Category Archives: Things that make me go "hmmmm"

I can see it all…

I shouldn’t laugh.  It’s a serious matter, especially for the victim. But nonetheless…

Crime stopper reports are not often known for their evocative descriptions, but somehow I can see this whole scenario unfolding before my eyes and I think I’ve seen the perpetrators before….

BARK PROMPTS HIT-RUN

Police are hunting a couple who them say deliberately ran over a man because his dogs were barking.

The man was sitting on a planter box outside a supermarket in Vines Road, Hamlyn Heights, a suburb of Geelong, when he got into an argument with a man and a woman about his two dogs.

The couple got into their silver Ford sedan and drove at the man, who sustained serious injuries when he bounced off the car bonnet and hit the road.

Police are looking for an obese man with a grey beard who was wearing a windcheater

The woman, also described as obese, was wearing a floral dress with glasses.

 

On islands

As an Australian, I live on an island continent.  But in a land where the horizon stretches as far as the eye can see across plains and mountains, it’s hard to remember that it is actually an island.  It’s only when you see our continent suspended in all that ocean on a map that you have a sense of its ‘girtness’ by the surrounding sea.  In fact, at the risk of sounding mawkish, I often feel a throb of love when I see Australia on a world map, so complete and self-contained.

I’ve been thinking about islands a lot while up at Norfolk Island last week.  It’s only small- 36 square kilometres- and has no safe harbour.  You can easily drive from one side of the island to the other and all around you is water, stretching on forever.   I found it to be breathtakingly beautiful and I wondered if even convicts sometimes looked up to the sky, or out to the ocean on a calm day and found any beauty in it at all.

Islands have long been used as places of exile, both in the past and today: St Helena, Robben Island, Christmas Island and Norfolk Island itself.  Of course the coastline and expanse of water provides its own form of imprisonment, but I think that there’s another aspect of exile at play.  For our own Christmas Island , there has been the ugly term “excision” to describe the deliberate, surgical cutting out of the island and beaches from the nation as a body, to ensure that anyone who lands there can have no access to the courts.

I think about Norfolk Island in the Second settlement phase  and the absolute power of the Commandants who could choose to use or abuse it, and the tenuousness of the links to British Justice.  Justices Dowling and Burton visited the island as Supreme Court judges, but only for brief stints, then returned to Sydney.  That, I think, is the ultimate exile: that you can suffer and die by the whim of others; that no-one need know, and there is no brake on the cruelty of the authorities should they exert themselves in that way.

It is a paradox to be exposed to the vast, limitless expanse of sky and ocean, and yet feel claustrophobic.

 

Latin

Readers of this blog will know that I am an assiduous reader of death notices.  I must be getting older because I used to read the birth notices too but I rarely do now.  I guess that I’m looking for people that I know (knew).  However, it’s not necessary that I’ve ever met them: I’ve often found myself in tears reading tributes to people who are complete strangers to me.  I used to reassure myself that only old people die because the majority of death notices in The Age (my paper of choice) are for  elderly people, although I must admit that I am disconcerted by the number of deaths occurring among people born around 1945- that’s getting a little too close for comfort. My gut-feeling is that there is a spike around sixty-five year olds then another one around eighty year olds, but I have no evidence for this and can’t be bothered monitoring it enough to prove it.

Anyhoo, there was a death notice in today’s Age (21 April) written entirely in Latin.  I  sat looking at it for some time.  I don’t read Latin but I suppose that a certain generation (probably those born around 1945 or earlier), a certain educational class (i.e. privately-school educated) and certain professions (especially the law) still do.  Generation after generation of Catholic congregations heard, and continue to hear, the Mass in Latin.  Nonetheless,  it still seems an  odd thing to do: to pay to place a public notice that only selected people could read.  Perhaps the quotation had a particular resonance in their relationship? Perhaps it was a form of  in-knowledge amongst a group of peers who share a cultural, religious or professional heritage that includes Latin?

I can only wonder how the poor call-centre operator on the end of the phone coped with it.  I’ve been exposed to more Latin than I’d like over the last few years  because Judge Willis was particularly fond of breaking into Latin in his court-room, and so I have had to resort to good old Google to work out what he was quoting. Don’t you wonder now how we ever got on without the internet?  Sometimes as I’m typing something into Google I wonder where I would have tried to find this information in a pre-Google world.  But I must say that even Google fails me in translating this death notice.  Perhaps it’s not a quote: it might be original.

As I say, Judge Willis was fond of Latin.  His  flights of Latin fancy occurred usually in an address to the jury, or in a speech that he knew would be reported in the newspapers- in fact, he used to pass on his addresses to the newspapers directly so that they would be quoted correctly, including, I assume the Latin.  His lengthy letters to politicians often included a hefty dose as well. As Garryowen (Edmund Finn) tells us in his Chronicles of Early Melbourne:

It was Willis’s custom to open each monthly Criminal Session of the Supreme Court with an address or charge to the jury panel; but, in reality, more of an ultra-official oration to the general public.  These fulminations had, however, the merit of careful preparation, and though more abusive than pungent, were on the whole clever specimens of tolerably readable, though overdone phraseology, highly spiced with well-fitting pedantry.  They were crammed with quotations, ancient and modern, from languages living and dead.  Never did one of them appear without Latin excerpta.  (p. 943)

An article by David Lemmings called ‘Blackstone and Law Reform by Education: Preparation for the Bar and Lawyerly Culture in Eighteenth-Century England’ discusses the use of Latin in the courts.   During the English Civil War the use of Latin was proscribed, but it was reinstated in the Restoration.   Public resentment at the mystification of the law through use of Latin re-emerged, and in 1731 an Act was passed that, from 25 March 1733, all proceedings in English law courts (excluding the Admiralty Court) and in Scottish Exchequer courts would be in English.  A number of clarifying acts permitted the continuation of  Latin in the Exchequer and the retention of technical terms in Latin.  As Lemmings writes:

Although the language of law had been ‘Englished’, it retained its own esoteric style and often archaic vocabulary that continued to bond lawyers together, while bemusing the public. (p. 74)

Nonetheless, Judge Willis was certainly fond of quoting lengthy slabs,  generally for rhetorical effect.  He seems to have done so far more than his brother judges in Sydney did.  Latin was an essential part of a boy’s education, and even in Port Phillip he could be assured that fellow gentlemen, or even aspiring gentlemen, who had been exposed to formal schooling would understand him.  As a shared marker of education and formality, Latin would have been much more common than it is today.  Michael Cannon, for example, notes that after the Separation of what was to become Victoria from New South Wales was announced, an Elizabeth Street wheelwright constructed several “variegated inflatable balloons”, 10 ft in diameter, decorated with the word “Separation” carrying circulars printed in English and Latin to carry the news into the bush (Cannon p. 461.)

But perhaps Willis’ Latin was not all that I suppose it to be.  Garryowen goes on to tell  of Daniel O’Donovan, a young Irishman employed by Judge Willis as a horse-groom who was, perhaps, the best Latin and Greek scholar in the province. In the absence of Willis’ Tipstaff in court on one occasion, O’Donovan was engaged in a casual capacity and rigged up in a “cast-off white choker and swallow-tail” to act as Crier.

…after the disposal of one or two formalities, the Judge began his address.  A quotation cropped up, but of this the Judge did not care, for, as hitherto, he would take it as a hunter does an ordinary jump, in tip-top style.  It was a hackneyed passage from one of the Satires of Horace, and the orator stepped in amongst the hexameters with a graceful lisp, as if assured that what he was saying would be duly appreciated.  In this manner he travelled safely over the fourth line, but in the fifth uttered a slight misquotation, when the new Crier was down upon his great superior, and figuratively shook him as a terrier would a rat.  “I beg your Honor’s pardon” said the irate O’Donovan, “you are murdering my most favourite author, and this I cannot permit to be done by either Judge or Jury.  If your Honor will kindly allow me I shall set you right; if fact, permit it or not I’ll do it.  So now your Honor and gentleman of the Jury, listen to the only true and correct version”. Here followed some dozen lines of Horace, including the corrected reading of where the Judge had floundered.  It is no exaggeration to say that all in Court except the Judge and his “Tip” were convulsed with laughter.  As for Willis, he was flabbergasted at O’Donovan’s gross but unconscious contempt of Court, and at length screamed to the Sheriff to place the transgressing scoundrel under lock and key until he could command time and patience to consider how to best summarily deal with him…Mr Raymond, the Deputy-Sheriff, kept him under durance until the time for adjournment.  He was then told to call next day for the wages due to him…” (p. 944).

I suppose that, as long as you can pronounce it correctly, a sprinkling of Latin confers a solemnity and authority onto one’s pronouncements.  I’d do it myself, if I could.  But I’m afraid that, with my 1960-70s Australian state-school education, all this Latin is Greek to me.

References:

Michael Cannon Old Melbourne Town: Before the Gold Rush, Loch Haven, Main Ridge, 1991.

David Lemmings ‘Blackstone and Law Reform by Education: Preparation for the Bar and Lawyerly Culture in Eighteenth-Century England. Law and History Review, Vol 16, No 2 (Summer 1998) pp. 211-255

Garryowen (Edmund Finn) The Chronicles of Early Melbourne 1835-1851 Melbourne, Fergusson and Mitchell, 1888.

Squishy things on the beach

As a child, I used to love standing on the jellyfish washed up onto the beach and feeling them squelch through my toes.  You know the jellyfish- those clear, crescent shaped wobbly jelly shapes.

But then Port Phillip was invaded by blue blubber jellyfish one year and I was no longer so confident to stomp around on jelly things lest I be stung.

But – guess what?  Those clear, crescent-shaped wobbly jelly shapes aren’t jellyfish at all!  Instead, they are the egg sac from the conical sand snail, each containing hundreds of snail eggs. So squash away- if you want hundreds of snail eggs between your toes- it’s not going to sting you!

And wait- there’s more! You know those shells with the hole conveniently drilled into them for easy stringing for a necklace?

Well, the hole is brought to you by none other than the very same conical sand snail!  It injects a dissolving agent into an unsuspecting pipi through the hole, then sucks up the contents.  Mmmm-mmm.

 

The naughty Age website

‘The Hungry Beast’ on ABC1 ( I suppose we’ll have to start using those numbers now that there’s ABC1, ABC 2 and ABC 3) had its last episode last week.  I gave up after about five minutes of the first show thinking that I really must be getting very old, but a couple of weeks later I persevered and found it interesting but variable.  A bit of a curate’s egg, so to speak.

But one small segment they had discussed the difference between the online sites for newspapers and the actual newspaper itself. You can see it here.  They argue that otherwise respectable news sites ensure that their page displays words that are likely to be turned up in a search for sex online.  And you know- they’re right! I was looking at today’s Age website – and now let’s face it, the Age is not renowned for its lascivious coverage. But even the dowdy old Age website has two uses of the word “sexy”, one “topless”, and a “bra” on today’s site.

I’d be pretty willing to bet that there’s similar words every single day.

The Resident Judge wonders 18/11/09

just how Alexander Downer thought that his comments on Fran Kelly’s breakfast program last week were going to improve the asylum seeker problem.  The previous government had a solution- undertaken “sotto vocce” and it “hasn’t generated much publicity lately in Australia”:

We used to get the navy not to guide the boats into the Australian shoreline, what we did (laugh) was we got the navy to tow the boats back to the Indonesian Territorial Waters, left the boats with enough fuel, food and so on to get to a port in Indonesia, guided them to where to go and then left them- obviously monitored to make sure that the boat was safe, but disappeared over the horizon…. We didn’t run around boasting that we were doing this because we knew the Indonesians accepted these people back through gritted teeth.

My wordy, that’s a refugee policy to be proud of, and one we’d endorse heartily if the boats were sailing in the other direction, wouldn’t we.  Ah yes, we can hold our heads high.

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/breakfast/stories/2009/2741552.htm

 

The Resident Judge Wonders 12/11/09

…whether we really need ARMED security guards at railway stations?  Bailleiu seems to have picked a winner as an election policy. But two ARMED security guards down at the little station in Macleod?  Every night?  I don’t think so.

The Resident Judge wonders 6/10/09

…if the American private security firm Blackwater changed its name to “Xe” so that people would stop talking about it because no-one could pronounce the name?

What we know and what we don’t

Just in case you’d forgotten, here’s good old Donald Rumsfeld with his known unknowns.

Or Slate has expressed it more poetically:

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Oh, the horror, the horror as gobbledegook (albeit true, but gobbledegook nonetheless) best left in the M.B.A. seminar room escapes out into the real world!

As for me, I’ll go with Mark Twain (or IS it Mark Twain? I don’t know for sure….)

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

A good little aphorism for life in general, and especially for historians, I reckon.

Uncivil ugliness

Saturday’s Age had a feature about the rising anxiety over the State Government’s proposal to move the city’s urban limits out further, and the opposing anxiety over high-density living and local amenity.  It pointed out a number of inner-city sites that had been left vacant for many years where high-density development could add to the city’s housing stock without moving further into semi-rural areas.

One of the aerial shots accompanying the article showed a large expanse of land near North Melbourne station that has lain vacant since Solomon Lew purchased it 17 years ago.  What struck me was the huge FCUK sign draped across the deserted factory building on the site.  Unfortunately the Age online article doesn’t show the photograph, but you can see the building I am talking about  here. You might also want to consider the vacuous, clinical approach that the advertisers have taken in this “project”.

I also don’t want to post the picture here because I find it crass and offensive.  I’m well aware of the smarty-pants, smirking, superior marketing decision behind the choice of the FCUK brand.  But why shouldn‘t people find it offensive?  Why should an obscenity suggested on a  billboard impose itself so insistently and aggressively onto the public consciousness?  The brand proprietors can take the high moral ground and protest that the word in itself is not obscene, but these four letters have not been chosen randomly: they know full well that the cognitive pathways of a population literate in English will automatically read the word differently.

This is swaggering, arrogant visual pollution, and I resent having it forced upon me.