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Justice, punishment and revenge

Ian MacDougall is a long-time Webdiarist and occasional, highly valued contributor. His last contribution was November 29 and the Birth of Australian Democracy.

by Ian MacDougall

The trial and execution of Saddam Hussein has given us all cause to think over some basic issues, particularly in relation to capital punishment. In my case, this has led to significant revision. But first, let’s take a look at some responses in the media on the issue.

I begin with the piece by Richard Dawkins at the Guardian site Comment is Free, which has stimulated a lively discussion there since January 3. Dawkins argues that Iraq had "…an opportunity to set the world a good example of civilised behaviour in dealing with a barbarically uncivilised man. In any case, revenge is an ignoble motive. " [My emphasis – IM]. Dawkins argues further that Saddam would have been more valuable alive than dead, particularly for academics in the field of psychopathology and future historians of the various wars he started.

The Iranian-Australian playwright Mammad Aidani, in Why a death penalty opponent finds relief in Saddam’s end (The Age, January 3), said:

It is not just his brutal actions that our bodies remember; his name arouses a deep fright in our emotions, in our psyche. My mother tells me that in our city, women call their violent husbands, fathers and fathers-in-law "Saddam Hussein", so that the men's actions receive the public opprobrium they deserve.

I wept when my body remembered, once again, the colossal pain from his military invasion. He used his first chemical weapons in my city and on my people. This killed many of my friends and displaced my family, who became "internal refugees" in their own land.

"I consider myself as being deeply wounded by Saddam's invasion of my city of birth, Khorramshahr, in south Iran, facing Basra."

Interestingly, Aidani is a PhD student in psychology, and is obviously more interested in the relief felt by Saddam’s victims as a result of his demise that the potential loss to psychopathology.

Johann Hari in Is hanging tyrants always wrong? wrote in the Independent of the ecstasy of his friends in Baghdad on hearing the news, and of how it forced him to question whether he opposed the death penalty “in all times and places”.

This is a strange jolt. For me, opposition to hanging has always been manifestly moral. Should the state take a defenceless, unarmed prisoner and break their neck? Obviously not. It is a sign of civilisation that you treat even the most depraved and despicable people with decency. And yet – I have to admit it – when I saw Saddam’s snapped corpse, I was pleased. I spent some time in ‘his’ Iraq. I saw the raw terror at the mention of his name. I saw the Marsh Arabs, rotting in rusting desert huts after Saddam poisoned their marshes and slaughtered their families for the “crime” of calling for democracy. So when my friend Ahmed – whose father was murdered by Saddam’s goons – said in a 4am phone call that he felt his dad was finally at rest now, the anti-death penalty arguments died on my tongue.

So should there be an exception for tyrants, the Mussolinis and Caecescus? This question forced me to go back to first principles. I do not believe in killing people to meet some abstract, quasi-religious standard of ‘justice’, where a death must be avenged with a death. No: the only justification for using violence, ever, is a utilitarian one – to prevent even more violence occurring. "

But after consideration he concluded: "Today, Iraqis have achieved one sort of victory over their tyrant. But the greater victory would have been to say – you hanged; you tortured; you butchered; but we will not do that. We are better than you. "

So we have an answer to his original question: Yes. Hanging tyrants is always wrong.

Consider also this excerpt from Geoffrey Robertson QC’s interview with Scott Bevan on the 7:30 Report (27 December 2006), shortly before Saddam died:

SCOTT BEVAN: Given that it is within 30 days, practically is there any way out for Saddam Hussein now?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Well, again, this was decided years ago. It was I was part of the debate with the Americans over whether the death penalty should be imposed or whether we should have an international court in which there would be no power to impose the death penalty and the Americans and the Shi’as, of course, plumped for this Local Court with judges being able to be controlled by the State, in order to ensure that Saddam was hung. Of course, we said that is wrong. That will only make him a martyr. That will rev up the civil war. They said, well, you can't keep him alive, life imprisonment in Iraq would be out of the question. So, we looked to the British government and said, "Well, why don't you make Saint Helena available again" - where they put Napoleon. That's the kind of alternative that you have to come up with, because certainly Saddam cannot be left life imprisonment in Iraq. But providing some kind of alternative to the death penalty, to this blood will have blood, to this idea that vengeance must always result in killing would, I think, have been a step forward for the international community and it's a missed opportunity that we have a process which has been an unsatisfactory legal process which is going to lead a man who in all probability is guilty, but the guilty of genocide in a trial that has not finished and will not be allowed to finish to sheet home the responsibility for that worst of all crimes.

Saint Helena is a very isolated subtropical island in the South Atlantic. Following his arrival in 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte was first quartered at The Briars, but spent most of his stay at Longwood House, from which base he was free to roam the island, and to converse with the members of the large garrison of British troops sent there to prevent a rescue by the French. Though in Saddam’s case the issue is now academic, there are a number of possible candidate monsters for the island still very much alive. Putting someone like Saddam there raises the question of his living conditions, and how many troops would have to be garrisoned there to either protect him (and I cannot think of a her) from would-be assassins on the one hand, from sea-borne rescuers on the other, and from any other psychopaths also imprisoned there. A further issue would be protection of the 5,000 odd inhabitants of the island from the prisoner/s. According to David Hirst, before he was out of his teens, Saddam had personally murdered four people, and God knows how many in all. To prejudge the psychopathologists’ studies, the circumstances of Saddam’s miserable childhood as described by Hirst go a long way towards explaining his vicious personality.

Arguably, the foundation on Saint Helena of an international institute of psychopathology and the quartering of UN peacekeepers and police there could boost the island’s lethargic economy.

The columnist Hazem Saghiya wrote in the Arabic-language London daily Al-Havat:

"Saddam filled the graves with his countrymen, such that it is even harder to forget…[Also] the number of the victims is not simple. The number of those murdered by Saddam… ranges between a million and a million and a half… We now face a schism in Arab culture… Those who want to oppose the U.S. in obliviousness and want to mobilize all efforts to this goal [of resistance]. But even if [all] agree [we should forget] and even if all agree to struggle against [the U.S.] – the road they take will lead to a new Saddam and new graves..."

According to Saghiva, Saddam’s victims (presumably across Iraq, Iran and Kuwait) number 1.25 million plus or minus 250,000. That is a lot of people, and a horrifying lot of blood. (At around 5 litres per victim that is a maximum of 7.5 million litres by the above estimate, and equal to the volume of a large farm dam or a small lake. That is the reality that was Saddam.)

Finally, we call upon Phillip Adams of The Australian to give us, in his own distinct blend of verbosity and condescension, the following:

Yes, Saddam was a monster. No arguments there. Yet that strengthens the argument against his execution, not for it. The greater the crime, the greater the symbolism of lifelong incarceration. The noose may be news - good news for many - but that news is quickly forgotten. So even if you don't view the death sentence with unqualified disgust and repugnance, even if you don't see it as undermining the dignity of any state or any people who carry it out, you must be able to dimly perceive that a moment's vengeance carries a fraction of the moral authority of judicial restraint.

The precedent could be Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess. He was imprisoned for 46 years, from May 1941 to August 1987, firstly in Britain and then in Berlin’s Spandau Prison on sentence from Nuremberg. Few humanitarian voices were raised on his behalf, or over the fact that he went mad in solitary confinement.

I take as a given that we humans have a strong sense of justice, and a need to see it done and to live in just circumstances. This appears to be closely associated with our ability to empathise with others. We also share with many other animals, including the taxonomically higher ones, an inclination to at least defend ourselves when attacked, and also to defend by counter-attack. With other animals, fights between members of the same species are usually brief, and end with the establishment or rearrangement of a dominance hierarchy. But with humans this goes further. Grievances and grudges can be nursed for years, at least until accounts are seen to be settled. This is the reality behind the old saying, ‘revenge is sweet.’

But revenge has been seen by generations of sages the way Dawkins, Robertson and most of the others quoted above see it: as ‘ignoble’, disgusting, repugnant, uncivilised and objectionable. Were I inclined to regard St Paul as an authority on the matter, I would add at this point the obligatory quote from Romans 12: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." So vengeance and punishment can take a novel and oblique form, a bit like refusing to whip a masochist. But the need for them is acknowledged as being still very much there.

So perhaps we should clarify the issue and ask at this point: Given that it is so often seen as desirable, just what is wrong with revenge?

The commonest answer I have encountered is threefold: first, It does not bring back the dead; second, it makes the avenger morally no better than the wrongdoer; third, it is highly likely to start a vendetta: a train of reprisals and counter-reprisals that can become unstoppable. Hence in the traditional Mosaic law, the maximum permissible retribution, and under strict regulation, was an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth; one life for one life. Not two eyes for one, or a mouthful of teeth for two.

Hence in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition a death for a death has long been regarded as just and acceptable, provided the whole thing ends there. But in modern times, further objection to the death penalty has been based on the fact that justice systems have proven fallible, and the innocent all too frequently get hung. One such injustice is too many.

In cases like Saddam Hussein’s however, guilt is established by the clear and simple fact that he was head of the Iraqi government in the period in question, and at the very top of the hierarchical death machine that was the Iraqi state. Whether or not in a formal and procedural sense he had a fair trial, there cannot be the slightest doubt that he ordered, presided over and was ultimately responsible for murder on a truly staggering scale. There was absolutely no way he could be found not guilty, except by the most hopelessly partisan stooge court of all time.

This leads to my next question: if we concede and agree that revenge in and of itself is base and undesirable, precisely what is the difference between it and punishment? Is there not an element of revenge in any punishment; an attempt even through mercy, kindness, feeding and watering, to heap at least a few coals of fire on the head of the transgressor? How can the revenge motive be excluded from imprisonment (with or without hard labour) exile to Saint Helena, Devil’s Island, the South Pole, or variations thereon? Try as I may, I cannot find a neat watertight barrier that distinguishes punishment on the one hand from revenge on the other, making it possible for us to find a holy grail of revenge-neutral punishment.

For the record, I used to be totally against the death penalty. Now I would not oppose it in the case of a mass murderer like Saddam Hussein, particularly if the victims want it. Then I add this as the clincher: it brings at least a measure of peace to the minds of his Iraqi, Iranian and Kuwaiti victims, because whatever else happens, Saddam Hussein will never, ever return to power. Not a chance in a billion billion; that is, provided they did not hang one of his doubles. Hopefully also, the hanging of Saddam may deter certain would-be Saddams from believing that under the cloak of state sovereignty, they can indulge their sadistic and murderous passions to their hearts’ content. To revisit Hari: "No: the only justification for using violence, ever, is a utilitarian one – to prevent even more violence occurring." Quite so.

But Dawkins has perhaps unwittingly opened a further issue: If the Saddams of the world are to be kept alive as valuable scientific assets for study, should they not be treated as if they were zoo specimens of an endangered species? Shouldn’t they have the best of everything, if only to prolong their lives as far as possible, and the studies that can be done? On this view, a Saddam should not be banged up for life and left to rot physically and mentally as Hess was. Rather, he should be given the best food, medical attention, entertainment and living conditions possible, and the most congenial company.

Now that would really stimulate the economy of Saint Helena.


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Last word to the Hangman.

F Kendall: maybe  the Hangman can have the last word.

I regret that Ian

I regret that Ian McDougall seems to have abandoned this thread that he started.

F Kendall: No, not true

F Kendall: Some Webdiarists have written threadstarters and then have seen fit to reply to every comment posted. Others put the threadstarters on and then sit back and watch the thing weave its marvellous way, often finishing up on issues with only the most tenuous connection to that opening essay.

I have been waiting for Justice, Punishment and Revenge to run out of steam (as all threads invariably do) at which point I thought I would read back through the comments and put one on with my take on all the whole thing to date. I find that a dialogue on a controversial issue (ie with severe polarisation of positions) can provide such stimulus to thought that I often finish up some distance from where I started, inevitably discovering on the way elements I had not previously perceived or thought of. Very Hegelian and quite fascinating.

I am working on and off on two other literary projects at the moment, on quite disparate subjects. One is on the aborigines, and the other on Intelligent Design vs neo-Darwinism, which has relevance to the issues raised on the Dawkins 'God Delusion' thread. On both, I have not finished up where I thought I would.

So don't worry, F; I'm still here. I'm like Alf Garnett's Him Up There; watching it all, and writing it all down.

Don't worry. You'll all be called to account. The whole bleedin' lot of you.

F Kendall - Actually it is my fault

F Kendall: Actually it is all my fault. I hauled him away from all his projects because I wanted him up there, on the roof. But he's down tools tonight and says he's heading home tomorrow so you will no doubt hear from him. One should not push one's luck too far should one?  Cheers. 

One redeemer: no Accountants

F Kendall and Ian MacDougall: really, the very suggestion.  There's no accounting otherwise we'd all have to pay income tax (or accountants).

Scheduling hassles

Thanks, David R, for correcting my error regarding observances of the Orthodox Church.

Gee, who'd have thought that a short, sharp implementation of justice could potentially be such a nightmare to schedule?

Or that Russian government officials could be so culturally insensitive?

Ian: Perhaps my last

Ian:  Perhaps my last post says that I have missed your point - apologies if I have.

My post (Jan 15th 10.06a.m.) was an attempt to answer your question: "What is the difference between it (revenge) and punishment?"

Killing Uncle Bert is revenge.   Imprisoning or executing you is punishment.  That I get pleasure from that latter, does not mean that there was an element of revenge in it.    Cec next door may know that Fred provoked you unreasonably, and may find your imprisonment very unjust.  These are subjective reactions to a (hopefully) impartial system. (?)


grammatical difference

Ian, perhaps I also yawned too much through grammar lessons, but I can't see any grammatical difference between those two sentences.  Surely we interpret them differently only because of the difference in meaning between "punishment" and "revenge"?  And "my" is the possessive, is it not?  In both cases, I have had it.

Iraq and political concerns

Will Howard, I certainly do not think the recent Democrat wins will be too harmful to any future GOP Presidential hopes. Most serious contenders will be able to overcome any lag from this administration. I expect this will start to take shape in the coming months.

The fact is that Democrat contenders need a plan of their own. You broke it, you fix it, just don't cut it. That is not how the world quite works. Pissed off terrorists don't really care if a person voted Democrat in the last election.

Cutting off supplies to the military just ain't an option. Not if one wishes to be President, it isn't. I think the best thing Iran has going for it is the US being in Iraq. They certainly do not, at this point in time, want an entire new battle front opening up. Certainly not any military thinker with a half functional brain does not.

The US being out of the area opens up many other possibilities. They do have mighty big planes that fly a mighty long way with mighty big bombs. These, though, will be the things a future President will have to decide on.

At the moment Bush has made it crystal clear he will not be retreating. He certainly will not be remembered as the President that "lost" Iraq.

His best bet is to tone down the rhetoric and get back to the basics. No grand statements and missions and doing the small things right. First and foremost is to secure the nation and have a reasonable functioning government in Iraq.

If certain deals and concessions to certain groups must be made for pragmatic reasons, so be it. The situation in Iraq is in constant flux and no person can be 100% sure of what it will look like in 2008.

Nicolae Ceauşescu, how we're missing you

Just a little off topic perhaps, but does anyone remember Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu?

Nicolae was President of Romania from 1967, and his wife Elena was Vice Prime Minister from 1980, until they were summarily tried and executed immediately following the Romanian Revolution of 1989. Among the charges were misappropriation of Romania's wealth, and genocide.

The genocide charge apparently related to President Ceauşescu's ordering security forces to fire on unarmed protestors. This was perhaps one of the more broad interpretations of the term 'genocide' ever to be brought before any court. But then, to call the military tribunal that condemned the pair a 'court' itself requires a fairly broad definition of that concept.

And does anyone recall the day they were tried and shot? Yes, it was Christmas Day, 1989. Perhaps the second holiest holiday in the Christian calendar was not recognised in Communist Romania.

I wonder if C Parsons will have any recollection of handwringing among 'the left', say in Green Left Weekly, over the manner of the Ceauşescus' demise. I personally don't recall. But then I would say that.

Anyway, recalling the Ceauşescus, it did occur to me that Saddam Hussein could easily have been treated far worse than he was. And perhaps he can thank both Allah and the good ol' USA for that.

Romanian Christmas

Hi, Jacob: small but important detail: Romania is Orthodox, so Christmas Day is January 6th, and no, no-one would have made the connection with the other Christmas Day and/or holiness: example: when the Russian Ministry of Comms set our project start-up meeting for Good Friday,1994 and we pointed it out, they said: "well it's not a holiday here, so be here or lose the work".

Drop tables

Those Calvinist Texans who may have spilled their weeties at hearing the vivid description of Barzan al-Tikriti's headless body thunking to the gallows floor, followed by his still-living head, should be interested in the simple mechanics of this particular manifestation of enlightened justice, in The process of judicial hanging.

Hence the high hopes in Cloning opens door to 'farmyard freaks'

However, GM scientists are actively investigating ways to remove the stress and aggression gene from animals, effectively turning them into complacent zombies.

The professor said it might become technically possible to produce "animal vegetables" - beasts which are "highly prolific and oblivious to their physical and mental status".

Endless possibilities if the techniques are extended to humans. Peaceful executions, for example, without undignified shouting and twitching.  

Calmative genes

Trevor Kerr, if those genes were inserted into humans, there would be no need for any executions as there would be no violent crime.

Jenny, great stuff. Wish I'd seen the show too!

Riviera nights

Hi Roslyn, I shall interrupt my Riviera sojourn for a moment to wish you well. I always thought it was a bit of a witch-hunt against you because of your views on Israel (but not by webdiary admin). Not that you shouldn't be subject to scrutiny.

Interesting to see that the Institut Du Monde Arabe, the Mosquee De Paris and the Art de Islam exhibition in the Louvre all seemed to place Islam as something in the past, next to the Babylonians, where as the Musee d'Art et e'Histoire du Judaisme (opened by Chirac) insisted on Judaism as something of both the past and the present, peppering the exhibition with modern photographs of Jews (always smiling) and even a few touches of modern art. I was disappointed not to see any works by the Jewish artist Modigliani there, who lived in Paris, but nevertheless there were plenty in the Musee de L'Orangerie. There seem to be no political posters around France arguing the case for tolerance of Muslims - there is almost nothing of Islam as a real presence, anywhere. The only touch of commentary I could find was in the Pompidou centre (Modern Art) with a few photographic works by Iranian artist Shadi Ghadirian, showing Muslim women with veils and their heads obscured by domestic items. Highly recommended.  

The cone of silence

I am sorry to be submitting this comment after Roslyn Ross has announced her departure. Nevertheless, I want to say the following in defence of myself and my fellow moderators.

First, yes, I did edit and publish the "red-pencilled" comment. However, that was only done after consultation with my colleagues about the deletions. Second, yes, I do have friends among the Webdiary community. However, friendship has never prevented me from amending or DNP'ing material that breaches editorial policy. Third, I have never derided anything that Roslyn Ross has written. However, I have occasionally challenged the factual and logical basis of her arguments.

Even though Roslyn Ross may find this difficult to believe, I sympathise with much of what she has written about problems inherent in (1) the privatisation of water, (2) patriarchal religions, and (3) criminalising some, but not all, drugs of addiction. One point in particular where I do agree with her is in relation to her description of moderating Webdiary as being similar to "herding kittens", though at times over the last few weeks I'd be more inclined to describe it as herding full-grown tigers. Margo and Hamish, you have my undying admiration for your fortitude and stamina in moderating virtually single-handed for so long. I know that there have times when, as effectively the sole moderator for several days, I have been close to breaking point. My total admiration and respect for my fellow moderators David Roffey, Craig Rowley, David Curry, and Richard Tonkin go, of course, without saying.

So, everyone, could we please heed Margo's call and return to civil debate? Robust of course - how could it be other with so many strong-minded and eccentric personalities involved? But as far as possible treating each other (and hence ourselves) with respect.

And may the rains fall across Australia and everywhere else they are needed soon.

Margo: Hi Fiona. Love your work. Stay cool in 2007, and please, if editing gets you down, take time out and leave it to the rest of us for a while. Everyone needs a break from this particular labour of love.

Good luck to you all

Margo:  Thank you for the invitation to return but I doubt it given your clearly discriminatory policy toward 'personal abuse' . It's a busy year for me anyway and as I had stated in earlier posts, I would not be spending much time on WD anyway .

I suppose it is cumulative and it troubles me deeply when admin publishes things which are patently untrue.

As a Virgo, I know just how many of my posts were unpublished. Probably half a dozen and most of them in regard to the recent issue. How the figure of more than 100 came up is beyond me and a demonstration, as I am sure an investigation would attest, of a lack of integrity or efficiency.

It was the post from admin which was the final straw, coming hard and fast upon your discriminatory approach to the length of my posts.

This is my final post. To all those who have posted to me, or may do in the near future, I will read what you have to say but will not respond.

Good luck to you all. And I do mean that.

Margo: Bye. 

Apologies F Kendall

F Kendall: “As I can surely be someone regarded as "attacking" Roslyn Ross on this thread, Charles, I am baffled by your suggestion that it has an Israeli-Palestinian element. Am I wrong in reading this as suggesting that I am pro-Israeli? If so, you may well be incorrect.”

Sorry F Kendall, you were not really in my mind. The problem as I see it is the sensitivity of some issues and this sensitivity makes it extremely hard to discuss certain issues in an open way. So you find yourself editing your thoughts or censoring your own thoughts. In the end as I see it the Middle East is the big Topic, it’s hard to escape. The topic follows Rosalyn around, if you like check out Hamish’s Murray Bookchin post, you will see what I mean.

Geoff Pahoff: “Apart from this reference the word "Israel" appears eight times on this thread. It was used by Roslyn Ross twice, P Walter, Mike Lyvers and Jenny Hume once and Charles J Camilleri three times (including in one quote of Charles by another commenter). mentioned Israel once each, both in response to comments by Roslyn Ross. The word Palestine has been used four times. Three of these were by Charles.”

The problem Geoff is this is only one thread, Israel is such a sensitive topic, as a rule I have chosen to stay out of discussions, I simply do not have enough knowledge or experience in the area to make a meaningful contribution. My only reason for bringing up Israel or Palestine was my perception that Rosalyn was not being treated fairly, if I am wrong in that assessment I will accept my error and apologise to all. You may remember Geoff the Murry Bookchin thread, where I engaged in a reasonably civil discussion with Hamish!!! Which had nothing to do with the Middle East? Rosalyn was involved in that discussion and bang, you know what happened right!!!! So as I pointed out to F Kendall, some topics follow people around.

Bookchin Thread

To be honest Charles I don't remember. When I get a chance I'll have a look. But in the meantime perhaps it might be enough for me to say that if you think that I think that my own behaviour has always been impeccable, around here or elsewhere, and that it was always somebody else who was in the wrong, please allow me to disavow you of that notion.  

Punishment and revenge

F Kendall: My apologies for the delay in responding to your post of January 15, 2007 - 10:06am. We had a massive electrical storm here last night and have just got the power back on after being without for about 20 hours.

“With no line drawn, ‘an eye for an eye’ could presumably mean, for the child murderer, that a beloved of his could be molested and murdered as a just punishment.”

That possibly did happen in societies where Mosaic law was in place. But for the murderer of any individual, that law meant that his/her own life was forfeit, at least as I understand it. However, let me stress again that I am not an advocate of the Mosaic law, but for the reasons I set out in the thread starter I think that the death penalty is appropriate for heads of government like Saddam Hussein who practice mass murder for their own political ends.

As I set out in my post of January 13, 2007 - 2:55pm, the dictionary definitions differ in that punishment involves a penalty, while revenge involves retaliation. I don’t think that gets us far, because apart from anything else, both can occur together, and within a second of the offence taking place.

Though I yawned my way through grammar lessons at high school, from what I remember the clearest discrimination becomes possible when we consider the possessive case. When I say “I have had my punishment” I am talking about some fine, jail term, caning (eg for yawning in grammar lessons at school) inflicted upon me, but when I say “I have had my revenge”, I am talking about something nasty that I or some agent of mine has inflicted upon someone else, for my ostensible benefit and satisfaction (like chopping down the grammar teacher’s gladioli. Yes, it did happen, but not by me and I’m not saying who.)

When the state (by which I mean that section of the national population holding official power) imposes a penalty on some transgressor, the state cannot easily be said to be seeking revenge for itself, but it can deliver a certain revenge satisfaction to a wronged party, and to those who empathise with that party. Hence it is difficult to separate revenge from punishment.

But if I were to murder your uncle Fred, and the Law in its wisdom decreed for my punishment that my uncle Bert was for the chop, objections would likely be raised in certain quarters as to the justice of it. I wholeheartedly agree with you there.

Margo: Ian, big rain in Canberra - fantastic!

Cool clear water water

Margo: "Ian, big rain in Canberra - fantastic"

Not exactly, and since the kerfuffle on my other half’s thread here seems to have sprung up over my head, let me tip some lovely cool water over it all.

The rain gods called up their armies for an all in stoush on these great western plains around dark. I never want to see a war like that again. But even the old hands said they’ve never seen anything like it before so I’m probably safe. And who would miss a light show like that anyway. Four, five six great jagged swords, all competing with each other to stab the earth; turning the parched brown land to the far horizons yellow, then orange, then a weird glow of red. Great round balls of fire bouncing from cloud to cloud, incessant sheets of shimmering light dancing and darting across the land seeking out every dark crevice. Not one second was missed by the gods to show off their stuff.

Some great king of the forest fell under a fatal blow and blinding light.

That was close, came a quiet voice from the couch.

For three hours the gods fought it out. First the Teev went, then the cooler, then the fridge, then everything else. But who needed a torch. Crack. Bang. The house shook. Another one down.

That was close, from the couch.

And again: That was close.

And again: That was close.

 Well, is that smoke I can smell?

That shifted him.

Where’s me boots. If we have to quit this place I’m not walking on those cathead burrs. I followed the flashes, found his boots. But quitting the house did not seem like a good idea, smoke or no smoke.

Then down it came, the beautiful, cool life giving rain. The roof leaked, the frogs croaked in the loo, the flying arthropods invaded eyes and ears, but no one was complaining.

Twenty hours later the power is back. No one had the heart to whinge. After all, the sparkies had to get out there and check out a thousand miles of lines down roads with no names, abandoned properties and a populace that helpfully tells them: Well if you check down the seven mile I think there’s a pole there that’s got a bad lean up - might've come down. But refrains from adding that is has been like that for the past ten and the seven mile is not marked on any map anyway.

Lovely life giving cool rain. Pity about the hot dry wind all day today, but the gods look like they haven't quite settled things yet and I'm being told to disconnect right now. And I getter go and fill a thermos. Twenty hours without a cuppa is more than anyone should have to bear.

Roslyn retired? Well, be I a true positive or true negative I nonetheless agreed with her on many of the issues that confront our society today. 500 words. Me too methinks. 


A small statistical input to the question of moderation. We currently have just over 900 unpublished comments on approval queue, ignoring the 4 or 5 waiting moderation, and covering the 13 months . Of those that were not and will not be published, just over 100 each were from Geoff Pahoff and Roslyn Ross, while coming up behind between 50 and 100 each were (in descending order): Jay White, Angela Ryan, C Parsons and mike lyvers. Given that Jay was banned for a couple of months, he probably has a strike rate in the Pahoff/Ross championship podium class. If you can discern a right- or left-wing bias in that, I have a bridge I can sell you. Interesting that the top 5 between them account for more than half of all the rejected posts. On the subject of bias in what is published, we have pointed out several times that it's really up to you as webdiarists. In that same 13 months, C Parsons had around 1000 comments published, and Geoff P around 700. It was open to anyone else to do the same (though preferably with a lower abuse rejection rate). David Roffey PS, welcome back, Margo!

The Tim Leary school of world politics?

Paul Walter  Easier to have the "other" demonised for the purposes of ideology disguised as dry self-referential legal narrowist pedant apologetics and self congratulations, well dislocated from reality. But what's wrong with an open debate on law, justice and revenge, including all the evidence?

I call it knowing what the law actually is as opposed to just making it up to suit ones biased views.

How silly this site is becoming. We have now entered the world of our defined realities. Probably the reason I am reading about strikes on Iran when neither the US or indeed Israel has ever once fired a shot in anger at them.

500 words for all of us is fine by me

Margo:  Nice to 'meet' you. I had already said to David that I had taken on board the issue of length. Perfectly happy to stick to 500 words and I am assuming this applies to everyone as part of a fair and across the board WD policy. If it only applies to me then I think an explanation is required although it would surprise me if it were. One of the things I have learned on WD is the need to clarify.

I have also said to David that I will no longer enter into personal encounters with posters who where there is antagonism. I have done that with one poster for some time but will add others. At this point C. Parsons who has just accused me of:

relentless hostility towards Isreal and Jews in particular, and her ceaseless hackneyed anti-American tirades.

To be fair Margo, if I had said this it would have been called personal abuse and deleted as such. All I ask is that everyone be treated the same.

I have already spoken out in defence of WD integrity and intend to trust the process I have told has been put in place.

Margo: Hi Roslyn. The 500 word limit applies to you and not anyone else at the moment, because you regularly write well over that length and write many posts a day. I don't think the pharase "relentless hostility" and "ceaselessly hackneyed anti-Amercian tirades" are over the line, however I hope all involved in this seemingly endless debate over your work will take note of what I wrote earlier and be gentle. If you can't stand Roslyn's line, then how abbout ignoring it, apart from pointing out any errors of fact. 

Roslyn and Margo.

Macro congratulations in the logical and friendly way that you two have resolved a situation which could have been misconstrued by some of the lesser-lights in this forum.

Personally, I enjoy your posts Roslyn, however I agree with Margo's fair observation and I wonder if you would like to use the Mk. 1, 2 etc?

Margo and her team of volunteers have provided for all, perhaps the only "free" comment forum in Howard's Australia and we must respect it, as I am sure you do.

I am obviously of the opinion that the media is entirely biased to the Howard Corporations government when it launders to them such "magnificent millions" of taxpayers' funds, for paid for comment.

This Webdiary gives the people the opportunity to point out the differences in what is true and what is skewed.

Pleased to know you both.

Cheers Ern G.

Margo: Hi Ernest. Unfortunately Roslyn has now retired from Webdiary. Perhaps she'll be back sometime.

New claim - Saddam's execution led to child hangings

CAIRO, Egypt - The boys' deaths — scattered in the United States, in Yemen, in Turkey and elsewhere in seemingly isolated horror — had one thing in common: They hanged themselves after watching televised images of  Saddam Hussein's execution.

Officials and relatives say the children appeared to be mimicking the former dictator's Dec. 30 hanging, shown both on a sanitized Iraqi government tape and explicit clandestine videos that popped up on Web sites and some TV channels.

Clearly, this is George Bush's fault. Not to mention those parents who apprently watched on idly as children hanged themselves in imitation of Saddam Hussein.

Oddly, no mention in that item about how heroes of the glorious "resistance" themselves emulated Saddam's hanging by rounding up Shi'ite civilians and hanging them.

They had no choice, most likely.

Odd, too, how the "resistance" now apears to take offense at beheading. 

It's fine to deliberately cut the head off innocent aid workers - but an offense against the principles of natural justice if a former Ba'athist intelligence chief goes to the gallows for his part in a mass murder.

Paul your post was published and that counts

Paul, to be honest, I am happy to stand as scapegoat if it means that certain issues are addressed. I think there are areas of concern in regard to 'where Webdiary is going' as you point out.

I think you must take heart from the fact that your post was published. I do think there is integrity on the site which is capable of resolving the problems which diminish it and threaten it.

And yes, I have picked up on the fact that there appear to be 'relationships' between posters and between posters and moderators.

I suspect running something like WD is a bit like 'herding kittens,' and one needs to take into account the fact that people are often voluntary and a lot of effort probably goes into keeping the site 'alive' which would otherwise go into moderating.

But I do agree with you that it is important to have free and open debate without harassment from certain 'groups.' Interestingly, while living in Africa I spent a year or so dabbling in the Guardian's discussion site and at another time, a similar period on the Washington Post's discussion site, and found that similar things occurred as appear to have happened (in the past) on WD.  To clarify, not in regard to me but in a general sense.

There does seem to be, at times, concerted efforts to strangle free debate on certain topics. The end result is usually that the loudest voices triumph and gentler, more reasoned ones are discouraged from posting. I think, like you, when that happens it is the beginning of the end.

Perhaps for some the most frustrating thing is when the tactics don't work and the poster gives as good as he or she gets and perseveres. I'm not claiming innocence in all of this, and readily accept that I allowed myself to be drawn down into more base levels of behaviour, but I do think the problem magnifies when a certain climate is allowed to develop.

As far as I am concerned I take WD at its word, at this point anyway,  that I am not the only one and that the application of policy will apply to all, equally and fairly, and order will be restored.

Perhaps when that is established you will reconsider. Meanwhile, thanks for your support. It does help. As I said, I make no claim to innocence and have spent a lot of time pondering just how fair or unfair it all was. Comments like yours assist in that process.


Margo:  I’m getting fed up with all this tooing and froing over the fairness of moderation. Webdiary has proved over and over again that it’s not biased, and we’ve got complaints from left, right and just about everywhere else to prove it.

The issue of moderating comments has been an ongoing drama ever since Webdiary moved to comments mode in September 2004. I’ve stuck to Webdiary’s charter, written in 2001, and endeavoured to provide a safe space for civil conversation and debate by Australians of all political views.

All I’ve asked is that contributors don’t hurl personal abuse at each other, admit to errors of fact when they’re exposed, and treat each other as human beings rather than punching bags. There’s many places to go if you’re into that sort of thing, and very few places to go if you’re not.

The comments moderators are all volunteers who do their best. They’re human beings, and have different moods and different takes on the guidelines. They don’t deserve to be abused because commentators are frustrated at other commentators or have worked themselves into a self righteous lather.

We’ve got an interesting little community of people here from all walks of life and varied lifespans and life experiences. I met several last year – Geoff, Malcolm, Jenny, Ian, Russell, Peter Funnell and David Curry, and without exception they are strong, independent thinkers with big egos and a touch of eccentricity. I’ve enjoyed meeting all of them.

Webdiary should be fun. I’ve done everything possible to ensure that Webdiary is a democratic space accountable and transparent to all readers. I don’t want to give up on that vision and change the policy to “I WILL DECIDE” with no correspondence entered into, but if we can’t settle down here I may have to. Self regulation is the key to Webdiary working.

So Happy New Year to everyone and let’s be nice to each other, OK? Acrimony is so last year!

Roslyn, I’ve noticed that some of your posts are very long. Too long. There is a danger that your work could suffocate the space, so you’re on a  500 word limit from now on. Any post over that won’t be published. I’ve found that the discipline of a word length makes one’s work more effective, so please give it a go.

Contextualising Saddam's fascist dictatorship

Paul Walter: "Starting with the attack on you, Roslyn, for daring to provide the relevant material that contextualised the behaviour of Saddam in terms of the recent history of the middle east ....."

I'm a bit confused here. Is this supposed to be a defence of Roslyn's standard practice of "contextualis[ing] the behaviour of Saddam" ?

Imagine if I accused her of that.

Roslyn certainly does contextualise practically every aspect of Middle Eastern politics - typically within the framework of her relentless hostility towards Isreal and Jews in particular, and her ceaseless hackneyed anti-American tirades.

One "context' she has scrupulously avoided over time is providing corroborative evidence in support of the many specific claims she makes in her arguments - despite repeated requests, usually.

Western guilt and hypocrisy

Roslyn, am having too much trouble getting the thing to type out at the moment- have already lost one post and do not regard this site as any longer so relevant and worth further effort, given the sickening biases now on display not only from rightist posters, but a moderator group whose biases are now similarly naked for all to see.

Sufficient to say I regard Ian MacDougall's post as a self-referential closed-circle alibi for western guilt and hypocrisy and similar to the AWB in which  terms of reference are similarly constrained, to avoid the truth and protect the guilty.

Starting with the attack on you, Roslyn, for daring to provide the relevant material that contextualised the behaviour of Saddam in terms of the recent history of the middle east - including Palestine - to link this to a theme of revenge versus justice against a "history of the victors" that  assigns demonic criminality exclusively to Saddam, for the sort of rant you would get in the opeds of The Australian.

 Easier to have the "other" demonised for the purposes of ideology disguised as dry self-referential legal narrowist pedant apologetics and self congratulations, well dislocated from reality. But what's wrong with an open debate on law, justice and revenge, including all the evidence?

You did well seeing through it. That is why you are being attacked by rightwing posters and moderators alike. Don't forget, certain moderators have friends amongst the posters, but there is no disclosure anywhere that would enable you to realise this.


Not at this site! Not from these people, Roslyn!

But it is dying for its dishonesty - it is no longer the great open forum where the truth is the main goal, but merely a site for pushing conservative legal notions, ideology and propaganda, and crowding out legitimate debate.

This will be my last post - am nauseated at what has happened to this thread and this site and do not want my good name to be associated with it further.

Let's see if they have the guts to post this one without interfering or twisting of the meaning thereof.

Don't you love an open mind willing to argue?

Oh, good, another one down.  On Roslyn Ross’ count only another 7 to go (although I think Angela Ryan and Jenny Hume might be false positives).

In relation to what I do hope will be your last post (January 16, 2007 - 4:23am) Paul Walter (sound the trumpets and let loose the dogs of war), I do not think this site is dying although it is continually hijacked by Roslyn Ross and her ilk trying to turn every conceivable thread into an attack on Israel and the Rebel American colonies and a fanatical (if strangely subtle) support for militant Islam and Palestine.  Leaving aside the inherent lack of balance in such a view, there are ample grounds for criticising the Rebel Colonies and I have done so in many threads myself.  The essential problem is an almost indistinguishably bellicose foreign policy almost from the outset of the revolution accompanied by an overwhelming belief by the majority of its citizenry that it is right at all costs (even when it does something which is wrong – like invade a sovereign State without UN sanction).

As to the question of the Roslyn Ross, let me state my objections shortly.  Her posts and articles are characterised by a prolixity of Barbera Cartland proportions (often with about as much useful intellectual content.)  They are typically poorly sourced, unsourced, unreferenced or referenced to material which is unreliable, irrelevant or second hand.  They do not bear the marks either of sourced journalism or proper academic referencing.   They are often inaccurate and abusive. David Roffey’s comments are generally applicable if sheathed in cotton gloves.

In my view, this site was established to allow citizen journalism which does not get a run in the wider media.  It was not established for one individual to present often poisonous opinion, inherently offensive to some other Webdiarists on either religious or racial grounds at almost interminable length.  As I said in her “Too Precious to Privatise” thread:

“As usual, Roslyn Ross has said in 2,070 words what could have been said in a paragraph.”   When challenged by Roger Fedyk on October 26, 2006 - 2:51pm, I rose to the challenge on October 26, 2006 - 10:49pm and, apparently, it satisfied the challenger.  Mind you it took about an hour of wading through the drivel to be able to do it.

It would be of great utility if we agreed that there are some of us who believe fervently that the State of Israel does exist and has a right to do so and that Palestine has no historical justification while there are others who disagree.  We could then get on with discussing specific events and/or policies given those differences as a given.  It would shorten things enormously and enhance the diversity of the site.

For my part, I should be only too pleased if I never had to read anything Roslyn Ross said ever again and that pleasure would be consummated by her never posting again but, given that she has demonstrated time and again that she does not quote reliable sources, that she makes factual errors and that it often takes an inordinate time to detect the same, whenever she strays into any of my baliwicks and gets it wrong, she’ll get it straight between the eyes.

Margo: OK, there's an ongoing saga about Roslyn's work, particularly her refusal at times to acknowledge errors in her work. I refer all Webdiarists to Webdiary Ethics, and insist that if errors of fact are pointed out they should be acknowledged. I also request that if someone challenges the accuracy of one's work, that that challenge is directly addressed, not skirted over. Otherwise, what's the point of a debate? But please, have a read of my comment to Roslyn's latest, Malcolm, and let's start afresh with a kinder face, yes?

Aw, shucks Ma'am

I did read it between posting my last comment (which was meant to be a final summary on the subject) and this.    I am prepared to enter into the spirit of what you say: I have my cut and paste 500 word guillotine ready and able.    File, Properties, Statistics: the new panacea for all ills (don't hold your breath.)

Eccentric, moi?    You've been spending too much time reading kate McClymont. 

Margo: Malcolm, I don't read newspapers any more! I'm into 'The Power of Now' and other such Buddhist texts. The 500 word limit applies only to Rosyln. And I apply the term eccentric to myself too - I mean it as a compliment!  

Vietnam redux

Will Howard, what do you think of this analysis from the LATimes?

It's all going to plan, and the plan is that, in spite of this cock-up, the Republicans have to win the next election, and the Democrats have to wear the blame for an Iraqi (US) failure. Vietnam redux.

Re: Vietnam Redux

F Kendall: " what do you think of this analysis from the LATimes?"

I read Rosa Brooks' Op-Ed piece. Like a lot of such speculation, it can't be ruled out.

My initial reaction is that it gives too much credit to the Bush Administration for being able to run an effective conspiracy. There may be some smart people in the current administration, but they're not Nixon & Kissinger.

I agree they're trying to position themselves so as to minimise vulnerability to blame for Bush and the Republicans. And they're trying to write a political "script" which puts the Democrats in a no-win position.

All "part of the plan" right from the start? Perhaps. I doubt it, though Bush & Co. tried to wrap themselves in the flag from before the Iraq war, and "frame" any opposition to the war as "appeasement" etc.

Brooks' analysis rest on some shaky (IMO) presumptions: that Bush "knows" there's no possibility of "winning" (whatever that means in this situation). That there really is no possibility of winning. Maybe there is, may be there isn't. Maybe Bush "knows" this, maybe he doesn't. Maybe Bush doesn't "really want" to win in Iraq, but Brooks has no way of knowing this one way or the other. Similarly none of us can "know full well" what the Iraqis can or cannot do.

The analogy between Bush/Iraq and Nixon/Kissinger/Vietnam is weak in one important sense: Nixon did not get the US into Vietnam. He inherited a military involvement started by the Democratic Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. One could argue he and Kissinger made the situation worse by expanding the war into Cambodia and Laos, and by not being honest with the American people. But recall that one of Nixon's campaign promises in 1968 was to bring an end to the war in Vietnam: "peace with honor" was the slogan. And he started pulling the US out of direct involvement during his first term. This was the doctrine of "Vietnamization." There were few US troops in Vietnam by 1973.

In 1976 Democrat Jimmy Carter won the White House. So if Nixon and Kissinger had a secret plan to screw the Democrats it didn't seem to work did it? Brooks omits this part; the GOP didn't regain the White House until 1980. In that election the Democratic President was left looking weak because of Iran and the hostage crisis, not because of Vietnam.

Granted there were other factors at work in Nixon's fall from grace. But by the same token, McGovern was not a strong candidate for many reasons; Nixon's 1972 re-election was a landslide.

Brooks also seems to presume the US electorate would go along with the Republicans' alleged nefarious plan, in the face of the evidence provided by the recent mid-term elections. Bush and the Republicans are going to have a hard time politically in the next two years, what with Democrats chairing all the important committees in Congress. They've already started roasting Rice and Gates in committee hearings on Iraq.

I'm sceptical of the idea that the Republicans would "throw" the mid-term elections in order to "win" in 2008. 

Charles J Camilleri: I respect your posts

Charles J Camilleri: I am sorry that you have been under a lot of stress. I respect your posts. Although I, too, find them difficult to respond to, I find them to be very thought provoking, and they stay with me for a long time.

As I can surely be someone regarded as "attacking" Roslyn Ross on this thread, Charles, I am baffled by your suggestion that it has an Israeli-Palestinian element. Am I wrong in reading this as suggesting that I am pro-Israeli?

If so, you may well be incorrect.

Israel Palestine

Apart from this reference the word "Israel" appears eight times on this thread. It was used by Roslyn Ross twice, P Walter once and Charles J Camilleri three times (including in one quote of Charles by another commenter). Mike Lyvers and Jenny Hume mentioned Israel once each, both in response to comments by Roslyn Ross.

The word Palestine has been used four times. Three of these were by Charles.

The instinct for revenge

It seems I have been refused a right of reply to David Roffey's  very personal post. I would just like to say that David has chosen to publish a private email which I wrote in a bid to establish a gaurantee of consistency from Moderators and his lengthy response.

 However, I am completely comfortable leaving the assessment of what David has said to individual posters knowing that there are those who will hold to fixed views and quite a few others who will take it on board in more balanced fashion. I thank all those who have written in support over various threads including Charles, Angela, Marek, Robyn, Bob Wall and Phil. This is all from memory so I am sorry if I have forgotten anyone.

But back to the topic.

Paul: I have been pondering your comment in regard to my position and revenge. If I have interpreted you wrongly then please correct me.

You said: Apart from allowing support for the position of stoic Roslyn Ross, in the face of her at times perverse besiegers, is of further relevance to this thread in another way. The above alludes to an as-yet-unconsidered aspect of the "revenge" theme that the thread at worst luxuriates in:

I think you have touched upon something important and something which influences most, if not all of us.

A medium like WD allows people to communicate and interact from a level of relative safety. It is hardly surprising perhaps that people feel empowered by this and over-state or over-reach.

What is revenge? It is a form of empowerment following a sense of disempowerment. And yes, this applies to these threads in the same way it applies to the streets of Baghdad. We feel empowered when we are in control, or have the illusion of control. We also feel empowered when we become angry. That is no doubt a physiological response which saved us from the wild beasts of the forest.

But what is behind the disempowerment, need for re-empowerment and need for control? It is fear. Fear is always behind anger. Perhaps in a 'safe' environment like WD people are able to express anger, to stimulate a sense of control or empowerment, in ways that perhaps they do not in life. I would apply this to everyone to greater or lesser degrees.

Isn't it interesting, then, to consider the levels of abuse which have arisen in the past anyway, on something as benign as WD, and to balance that against the human instinct to desire revenge for very real and very terrible wrongs.

Perhaps that is also why revenge is much more common in the undeveloped world where people do not have the safety nets and social supports which serve to dilute if not dismiss many fears.

A society must be 'safe' before it is able to do away with revenge and establish a legal system to take its place.

A limited perception

Paul Walter:  "My opinion is that Professor Saikal's views are incorrect only in that he limits this perception to the Muslim world."

That is why I wrote, in the first post on this thread:  "Pragmatically, it was not in our interests."

Revenge and Punishment

Ian MacDougall: To your original question: "...what is the difference between it (revenge) and punishment?"

There may always be, as has been suggested, an element of revenge in punishment, but we draw quite clear lines about how much and what kind of revenge may be taken.

With no line drawn, "an eye for an eye" could presumably mean, for the child murderer, that a beloved of his could be molested and murdered as a just punishment. Greater equivalence there rather than merely executing him, isn't there?  A more satisfying revenge?

It's where we draw the line that reflects our society, doesn't it?

justice, revenge, and Editorial Policy

A contribution to the side debate about the debate, taken from correspondence with Roslyn around editorial decisions which have already been discussed here. At least the first part of my reply to her applies to you all.

What Roslyn wrote:

Dear David,
Here is a copy of a post I submitted and following it is a copy of the post published with numerous deletions supposedly because of personal abuse.
I think Fiona is the moderator and I can only say that Fiona, in a rather more dignified way, seems also to be party to the desire to deride much, if not all, of what I post.
To be honest, given the things which have been said to me, the aspersions cast, the slurs and slander, and this is the first time I have made a formal complaint I am astonished that Fiona, and apologies if it was not her, the Moderator, took the 'red pencil' to my post in such a 'scapegoat' way.
Fair is fair I say. I find it fascinating that I can be called anti-semitic and god knows what else and no warning is given to posters and yet when I make what are, by comparison, similar comments it is attacked in this way.
To be honest, there has been something of a vendetta going on toward me from a number of people and I really think it is unfair for moderators not to take action. Other posters have commented upon this.
Thank you for your consideration.
Roslyn Ross

My reply:

Dear Roslyn

Some principles first:

  1. there is no 'tit for tat' rule: if one Webdiarist has for whatever reason got away with a breach of policy (or sailed very close to the edge), that does not give any right to insult or disparage them in reply. The fact that many offenders don't get caught is not an excuse for offending in any regime.
  2. on the other hand, moderators have been tempted to apply the Golden Rule at times: if specific Webdiarists are prone to handing out insults, then the moderators have been more likely to allow robust replies: there is no doubt that this has contributed to the playground/bear garden aspects of some recent debates, and we will be enforcing policy more rigidly and indiscriminately in future.
  3. there is no rule that says you can't attack other Webdiarist's views, only that you can't launch ad hominem attacks. This is always problematic, because it means that terms like "racist" ARE potentially allowed when describing an expressed view, but not when describing the holder of the view – a difficult line to draw, but one every teacher and every parent should be practised in ["Johnny, that isn't true, is it?" is allowed: "Johnny, you're a liar" isn't]
  4. there is no rule that says once one Webdiarist has responded, others have to hold back – each response is treated on its own merits, or lack of them. This rarely results in "mobbing", so long as the original Webdiarist's own responses are themselves temperate (see all the above).

As I said, we have begun to enforce the policy guidelines more firmly, particularly in respect of pejorative and disparaging comments. Inevitably, some things will be missed, or slip through: this is not a signal that return fire will be allowed (see 1 above).

On to the specifics of your complaint:

  1. the use of phrases such as "you are … prejudiced", "your bias and bigotry" and "your racism" with reference to Malcolm B Duncan are pejorative within the terms of paragraph (d) of the Personal Abuse guidelines in the Editorial Policy
  2. Your remark to Jenny Hume that "[y]ou may well have felt patronized but I would ask you to reread and reconsider…. I was talking about you in your youth , not you now. I think you are inclined to respond quickly and emotionally and I am sorry you are offended but the fact is you cannot take anything here personally" offends both under paragraph (d) and paragraph (a) [criticism of a Webdiarist's … imagined … non-physical qualities … (education level, life or work experience] of the Personal Abuse guidelines. It is further compounded by the italicised words which restate your assumption that Jenny Hume had already stated that she found patronizing.
  3. The Editors agree that descriptions of you, or of any Webdiarist, as anti-Semitic or racist also breach paragraph (d), and as such should not have been published. The Editors also point out, however, that you (and others) have referred to certain Webdiarists as sexist. This is also in breach of paragraph (d), and should not have been published.

And, lastly, on to the question of "vendetta":

The Editors doubt that there is a "vendetta" or "desire to deride" what you write. Almost all of the criticisms to which both your contributions and your comments have been subject are directed at the quality of your arguments, and the support evidence that you adduce. Remember point 4 of the Editorial Policy: If you are caught out, expect to be corrected.
There are several matters concerning your posts that have been concerning the Editors for some time. First, you rarely accept correction regarding factual errors, but tend instead to shift your ground, asserting that the incorrect facts were not crucial to your point. (An example here is your assertion in your contribution "Is the modern world killing our kids?" that rates of youth suicide "have been doing more rising than falling across the world for the past decade or more and Australia is no exception". Several Webdiarists challenged you on this assertion, providing, among other things, ABS data for the past decade, as well as possible reasons for possible under-reporting in earlier times. You dismissed all these challenges as being irrelevant to your main argument, and continued to assert that rates are rising.) This clearly irritates some readers, and perhaps makes them more inclined to scrutinize your posts with particular care.
Second, your comments are almost always long. Indeed on the "Justice, punishment and revenge" thread at 12.39 pm on Friday 12 January 2007, 47 comments had been posted, of which eight were yours. The average word count for the 39 comments posted by other Webdiarists was 233. Your average was 955. In part this may be attributable to your habit of responding to everything that anyone says to you. While we understand that you do so out of courtesy, you might like to consider that it may not be entirely courteous to reiterate your position at seemingly ever-increasing length.
Roslyn, you are presently the most prolific Webdiarist on the site. Despite your feelings, there is no organized move to deride what you say. Somewhat to your surprise, many of us share your views on a wide variety of subjects. The problem, such as it is, has more to do with the prolixity of your writing and your tendency to engage in specious reasoning, which not unnaturally gives what you seem to regard as your opponents more grist to their mills.


Since this reply also relates to comments from yourself and others published on the site, I will be publishing it on the site later today.



Jenny, I 've been under a lot of stress, and because of this I really shouldnt be posting much at all. So my apologies. But it is frustrating when a potentially rich topic gets hijacked. Cheers.


Charles J Camilleri: "Roslyn clearly is being attacked at almost every opportunity not to bring out any aspect of the topic but to destroy. The reason for this is obvious, because of her politics. Does every topic have to end up as Israel and Palestine?"

This statement is clearly wrong in my view.

Roslyn Ross is being attacked on this thread by numerous people. I never agree with the main "attacker". The reason? She is wrong.

Could you imagine a student reading her law pontifications?

Easy to misunderstand

Jenny, I have apologised more than once for the fact that you found or felt that my post was patronizing. Let me clarify. I respect the fact that you feel patronized. Your feelings are your feelings and real for you. But all I can say is that was not my intent.

It is a reality in relationship that we often misunderstand those we know well and I am sure it is easier to misunderstand those we do not know well, or at all really, given the limitations of the situation.

You have had a response to something I wrote which is as much about the sort of person you are as what I wrote. And this bit may be deleted given new attention to policy, but I feel you are a tender hearted person and perhaps do take things personally which are not meant personally. I tend to analyse and dissect and this can be at times brusque perhaps but I do not intend to offend..... not with you anyway.

I guess it is my nature to make judgements and assumptions not only about what people write but why they write it. Given the amount of name-calling to which I am subjected I can only say I am not the only one doing this. You yourself have commented in personal ways about me and what I post.

I enjoyed reading your account of your Pakistani adventure. As I have said before, more than once, you do write well.

The baked beans reminded me of our four years in India and four years in Angola for that matter when we travelled in with laden suitcases and eskies full of fresh meat. We worked out that we could get eight wine casks in a suitcase which kept us going in India. I have not drunk cask wine since. In Angola we could at least get Portugese wine. But it is amazing how much one can carry in a suitcase.

And it is surprising the things we miss. We send coffee and olives to our son in New York regularly. And funnily enough there is a difference between Australian baked beans and others. Always worth carrying. We ate a lot of them when we spent a year living in a hotel in Bombay before moving into our house because the suite had no kitchen and we used a little Japanese rice cooker to warm things. Eating in hotel restaurants for a year wears thin. It was also the best way to get sick as we discovered.

Just a breeze

Roslyn: As I pointed out to Charles, it is more about how hard we try to push what we believe that can be the problem. And actually I do not take things nearly as personally as you think. I just note what I think is judgemental/patonsising of me from my impressions, but it causes me no stress or anx at all. If feeling patronised on WD by anyone is the worst that can happen in life, then what a breeze life would be. .

Yes, travelling in the third world has its challenges that is for sure. But the fact that we both survived suggests we coped. And of course, with the wisdom of hindsight and age, we may have done some things differently, but not all. Next time I am inclined to carry tins of baked beans half way round the world I will take a green bag for a start.  But I would add that when in Pakistan, it was in fact two Mulsim Iranian students who refused to confrom to the dress code. They wore mini skirts the whole year they were there.

BTW: On the youth suicide thread I think people fail to realise that for every death there are so many others who try. Some researchers suggest thirty attempts for every death. So the true dimension of the problem has to be seen in that light. Just as the road toll is not just about those who die, but also about those many more who are injured or damaged for life, be it physically and psychologically. The ultimate human and financial cost of both suicide and the road toll goes way beyond the number of recorded deaths. That is the real tragedy. And so many families have been touched by one or the other, including ours, though touched is not the word, Even devastated is too mild to describe it.  

But my book now calls. So with this I am off. No doubt Phil Moffat is saying I told you so. He must be psychic or something.


Margo We Miss You

I started posting at Webdiary after I read two books, Not happy John by Margo, and Dark Victory by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson. I did not start posting because I considered myself an expert on anything. I posted out of concern. I thought that that was the whole idea of Webdiary, opinions from a wide range of Australians. I think Margo’s best quality was or still is, I FELT I COULD POST IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Now if you go back to some of the old threads you can clearly see the diversity of the posters has changed. If I had come to Webdiary now, I would never have started posting. What does that tell me? Well, all this talk about patronising is real but it is not only Roslyn. Ian’s post is about Justice, Punishment and Revenge. I don’t mind the digression if it is imaginative exploration of the topic, but this isn’t the case here. What appears to be happening is the inessential is being amplified and the real and essential is being ignored. Not all the posts of course. Roslyn clearly is being attacked at almost every opportunity not to bring out any aspect of the topic but to destroy. The reason for this is obvious, because of her politics. Does every topic have to end up as Israel and Palestine?

I personally came to the conclusion that if Stephen Hawkins can write clear concise books directed at children on the nature of the universe, then there must be something terribly wrong with the amount of complexity that accompanies any discussion regarding Israel or Palestine. Jenny and Roslyn, you may remember the David’s Stolen Generation post. I came out of that feeling like I had just been given psychotherapy by both of you. Now I don’t know if that is exactly condescension or patronizing. If you compare David’s reaction you will see clearly what I am talking about. Please don’t answer to the last paragraph because I have no intention of getting caught up in any discussion over it, and I don’t feel any animosity towards anyone here. Heck who knows, maybe I deserve it.

Charles - knocking on the doors of the mind

Charles J Camelleri: Well Charles, I am not sure either Roslyn or I would make very good psychotherapists! We'd more likely be good case studies!

When it came to the crunch you wrote the most in depth comment on that thread of David's, and frankly sometimes I dare not engage with you as some of your stuff goes over this girl's head. I cannot deal in the abstract very easily and am not particularly intellectually adventurous. My feet are firmly rooted in the soil and my head often in the clouds. So I rather let my illustrious forebear, the philosopher David Hume down I think, but frankly I think he was slightly mad. Peter Singer is more my kind of philosopher. If there is such a thing as Applied Philosophy, then he is the master of that.

I will comment here on what you have said about Roslyn and me. Roslyn and I have had some very similar experiences in early life that make us similar in some ways. We both had to grow up very early, and when you do that you get pretty firm ideas on how the world should be shaped, made less emotionally chaotic if you like, and that leads to a determination to try and change things you think should be changed. But I think I lost much of my passion and idealism under the weight of life's realities whereas she has not. And I see her getting frustrated that others do not see issues in quite the same way as she does, which unfortunately as I see it, then leads her to judge those who disagree with her as being somehow wanting or diminished in some way, lacking in principles and humanity. She actually uses those expressions or their like quite a bit.

So when you do that people are bound to take offence and if you come under constant attack for that, then you have to find another way to try and lead people to your point of view. From my observations it is not so much about her politics that Roslyn draws objection, but the way she goes about trying to convince others that she is right, and they are wrong.

Everyone is different and you have to allow them to make their own judgements. If they do not come to the same conclusions on looking at a complex situation, which the whole world situation is, and in particular the ME mess, then it does not help to judge them personally for that. It only antagonises. But on many things, I am in agreement with the general principles she espouses. But I agree with you entirely that the whole Palestine Israel Iraq business seems to creep into so many threads, which tends to hijack the thread and the thread is suffocated.

I used to get quite worked up about animal rights and welfare issues, and I used to do what I see Roslyn does, knock harder and harder on the door in the hope I could get someone to answer, and come out and be as outraged as I felt they should be at the things I knew were happening, and still are. And I found them personally wanting for not supporting me without question. But I found people just switched off and I had to change tactics, and when I did, I started to get real change of attitude in people I thought would never change. You cannot force people to believe or see things exactly the way you would like them to, so knocking harder on the door does not help. And you should not judge them if they do not answer the door. There could be many valid reasons for them not doing so.

But we all take ourselves far too seriously at times. It pays to lighten up. It is easy to lose one's sense of humour. I did once, for seven years, and for a very good reason, but I must have been pretty poor company in that time.

I am sure WD has changed since Margo left. Nothing remains the same ever. And I know she is thrilled to see the dream kept alive so don't write it off just yet. But today, I started writing my book, a big break through for me so WD is going to take second place this year.

I think the best way to make yourself get a book finished is to arrange the book launch. Trouble is last time I did that I had 300 people on the doorstep of my mother's old home, and the book was not there. Fortunately it arrived an hour before things got under way. So given that furore I am on notice by my other half who has said: I am not going through that again, so this time you are to have the book in your hand before you invite 300 people to travel from all over the country. So I got started today, but secretly have the launch date in the back of my mind.

So Roslyn will be pretty safe from me for a while. Me. A psychotherpist? Now that does make me smile. I must go back and see just what I said back there to you. Cheers Charles.

Professor Saikal

Am a humble soul and would not dream of "patronising" so emminent a gathering.

So, I realise it is probably pointless to commend the article: "America is making war more likely" Melbourne Age,13/1/07.

Many of you would have read it before it was even written, while the more powerful intellects amongst you would even, no doubt, regard Prof. Amin Saikal with a little distaste, since he does not automatically fawn over Howard, Israel and the US, but actually attempts scholarly objectivity in his chosen field.

But I believe the comment:

"The execution of Sunni Muslim Saddam on one of the holiest Muslim days- the first day of Eid al Adtha (festival of sacrifice) - by a team of Shiite executioners, who taunted the former Iraqi dictator and danced around his dead body, is widely perceived by Sunni Muslims, who constitute the great majority in the Muslim world, as an act of sectarian revenge and another slap in the face from Washington."

Apart from allowing support for the position of stoic Roslyn Ross, in the face of her at times perverse besiegers, is of further relevance to this thread in another way.

The above alludes to an as-yet-unconsidered aspect of the "revenge" theme that the thread at worst luxuriates in; an aspect soon to be played out in the narrow streets of Baghdad. Another division of hapless, uninformed, uniformed young fellas will probably arrive, to do the suffering that should rightly be the due owed of bloodthirsty armchair warriors safely sipping their whiskies back in the West.

And whither the long-suffering Iraqi people?

No-win situation

I read Prof. Saikal's essay in The Age, and I think he makes a number of good points. He notes in particular: "If Washington stands by its rhetoric of democracy, it will have no choice but to support the Iraqi Shiite majority, whose powerful religious leaders are bent on transforming Iraq into some kind of Shiite Islamic republic in alliance with Iran."

And I think this is part of the reason US authorities agreed to hand over Saddam to the Iraqi government for execution. They would not go against Maliki, even though they objected to the rushed nature of the execution and its deliberate timing so close to the start of Eid-ul-Adha. The US Gov't feared, rightly, that the hanging would be "widely perceived by Sunni Muslims, who constitute the great majority in the Muslim world, as an act of sectarian revenge," in Saikal's words. And it was.

I believe the manner and timing of Saddam's hanging is evidence of how much Washington has lost control of the situation in Iraq (if the US Gov't ever had control).

Prof. Saikal argues (astutely IMO) "Washington is indeed faced with virtually impossible choices..."

A fuller answer

Roslyn Ross: Perhaps you deserve a fuller answer.

But first: Your analogies are nonsense. Whatever advice I give my children - don't leave your used underpants on the floor, eg., don't drive too fast, has ABSOLUTELY NO RELATION, (yes, I'm shouting that), to your choice to judge and chide a mature woman for her actions of many years ago. Or of today, come to that.

You cherrypicked your comments to me, avoiding the offensive ones you made. Here I list a few objections, such as "...dismisses better judgement". This obviously implies that Jenny Hume used poor judgement. Patronising and rude.

"You chose to remain completely ignorant of that country and its religion." How distorting can you get? Jenny Hume was an educated woman who chose to enter the country with an open mind, obviously willing to embrace the country and its religion, and, as she has shown, she did. How can you then jump to your claim that she remained, and chose to remain, "completely ignorant"? Another rude, offensive and unsubstantiated comment.

"I'm surprised that you would not be courteous or considerate enough..." Ok, you are saying that she was discourteous and inconsiderate -or less than was required - "in order not to offend through ignorance" Ok, having established that she was discourteous and inconsiderate, you imply that she may have offended through ignorance.

Just samples, Roslyn Ross.

You said to me: "Would it be patronising to suggest to someone who wanted to drive from Melbourne to Broome that a map might be useful?" Yes, certainly. You would be likely to end up with an atlas jammed between your teeth. How do you not know this? Do you also remind them to fill up with petrol when the arrow gets to "empty"? Why do you think it appropriate to assume that others are stupid?

And, you added, "Or patronising to suggest to someone going to a seriously religious country that some understanding of the religious customs or laws..would be useful"?

Yes. Your advice assumes your higher knowledge and their ignorance. It's patronising. Don't you get it?

"I know only too well how easy it is to offend..." Yes, I'm sure that you do, RR. - What are you going to do about it?

And now, if I have offended you, I expect to see the compassionate, loving forgiveness that you hope to feel towards those who harm you.

About the long and the short of it.

F Kendall: Thank you. You sum it up in a nutshell. But while I find it irritating that Roslyn does this, I must confess there have been gales of laughter issuing forth from this office today, particularly as I recall all those confounded tins of baked beans I humped all the way from London to Lahore. Ah, memories!

But no, I did not blunder into Pakistan as a discourteous and inconsiderate ignoramus offending all and sundry with my ignorance. I went there unprepared as to what to expect, sure; but I did go with an open mind and a willingness to adapt and follow whatever customs and code of conduct was expected of me, which I did.

Roslyn, you do not have to reply to my last comment. I think if you are really honest with yourself you would take what F Kendall has quoted from your post to me, and ask yourself had I written all that to you, whether you would feel patronised. But I am not offended, more amused if anything. And Malcolm I think once told me I was deluded for being a believer and likened me to the widow of Bath. He is probably right. Though that lady had four husbands in her time. I have only been able to cope with one to date so I have a way to go yet.

My message to you is to lighten up. Don't take everything so seriously and let some stuff just flow past, like we all do.

Goodnight folks. Think of me tomorrow out here where silence reigns, on the end of hoe in 40 degrees chopping burrs on Clancy's sunlit plains, where the emu stalks in freedom and the sun goes down each evening like a glowing ball of fire. I think that comes from a song. And this voiceless landscape sure makes one feel very lonely, very humble and very small. Good place to learn the bagpipes though.

'kiddie' is patronising

Ian: Having read Malcolm's letter I can only say I do not know enough about the subject to know how brilliant or stupid or whatever he is. However, I would have thought the use of the word 'kiddie' and it is a favourite of his, is patronising.... certainly condescending.

Retribution: requital according to merits or desserts. Exactly what I said.

Malcolm: The fact that you believe anyone who believes in a manifestation of the supernatural is off his chump means only that you are judgemental [Comment deleted: Editorial Policy – personal abuse]. Those who follow any religion, do, by necessity, have a belief in the supernatural and beyond them are many people like myself who have a belief in the spiritual which those like you would dismiss as supernatural.

However, [comment deleted: Editorial Policy – personal abuse] I am perfectly happy to discuss and link, or quote and refer to books if links are not available, the Egyptian sources for much of Jewish and Christian belief. But you have mentioned more than once that you do not bother with what I post so there is probably no point.

Although you do bother but only to deride, decry and dismiss. Or seek to anyway.

Yes, [Comment deleted: Editorial Policy – personal abuse] because the fact is that in recent years advances in the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics has enabled researchers, scholars and religious researchers and scholars to discern such links.

You said: 'those cuddly gypos.'

[Comment deleted: Editorial Policy – personal abuse]

You said: turning the other cheek, love thy neighbour like Rameses II just not when you're doing a little smiting.

The ancient Egyptian religion dates beyond Rameses 11 and 'smiting' comes from Judaic religion. The Jews, possibly under the rule of Akhenatan in Egypt, came to believe in one God and a vengeful God at that. Hence smiting. This development of religion followed upon the more ancient, and more tolerant, Goddess religion which is the source of the ancient Egyptian religion to which I refer.

The ancient Egyptian religion is more akin to the teachings of Jesus and the best aspects not just of Christianity but all religions.

You said: Do unto others as you sell the Jews into slavery.

In those days everyone sold everyone else into slavery. When the Hebrews invaded Canaan those they did not kill they enslaved. No different to anyone else of their time.

You said: Oh, and I love the story about your South African friend turning the other cheek on his assailants by laying into them with an iron bar.

[Comment deleted: Editorial Policy – personal abuse]

You said 'turning the other cheek on his assailants by laying into them with an iron bar,' I did not.

My friends have chosen, as I said, to strive to respond to what happened to them with compassion, understanding and love.

In the circumstances, understandably, they, or he, responded at an instinctive level in order to protect his family. I admire his courage. This family refused to own a gun. They were not prepared to shoot and kill as they might have been shot and killed.

You said: You don't make clear which occurred first but, rather than encourage you to waste another 50,000 words, I really don't care.

[Comment deleted: Editorial Policy – personal abuse]

Jenny: It is late. I came in to turn this off and checked mail and WD. I want to read what you have written carefully when I have time. You may well have felt patronised but I would ask you to reread and reconsider. [Comment deleted: Editorial Policy – personal abuse] I happen to think that if you consider what I wrote patronising, and are upset by it, then the sort of insult, accusation, defamation which is aimed at me is by any measure far more substantial. Let's hope Fiona as she said and other moderators do hold to WD editorial policy for 2007.

I will reply to you and thank you for taking the time to explain.

Six separate deletions

Six searate deletions of personal abuse directed just at li'l 'ol me Roslyn Ross.   I don't know whether to be flattered or just guffaw.    I guess it's just that caring and sharing way you have.  

As to the "kiddie" reference, it betokens your usual skill at thorough research : it comes directly from the letter to which I was replying which is why it is in quotation marks (we generally use that as a convention in written English whether it be journalism, literary criticism or quoting someone else).   

As to:

"I do not know enough about the subject to know how brilliant or stupid or whatever he is"

it's a fine line, but perhaps it should have been seven deletions.   For the moment, I shall simply accept your confession as to the level of your enlightenment on the subject.

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