Saturday, March 04, 2006

A wee bedtime story

A frog lived in a pond in a lush, ancient woodland. Despite all the usual adversities with which he and his froggy friends had to contend, such as predators and the occasional dry spell, our frog lived a life as nearly idyllic as a frog could live.

Unknown to our frog, a band of quarrelsome hominids had colonised the surrounds and built a sewage treatment plant not far from his pond. Unfortunately the plant regularly discharged a noxious slush into the surrounding ecosystem, and a lot of it found its way into our froggy pond.

Hominids? Sewage? Ecosystem? Toxicity? Plasma TV? These were all concepts to which our froggy friend was contentedly oblivious.

Initially, the only thing that did penetrate his froggy consciousness was a noticeable increase in biomass of the water in the pond. For a while, the enhanced biomass caused a flourishing of life in the froggy pond, and our frog and his froggy friends prospered and multiplied.

If frogs had print media, the headlines might have ran: “Biomass Bonus Continues Unabated!” It was a great time to be a frog!!

Over time, of course, the level of toxicity in the pond increased relentlessly. There was nothing our frog could put his webbed finger on, but sometimes he thought he noticed what seemed to be increasingly erratic behaviour in his froggy friends.

He didn’t realise that he himself was engaging in similarly erratic behaviour. Rather, he just thought his behaviour was normal. Of course, it had to be normal. He was doing it, and he knew he was normal. He was as oblivious to the incongruity of his random savage outbursts as he was to the concept of toxicosis.

Eventually and inevitably our frog, his froggy friends, and all other life in the pond were extinguished – all except for a permanent algal bloom that held the now frogless pothole in its unyielding grip.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Anatine Principle and the AWB scandal

With regard to making judgements on the actions and motives of officialdom and so-called authority, it seems all too often that not enough weight is accorded to what may be called the Anatine Principle.

This Principle, with authoritative roots in folk and colloquial wisdom, states that:

If it looks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then you call it for what it is – a duck!

While it’s true that the Anatine Principle is not a completely reliable guide, it has the virtue that the vast majority of people tend to put great store in its efficacy in the conduct of their everyday lives. There are, of course, well documented instances where over-reliance on such an epistemological method has resulted in sub-optimal, and very occasionally catastrophic, outcomes. It ought to be recognized, however, that the average human being would not survive for one single day without applying this Principle.

In the context of a contemporary “issue” such as the present Australian Wheat Board scandal over wheat sales and kickbacks to Saddam’s Iraq, the corollary that follows from applying the Anatine Principle seems pretty clear.

A private company with intimate links to a junior but crucial partner in a ruling coalition (quack!) has been found to have broken the law and compromised international efforts to contain a supposed potential threat to world peace and security (waddle).

A national government with the duty of oversight for transactions in the Oil For Food program, and with the legislated means to carry it out, has been found to have failed to identify risks and to act upon information, and to be generally negligent in the exercise of its responsibility. (Quack!, quack!, waddle, quack!, waddle...)

The principle extends to any “controversial issue” one might care to consider, whether it be the question of complicity by a preeminent western power in the installation of a murderous regime such as that of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, or of connivance and deceit in the multifarious and murderous debacle that was and is the invasion and occupation of Iraq, or the “children (not) overboard” scandal, or indeed any other sub-cutaneous lesion on our body politic.

In summary, there is much merit in calling something for what it looks like. True, there’s the possibility of “getting it wrong”, but even worse may be the consequences of being cute about it and failing to act, for instance, just because it doesn’t happen to fit a preferred script.