We fought the law, and we won (with the help of some other laws and good lawyers)

Twelve years ago I was arrested on New Zealand Parliament Grounds during a protest, along with 74 others. It was my first year of uni. A bunch of us later sued the government for arbitrary arrest and false imprisonment. This year Beggs v Attorney General finally reached a conclusion with a settlement offer. (It’s in my name by accident of alphabetical order.) I banked the cheque today. A formal apology is apparently on the way. Cheers to Tony Ellis who saw it all through, after defending us for free, for this and for generally inspiring fear and loathing in the hearts of cops and Crown prosecutors over the years. Also to Tony Shaw and everyone else who worked on the case.

It was in the news back in July. This post at Public Address gives the history of the case, and its headline is a hilarious pun.

Published in: on 10 November, 2009 at 7:51 pm  Comments (4)  

Bye bye bachelor


So I’m out of the country for three weeks. Raych and I are getting civilly united back in NZ.

Published in: on 24 January, 2008 at 10:59 pm  Comments (3)  

Abercrombie Street, wet, from above


Sydney is having a weird, wet summer. A year or two ago I would have felt gypped. It’s usually so bright here that old Sydneysiders tend to have a squint. But now I’m stuck inside writing all the time and I don’t really mind. Actually I think rain suits the neighbourhood, rusting all the corrugated iron and sluicing the dirty gutters.

I’ve lived around here almost three years now and I love it. Yesterday I was drinking at the corner pub with a friend. There’s a pub on just about every block in the inner suburbs. Takeaways are expensive – about $15 for a six-pack of cheap beer. Longnecks are a little cheaper, but still at least 150 per cent of the price of equivalent beer in New Zealand. I don’t know why, tax or liquor licensing, but it means drinking at the pub is not much more expensive. So they’re everywhere and start to fill up from lunchtime. There are two within a minute’s walk of my place, and at least five more within ten.

The one on the immediate corner is undoubtedly the seediest but it’s between my place and my friend’s so we often end up there. It has a captive clientele with two storeys of ‘studio apartments’ above it. My friend introduced me to one of the inhabitants yesterday and as it got crowded he invited us upstairs.

A South Sydney ‘studio apartment’ is a room in a boarding house. You share the bathroom and maybe a kitchen, though it’s common for the landlord to not bother with the kitchen and you are left with whatever appliances you can plug into the wall to supplement a diet of kebabs and chips. It’s a man’s world, women tend to leave as fast as they can. (I lived in one of these places for a few months until Raych joined me over here.) WordPress hasn’t sorted out scratch’n’sniff yet so you have to use your imagination: mouldering carpet and stale smoke.

But that’s the smell of history. I’d say this place above the pub would have been there at least a hundred years. The one I lived in was once a Glebe mansion, probably converted in the 1930s. Today the clientele is pretty cosmopolitan, one-third immigrants, one-third local students and young labourers and one-third what you might call seasoned men of the streets. Our host was one of the last category, a guy with some serious charisma, a happy punter who gets beer bought for him all the time by young guys like us keen to hear about his talkback radio revelations. And this guy has the king of views, which these photos don’t begin to do justice to, from an outsized balcony some people would pay hundreds of dollars a week for if it wasn’t rotted through around the edges. He didn’t mind me taking these photos over the rooftops, but warned me not to step where the wood gets dark.

Published in: on 19 January, 2008 at 4:23 pm  Comments (1)  


Happy New Year! I have to admit some superstition about these artificial breaks in time, I’m a sucker for the fantasy of the clean slate.

I’d like to say my resolution is to get my shit together on here. Eight months of not-entirely-irregular posting in one spot is not too bad for me. But it’s a bit of a mixed bag, this blog, whose only guiding theme is ‘stuff I can get motivated to write about (besides my thesis)’. I alienated 50 per cent of my regular readership (hi Raych) with the interminable Keynes commentary. But that commentary now brings most of the hits here, via Google. And not many of those visitors are going to be interested in the rantings about Australian politics that have filled the space since.

Anyway, I’d like to rationalise things here at Scandalum Magnatum, write more, and drag a lot more half-finished pieces out of the drafts folder. But I can’t promise much at the moment because most of my 2008 resolutions were made some time ago. Like my thesis is due a year from yesterday. Oh, and Raych and I are getting married a month from tomorrow. (Actually it’s technically going to be a Civil Union.)

So more than likely this is going to keep being pretty random. Plans for the near future: I’m going to finish the Keynes posts, and I don’t care if they bore certain people to tears. I want to finish off some drafts on this credit crunch business. And I’d like to do some more writing on the local area. I’m delighted that after variations on ‘motives for holding money Keynes’ and ‘investment multiplier’ and so on, the most common search phrase that sends people here is ‘post-industrial wasteland sydney’, thanks to the throwaway piece I did on the Eveleigh Railyards. There’s a lot more where that came from.

Published in: on 1 January, 2008 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya…

…but I’ve been really lazy. Raych was back in the home country, so I had the place to myself, and holed up in the spare room for a week to write some serious thesis. I know, sounds like the perfect opportunity for writing here, but I actually got some work done and didn’t feel much like writing anything else. In my downtime I did all kinds of things I don’t normally do (and for good reason) these days, eating junk, playing computer games, reading sci-fi… (Besides, Raych makes up roughly half this site’s readership, and if it weren’t for people googling ‘David Schirmer’ or ‘The Secret’ that share would be substantially higher.)

So the day Raych was getting back I left the cave to get some proper groceries, and there were cops everywhere, on the train, on bikes, in the shops… APEC has crept up on me.

Now like I said, I have hardly left my house in the last couple of weeks, so maybe I have missed all the posters and suspicious activity. And I’m not that good at predicting the size of Sydney rallies – they have consistently been bigger than expected, I suppose on account of the city being more populous than the home country. But I have heard far, far more hype about APEC protests from the police, the police commissioner, assorted politicians and newspapers than I have from the activists I maintain some loose contact with. Is it really going to be that big? It seems hard to believe. A lot of people in high places seem to really want it to be, though.

It goes without saying that all this security state stuff is outrageous. My question is, to what extent is it cynical and calculated, and to what extent do these people really believe their own hype? I have leaned towards the former. It would certainly be in Howard’s interest for some serious scuffling to break out, and the ‘current affairs’ shows, tabloids and talkback hosts are gagging for it. But such ridiculous things are being predicted that I’ve come to think there is some genuine fear there. Then I walk out the door this morning and these new ‘national security’ ads are all over the place: “KEEP AUSTRALIA SAFE. KEEP THE INFORMATION FLOWING. 1800 123 400 Trained operators take every phone call seriously. You can remain anonymous. National Security. Every detail helps.” (In the graphic, snatches of imaginary phonecalls: “I overheard them planning something… I felt like I had to let you know… They have a lot of pool supplies in the courtyard but they don’t have room for a pool… It’s unusual for him to be receiving deliveries like that, especially at that time of night… I know this person who has downloaded a lot of documents from suspicious websites…”)

Do you laugh or cry? I have to admit, again, I’m still leaning towards the former.

Published in: on 4 September, 2007 at 10:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Back on the planet

One funeral was unfortunately followed by another and I have been out of reach of the internet, and for that matter, my mind, for some time. Back in Sydney now, back here very soon, but I have a few things to catch up on first.

Published in: on 25 July, 2007 at 10:30 am  Comments (2)  

Where angels fear to tread

A month ago I agreed to give a talk on Marx’s Capital. I wasn’t the first choice, but my thesis supervisor had another engagement. Actually he sounded quite happy to have another engagement and warned me that it would be impossible to boil Capital down to 20 minutes. I wasn’t too worried – I’ve spent so much time reading it and the secondary literature that it couldn’t be too hard, surely. Besides I had a holiday in New Zealand and a wedding in beween promise and delivery, so I wouldn’t have to think about it until a couple of days before. I would dash up some notes on the day and things would be splendid.

Well, the supervisor was right, and I’ve had a nail-biting couple of days working out what the hell to say. I found out just how little I could really say confidently about value or capital, how much the wandering in the labyrinth of the secondary lit had confused me about what Marx Actually Said.

The occasion was a meeting of the Monty Pelican Society, a pretty casual reading group with a random membership that’s been meeting for the last few months in a little office in Surry Hills to read through the classics of economic thought. I went along myself while the group worked through Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

It happened tonight and in the end it went pretty well. The group ranged from a pair from a feminist reading group who had been reading Derrida’s Spectres of Marx and decided to get a more solid look at the spectre himself, to a risk analyst for a major investment bank, slumming it. The discussion was great, especially considering most of them were reading Marx for the first time.

Afterwards I ended up having a few beers with the banker, and he told me things were “coming apart at the seams” in the market for commercial paper, and that the general consensus among his mates in the investment banking community was that a big financial shock was coming by 2010 at the latest. Now this is the kind of investment banker who goes to the odd reading group on Marx, but still, if a run on commercial paper sparks the next 1929 (his comparison), well, you heard it here first.

Anyway, I will try to post what I said on Capital here soon, but really this is just a note to explain that life is still hectic. Away for another couple of days at the Society for Heterodox Economists’ Winter School. I might also look into this commercial paper business…

Published in: on 4 July, 2007 at 10:25 pm  Comments (3)  

Today, tomorrow, Timaru


There are some great wilderness areas in New Zealand, but the Canterbury Plains are not among them. This is a totally man-made landscape, geology aside – and even the geology has had some fiddling with: land reclamation et cetera. Beginning as a Wakefield colony, centred on Christchurch, farmland stretched from the foothills of the Southern Alps to the coast.

Driving through last week I was struck by a subtle change in the landscape. This was once quintessential NZ sheep country, but now it’s all cows. Dairy, traditionally, is a North Island industry, but no longer. This is a further-reaching transformation than it sounds because cattle are much more resource intensive than sheep, and because dairy is a higher-value output on the world market. Lakes and rivers have been drained for irrigation, and effluent and fertiliser-enhanced run-off given in exchange.


An enormous Fonterra milk powder factory opened a few years ago in Clandeboye, near Timaru, and rejuvenated Timaru’s port, which has long played second fiddle to Lyttleton (which is really part of Christchurch).

I doubt any of this is exciting to you, but it is to me. Timaru, you see, is my birthplace. Grandparents and cousins live on the clifftop above the port and every time I’ve visited since I was a kid I’ve loved to sit there and watch the port tick over. Thanks to growing Chinese and Japanese appetites for dairy, nowadays it’s busier than I remember it, and all futuristic with electromagnetic cranes and robot dockworkers.


I only lived in Timaru for the first five weeks of my life, before Mum and Dad took me to California. When we went there on holidays as a little American kid I remember thinking it was just like Coronation Street. Of course, Timaru looks nothing like Coronation Street, and I guess to the impartial observer it looks just like any other provincial New Zealand town.

To me, though, there’s always something a bit magic about Timaru. This is a little embarrassing because Timaru is often something of a joke among New Zealanders, much like New Zealand itself is among Australians. Timaru even achieved international joke status in 1993 when Guardian travel writer Mark Lawson included a chapter on it in his book on the world’s most boring places, The Battle for Room Service. (Note, though, that Richard Gott wrote in the New Statesman that Lawson himself exemplifies the “prevalence of the bland and obsequious” in the Guardian. Also the average Amazon rating for the book is two stars. Ha.)

Whatever may happen to its port traffic and tourism, Timaru’s immortality is truly assured, though, by this single and video by New Zealand’s own Spinal Tap, Deja Voodoo. (“They’re my favourite band, they’re your favourite band. Who do? You do… they’re Deja Voodoo!”)

Today Tomorrow Timaru

Published in: on 2 July, 2007 at 9:38 pm  Comments (2)  

Candy store

Do you remember when there used to be these contests in which the winner won a ‘shopping spree’? You either got to spend 10 minutes pulling whatever you could from the toy store shelves into your trolley, or else you got to spend a ridiculous amount of money (probably $500 or something). I don’t remember seeing those since I was a kid.

But finally this week I got to experience one when a friend tipped me off that the uni library is offloading surplus books. Not old dross that no-one ever checked out, but former short-loan books, which were either books that were prescribed for courses, or those which were popular. There is a section roped off on the ninth floor where you can take whatever you want, then take them downstairs to check out… for good!

I ran over there and got as much as I could carry. I went back that evening with two bags and filled them. I stashed what I couldn’t carry in a corner and will be back for more.

It is all good stuff. Unfortunately the history section was done earlier and no-one told me. But what remains are the Dewey Decimal 300s (social sciences), 800s (literature) and some sub-300s I’m not so familiar with, including psychology and philosophy.

So far I have only raided the 300s and got like 50 books. It is stuff I might eventually have accumulated only over many years of trawling the second-hand stores. I got classics of economics (e.g., Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis, Joan Robinson’s Accumulation of Capital), Marxian classics (e.g., Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness, some Hobsbawm, some Perry Anderson), classics of Australian economic history (e.g., E. O. Shann’s An Economic History of Australia, Butlin’s Foundations of the Australian Monetary System and War Economy, Fitzpatrick’s The British Empire in Australia), and a bunch of thesis-related stuff you probably wouldn’t be interested in.

It is like ten Christmases all at once. But there is a slight hint of a downer because now when guests ask “have you read all these books?”, I will be in even less of a position than ever before to reply that “well, I am at least aware of their contents.” It would take me some years to get through all the books I am getting this week and it makes me realise that life is short and books are long. I also need to buy a new bookshelf and promise my partner I will not go book shopping for the rest of the year. Furthermore, it increases my anxiety about the cost of shipping when we eventually leave the country.

But still, it is nice. I’m not an extravagant shopper for most things. I buy an article of clothing on average once every six months, for instance. But books I can’t help but accumulate. I was at least slightly comforted to read Adam Smith’s view that books are one type of those durable goods it is wise to collect. Much wiser than spending one’s revenue  on a profuse and sumptuous table, and in maintaining a great number of menial servants, and a multitude of dogs and horses. This is because, among other things, if a person should at any time exceed in it, he can easily reform without exposing himself to the censure of the public. Because the public need never know, whereas if I had to lay off servants or reform my table from great profusion to great frugality, or lay down my equipage after I had once set it up, everyone would be talking about it. (Also, when I die or grow weary of them, the inferior and middling ranks of people will be able to purchase them for a bargain, hence the the general accommodation of the whole people will be thus gradually improved.)

[Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter III]

Published in: on 9 May, 2007 at 10:15 am  Comments (4)  

Blank page

So I’m the type of person who starts reading a lot more books than I finish. I have about fifteen documents called “Chapter 3” sitting in my thesis folders, each one started from scratch. And I have to admit (1) this isn’t my first shot at blogging; and (2) the other attempts have petered out ignominiously. So I wouldn’t add this to your blogroll just yet. Let’s just wait and see.

Most of my previous attempts have been on the same site. I resisted the blank page temptation for a while because I figured if I did it once, I would slip down that slippery slope and do it more times.  But it really grates on me that way back in the day I had no imagination and named my site after myself, which no-one does anymore. It’s hard to think of a name that skirts between the perils of the pompous and the inane, so I did it the old-fashioned way – by flicking to a random page in a random book – in this case a late-19th century encyclopedia volume I found in the street. [Charles Annandale, M.A. (ed.), The Popular Encyclopedia; or, Conversations Lexicon. Being a dictionary of science and arts, literature, biography, history, and general information, new and revised edition, vol. XII: Randers-Seleucia] I think it will fit nicely.

Published in: on 9 May, 2007 at 9:11 am  Leave a Comment