaginative world addressed by depth psychology, enriching enormously the possibilities of theoretical speculations as well as clinical predictions.
Some people do not agree with Grof. He responds that -
The tendency to think in terms of direct causal influences is one of the major reasons why astrology has been so vehemently rejected. I remember one of my discussions with Carl Sagan about transpersonal psychology during which he heatedly told me and others: "Astrology is total hogwash; as I am standing here, I have more influence on you than Pluto." He clearly thought about this subject in terms of masses, distances, gravitational forces, and other physical terms. This is an approach that completely misses the point. Critics of astrology like Carl Sagan do not understand that astrologers are using a sophisticated paradigm that assumes a synchronistic relation between the planets, the human psyche, and the external events. To understand astrology, we must think in synchronistic terms.
The first indication that there might be some extraordinary connection between astrology and my research of holotropic states was Richard Tarnas's recognition that individuals who experienced major psychological breakthroughs and awakenings tended at those times to be undergoing major personal transits involving the planet Uranus, often in combination with Jupiter, while those undergoing more difficult and psychologically constricting periods tended to be undergoing transits involving Saturn. Eventually, he came to realize that this simple dichotomy was part of much more complex patterns of correlation involving all the planets and a wide range of psychological conditions and stages of transformation.
Perhaps we should put a giant alfoil beanie over maternity wards when the big bad planet Uranus is in the neighbourhood. Equip all expectant women with parapsychological bling such as the Tesla Shield? Or just slaughter a few goats, some white chickens and the occasional human sacrifice?

Teacher, teacher, leave em kids alone!

A contact - thankyou - has pointed me to the Discrimination Amendment Bill 2010 (ACT), which would take ACT retailers outside the Territory's Discrimination Act by allowing them to refuse service to minors. The rationale for that change? Refusal will supposedly have a meaningful impact on truancy.

The Legislative Assembly Hansard (page 5100, 27 October) features the Leader of the Opposition as stating -
I rise today to bring forward an important amendment on an important issue. The amendment bill I am presenting today has only one clause but it is a very important one. It is a clause that goes to a much deeper issue and exemplifies many of the values that we as Liberals hold to. It is a clause that highlights some of the extremes and absurdities that can arise when good intentions go astray. It is a change that needs to happen to bring some common sense back to the territory.
Mr Seselja went on to explain that -
On 7 September this year, Lanyon high school principal Bill Thompson was reported in the Canberra Times for his imaginative attempt to keep kids in class. This teacher of 32 years attempted a very simple solution. He asked the shops in the nearby centre not to serve kids during school hours. In return he offered to promote the names of the shops that helped prevent truancy in the local school newsletter as a sign of community support. Mr Thompson is reported to have said, "In Sydney there are signs up saying 'we will not serve students'."

What must have shocked Mr Thompson was that this simple attempt at local community collaboration to do the right thing by the kids of the neighbourhood had drawn the ire of none other than the human rights commissioner, who launched an all-out media assault on the issue.

Dr Watchirs issued a statement saying that such action would be unlawful, that it is illegal to refuse service to someone on the basis of age, race, sex or disability under the Discrimination Act. She is reported as saying:
A shop is a service provider and refusing service is unlawful. There are other ways to do it, including monitoring students' movements between school and out of school grounds.
Obviously, Dr Watchirs had not read the original reports, in which the principal states, "It's sort of a neighbourhood watch concept as we can't see where 640 students are all of the time." Further to this, the human rights commissioner told the public that shopkeepers and Mr Thompson may in fact be aiding and abetting an unlawful act.

Aiding and abetting an unlawful act — all for trying to get the community behind an idea to keep kids in school.
Mr Seselja went on to ramp up the rhetoric, perhaps unsurprising in the ACT's deeply parochial legislature. He said -
Mr Speaker, this is absurd. It is not the intent of the discrimination or human rights legislation that it be used for this sort of purpose — to threaten a school principal who is trying to keep his students in school and local shopkeepers trying to uphold standards for local children. ... The outcome we saw with the human rights commissioner — with all the issues of the AMC, of Bimberi, of the education gap — was Dr Watchirs putting this principal on notice. Far from being a local hero, he was a law breaker. Enough is enough
"All out assault"? 'Threatening' a principal? If the principal was indeed 'put on notice' isn't that a function of the Human Rights Commissioner, the Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act? Notions of 'neighbourhood watch' do not displace all human rights concerns. What of a recognition that some minors might not be truanting, eg because they were home-schooled (a principle espoused by the Opposition), were from interstate (not all schools run the same timetable) and so forth? Should minors provide retailers with a signed note from mummy, a dubious authorisation given the forensic skills of most retail staff?

The Bill would amend the Discrimination Act through a new section (s 57JA) dealing with "premises, goods, services and facilities in school hours" -

Section 19 … or section 20 … does not make it unlawful for a person to discriminate against someone else on the ground of age in relation to access to premises, the use or availability of facilities, or the provision of goods or services if the person reasonably believes that—
(a) the other person is a student at a school; and
(b) the school is open for attendance.
Mr Seselja explained -
Mr Speaker, you can see from our amendment that we seek a reasonable belief that a person is of school age and it applies only during school hours. Most importantly of all, it is crucial to note that our exemption does not impose a positive obligation. That is, it does not seek to force a shop owner to refuse service. There may be many instances in which it is reasonable to do so. It merely makes it open for a shopkeeper to choose to do so without fear of legal prosecution. This is an important distinction, so I will repeat it. This bill allows shopkeepers to choose not to serve if they have a reasonable belief that the person is a truant and not be prosecuted for doing so.

I really hope some common sense can prevail here today. I implore the government and the Greens to put aside prejudice and see this for what it is, a circumstance that is not supported by the community, a circumstance that has exposed a flaw in our current legislation, and a simple solution that allows teachers, students and business people to get on with giving our kids the best opportunity possible without any incomprehensible interference.

Once again, the Canberra Liberals are prepared to stand with the community, side by side, and stand up for the children who are being taught by this debacle that the law is actually there to defend waggers when, indeed, it should not be. Once again, the Canberra Liberals are prepared to bring common sense to the debate and propose a practical solution.

29 October 2010

Zombies are from Mars, vampires are from Venus

From 'The Undead Are Undaunted and Unruly' by Alessandra Stanley in yesterday's NY Times -
The one good thing about the walking dead is that they don't drive.

All it really takes to outrun a zombie is a car. Also, a bullet to the head will stop one cold. And that may explain why so many men prefer zombies to vampires: zombie stories pivot on men's two favorite things: fast cars and guns. Better yet, zombies almost never talk. Vampires, especially of late, are mostly a female obsession. Works like Twilight and True Blood suggest that the best way to defeat a vampire is to make him fall so in love that he resists the urge to bite. And that's a powerful, if naïve, female fantasy: a mate so besotted he gives up his most primal cravings for the woman he loves.

Vampires are imbued with romance. Zombies are not. (Zombies are from Mars, vampires are from Venus.)
Heaven forbid, of course, that the undead transgress heteronormativity rather than just our expectations regarding gender roles among vampires, zombies, werewolves and other things that go crunch in the night.

Stanley comments that -
vampire stories mostly focus on the relationship between the undead and the living, usually with lots of overwrought dialogue, erotic subtext and decadently lush scenery. Zombies don't as a rule socialize with their prey. It's the group dynamic among survivors that provides the drama. Conflicts matter more than courtship, and the characters spend most of their time barricaded behind bolted doors and boarded windows. There is little occasion for conversation, let alone changing into evening attire. ...

One oddity of the genre, and perhaps its appeal, is how orthodox it is. For all the many sequels, remakes and parodies, zombies stick pretty closely to the original flesh-eating model: They don't have personalities, they lurch, and they are always hungry for human flesh. Sometimes the predators are from outer space, but more commonly zombies are spawned by a man-made armageddon. (Variations are usually minor, as with the light-sensitive zombies in the Will Smith movie I Am Legend.)

26 October 2010

veiling the vitrines

As marking and lecture prep permits I'm watching media coverage of Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: The Crisis of Cultural Authority (Routledge, 2010).

The Daily Mail (London) gets breathless in reporting that -
museums are hiding away mummies and human remains for fear of offending pagans and other minority groups, it has been revealed.

They are putting up warning signs, closing previously opened coffins and displaying exhibits in darkened cases.

The move is designed to give the skeletons and mummies 'privacy' and to avoid upsetting faith groups and even some museum staff, according to academic findings.
Claims of privacy for the ancient have been highlighted in past posts on this blog (eg here) and pose questions for how we conceptualise post-mortem rights and the rights or responsibility of the living.

The newspaper item indicates that Manchester University Museum "at the insistence of a pagan group called Honouring the Ancient Dead" [found here] -
removed the head of an Iron Age bog body – the skull of Worsley Man, which was found buried near Manchester 50 years ago – from display.

It also covered up the unwrapped mummy of Asru, the partially-wrapped mummy of Khary, and a child mummy with sheets. The three mummies were uncovered only after a public protest.

Meanwhile, the Egypt gallery at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery has changed its display of Egyptian human remains.

Instead of the previous display of mummies in open coffins, it now exhibits them with half closed lids, which it considers more respectful.

And the Royal Cornwall Museum, in Truro, does not show any images of human remains, other than wrapped mummies, in its online or publicity material.
Apparently we're supposed to snort into our cocoa - pagans!

The Mail reports that the Museum of London policy is that -
As a general principle skeletons will not be on open display but located in such a way as to provide them some “privacy”. This might be in a specially partitioned or alcoved part of a gallery.
As you might expect, it gets better -
The trend towards political correctness in museums has been highlighted by Dr Tiffany Jenkins ... her book, Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections, published today, she reveals the radical change in policy on ancient human remains, including Egyptian mummies, skeletons and bog bodies.

... such appeals are not confined to once-colonised groups. British pagans formed Honouring the Ancient Dead in 2004 to campaign for reburial and respect for pre-Christian skeletons from the British Isles.

Dr Jenkins said: 'The profession is over-reacting to the claims of small minority groups – such as the Pagan organisation, Honouring the Ancient Dead'.

'Most remarkable of all is that human remains of all ages, and which are not the subject of claims-making by any community group, have become subject to concerns about their handling, display and storage, expressed by influential members of the museum profession.'
Perhaps not very remarkable at all ... but I'll suspend judgment until I've read the book and meanwhile not be too fazed by the 'Pagans'.

The Honouring the Ancient Dead site is rather sweet, with spokesperson (or maybe spokespagan) Emma Restall Orr explaining that reburial -
is at the heart of my work as a priest within the modern Pagan Druid community.

Let me pose an idea: how would you feel if it were necessary, on every dig, to be in contact with an organisation concerned with the spiritual aspects of the work?

... The project team, including the Highways Agency, construction contractors, landscape architects and archaeologists, have acknowledged Stonehenge to be a working temple for modern Pagans, and sacred for many others. Should the work go ahead, all site personnel will be briefed about the sanctity of landscape and monuments. Archaeologists will talk to Pagan priests who will feed information back into their faith communities worldwide. Rituals to ease environmental and ancestral spirits will be made, and if archaeologists unearth human remains there will be clear consultation between all parties, including Pagan priests, as to their fate.

Stonehenge may be exceptional as an archaeological site; for Pagans the issue of the ancient dead is the same wherever their remains are found.

The root of my spirituality is reverence for nature. Its practice is the forging of sacred relationships within humanity and the environment. As an oral tradition, Druidry does not anchor itself with scientific or historical facts; instead it breathes, shaping itself through stories ancient and modern.
Being able to 'breathe' without inconvenient constraints imposed by facts - much more fun to concoct a supposedly timeless tradition and rely on claims of authority that date from the pre-Roman era rather than the forgeries of Iolo Morganwg or the vapid imaginings of 1890s and 1920s romantics - might lead to some scepticism. 'Disputing Stonehenge: Law and Access to a National Symbol' by Penny English in  (2002) 1(2) Entertainment Law1 in describing the plethora of self-described UK Druids quotes one authority's comment that -
None of these groupings may truly lay any claim to be druidic, separated as they are by at least a millennium from the last vestiges of practising Druid religion. However, Druids claim that their inspiration comes from a spiritual source which transcends linear time, and have as much right to call themselves Druids.
Restall Orr explains that -
Attitudes towards the ancient dead are a significant part of the clash between Paganism and fact-searching archaeology. Within Paganism, the dead are revered. Where known, their actions are honoured through stories retold, their wisdom remembered. We breathe their breath, singing the same songs, crying the same tears in the same wind and rain, as we live within the same powers and patterns of nature. As abuse of nature damages an environment, so to dishonour our ancestors is to shift natural patterns. Problems ensue.
The same songs? The same tears? Surely not, unless you've been ingesting a magic mushie or two.

the horror, the horror

Belatedly reading the report on Papua New Guinea (silently subsiding into failed state territory) by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture -
I found systematic beatings of detainees upon arrest or within the first hours of detention, including during interrogation. Very often beatings are inflicted by the police as a form of punishment of suspects, reflecting complete disrespect for the presumption of innocence and the dignity of persons suspected of crimes. Widely practiced methods include beatings with car fan belts, bush knives, gun butts, iron rods, wooden sticks, stones, punching and kicking, used mainly to punish and intimidate detainees and to establish authority. While I did not find more sophisticated and brutal methods of torture, understood in the classical sense of this term, there is no doubt that police beatings often reached the level of torture, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture (CAT). This worrying fact has been corroborated by medical evidence in a high number of cases.
It doesn't get better after that -
Outside detention, the police often use excessive force, not only in dealing with crime but also, for example, in evicting residents from settlements. I could collect first hand information during a visit to the Five-Mile Ridge Settlement. Excessive use of force amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
In correctional institutions, those who attempt or succeed in escaping are subjected to torture upon recapture as a standard practice. The forms of torture applied include brutal beatings with bush knives and gun butts, shooting detainees’ legs and feet at close range and cutting their tendons with bush knives and axes after they are apprehended, with the intent of disabling them. The victims are usually kept in punishment cells without any medical treatment, which sometimes leads to their death, as recently experienced in Baisu Correctional Institution near Mount Hagen. Collective punishment is also often applied in correctional institutions, where whole sections are sanctioned for the actions of a select number of detainees.
Rule of law?
The lack of effective complaints mechanisms, independent investigation and monitoring and similar safeguards create an environment of impunity fueling these practices. There is a general atmosphere of violence and neglect in all police lock-ups and in many correctional institutions. It was also apparent that detainees had no knowledge of or trust in any complaint mechanisms available to them. The lack of effective oversight mechanisms and the prevalence of bribery in the criminal justice system result in prolonged detention in police custody or on remand for detainees, particularly those lacking financial means.
The description of incarceration is just as depressing -
Police lock-ups are built for short periods of detention of up to 24 or 48 hours. Detainees should be brought before a judge, within this time, who should either release them or transfer them to a remand centre under a different authority. In Papua New Guinea however, police lock-ups are used to keep detainees on remand for a considerable time, often for many months or even for more than one year. I am deeply concerned about the fact that many persons suspected of having committed a criminal offence are locked up for prolonged periods in appalling conditions of detention in police custody. This practice generally amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, in violation of Articles 7 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

During the visits, I witnessed that detainees were locked up in overcrowded, filthy cells, without proper ventilation, natural light or access to food and water for washing, drinking and for using the toilets. The alleged shortage of water in police stations in the Highlands region is difficult to understand considering its natural availability in the area, giving the impression that access to water is deliberately restricted. Also in the Highlands, where the temperatures can be particularly low at night, detainees were often left without any blanket or warm clothes, while sleeping on concrete floors. In general, detainees were hardly ever taken out of their cells, and I found several instances where the officers on duty did not even have the keys to some of the cells, raising serious safety concerns, such as at Kundiawa and Mount Hagen Police Stations. In the latter, detainees were forced to urinate and defecate in plastic bags and bottles, which were then picked up by the female detainees and piled up in the small common space. In all police stations, detainees were forced to sleep on the floor. Although in some cases they were allowed to receive visitors, it was often only for a few minutes. In addition, despite the very small amount of food provided to the detainees, food provided by families was often rejected.

The poor conditions of prolonged detention in police lock-ups provide a hotbed for the spread of cholera and other contagious diseases. Access to medical care was generally non-existent, leading sometimes to death in police custody. In other instances, the delayed access to any medical care led to avoidable amputations and the spread of disease among the detainees. The overall impression was one of negligence. While none of the police stations can be regarded as complying with international minimum standards for the humane treatment of detainees, the conditions in Goroka and Mount Hagen Police Stations were particularly appalling, in total disrespect for human dignity. The lock-up at Mount Hagen Police Station should be immediately closed.
The Rapporteur comments that "correctional institutions are in principle open institutions which provide convicted prisoners with some opportunity to work outside their compounds. Women are separated from men and juveniles are, in principle, separated from adults."

The reality is different, in an indication of state incapacity -
detainees on remand are not separated from convicted prisoners, which constitutes a violation of Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although they sleep in separate cellblocks, they mix with convicted prisoners during daytime. Persons convicted to death are kept together with other prisoners at Bomana Correctional Institution and are not discriminated in special death row sections. The last execution was carried out in 1954.

With the exception of a few correctional institutions, the prison conditions are generally poor. Overcrowding is common, particularly in high-risk and remand sections. Most prisons do not have sufficient beds, mosquito nets nor blankets. In addition, very few cells have running water, contributing to poor hygienic conditions. This, coupled with the lack of medical access, leads to the spread of contagious diseases and a high level of fear among the detainees. Furthermore, the food provided to the detainees in the entire country is insufficient and of a very low nutritional value.

The detention or punishment cells in the correctional institutions are of particular concern. The cells are overcrowded, holding up to three times their capacity. In Bomana and Baisu Correctional Institutions, those held in detention cells were mainly escapees who had been severely beaten upon recapture, and had to spend up to three months without access to medical attention. After a mass breakout in Baisu Correctional Institution on 13 April 2010, two detainees died in their detention cells as a result of severe beatings and a lack of access to medical treatment.
Concerns regarding medical treatment are reinforced in the note that -
Medical care in detention facilities is insufficient or totally non-existent throughout the country. The psychiatric support to detention facilities is not in compliance with international minimum standards. Psychiatric evaluations should be done on a routine basis, and in an independent and professional manner. Laloki Psychiatric Hospital is the only facility in the country for persons with mental disabilities. Even so, it does not have adequate staff, namely permanent resident psychiatrists. In addition, the facilities are old and fairly run down.

It seems that Papua New Guinea lacks a proper forensic system capable of assuring timely and adequate examinations of victims of torture and ill-treatment, as well as prompt and complete forensic autopsies in accordance with international standards.

I am very concerned about the practice of the police to deliberately disable persons suspected of serious crimes and those who escape from detention. In a privately run Rehabilitation Centre for Persons with Disabilities, I carried out several interviews with persons who were disabled by the police. In addition, I found many detainees with physical and mental disabilities in prisons and police lock-ups who have no access to adequate medical treatment and rehabilitation.

lawyers behaving badly

From Stephen Warne's Australian Professional Liability blog -
Letter of demand for fees found to be professional misconduct

A solicitor represented himself unsuccessfully before Western Australia’s State Administrative Tribunal in Legal Profession Complaints Committee v MLS [2010] WASAT 135, being found guilty of three counts of professional misconduct and three of unsatisfactory professional conduct. ...

The solicitor told a Magistrate on an ex parte application for an intervention order against his client that the client had a criminal record, which the solicitor knew the client did not have. Hardly surprising that that conduct was found to be misconduct. More interesting, perhaps, is the finding that an unduly aggressive demand for fees was found to amount to professional misconduct. It said, in effect — If you do not pay me $2,000, I will sue you, get default judgment, and bankrupt you for 5 years. The problem was that the client had a rather good defence: the solicitor had not sent him a bill for the $2,000 disbursement.
Warne notes that the Tribunal found misconduct.

25 October 2010

The unobserved life is so totally worth living

From Margaret Talbot's article in the New Yorker on changing US attitudes regarding same sex relationships -
the Senate still hasn't repealed the Don't Ask Don't Tell law, despite a ruling in September by a federal judge, Virginia A. Phillips, declaring it unconstitutional, and her injunction last week ordering the military to stop enforcing it. (The Obama Administration chose to appeal last week’s decision, preferring to have Congress, not the courts, rescind the law.)

But one snag has nothing to do with homosexuality itself, and that is the comprehensive undermining of privacy. This is the trap into which Clementi, and perhaps some of the other teen-age suicides, fell. Clementi lived in a world where filming your roommate in his most intimate moments and broadcasting the results without his knowledge represents a difference in degree, if not in kind, from a lot of online behavior. The roommate does seem to have been motivated in part by the fact that Clementi was gay. (He tweeted that he had “turned on my Webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”) But what he did, with the help of a female freshman friend, would not have been any more defensible if he had been broadcasting Clementi in an intimate moment with a girl.

The problem is a culture of exposure that is far more advanced than any efforts to combat online cruelty. Bullying feeds on weakness, anger, and, lately, the systematic undervaluing of privacy. (Paladino, by the way, has had his own problems with boundaries. He has admitted to forwarding e-mails depicting bestiality and recounting racist jokes that some people find as disgusting as he finds gay-pride parades.) Young people discovering their identity and their desires need a zone of privacy where they can be who they are, perhaps in the company of another human being, without feeling that somebody else might be tweeting it, filming it, or blogging about it, or that maybe they themselves ought to be — there’s such a thing as violating your own privacy, too. The unobserved life is so totally worth living.

voting the 'i' in LGBTQI

The New York Times highlights visibility of transgender people through candidature in US elections. As far as I am aware there hasn't been similar transparency - or merely media attention - in Australian elections.
Theresa Sparks, a candidate for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, is running on what some might see as a conservative platform: she is pro-development and anti-loitering, pro-police and anti-grime. She has been endorsed by the mayor, the city's firefighters' union and the county deputy sheriff's association.

But that is not what sets Ms. Sparks apart; it is her past. Until a decade ago, Ms. Sparks was a man, before a gender reassignment surgery. And while her sex may have changed, her politics did not.
The Times goes on to report that -
If elected, Ms. Sparks would be the first transgender supervisor in San Francisco — the liberal enclave where Harvey Milk was elected as one of the nation's first openly gay officials in 1977, and perhaps the only place where Ms. Sparks might be considered right-of-center.

But she is not the only transgender person campaigning for public office this fall. And unlike in years past, when such candidates were often considered mere curiosities, several are within striking distance of historic victories.

Across San Francisco Bay, for example, Victoria Kolakowski was the leading vote-getter in a June election for Superior Court judge in Alameda County; a victory in a runoff next month would make her the first transgender trial court judge in the nation.

"I want people to know that we are capable of being everything", Ms. Kolakowski said.

In Oklahoma, Brittany Novotny, a 30-year-old Democrat, is competitive in the Republican-leaning 84th District for the State House of Representatives, despite supporters of her opponent who have ridiculed her as a "confused it". And there are transgender incumbents in Oregon — where the mayor of Silverton, Stu Rasmussen, is seeking a fourth term, and her second as a woman — and Hawaii, where Kim Coco Iwamoto is seeking to return to the State Board of Education. ...

While most of the transgender candidates have been Democrats, in Florida, Donna Milo — a pro-gun, anti-tax, male-to-female Republican (and, interestingly enough, anti-same-sex marriage) — lost a primary for Congress in August. She did, however, receive 22.5 percent of the vote.
The Times looks on the bright side in commenting that -
All of which has been hailed by advocates as both a sign of acceptance and, they hope, a sign that actual issues are being valued more than gender stereotypes.

"People aren't sitting around saying, 'Gee, I wish we had a transgender judge'," said Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington. "They're saying, 'We want a really good judge.'" Gay rights activists hope that the visibility of the candidates will help normalize people's relations with people who are transgender — a broad category that includes heterosexual cross-dressers, homosexual drag queens and kings, and those who believe that they were born in the wrong body.

24 October 2010

St Walter

From Stephan Wackwitz' rescue, in Die Welt, of Walter Benjamin -
So how do you explain why his writing, which fails to meet any traditional criteria, has been been so phenomenally influential since the 1960s? The content argument points to Benjamin's combination of "scientific socialism" with cabbalist and messianic motifs (most prominently in his "Theses on the Philosophy of History) which struck a chord with students' illusory hopes of revolution against all odds. And the motifs in the essay on "The Artwork in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" would certainly have been useful for a generation where most people grew up wanting to become "something media-related".

The most plausible (and depressing) explanation for the triumph of Walter Benjamin's poetic theory, however, springs from the observation that his rediscovery coincided with the rise of an academic current which had abandoned the pursuit of traditional academic standards in favour of creating diffuse meaning which could not longer be verified in scientific terms. The later work of Jacques Derrida, the Frankfurt Hölderlin Edition and the books of Giorgio Agamben could be classed as classics of this academic current, and the reception of Jorge Luis Borges in the eighties and of Heiner Muller in the nineties as their equivalent in the wider world of the chattering classes.

Today the bureaucratisation, didactisation and trivialisation of the humanities in the wake of the Bologna reform have reduced the hipness factor of academic environments and careers. The "Benjaminisation" as you could call the process, of creating poetic effects through scientific means. Catalogue texts, art theoretical "essays", curatorial concepts cite Benjamin's texts ad infinitum and occupy an intellectual no-man's-land between scholarship and poetry.

I'm sure you know the reluctance to continue reading a text if the first paragraph is sat under a chunky quote from Benjamin's book on tragedy, and the remaining porridgy thoughts are generously sprinkled with words like "aura", "flaneur" or "shock". You want nothing more to do with it. The mixture of poetising process with scientific claim to truth feels impure if not downright unsavoury.

Procedure and Poppycock

The excellent folk at Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes (the SummaryCrime Blog) offer a thoughtful and informed short item on the Civil Procedure Act 2010 (Vic) and a longer item on Giretti Trafficking.

For me it's more persuasive than some of the latest items in World Futures: The Journal of Global Evolution, a publication that provides hours of wholesome entertainment for grizzled sceptics such as myself who are delighted by the enthusiasm with which some authors claim a scientific status for reincarnation, precognition, remote healing, communication with the dead (or is it undead) and other nonsense that's taken so very very seriously.

Jeffrey Keen in 66(8) World Futures (2010) 557-572 asks 'Is Dowsing a Useful Tool for Serious Scientific Research?'. Apparently, according to Mr Keen, dowsing indeed is ... with said research having "demonstrated that the mind's ability to communicate information from across the solar system is much faster than the speed of light."
As some of the findings produce universal constants such as the inverse of the Fine Structure Constant (137), tetrahedral geometry angles, arcsine 1/4 and 1/5, or measuring to an accuracy of a few seconds that the time light takes to reach the earth from the outer planets, the answer to the question posed in the title must be an emphatic "yes". Dowsing is proving to be a powerful and relevant research tool. This work has identified and developed the connection between consciousness, information, and the structure of space-time.
I do love the "emphatic 'yes'", so redolent of something from Madame Blavatsky, Charles Leadbeater, Rudolf Steiner, L Ron Hubbard or other gurus whose claims to scientific authority are - at best - somewhat thin.

Keen goes on to report that -
The findings have demonstrated a strong link between geometry, consciousness, and the creation of subtle energies that not only effect measurements, but also can cross the solar system.

Einstein was wrong when claiming that nothing can go faster than light. Dowsing can detect that the communication of some fundamental information across the solar system is not only faster than the speed of light, but probably instantaneous. As the subtle energy beam produced by three aligned cosmic bodies can be detected by the mind, it may be the mechanism that caused "sensitive" ancients to believe in astrology.

The results contained in this article are only obtained with the appropriate intent. This research suggests that the act of dowsing obtains information directly in the mind, and is not a physiological or physical effect. The implication is that dowsing involves the mind interacting not only with the local environment, but with space-time. Using possible analogies, intent selects the appropriate "channel", "frequency", or "password" that allows access to a vast data base of information. Consciousness involves the mind interfacing with the structure of the universe.
Incorrigible grinch that I am, I expect something more substantive than invocation of a ouija board, a bit of willow twig, a telepathic conversation with a black cat or a 'message' from Marie Antoinette before I abandon Australian law's robust scepticism about ESP, ghosts or astrology. There's no need to throw Einstein into the dustbin, along with rationality, meaningful peer-review and common sense.

World Futures remains a hoot, strongly recommended for anyone who's spent a day looking at gene patenting, restrictions on IVF, Anton Piller orders or other challenging areas of law and needs some hilarity.

I look forward to an article in which it is revealed (with of course the usual battery of citations and alphabet soup about mesodomains, singularity, ontology, holotropic memory or quantum holism and babble about Mayan Calendar or 'ancient wisdom') that scrutiny of chicken entrails, coffee grounds or tea leaves allows the reader to be 'as one' with the universe (oops, the "multiverse") and thereby access The Akashic Field of all past, present and future information. A quick squiz at the potato peelings, a crystal ball or navel might be just as scientific.

A nice article on 'The Lost Cubit', too, would be fun ... and as credible. What about one on supervenience in 'kabbalah' red string and a couple on the Ark of The Covenant or Paul The Psychic Octopus as a 'quantum wave transceiver'?


Nice to see recognition in the Canberra Times for research by exemplary PhD candidate (and friend) Jessica Kennedy -
a university research project is set to examine the effect of the [ACT] 2008 sexual assault law reforms on victims' experiences in court.

University of Canberra doctoral student Jessica Kennedy is calling for participants for her PhD research exploring the impact of the new laws on victims.

"The questions that I'm asking are about their experiences," Ms Kennedy said.

"I'm trying to get a group from before the changes, and after, and I'll ask them about their committal experiences and their trial experiences, and compare the two so I can get a picture of whether things have changed."

The laws, which were introduced in 2008, allowed a written or recorded statement or police interview to be admissible as evidence.

"Paper-based committal and the introduction of pre-trial hearings to stop victims from having to give evidence multiple times was, I guess, the main aim of the legislation," Ms Kennedy said.

"But also there were lots of other changes there is no cross-examination by a self-represented accused any more."

Ms Kennedy became interested in the topic after studying the relationship between gender and sentencing under Professor Patricia Easteal during her undergraduate degree.