Friday, December 24, 2004

Greetings from jet-lag central (for "blogger idol: travel")

I don't take drugs to alter my consciousness.

Except alcohol, caffeine, over-the-counter pain killers and the occasional large dose of legal theory. This may not be so much a matter of personal morality as naivete. I wouldn't know where to score anything else in Cambridge anyway. Despite doing a lot of amateur theatre with thespy undergrads.

Anyway, I digress ...

I write from an increasingly familiar space to yours truly, jet-lag central. I arrived back Chez the Folks, near Canberra, today after a 22 hour flight from London and an involuntary stop-over in Sydney due to a certain lack of foresight on my part in co-ordinating a connecting flight far enough ahead of time.

This is the third time in three months I've done a 22 hour plane trip. Weirdly, I'm getting used to it - especially weird as I can't sleep on planes. Jet lag has become my most expensive form of altered consciousness.

The main thing I notice is that time becomes a marathon race: I'm always counting off the hours to the end of the flight, the time the next good movie starts on the in-flight entertainment, or on arrival the hours until I can reasonably go to bed and (hopefully) sleep.

Also the small stuff stops mattering at all. I just shrug and go: "Huh, I've lost a travel padlock."

"What do you know, despite being up for 30 hours, I just can't sleep. Let's go downstairs and pester the desk clerk for the right time, then."

"Hurm, just dropped the boxers I was planning to sleep in on a wet shower floor."

Everything happens in slow motion, quite some distance away. I can converse, using stock phrases, and listen with polite intensity (because it requires a weird intensity of concentration to get through simple actions like wrapping a Christmas gift) but am relatively useless for any activity which is not closely supervised.

Other weird side effects include making unguarded personal comments to strangers and crying at movies (neither usual pass times). Both I guess indicate that the emotional filters are down, and the world while oddly distant becomes peculiarly heightened, too.

Still, my biggest achievement in all of this has been (other than not losing any luggage) reading and possibly understanding about 150 pages worth of a book on the history of theoretical approaches to international law.

No honestly, it's considerably more interesting than you'd imagine.

Okay, yes I am still jet-lagged as I write this.

PS Blogger idol 'travel' entries that made me think:
A Dervish's Du`a'
Cliff between the lines

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

New Naylor

Right, I'm off home for Christmas. Looking forward to an improbably long 40+ hour trip door-to-door, including 22 hours flying insomniac air.

("Drink gin," suggested one friend, as if that's usually a problem.)

Meanwhile, go play with Elliot Naylor. Things are getting worse, you know.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

King's Chapel on a perfect winter afternoon Posted by Hello
Australia’s “terror exclusion zone” and reading past the headlines

Much as I am forever cringing at the present Australian government’s general shoot-from-the-lip approach to international law, you’d have thought they’d have learned something from the fiasco over our announcing a policy on pre-emptive strikes against terrorist within neighbouring State’s territory. Of course, Indonesia, Malaysia and others were not best pleased about this, resulting in some furious back-pedalling.

So, it was with some surprise that I read in the The Independent the headline “Australia to impose 1,000-mile 'terror exclusion zone'”:
In a controversial and possibly illegal step, Australia plans to intercept and board ships on the high seas if it believes them to be a terrorist threat.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, yesterday announced the creation of a 1,000-nautical mile security ring around the coastline, extending south of New Zealand and north of Indonesia, far beyond Australian territorial waters.

All vessels that pass through the zone en route to Australia will be monitored, and required to give details of their crew, location, speed, cargo and destination port. Defence and customs officials will be given powers to intercept those suspected of being a threat.

Legal experts suggested yesterday that intercepting ships in international waters would contravene maritime law and provoke an outcry.

Don Rothwell, a professor of international law at Sydney University, said Australia was entitled to monitor ships beyond the 200-nautical mile limit of its territorial waters.

But he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: "With the exception of pirate ships and ships that are not flying flags, and one or two very minor exceptions, there is no real basis upon which any country can just stop any ship at all on the highs seas because it does infringe this fundamental freedom of high seas navigational freedom.

"If they are proposing to enforce this zone within the maritime zones of our adjacent neighbouring states, that would really be seen as quite a hostile act."

The Independent’s “security ring” looks like it might have been inspired by The Australian’s “security zone”:
AUSTRALIA is casting a 1000-nautical mile security zone around the coastline as part of a new maritime plan to counter terrorism and protect shipping, ports and oil rigs from attack.

Under the new offshore protection command, the Howard Government will monitor thousands of ships approaching some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and intercept suspicious vessels.

Existing navy and Customs ships and resources will be used, but much more will be demanded from international shipping in Australian waters.

The $4 million revamp of maritime security arises from a taskforce that identified threats from the sea as fears increase around the world of terrorist attacks through less secure ports and on vulnerable oil tankers.

The US has also introduced restrictions on movement and more exact information about cargo and passengers within its nautical zone and is demanding similar action from its trading partners.

The US has dramatically lifted its demands on shipping within its national waters amid fears of a cataclysmic explosion of a ship carrying chemicals or oil in a crowded port.

The Australian Maritime Information Zone, which will extend to 1000 nautical miles, will demand that ships passing through provide details of their journey and what they are carrying.

When ships come within 200 nautical miles they will be required to give even more detail of cargoes, ports visited, ship owners, registration and destination.

Under the new arrangements, due to begin in March next year, a Joint Offshore Protection Command will take responsibility for all offshore security and co-ordinate civilian and military operations.

It will be able to independently order the interception of ships within the information zone, rather than waiting for a specific report, as is the case now.

Then I went to the PM’s website, for the original press release:
Based on cooperative international arrangements, including with neighbouring countries, the Australian Government also intends to establish a Maritime Identification Zone. This will extend up to 1,000 nautical miles from Australia’s coastline. On entering this Zone vessels proposing to enter Australian ports will be required to provide comprehensive information such as ship identity, crew, cargo, location, course, speed and intended port of arrival. Within Australia’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, the aim will be to identify all vessels, other than day recreational boats. The collection and coordination of this maritime information will improve the effectiveness of civil and military maritime surveillance in support of key tasks such as border and fisheries protection, as well as counter-terrorism response and interdiction. The Zone will be managed by the Joint Offshore Protection Command at an additional cost of $4m over four years. The protection of Australia’s oil and gas facilities is a key focus of the Australian Government’s priorities to enhance offshore maritime security.

The critical words here are “[b]ased on cooperative … arrangements … with neighbouring countries” if that’s done the proposal is much less likely to be seen as “hostile”. (Though as Don Rothwell points out, some shipping states might still see these procedures as infringing upon the freedom of the high seas.)

Okay, it’s ambiguous as to whether counter-terrorism interdictions would be limited to the exclusive economic zone (which I think would still exceed Australia’s powers as a coastal state, except to protect oil platforms) or would range out to 1,000 miles – taking in Indonesian and New Zealand territorial waters.

But nothing in the document directly talks about interdictions inside this 1,000 mile zone. That’s pure media hype and shabby research.

So, naturally, you’d expect that our neighbours would’ve been briefed, right? That it would have been explained that this really about gathering information, not asserting a right to land the SAS on ships in their waters in violation of their sovereignty, right?

However, the word on “international law street” is that the Australian announcement took New Zealand by surprise, the Kiwis not previously being aware that their waters were subject to Australian security enforcement. Though it seems they have no problem provided it is only a plan to ask ships for information out to 1,000 miles as they already do that themselves.

Others are less sanguine. Malaysia has already criticised the plan and Defence Minister Robert Hill has had to calm the predictable Indonesian reaction, saying that this is just about protecting offshore oil rigs.

Still, as for diplomacy and selling the message: nice one John, nice one Alexander.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

New Naylor

Yep, four days ago after a hiatus of months, I posted a new instalment of Naylor's Canberra. Points to quantum meruit for picking up on the fact unprompted. The concept that there are people dropping by occassionally to see if I've managed to write anything on the novel is faintly terrifying.

But it's that terror I always expected to force me into finishing it. And it's almost finished now, well a scruffy first draft.

I had hoped to have had it done by now, but commencing PhD research sort of ate my head.

I could summarise the plot (again) but will content myself with simply re-hashing the last plot re-hash from October (sorry, it has indeed been a while ... ):
"... for a little over a year, I've been completing a crime novel by installment at a sister site, "Naylor's Canberra", at a rate of about 1,000 words per bite-size installment. Some bits are more polished than others. The first episode is over here.

The story so far? Elliot Naylor, a law graduate, has been refused admission to legal practice for reasons to do with a fatal car accident, and works an under-employed part-time law librarian. A former girlfriend of his is missing, Marina - a highflying political staffer to Milton Dawes, Minister for Justice and Customs. Her father, David Carmichael, a prominent local barrister, hires Elliot to find her before he has to report it to the police in an attempt to keep it quiet and close to the family and avoid scandal.

It seems easy enough, until Elliot begins to dig into David's shady business dealings and close ties to the Minister. Further, Elliot is the first to discover the dead body of someone connected to Marina and, while having an alibi, is the only obvious suspect in the murder inquiry.

On top of that, he decides to investigate the background of one Jeremy Ryder, who has business ties to David Carmichael as well as Canberra's legalised prostitution and pornography industries. Marina and Jenny were both involved in a Ministerial task force investigating sexual slavery - is Ryder somehow connected to the disappearance of one and the murder of the other?

Elliot recieves a good deal of practical and emotional assistance from his flatmate Eva, and his (rather new) girlfriend Danielle. This still does not stop him doing things that are just plain stupid.

Visiting one of Ryder's brothels, Elliot recieves a beating from which he is still suffering. Indeed, his symptoms appear to be getting worse rather than better.

Recently, he has learnt something quite surprising (but definately foreshadowed, I promise) about one of Marina's flatmates' involvement with the murder victim.

He has now also finally heard back on an important piece of research he entrusted to his grandfather regarding Milton Dawes' mother, who lives at the same retirement community as Mr Naylor senior. Read on ..."

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Cambridge centre for mathematical sciences Posted by Hello
Doctor Doug, indahouse
(or “a prequel of sorts”)

So, I’ve been teaching this winter school. Four hour-and-a-half classes with five late high-school students from Singapore and Malaysia, in which I planned to cover an introduction to the idea of rules and then international law, the UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court and the World Trade Organisation.

Most lawyers I spoke to said: “Wow, that’s ambitious.”

Most other grad students I spoke to said: “Wow, that sounds interesting. Can I come?”

Both have made jokes about this being the first appearence of "Doctor" Doug, my future lecturer-self.

Four classes over three days has been tiring (and the preparation was very time consuming), but it's been amazingly rewarding. I prepared about 35 pages of notes and materials in two bundles. The kids sat at a horseshoe of desks while I paced around in the middle.

I just had so much fun. They were switched on, engaged, asking great questions. (They stumbled on things like the criminal law defence of duress or the economics/trade law principle of the “free rider effect” from first principles.) They spontaneously started debating among themselves whether WMD was – just as an idea – a good justification for self-defence, and even got into a debate with each other over whether an example of a real case (the 1959 Italian Tractors dispute under GATT law) was “protectionist” or not.

Other than being lucrative, it’s been really reaffirming that what I want to do is teach.

A friend came to sit in on my WTO session (the one I thought would be hardest to teach), and just came up afterwards and said: “You’re going to be a great lecturer.”

It was the kindest thing anyone could have said at that moment.

Now I just have to supervise their “exam” tomorrow morning … it’s printing as I blog.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Christmas dinner (note paper crown and carol sheet) Posted by Hello

Death by eating

I’ve become a binge eater. The Christmas end of Michaelmas term is simply lethal.

Monday last week was the new PhD students self-organised dinner. Tapas at the restaurant upstairs at Bun Shop, the food was not bad and the quantities were unconquerable. Had a pint at the pub downstairs both before and after the meal, and half a bottle of white with it. Then wound up in my kitchen with a course mate talking, demolishing another two bottles, and instructing one of the Californians how to write her media, government regulation and civil society paper.

As the Americans say: “good times.”

Wednesday was the graduate Christmas dinner, photos above, and over here. Carols, great food, wonderful flatmates and friends. Well worth crawling out of bed a week earlier to trudge into the college and manually sign up a dozen nearest and dearest under the baleful eye of a Manciple deeply peeved that people were having the temerity to sign up friends.

Friday did not involve excessive eating, but I did go to the ADC Theatre to catch the Christmas panto (a very, very loose, extremely funny adaptation of “Great Expectation”) and the late show (Harold Pinter’s rather creepy “The Lover”).

Saturday I was the only graduate student at Dr Eden’s commemorative supper. Dr Eden, 21st master of our college, left money by will in 1645 for an annual chapel service, an oration and a dinner in his memory for the fellows and scholars. He left an income in excess of 50 pounds a year, secured by around 80 acres of land in 1645. Allow for inflation, it’s a pretty amazing dinner.

New scholars (ie, me) get invited once only to the supper, and if they attend the chapel service receive the traditional allowance afterwards in the master’s study before dinner.

That allowance is four shillings. Which is exactly what you get. I have four shillings of imperial coinage in a little commemorative velvet drawstring bag with a printed label.

I should mention the Chapel oration. Dr Eden’s will stipulates that the oration be an hour long, in Latin, delivered from memory, on the virtues of civil and cannon law. It is now 20 minutes and in English on a topic of the speaker’s choosing, following a ruling of governing body in the 1960s that had a lot to do with convenience and little to do with estate law.

Dinner was four or five courses (starting with mussels and roast Norfolk pheasant), depending on how you want to count, and involved adjourning for a digestive break before the port and petit fours and fruit course.

I could, apparently, have stayed to drink whiskey until 2 am, but slid off to a birthday party a bit after 11. (I was actually too full of food to drink anything much.)

Tonight I just had the blind wine tasting society’s Christmas dinner. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

This coming week I only have dinner parties Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

I think I need to break out the bigger pants.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Last days of autumn at Wychfield Posted by Hello

Friday, November 26, 2004

Blix blog

I leaned over to the other Australian lawyer, who was also grinning kinda goofily in the firelight.

“At this exact moment, would you trade anything for being here, now?” I asked.

“Nothing at all, mate,” she replied.

We were being groupies. Metaphorically, Elvis had entered the building.

We were standing in a small circle of graduate students chatting with Hans Blix. Or more aptly, asking polite questions and grinning in the face of the sprightly 76 year-old’s warm, genial and incisive answers.

It’s always astonishing to meet someone who’s made a big contribution to your field. Especially when you’ve previously only encountered them as a name in the papers, or as a character represented on stage (in David Hare’s “Stuff Happens”). The feeling is only enhanced when you are writing your PhD on WMD – it’s a bit like being a theology scholar and bumping into St John the Devine, or deciding to write on pacific resistance and having tea with Ghandi.

OK, it’s less astonishing as: (1) Blix has had a much smaller influence on world history; and (2) has the distinct advantage of not being dead.

That said, he has been a professor of international law, principal advisor on international law to the Swedish foreign ministry, Swedish foreign minister, served 16 years as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, headed up the UNMOVIC inspection team in Iraq for 3 months or so until the second invasion – and drafted chunks of the Stockholm Declaration which helped lead to such things as the Kyoto Protocol. (Widely reported claims that he is a rally driver are totally unfounded - he sees the pass-time as an irresponsible use of fossil fuels.) He now heads up the Stockholm-based WMD Commission of independent experts (which includes Gareth Evans).

I’d been to his lecture series during the week: they were calm, deeply historical and laced with a dry wit. But most compellingly, with optimism too – and an unexpected respect for politicians (“They have the difficult job of making decisions on less than 100 percent evidence. Sometimes 70 percent, sometimes 50. What I would criticise is a lack of critical thinking.”) Asked for his assessment of George W. Bush, he referred to the comments in his book, “Disarming Iraq”: boyish, energetic, a persuader – but a pragmatist, not as ideologically driven as many of his cabinet.

Still, I had my one, burning question: “Dr Blix, you’re aware of David Hare’s play “Stuff Happens”? How does it feel to already be a character in a history play?”


“I saw it in London. (Shrugs) I didn’t think I was that hapless.”

Then he smiled.

“But maybe I was … I often think of what Churchill said about Attlee, ‘He’s a modest man with a lot to be modest about.’ We all have a lot to be modest about.”

He clearly felt as though he had become a symbol carrying the weight of expectations of the peace movement, when his role had never been to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to war – but what I think he underestimates is the appeal of a person of integrity, getting on with their job diligently in the face of great pressure, and the present belief in independent experts as preferable to spin doctors in getting at the truth.

His parting thought for us all was interesting, coming from the man to speak about WMD inspections: WMD is important, yes. But the environment, that’s what’s really important.

The man is deeply pro-nuclear: seeing the containable risks of peaceful nuclear power as preferable to the certain high levels of fossil fuel pollution we currently live with.

An interesting and inspiring, but deeply humane, figure.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

History and international law
[Being the introductory notes for my "winter school" seminars on international law for Singaporean students. Comments most welcome.]

International law has probably existed, in some form, for as long as tribal people have had dealings with other tribes. The ancient Romans certainly recognised a difference between Roman law (the law that applied within their Empire) and “the law of peoples” (jus gentium) – that is, a law that applied between the ancient Romans and other peoples.

So, while tribes, communities or peoples could organise their own societies under their own law, for a long time in human history it has been understood that there is a law that applies between communities in their dealings with each other.

In the modern era, this has become known as “international law”, meaning (obviously) the law between nations. This points to a change in ideas: by the early nineteenth century writers, thinkers and politicians in Europe saw themselves as belonging first to a community called a “nation” or a “State”.

It is important to bear in mind that States do not have “natural” borders. Germany, Singapore, India and Pakistan, for example, are all, historically, quite recent creations.

The first idea of international law is that all States are equal; that is, all States are “sovereign” and have a right to organise their society according to their own internal laws, free from external interference (though there are limits to this freedom). However, some States are more powerful than others, and may have more influence over how international law changes over time.

International law as we know it now is essentially an invention of nineteenth-century Europe. This is simply a consequence of the power those States had at that time. The most important recent example of the role of powerful states in creating new international law can be seen in the formation of the United Nations, and other institutions, in 1945.

Before discussing the UN, it is important to consider it in historical context. Often, the major changes in international law are prompted by extraordinary and disastrous world events.

The period 1929 – 1945 was an economic and humanitarian disaster for Europe, the United States and many of the States and territories conquered by Japan. The world had seen the following crises:
(1) a severe depression in global trade and the near collapse of many developed-world economies in the 1930s (“the Great Depression”);

(2) Japanese military expansion from 1931 (the seizing of Manchuria) or 1937 (the commencement of war against China), and Germany military expansion from 1939 (the invasion of Poland); and

(3) governments acting with a shocking disregard for human life and dignity, principally in the “Holocaust”, the murder by the Nazi party government of Jews, gypsies and the physically and mentally handicapped in German-occupied territory (the number of murdered Jewish people alone is usually estimated at 6 million).

Of course, other atrocities were committed during the course of the war, notably in Japanese prisoner of war camps and the treatment of civilians in occupied Japanese territory. Arguably, the dropping of two nuclear weapons by the United States on Japanese cities (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) and the British fire-bombing of German cities such as Dresden, were also indiscriminate actions, causing unnecessary civilian deaths and casualties not justified by legitimate military objectives.

However, the sheer scale of the Holocaust, its meticulous government organisation, and its targeting of specific ethnic groups made it a unique “international crime”.

Economic matters, though, were also important to the victors of the 1939-1945 world war (principally the United States, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and China). Some believed that Germany’s economic condition had contributed to the rise of the Nazi party and the outbreak of the 1939 European war. Everyone accepted that all States had suffered in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

It was generally agreed that two major problems had contributed to the collapse of the world economy in 1929. First, “protectionism” – that is many States restricted trade with each other by placing high “tarrifs” (or taxes) on imported foreign goods. This slowed world trade, hurt all countries who relied on export income and often made locally made goods more expensive (by shutting out cheaper imported components). The second problem was “exchange rate devaluation”, which is too complex to explain here.

In this context, the victors of the 1939-1945 (or 1937-1945) war all agreed on certain things:
(1) there needed to be a better international trade system, one designed to reduce or eliminate tariffs;

(2) there needed to be a new international organisation to try and prevent the outbreak of war between States; and

(3) there needed to be a new respect for “human rights” and new categories of “international crimes” to prevent something like the Holocaust happening again.

From this consensus we can see the origins of the idea for a world trading organisation, a united nations organisation, a system of human rights and crimes against humanity, and an international criminal court. Not all of these things happened at once; indeed, it was not until the 1990s that one could see institutions and laws reflecting all these 1945 goals.

Now we have the World Trade Organisation or WTO (and World Bank and International Monetary Fund), the United Nations, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and various human rights treaties, the Genocide Convention and other international crimes (as a type of human rights protection) and an International Criminal Court or ICC.

This course will study key aspects of the UN security system to prevent war, the WTO system to promote global trade, the crime of genocide and the new ICC.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Trinity College, November 17 Posted by Hello

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Another busy week

Monday. A day of truth – the MCR (college graduate students society) elections. Cast my vote, attend some meetings at which I discover I have not been elected President, dash off to play rehearsals for “Macbeth”, and zoom back for my last meeting as MCR Secretary.

Go out for a birthday curry with the Returning Officer and a chat with the current VP.

The RO later says: “I’ve never seen you and the VP looking so relaxed.”

The possibilities of a life unburdened by office suddenly seem rather charming.

Tuesday. Wake to discover I have been offered by e-mail a Considerable Sum to teach four seminars in international law to Singaporean high-school leavers at a Cambridge “winter school”.

Have a wonderful session with my supervisor (“I have nothing to tell you but keep going!”), which of course is death for my productivity.

Attend meetings, man a graduate union polling booth and write an ambitious winter-school syllabus in a mad rush instead of doing anything remotely PhD related.

Discover the joys of glorious sunshine, roaming about doing meaningless errands and generally enjoying the rush of not being swamped with meetings and responsibility.

Evening rehearsals. Banquo’s scenes coming along quite nicely.

Wednesday. After some considerable bus-induced delay, the Dutch-Canadian I met in Budapest arrives fresh from London job interviews. We manage a whirlwind tour beneath some spectacularly striated sunset clouds of the older colleges, before changing for grad hall.

We squeak into the graduate student seminar, an historian friend talking about whether the rise in scientific curiosity and rationality was as much a matter of bourgeois snobbery and the dawn of Enlightenment. A good talk, generously sprinkled with really amusing power-point slides.

Grad hall (a group of six with four bottles of wine, ending predictably) followed by salsa dancing at Wolfson College. I recall enough from 10 lessons, four years ago, to fake a meringue – aided in effect by a decent suit and a remarkably talented partner.

Thursday. Raining. Ick. Show the Dutch-Canadian around Kings College Chapel and the Fitzwilliam Museum (must go back for the Lucien Freud etchings exhibition). Attend two committee meetings (now that I’m not on the Committee, I’m perceived as having more time for lesser committees) – and then see my guest off before cycling to the station.

Train to London with a physicist friend to see Alan Bennett’s new play “The History Boys”: wildly entertaining, amazing cast, but a little clichéd in its inspiring-teacher storyline.

Returned to Cambridge to find it had been snowing on and off since 7 pm. Take a barrage of photos in impish excitement.

Friday. A beautiful clear day, with the snow remaining in a thin blanket across the ground.

Friday is “lecture day”, I attend the law and anthropology lecture at the department of social anthropology at 11, followed by going to the 12.30 free lunch and lecture at the Lauterpacht Research Centre for International Law.

The evening contains a play rehearsal, but is dominated by a mildly inebriated dinner-party. Played “Ex-libris”, the game where you have to come up with the opening line of a novel and vote on which is the real one. Surprising how poorly the real authors did some rounds.

Saturday. Feeling a bit tired and flat at play rehearsals, which go surprisingly well for the first time we’ve been in the theatre.

Collected my 400 flyers and 30 posters to do publicity. Proceed to pigeon-hole spam (snail spam? ah, junk mail!) my college. Proceed to yet another November birthday drinks do, return early and fall asleep for 11 hours.

Today (Sunday). Realised I was feeling a little throaty. Damn cold out. Collected groceries and stood on the sidelines of our sports ground to cheer on the Trinity Hall women’s soccer – sorry, football – team.

Macbeth rehearsals – finally got the Doctor’s voice and mannerisms down. The play opens Tuesday.

Don't expect to hear from me much.

Oh, yeah, I also get to dash from the play Wednesday night to scream into college on my bicyle (possibly still in costume) for a drinks party where Hans Blix will be introduced to a handful of graduate students of his old Cambridge college.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Cold winter ahead, unseasonably early snow ... Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Happy birthday to … ME!

Whoo-hah, the big two-nine.

My birthday (Sunday, thank you for asking) started at 12.01 am with the unusual experience of dashing between Kings Cross platforms in search of the Hogwarts express with a law fellow in fuzzy boots and denim skirt (her, not me, thankfully).

Saturday had been an agreeable mix of Macbeth rehearsals, losing with the college team at Ultimate Frisbee and dining in London for another Australian-Scorpio-Lawyer’s birthday.

Frisbee proved that winter is setting in in Cambridge. On a beautiful, cloudless day it was utterly icy cold and there was a “lazy wind” (it cuts straight through you rather than bothering to go round) that was playing hell with my attempts at backhand passes. I’m still useless at competition Frisbee. I can throw and catch, but have no idea of getting in position on field.

Saturday dinner was great, Rocket – a surprisingly large and affordable bar and restaurant in Leicester Court, off New Bond Street, right next to the Bond Street tube station. Good to see some familiar faces from the Masters last year. One of those occasions where four hours (and a stunning quantity of red) slips by in moments. Each of us had two courses and quite a deal of wine for only 25 pounds – amazing in London.

My own birthday proper started with a morning birthday call from the parents, which could only have been sweeter and more loving had Dad not misjudged the time difference. My reaction to being sung “happy birthday” at 6.45 am, having crawled into bed from the train station at 2 am, was cursory to say the least.

The rest of the day passed at another rehearsal, and in napping.

My birthday party was a joint bash with a good friend from College, the English Civil War Historian. We had a “bring food to share at 7 if you want to eat, and wine to share after 8 if you want to drink” type party in the common room in my building. It went really well, a fabulous cross-section of people from College, our PhD programs and a flatmate’s visiting Mom (American). We probably had thirty plus people through at the height of events and more food than you could poke an undergraduate at.

I was also rather kindly showered in gifts: A “Mr Incredible” coffee mug (am still bursting to see the film) from a flatmate, an emergency package of Tim Tams and luxury gourmet coffee from other flatmates, Turkish delight (from a delightful Turk), some Jonathon Swift from literature PhD types, and some posters and bits and pieces for my room from Mum and Dad.

Was also treated to a Monday morning birthday call from best-friend and former Canberra flatmate the Ruminator.

All up, none too bad.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Commandos' memorial, near Glencoe, Scotland Posted by Hello
Score one for the rule of law (shame the President still leads on points ...)

It seems a US Federal Judge has had the same reaction as me (and many other lawyers around the world) to the situation at Guantanamo. On my last post on the issue (26 October) I pointed out that the US had no right under the Geneva Conventions to treat people as “non-privileged combatants” before a tribunal under Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention had determined that they were not entitled to prisoner of war status.

Seems Judge Robertson takes the same view:

The conventions oblige the United States to treat Mr. Hamdan as a prisoner of war, the judge said, unless he goes before a special tribunal described in Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention that determines he is not. A P.O.W. is entitled to a court-martial if there are accusations of war crimes but may not be tried before a military commission.

The United States military did not conduct Article 5 tribunals at the end of the Afghanistan war, saying they were unnecessary. Government lawyers argued that the president had already used his authority to deem members of Al Qaeda unlawful combatants who would be deprived of P.O.W. status.

But Judge Robertson, who was nominated to be on the court by President Bill Clinton, said that that was not enough. "The president is not a panel," he wrote. "The law of war includes the Third Geneva Convention, which requires trial by court-martial as long as Hamdan's P.O.W. status is in doubt."

The judge also makes the often-recited (and entirely obvious) point:

… that in asserting that the Guantánamo prisoners are unlawful combatants and outside the reach of the Geneva Conventions, "the government has asserted a position starkly different from the positions and behaviour of the United States in previous conflicts, one that can only weaken the United States' own ability to demand application of the Geneva applications to Americans captured during armed conflicts abroad."

Unsurprisingly the administration has said it will seek an emergency stay of the ruling and a speedy appeal. A spokesman has said:

"By conferring protected legal status under the Geneva Conventions on members of Al Qaeda, the judge has put terrorism on the same legal footing as legitimate methods of waging war."

Which could not be more inflammatory or unfair. What the judge has said is: there is a presumption you are a POW until it is determined by military law (not presidential decree) that you are an unlawful combatant (or “terrorist”).

This is really only a relatively small procedural requirement – but it has halted the unlawfully constituted Guantanamo “release hearings” and represents a small blow for the rule of law.

I fear that appellate courts, though, will find some jurisdictional ground to throw it out without ruling on the substantial issue of procedural justice.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Yorkminster Cathedral (August holiday) Posted by Hello
“Stuff Happens”

As a birthday treat, a friend took me to see David Hare’s “Stuff Happens” at the National Theatre – the most important piece of political art I’ve seen recently.

“Stuff Happens” is the story of the events leading to the 19 March 2003 invasion of Iraq, and Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous comment on the footage of museum looting in Iraq:

“Stuff happens! … freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that’s what’s going to happen here.”

“Stuff Happens” is ambitious: the story of Bush’s coterie and the politics that lead to war, the public dialogue culled from transcripts, and the behind-the-scenes diplomacy imagined on the basis of meetings know to have happened.

The cast is enormous: Bush, Blair, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Kofi Annan and Hans Blix carry the bulk of the story – but with a cast of over 20 the bit players in a complex story are well represented.

Most of the time the cast are simply men and women in dark suits, on a black stage, the only set a large number of classy chairs and a large meeting table.

For all the author’s known politics, the narrative (while enough to scandalise the average Republican) is not a cosy sop to we pinko-lefties. The story is stitched together by “viewpoints” – provocative monologues in the voices of journalists, Palestinians, Iraqi exiles.

The first is a direct confrontation: a journalist bitterly raging against the West’s self-referential hand-wringing and mud-slinging about toppling a dictatorship:

“From what height of luxury and excess we look down to condemn the exact style in which even a little was given to those who had nothing … Imagine if you will, if you are able, a dictator in Europe, murdering his own people, attacking his neighbours, killing half a million people for no other offence than proximity. Do you really imagine, hand on heart, that the finer feelings of the international community, the exact procedures of the United Nations would need to be tested, would the finer points of sovereignty detain us, before we rose, as a single force, to overthrow the offender? … A people hitherto suffering now suffer less. This is the story. No other story obtains.”

A wake-up call to the audience, but one that also prompts the question: “Are they suffering less?” The play is not neat, it raises awkward questions, few are caricatures – except, of course, the French.

There are definite moments of humour throughout, much of it culled from real-life comments made about principals (a colleague comments of Wolfowitz: “The word ‘hawk’ doesn’t do Wolfowitz justice. What about velociraptor?”). Kofi Annan trying to phone the deadpan Hans Blix while hiking in Patagonia is simply hysterical.

The acting was superb. Nicholas Farrell is astonishing as Tony Blair: he has the voice and mannerisms down perfectly.

Even greater an achievement is Alex Jennings as George W. Bush. Jennings’ Bush is a cipher: one is never far from the power of the man, never certain whether his deadpan style and homey phrases reveal a fool – or a powerful conviction politician. The play puts over the view that while his Cabinet argues, and while his is heavily dependent on Rice, he takes the decisions: consciously, independently and ultimately, unchallengeable.

In the end, the real hero of the play isn’t Annan, or Blix, but Powell: the man whose job it is to make the hard arguments both to his own people, and the foreigners – and the one man in power with a real understanding of what it means to go to war. Joe Morton does a powerful job with a sensitively scripted part.

The villain, if there is one, is Rumsfeld: unilaterally setting the agenda by press conference much to the dismay and fury of both Blair and Powell.

(And a brief shout-out to Australian Phillip Quast in a range of roles including CIA chief George Tenet.)

If the play is contentious, it is in making the following suggestions: (1) the (abandoned) Middle East road map was essentially (though not on Powell’s part) an exercise to make Blair’s position survivable in the War debate in the Commons, as the Bush administration had already settled on a policy of overt re-alignment with Israel; and (2) that Iraq was chosen principally as a easy target, as “winnable” a second-phase to the Afghanistan campaign – both of which were a necessary show of American strength after September 11.

Criticisms? Of course. This is very much an English play – it is a play about where the “special relationship” can take you; it is about how the English can get caught between US and French diplomacy. The rest of the world gets a look in, but only just.

A play about contemporary history has a problem finding a satisfactory dramatic conclusion. Colin Powell’s passage out of the play will resonate more if and when he’s dropped from the Bush Cabinet.

However, it collates recent events and engages in a useful myth-making, a provocative recap of two years of recent history. It would be costly to stage elsewhere, but it deserves to be seen in Australia, the US, Europe.

It also makes the devastating - and obvious - point in the final “viewpoint” that the Iraqis themselves did not feature very highly in the thinking about Iraq.

Friday, November 5, 2004

Sculpture near my bike shed Posted by Hello

Do ideas really matter?
(Part 2: the power of myths and the politics of fear)

Ladeen’s speech (below) was a shining example of a central argument of the BBC2 documentary “The Power of Nightmares”: that Neo-con thinking is built around the need for national myths.

The documentary series (not without oversimplifications) sets up two philosophical grandfathers of the Islamic fundamentalist/Neo-con conflict and draws parallels between their world view and their selling of it.

It selects two 1950s philosophers – Kotb, an Eygptian teacher who spent time in the US, and Leo Strauss, a conservative academic – who both saw in Western liberalism a nihilistic, secular individualism that was destructive of society.

Their remedies were different. Strauss saw the need for an elite who would restore American unity through “necessary illusions”, the myths that hold a society together, including that of a unique national destiny.

Kotb saw the need for an Islamic elite that could integrate the benefits of western technology without the materialistic nihilism that seemed to accompany capitalism (a contagious false consciousness that alienated sufferers from their faith). Bin Laden is allegedly a student of one of his followers.

“Nightmares” depicts a small, well-placed group of Straussians who turned to politics over academia. Within the (then not terribly powerful) moralist wing of the Republican party they found a base receptive to their programme to reinvigorate national myths through the rhetoric of good and evil. (A strategy enabling them to bring a huge evangelical Christian movement into the Republicans for the first time, radicalising an often libertarian, small-government party).

Their rhetoric painted the Soviet Union as the source of all evil, the sponsor of all terrorism, and a threat out of all proportion to that it actually posed. Unusually, “Nightmares” paints the CIA as the standard-bearers for truth against the ideologues: CIA “bean-counters” were convinced that the Russian military was a relatively weak opponent.

The Neo-cons, especially Russian expert Professor Richard Pipes, didn’t want to hear it: if the CIA couldn’t find evidence of what must exist, then the logical conclusion was that the Russians had hidden it so well the CIA couldn’t find it. The absence of all evidence was taken as proving military capacities at the limit of imagination.

Thus, “Nightmares” argues that the USSR was largely an imaginary foe. Critical to this is Afghanistan. The Neo-cons decided to expel the USSR from Afghanistan no matter what: so they armed and funded local Islamic extremist movements. Gorbachev, seeking a negotiated settlement that would allow his country to leave with dignity, was rebuffed. There would be no compromise. Gorbachev prophetically warned Reagan that the people he was backing were no friends of democracy.

The USSR was driven from Afghanistan, and shortly after collapsed. Both Neo-cons and Islamists saw this and, wrongly, presumed: (1) the two events were directly related; (2) it was their efforts that had achieved this; and (3) if they could beat the USSR (a superpower) they could beat anyone.

In fact, the USSR was simply an unsustainable economic and political mess that was bound to collapse.

In the absence of the USSR, a new enemy was needed: for the Neo-cons it became the “tyrants” of the Middle East, for the Islamists it became the USA.

The series posits that both Neo-cons and Islamists were losing popular support (the Clinton era, the fratricidal madness of Egypt and Algeria) by 1997. Ironically, it was September 11 that revitalised them both: giving one a clear enemy and the other a massive symbolic victory.

Both are left fighting an enemy they have largely imagined: a nihilistic empire bent on the destruction of Islam; a unitary state-sanctioned global terrorist network (“al Qaeda” allegedly being a US coinage to cover largely unrelated groups and individuals so they could be prosecuted under anti-Mafia laws).

It’s provocative stuff, and following the Bush victory raises the prospect that the real war of ideas is not with “Islamists” but within democratic societies themselves.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

The view from my kitchen (why I don't read in the library so much) Posted by Hello
Do ideas really matter?
(Part 1: a voice for neo-conservatism speaks in Cambridge)

Last Wednesday I went to see Michael Ladeen speak, a member of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing US think-tank. He is widely regarded as an influential neo-con, but he dismisses the label – saying there’s many points of view and considerable disagreement within the Institute over foreign policy.

Ladeen had an obvious belief in American exceptionalism and a special American destiny to support “the cause of freedom wherever it is threatened by tyranny”. As both a clear idealist and a scholar of Machiavelli he made some interesting arguments.

Fundamentally, he highlighted the tension in American thinking between isolationism and interventionism – a sense of having a mission in the world and a fear of contamination by a corrupt “outside” world the founding fathers (and all migrants since) deliberately left behind.

This, he argued, explained the historic American inability to sustain any coherent foreign policy. “We do crusades,” he said. “When we’re done, we go home.”

He argued that in nine years (the Regan era) the US was, by concerted but peaceful means, able to bring about the collapse of the Soviet empire and spread democracy in Latin America. If this could be achieved against a superpower, it should also be achievable in the Middle East: making invading Iraq a mistake.

(He thought the priority should be non-military support to Iranian democracy campaigners, as was done for Solidarity in Poland and Havel in Czechoslovakia).

He referred to the oil-for-food programme as the biggest money laundering operation in history, making the UN the most corrupt organisation in history.

He referred to terrorism as the conscious choice of well-educated people from good homes, arguing that the September 11 bombers were not in any sense people radicalised by personal experience of poverty or oppression.

He clearly saw terrorism as state-sponsored, referring to Iran, Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia as the “terror masters.”

His central thesis – which provoked outrage when the floor opened to questions – was that America is under attack because it is a free and open society, attempting to spread democracy in order to foster a more peaceful and rational international society. “Tyrants who support terror hate us because we are a successful and free society … they have to come after us … For them this is life and death.”

His argument being that so long as free societies exist as a viable alternative, tyrants must struggle to defeat them or risk being overthrown by their own people when they realise a better way of life is available.

It was interesting to listen to someone with a view of the world so morally infused as to be seemingly impervious to detail. When challenged on past American support for dictators he simply responded that these had been mistakes, and he understood how some could see the US as an enemy because it had supported tyrants in the past.

I couldn’t decide whether he was admitting to some genuine complexities, or just incoherently flip-flopping.

What I found most valuable was to realise that this is the kind of voice influencing US foreign policy (I wouldn’t say controlling it – US government is too big a power-process for anyone to really control foreign policy) – and it just doesn’t understand the pinko-lefty Eurocentric UN-as-rule-of-law consensus to which I belong.

It treats that pinko-lefty consensus as being as self-evidently mad (or rather, “tired”, “lacking self-confidence” or “nihilistically post-modern”) as we pinko-lefties consider the neo-cons.

So, in defining the war on terror as a “war of ideas”, he illustrated that the battle in policy circles over the role of international law is definitely one of ideas. In the academy and government we are fighting over which ideas will determine the way the industrialised and powerful nations view the world and respond to it.

In that context, the BBC 2 documentary “The Power of Nightmares” raises interesting arguments about the birth of the neo-cons and contemporary Islamic extremism (… to be continued).

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Lakes District (Hawkshead village) Posted by Hello

A week of social excess

Monday. Dinner with social anthropologists (and their lawyer friends).

Tuesday. Had some people round to play “Versability” the poetry game: given the first three lines of a stanza, can you suggest a convincing fourth? The answer in my case would appear to correlate very closely to the amount of wine I’ve had to drink over progressive rounds.

Wednesday. Grad Hall and Halloween bop. Committee members morally obliged to help stay and clean up after the party. So what else could one do but drink and dance until closing?

The photos that have come back from friends are rather chilling. It appears I was persuaded to dress as the leather biker from the Village People, replete with moustache. However, once moustache, leather jacket and sunglasses all fell off, I seemed to spend most of the night in another Australian’s white cowboy hat.

At least I was not the man in a straw cowboy hat who was otherwise only wearing briefs, sneakers and a half litre of vegetable oil.

Thursday. Awake tired. Assist the Californian neighbour to make lunch from scratch from organic ingredients – a process taking only 3 hours. Talk legal theory in the gardens in the last of the day’s sun with the new LLM students.

Went to a friend’s flat in the evening to watch the first two episodes of the thought-provoking, if polemical, “The Power of Nightmares” – which suggests that Neocon and certain Islamic extremist ideologies have a lot in common, to some extent need each other to be political credible in their constituencies and even suggests both would have been dead in the water without September 11. Provocative.

I’d even seen one of the key Neocon interviewees (Michael Ladeen) speak in Cambridge on Wednesday. I'll blog more about that if and when.

Friday. Went to see a new play (“Folie a Deux”) based on the same New Zealand true-crime story as “Heavenly Creatures”, written by and starring a friend. Powerful, intense stuff requiring a couple of stabelising Guinesses afterwards at the King’s College bar.

Discover a 19 year-old thesp friend had two months work over summer as a small but significant character in production of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel being filmed in New Zealand. No wonder she kindly insisted on buying a round.

Went for a quick nightcap port in the common room with another Australian lawyer, which turned into a long sequence of largish ports with an expanding cast of people dropping by to admire my inMotion iPod speakers.

Well, that and the port.

Saturday. Go perform in a staged reading of “Calculus” (while simultaneously meant to be at a rehearsal for “Macbeth”). Finish feeling shattered. Go home, nap. Decide I have neither the energy for a Buffy-themed Halloween bop, nor a cast party that will start at 2 am (after the set and lights are dismantled). Have Mexican with the flatmates and proceed to the pub.

Sunday. Go to lunch for three hours at the house of my college mentor. Go to see “Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban” at St John’s film group. Afterwards walk through an English Rennaisance college’s cloisters by night – too Hogwarts for words.

PhD research? Don’t ask … I scarecly have time to blog ...

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Disgusting, but scarcely surprising

The reach of Guantanamo is slowly extending.

In what sounds like the stuff of conspiracy theories – except it has been confirmed by the US Government – the CIA has been quietly moving some prisoners out of Iraq to secret bases for interrogation, beyond the reach of US law or - allegedly - the Geneva Conventions.

Here is the apparent reasoning: if you were not part of the uniformed Iraqi armed forces during the invasion, and are not an Iraqi national, you are not protected by the Geneva Conventions or the law of belligerent occupation, and can be moved beyond the reach of law and interrogated.

Up to a very limited point regarding the power to transfer people out Iraq, this may not be entirely wrong. But the Bush administration is deliberately seeking to circumvent any legal regulation of its interrogation practices. Of those captured in Iraq who are not Iraqi nationals (protected by the international law of occupation from being removed from Iraq – if one ignores the removal of Hussien) who have been “transferred” out of the country the New York Times has said:

“Another possibility is that they were transferred to the secret American-run sites around the world that have been used since the Sept. 11 terror attacks to house the highest ranking Qaeda detainees, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is accused of being the mastermind of the attacks.

Such transfers have been used by American officials in the past three years in part to subject suspected members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to interrogation practices harsher than those permitted under the Geneva Conventions or under American law. American officials have defended such practices, including a technique in which a prisoner is made to believe that he will drown, as essential to extract information that may be useful in preventing terrorist attacks.”

Presumably, like Guantanamo Bay, a number of these US bases are presumably beyond the reach of the US Supreme Court, and are probably not subject to local law by the terms of the treaties governing the status of foreign armed forces.

Despite my somewhat hasty conclusion the last time I wrote about Guantanamo, there is (by implication or omission) such a category as “non-privileged combatant”, though the term is not directly found in the Geneva Conventions. However, such a person is still entitled certain minimum protections (under the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War).

Further, they are entitled to a determination of their status by a competent tribunal (Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention), not by what sounds a secretive administrative procedure (“We’ve decided you belong to Al Qaeda, and the Presidential determination says at all AQ members are non-privileged combatants – sorry, go straight to Guantanamo Bay, do not pass go, do not expect visits from Red Cross inspectors …”).

And of course, no state official has the right to engage in interrogation practices that breach the general international prohibition on torture. Under the Convention Against Torture (“CAT”), torture is where “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him … information or a confession …” (CAT, Article 1).

In case it might be thought that this prohibition doesn’t apply to the US, the CAT is one of the few major international human rights instruments to which the US is actually a party. That is, as a matter of international law, it applies to US officials no matter where in the world they are.

And this is the country Australia and the UK have lined up behind as leaders of the free world.

The depth of my disgust is just beyond expression at present.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Pembroke College Posted by Hello
“Gah! Why does it hurt?”

Sunday’s sunshine, following a Saturday afternoon and evening of grey drizzle, must have really gone to my head. The vitamin D levels in my blood must’ve just spiked to intoxicating, unaccustomed heights.

Anyway, I was willingly dragged off to my first Ultimate Frisbee game in three years by one of the central-European guys downstairs, a bit of a Cambridge Ultimate legend as it transpires.

We got down to Jesus Green and tossed my disc about for a bit.

“I can see we need you on the College team,” he said – which was unnecessarily good of him. Anyway, Sunday was training for the university team, but it was a very big pool with a lot of beginners, so I wasn’t out of my depth.

But man, two and half hours of running around after a Frisbee will really take it out of you … and every joint and tendon.

So I went home to a hot shower, nap and then off to 75 minutes of yoga before a dress rehearsal for “Calculus”.

To compound my virtue, I had alcohol free, early-night Saturdays and Sundays (as did most people I know really, bad weather coupled with a lot of mid-week socialising does that surprisingly often).

So, this morning it took me about half an hour to get out of bed, and I seem to have a mild sore throat.

Just goes to show I shouldn’t have abandoned a strict regime of physical indolence, drinking and excessive dining.

I’ve spent all day walking around like John Wayne or a Cyberman (don’t move the knees! shuffle forward manfully! slow on the stairs!) and napping. Still, having social engagements six nights running this week should just about cure me.

Well, kill or cure.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Launcelot Fleming House, Wychfield - Chez Moi Posted by Hello

May I be excused? My brain is full.

So, my supervisor rocks. It was so worth hauling myself out of bed after stumbling home at 1.30 am to make it over to his office by 11 am on a Saturday.

I left reeling and euphoric after what felt like an hour-long conversation. Consultation with my watch put it at somewhere under 30 minutes.

So, I was not necessarily at my most confident on the way over. I probably overdressed for a Saturday (polo shirt, jumper, tweed jacket and slacks) but had never seen my supervisor in anything but a suit.

I cycled over to the research centre (a couple of inconspicuous white houses set in some lovely gardens) and arrived steaming slightly from my slightly-shaven scalp in the humidity.

Then realised I had no idea where in the grand ole rabbit warren his office was.

After tip-toeing through a conference, I found him in a set of rooms off a first floor landing, behind his computer in jeans and polar fleece. His office was utterly book-crammed, documents everywhere, including fisheries maps and something that I suspect was Malaysia’s memorial in an upcoming law of the sea dispute.

He actually seemed very slightly impressed I’d put together a 19 page paper since we spoke two weeks ago. He thought it raised some interesting issues. He liked the research I’d done on US anti-drug trafficking treaties.

“I suspect your topic might be broader than weapons of mass destruction. But you’ve convinced me there’s enough here for a PhD.”

He outlined the direction I should be continuing in, pointed me towards some resources and described the interaction between fisheries regimes and customary law on the high seas with magnificent economy, and pointed out how on some of my issues of jurisdiction I needed to be looking at European human rights cases.

“Um … we’re also meant to discuss my training needs,” I offered. “I suspect I need to learn more about finding European documents. I’ve gone to some sessions at the library, I suspect I’ll go to more.”

“How’s your French?” he asked.

“Six years of high-school that’s grown quite rusty.”

“But you can read?”

“Ur … slowly and with a dictionary?”

“I think reading French will be important. There’s a lot of good writers on the law of the sea in French. To kill two birds with one stone you should pick a book –”

Doug thinks: Tintin in the original?

“- something recent on the law of the sea and write a review. I can arrange for the American Journal or one of the others to give it to you. Then you get the experience of reading French and writing about it in English, and your name in print.”


Doug (weakly): “Great. I might just sign myself up for a course at the language centre as well, though. I mean, I’m sure the structure of it all is still there somewhere, but I could use a refresher.”

Somehow I suspect that what I remember of Mr H’s immersion French classes will not, of itself, allow me to comprehend academic writing on international law.

But I am so excited about my research. This was a huge boost to my confidence. I did not look like a fool in front of one of the best in my field. I convinced him my topic is viable. He’s friendly and accessible.

… and he’s pushing me to write a review of a French academic work for a major journal.

Game on.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Listening pleasure Posted by Hello

Conversations with God

Yesterday should have been an unparalled triumph. For a start, my bank finally gave me my missing PIN number (only fifteen days rather than the promised five, but who's counting); my glorious new iPod inMotion speakers arrived at the porters lodge (an ebay assisted import from the US at 2/3rds the Australian cost); and I had grad hall to look forward to.

Instead, I felt sort of tense, crotchety and out of control most of the day. My mood was probably not helped by a morning of fine rain, more like a nursery spray mist, not so much falling as hanging in the air and infiltrating every opening and settling in gentle, cumulative slicks over cobblestones and trouser-legs alike.

Bascially, my problem is getting ready for the next conversation with god. My supervisor is - well - if not the guy, one of the five guys, but more likely one of the two. Put it this way, a very good proportion of the ICJ cases I will need to look at over the next three years he appeared in. This is a practicing international lawyer whose clients are nation states.

Faintly intimidated? Me?

Anyway, despite being internationally mobile, frighteningly intelligent and insanely busy, he seems (after one meeting) extremely approachable, genuinely nice and very active in his supervision of PhD students. Once again, I've been incredibly lucky.

But ... it looks like I'll be producing writing for him on a fortnightly basis. External deadlines are great, but convincing yourself that something doesn't have to be perfect before presenting it to one of the planet's more senior and experienced people in your field is another challenge altogether.

However, today, despite it being the morning after a particularly rigorous grad hall that somehow finished in the bar of a neighbouring college, I put in a good day at the office (as pictured above) and just got the hell on with it.

I'll have something for him by tomorrow, though he's pushed our next meeting back from 4 pm Friday to 11 am ... Saturday.

I mentioned he was busy, right?

Sunday, October 17, 2004

A funny thing happened to me on my way to the theatre

Hung over one morning of Fresher’s week I diverted myself by stumbling around the audition trail from Cambridge student drama – auditioning for four plays in a little over three hours: the Amateur Dramatic Club Christmas panto of “Great Expectations”; a play about Isaac Newton’s rivalry with Liebniz; “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Macbeth”.

My audition for the panto was monstrous: confessing I couldn’t dance, and proving rather ably that I couldn’t sing (my attempt to lightly warble Cole Porter’s “You’re the top” achieving nothing more than a polite smile from the director and the mutilation of a surprisingly simple and innocent melody) probably limited my usefulness for a singing, dancing, comedy.

However, it does appear I have an affinity for being killed on stage. I’ve been cast as Banquo in the production of Mac … *ahem* … that Scottish play.

Still, it should be a pleasant change from being kicked to death each night (and most rehearsals) in “The Golden Ass”.

The prospect of an Australian reading the part of Cambridge’s most famous academic amuses me no end, but I am indeed reading the parts of Sir Isaac Newton and Vanbrugh (the Restoration playwright) in a one-off staged reading of Carl Djerassi’s play, “Calculus” weekend after next. Djerassi, an emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford, is probably better known as the first person to synthesise the oral contraceptive pill than as a playwright. He might apparently be in the audience.

Oh, and I was cast as Agrippa (a generic noble Roman with some rather nice speeches) in “Antony and Cleopatra” – but closer inspection of the production dates revealed I would be in Australia on Christmas holidays during the performance.

A pity, as it looked a promising production.

Interestingly, “Antony and Cleopatra” will be performed in the great hall at Trinity College, where Newtown was a fellow.

And one of my corridor-neighbours from Stanford has been to Djerassi’s house in San Francisco as she was taught by his wife, the English Literature academic Diane W. Middlebrook.

Is the world quite small enough yet?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Cambridge market, King's spires, Great St Mary's Posted by Hello

“We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart”

American neighbour: “You, know, I’m beginning to think I’m a binge drinker.”

Doug: “Good, you’ll fit right in.”

It’s not that in Cambridge socialising is entirely impossible without alcohol … oh, wait, scratch that. Ahem. In Cambridge socialising is entirely impossible without alcohol. In fact, it’s about the only way to get anything done at all.

Let me back up.

At my induction camp with the nice people giving me money to be here, the trust Provost (with refreshing honesty) said: “The most frustrating – and wonderful – thing about Cambridge is that it’s not managed at all. I’m Provost of the Trust, Master of this College, Head of that Faculty and President of the Following Organisation – all of which means I have the power to do precisely nothing. If you want something to happen, make it happen.”

What Cambridge does well, in fact, brilliantly is to teach people to network – but nicely. You live in a sort of Venn-diagram of social relations: you have an existence within your college, your faculty, student societies and so on where no one is actually responsible for doing anything much – but you have a lot of opportunity to meet people who can make your life simpler if you treat them well.

The principle thing is to never turn down an event. I have had invaluable advice through being seated next to the college Law Fellows at dinners, and – surprise, surprise – going drinking with them afterwards. College is also where you get to eat and drink with a cross-disciplinary community, something I never really had to the same extent as an Australian undergrad.

You also need to maximise your friends in other colleges, if only to be in with the remotest hope of getting into swanky May Balls run by the mega-wealthy colleges.

All of which just tends to make the start of the year rather tiring. On my third real day of PhD research I couldn’t get past lunch because – after the excesses of Freshers week – I had the Scholar’s dinner in College last night and was being bought celebratory gin and tonics for some time afterwards by the law fellows in the college bar. End result, by two o’clock I had to stumble home for a nap.

Tonight was graduate formal hall, a lovely occasion with my kitchen (the drop-in centre in our accommodation block) hosting a dozen people for blackcurrant tea and strategising the acquisition of May Ball tickets until midnight.

Tomorrow I have drinks in my LLM supervisor’s rooms at St John’s and Monday I have the law research student’s dinner.

All of this is wonderfully valuable professional networking the only way Cambridge knows how.

But I really am beginning to wish I’d banked half my liver before admission to legal practice.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Come not between an Aussie and a flaming BBQ Posted by Hello

The end of the beginning

There comes a point where you can hear MCR Committee members chanting, “Freshers’ Week is o-ver, I can do some wri-ting” – which expresses both the sad lot of the later-year PhD student and the party fatigue of the first week of term.

Take 90 strangers from around the world, drop them in a Cambridge college, add them to an existing 140 graduate students, add a hectic and creative social calendar and too much free drink and leave to simmer for seven days.

The result is a surprisingly intense week which leaves people with new networks of friends and a strong group identity, and rather less fear of being in a strange institution with a scary reputation. It’s a great process to watch and participate in: I already feel like I’ve know a couple of the new guys for months.

Today was the final event of the week, the only one I was responsible for co-convening: the final BBQ. The amount people had drunk through the week was probably reflected in the fact that this was the event with the highest food to alcohol ratio and we still didn’t get through the two cases of beer on offer.

Indeed, doing the shopping run Saturday morning for the Sunday arvo BBQ it was hard enough to even enter the alchohol aisle of a mega-Tescos and lay hands on beer without experiencing convulsions. The situation was not helped by what seemed a half-mile long, garish two storey high wall display of what seemed to be the EU surplus of Diet Pepsi (labelled: “for display purposes only”).

Most BBQ attendees had the same attitude to it upon arrival.

Still, some of us Australians – having heard the election result and had a day to stew over it – needed a beer.

And besides, it’s so much more fun to play with a three-foot grease fire with a beer in one hand.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

View from my window 1 Posted by Hello

View from my window 2 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Efficiency in the UK

Am presently going through the joys of getting set up at the start of the academic year, same as every other UK uni student. Despite this having happened on Michaelmas day for about 800 years now, Britain still has some trouble coping.

My grant cheque arrived on time at the college bursary (direct electronic payment? what is this, the New World?), but will of course take a British bank up to five days to clear.

Still, no problem as I can't use my debit card. Somehow, I forgot the PIN. So, I took several forms of photo ID in, hoping to have the bank swipe the card and reset it.

"Alright sir, I'll take a note of your sort code and account number," said the woman, motioning that I could go.

"Um, what happens now?" I asked.

"Your PIN will be mailed out to you within five working days."

Mailed. Out. Within. Five. Days.

Of course, one could make manual withdrawls, if one was prepared to queue 20 minutes or more. (It's only the busiest time of year, why have more than one teller open? Or when you do have three open, why not let two puzzle together over one computer screen for 10 minute stretches? Why would you call in a manager or extra staff just because people are so bored they've started gnawing their own limbs?)

Getting a phone connected? Nothing easier. Buy a phone, plug it into the socket, dial "#" and wait for a NTL representative ... for over an hour.

My phone will now be connected within the week. Maybe by Friday, more likely this time next week.

Oh, and despite having been here last year, I need to fill out a new emergency contact form.

And - my personal favourite - despite living in College accomodation, I need to turn in a form to the college telling them where I am living. (I mean, what?)

And despite being admited to the PhD program, I still need to "register" as a PhD student at the Law School.

Still, at least running errands beats starting work. However, I did have a PhD students seminar this morning in which I discovered further evidence of the conspiracy of Australian lawyers in Cambridge.

The first new evidence predates the seminar, as not only did one of the new LLM students in college recently work at the same Sydney Mega-Firm as I once did, she worked for the same group and the same partners.

Now it transpires that one of my PhD cohort is also an alumna of the Mega-Firm, while another PhD-mate used to sit with me in the History Honours Research Seminar at the ANU circa 1997.

Small, scary world.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go press my wing-collar shirt and see if my new fob chain for my grandfather's watch fits my waistcoat.

As a member of the grad student committee I've been invited to the metriculation dinner for the newbies this evening, so I guess I can't really complain.

(Naturally, I've had my head shaved back to a tidy no. 2 for the occasion by a physicist friend.)

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Occasionally sunny Cambridge Posted by Hello

A pain in the laundry

Ah, Freshers’ Week in Cambridge, the sound of suitcases on wheels rumbling across courts, the new student’s bright smiles of terrified enthusiasm, the dubious grunts of parents dropping off crate after crate of their undergraduate child’s equipment.

A time before classes commence, a time of parties, drinking, entertainment and having hot wax spilled down the back of your trousers without so much as a formal introduction.

Yup, at a drinks function at the fashionable Riverbar Kitchen a student (on scholarship no less) managed to knock over one of the exceedingly large wax candles adorning a trendily low table and righteously splatter the back of my brown cord trousers. Not the cocktail combination I was looking for.

Ever tried getting dried wax out of those little fabric grooves?

Fortunately the international guild of professional butlers (a site destined to become the thinking man’s aide to running a home) and a2z carpet agree that the essential procedure is to cover the affected area with brown paper and apply a warm iron, then stand back and watch the paper absorb the wax.

Well, obviously, one doesn’t really stand back and watch.

That would just start a fire.

Anyway, my favourite cords now look less like a recently frosted biscuit and just kinda patchily discoloured. There’s still a wax residue in some of those hard-to-reach little grooves in the fabric.

Time to go buy dry cleaning fluid and some POG (Paint-Oil-and-Grease, apparently) remover.

Just as well nobody expects me to have started any research on, y’know, international law or anything yet.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Back in blightey

I'm back. I'm jetlagged. I'm badly shaven. I'm short on coathangers.

I've managed to move into college accomodation without locking myself out this time, though getting the key to begin with was mildly amusing.

I'm getting a lot better at going long periods of time without sleep when the social need arises. And it was pretty amusing to be able to say at 8 last night: "Well, I'm on Sydney time, where it's 5 am tomorrow, and I've been up since 8 am yesterday."

So I did what any jet-lagged returnee to a Cambridge college should do: went to a committee meeting, moved my stuff out of storage and then headed down to the pub with friends.

Regular blogging will resume shortly, but I'm off to Kent for a few days orientation.

Meantime, thanks to everyone who made my time in Australia so very special (especially all those kind enough to buy me drinks, dinner or let me stay in their spare room - you know who you are and you're fabulous). Old, dear Canberra friends who organised my social life and were prepared to drink or brunch anywhere, anytime - and family who were prepared to welcome me back to my old room back, lend me a car and patiently cook dinner when I wasn't out. Melbourne friends who provided me with shelter from the rain that followed me all the way from England, scrummy food, amazing company and who lured me to see the world's funniest parish priest in action. Sydney friends who went out of their way to be welcoming and hospitable. It's really cool to think there are at least three cities in the world I could always call home. I'm fabulously lucky to know you all.

It's strange to be back on the other side of the world, but a new adventure is beginning and I'm at least a hell of a lot better prepared for it than I was when embarking on the masters this time last year!

Ahem. Forgive the sentimentality. It's the time-difference speaking. Hard-headed cynicism and my-life-as-comedy-of-errors narrative will be restored presently.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

If only I could take pre-emptive action against a few politicians

Radio National this morning covered the pointless “debate” between Labor and Liberal parties on the “doctrine” of pre-emptive self-defence. On examination, both parties are only a whisker apart (a distance that becomes chasm-like after spin).

Okay, so Labor says it would not take action inside our neighbours’ borders without consultation and invitation – and that to adopt a policy of pre-emptive strikes is destabilising and sets us against neighbours like Indonesia who don’t like the idea, and whose co-operation is needed to fight terrorism.

Fine. But are the Liberals actually backing pre-emption?

Well, no. Or only in such limited circumstances as to make it unlikely ever to happen.

Downer says that Australia would never act uninvited inside the territory of regional partners with a viable counter-terrorism infrastructure, and pre-emption would only ever really be considered in failed states, unable or unwilling, to stamp out terrorist bases.

Politically, not unreasonable. But hardly consistent with Downer’s claim the Labour policy leaves Latham unable to state categorically he would do everything necessary under any circumstances to protect Australia. After all, the Liberals policy leaves them far from free-handed.

When a radio journalist asked about the terror camps the Phillipines government has been unable to suppress Downer managed to pshaw and claim there was no link between any such small, remaining bases and plots targeting Australia. He suggested it was inconceivable an Australian government would do nothing if it was aware of an imminent attack being planned from such a base.

So, suddenly the Liberal policy is consult and proceed only when invited in the case of all but failed states, where we would only proceed when faced with imminent attack?

If this is right, it is (somewhat reassuringly) not a doctrine of pre-emption at all. It is the nineteenth century doctrine of anticipatory self-defence which claims a right to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defence when there is the danger of an imminent attack.

The only problem with anticipation is that is conflicts with anything but the most strained reading of Article 51 of the UN Charter, reserving the right of self-defence to situations where there has been a prior armed attack or Security Council resolution. (Some English-speaking academics claim that anticipation is available under the Charter, but a lot of English-speakers and almost every nation in the world disagrees with them.)

At least - though in my view illegal - a doctrine of anticipation articulates a concept of last resort action to forestall an attack and curbs its exercise with criteria that have some meaning in military law.

What is really needed is substantive debate about regional arrangements capable of looking after security issues in our collective backyard.

But that kind of detail isn’t going to sell to the voter only interested in a Tom Clancy level of foreign policy analysis. Meanwhile the term “pre-emption” just makes us sound like a Pacific-region Deputy of Bush’s Texas Ranger foreign policy.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

“Somersault”: brilliant or banal?

I went to see “Somersault”, debut feature film of Australian Cate Shortland and an official selection at Cannes, with a group of friends.

Basically, it’s the story of sixteen-year old Heidi (Abbie Cornish) a curious girl, struggling to feel comfortable in a grown-up body and – disastrously wrong-headedly - trying to reach out to others for closeness principally through sex.

After being caught coming onto her mother’s boyfriend, mostly to see if she can, she flees Canberra to Jindabyne and begins a relationship with Joe (Sam Worthington), a local grazier’s son and tries to fit into the local community.

The reactions were mixed, especially among the women: a number found it “random”, or a coming of age story that simply lurched from sex-scene to sex-scene or loaded with banal, unbelievable dialogue. This seems to reflect some viewer reactions elsewhere.

I guess this highlighted for me two love it or hate it aspects of the film: the editing (does rapid cutting from close-up detail to hand held conventional shots evoke life’s everyday impressions or sensations, or is it just kinda irritating?) and the script (do characters struggling with their inarticulacy seem more innocent and vulnerable or just tedious?).

For me, it worked. “Coming of age drama” is a pernicious label, and “Somersault” is more than that. Cornish (a twenty-something actress) manages to evoke a compelling fragility in Heidi, an adolescent mixture of reticence and boldness that is not courage so much as curiosity and a complete lack of boundaries. This makes the sex in the film neither gritty nor titillating, so much as heart-wrenchingly flinch-worthy. It makes every rejection Heidi encounters, and every act of kindness she meets too, painfully immediate.

The cinematography is often eye-poppingly good, and the use of over-bleached colours and hand-held camera work is refreshingly understated and not deliberately arty. The film progresses in a series of crystalline images, haunting everyday impressions of Canberra and Jindabyne in a familiar, biting winter. The sound design is also remarkably understated.

The dialogue was forgiveable in its capturing the emotional naïveté of adolescents who think they understand sex, but have no experience of relationships.

Overall, though, it’s just so refreshing to see cinema about places you think of as home. And if it gets a UK release, I can drag friends to it and say, “See, Australia really does get cold!” (It was also kinda strange to see someone I went to school with in an excellent cameo as a stoner rich-kid from Sydney.)