Inside Australia’s first body farm:

The mass grave marked with pink tape covers an area of about 2 square metres, and has sunk a few inches as the bodies have decomposed. “Once bodies become skeletonised, the bones fall apart and … mingle,” Forbes explains. “The challenge is to identify the victims and make sure that you are dealing with the right bones.”

The data from this grave will be used in relation to war crimes. Forensic archaeologists will see if any useful evidence can be exhumed with the bodies, such as footprints near the burial or marks on items of clothing. Researchers also look for evidence pertaining to the weapon causing death. “We don’t actually shoot the body,” Forbes clarifies, explaining that the NSW Police Force ballistics team shot bullets through the clothing before placing it on the donors.

They currently have 46 bodies on the site, with over 500 on the waiting list.

The Irish Times explained why Ireland’s Constitution had to change:

The Constitution is no place for abortion. That was clear in 1983 and it is even clearer now. The Eighth Amendment describes a world that never existed – a place of moral absolutism, religious certainty, good and evil, black and white – and locks us into that illusion in perpetuity. To remove it is merely to reflect the world we live in: a contingent, uncertain place, full of messiness and ambiguity, where the distances between happiness and despair, public joy and private anguish, are agonisingly small.

With a Yes vote, we can reject a worldview that relegates a woman’s bodily autonomy below the right of the State to tell her it knows best. We can bring an end to the secrecy and the shame. And we can embrace a more generous idea of the State itself.

And the Irish people delivered a resounding, emphatic Yes.

In March, a self-driving Uber car killed a pedestrian. The US National Transportation Safety Board’s report on the incident is horrifying.

As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path.

So the system didn’t know what to do. Not to worry, the Volvo’s emergency braking system would kick in, right?

The vehicle was a modified Volvo XC90 SUV. That vehicle comes with emergency braking capabilities, but Uber automatically disabled these capabilities while its software was active.

Oh. Well, surely Uber’s own software would have an emergency system?

At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision.

Phew! But wait…

According to Uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action.

Huh. Well, they’re testing, so I guess it makes sense that the operator would be concentrating on the road, ready to intervene.

The operator is responsible for monitoring diagnostic messages that appear on an interface in the center stack of the vehicle dash and tagging events of interest for subsequent review.


The system is not designed to alert the operator.

This is absolutely horrifying. The way this system was designed, it was inevitable that Uber would kill someone. Whoever is responsible for these decisions needs to be tried for manslaughter.

Sigh. “Two towns are 48kms apart. One has twice as much tooth decay.” You’ll never guess which town refuses to fluoridate its water… and for crank conspiracy theory reasons that make PJ O’Rourke’s satirical flowchart look reasonable.

Well, that’s that:

After completing what they say is the first examination of Adolf Hitler’s remains since World War II, a team of researchers has announced that the Nazi leader most definitely died in Berlin in 1945 and, therefore, cannot possibly still be alive on the moon.

The study was no easy feat. Over the past 73 years, Hitler’s presumed corpse has been set on fire, secretly buried, dug up by the Soviets, hidden by the KGB and finally ordered destroyed.

… [L]ast year, a team of French researchers persuaded the Russian government to let them inspect the last two bits of Hitler known to exist: a bullet-shot chunk of skull and a set of frankly disgusting teeth.

They compared these fragments with war-era autopsy records and concluded that, yep, those are definitely Hitler’s teeth.

Tokyo High Court upholds ruling calling city of Saitama’s refusal to publish pacifist haiku ‘unfair’:

The Tokyo High Court on Friday upheld a district court ruling that called “unfair” the city of Saitama’s refusal to publish a haiku which referred to the Constitution and carried a pacifist message in its local newsletter.

The high court ordered the city to pay ¥5,000 in damages to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff’s haiku, which translates to “Under rainy-season skies/ ‘Protect Article 9’/ Female demonstrators cry out” (“Tsuyuzora ni/ ‘Kyujo mamore’ no/ Josei demo“), was submitted by a local haiku club in June 2014 to the Mihashi community center in Saitama for publication in the center’s monthly newsletter.

Article 9 is the pacifist clause of the Japanese constitution. This is the offensive poem, which Saitama is still refusing to publish: 梅雨空に「九条守れ」の女性デモ

Divorce on demand risks becoming law if a woman succeeds in escaping her “loveless” marriage, the [UK] Supreme Court has heard.

Tini Owens, 68, has been barred from divorcing her husband Hugh, 80, because his behaviour was not sufficiently bad to meet the requirements of the law.

I’m genuinely shocked to learn that no-fault divorce is not (yet?) the law in the UK. Why would you want to keep people trapped in a miserable relationship?

Yesterday, the DPP made the very rare decision to abandon the prosecution of a serious crime, before it had even finished calling evidence at the committal hearing. I had been following the case closely, but it still took me by surprise.

I was less surprised by the strongly-worded press conference given by the defendants’ lawyer, Peter Gordon, on the steps of the Magistrates’ Court. Here’s why I think his outrage is justified.

In April 2013, the CFMEU was locked in a bitter dispute with Grocon over safety issues — especially the need for independent health and safety representatives on dangerous construction sites. Part of that campaign involved organising a boycott of Grocon and its concrete supplier Boral.

It’s against that backdrop that Boral contacted the CFMEU and arranged a meeting with the union’s secretary, John Setka, and assistant secretary, Shaun Reardon. That meeting took place in April 2013.

More than a year later, Boral’s CEO, Mike Kane, wrote to Dyson Heydon’s anti-union royal commission (TURC) to “respectfully suggest” Setka be referred to the police for possible blackmail charges.

Kane also complained that he thought a Supreme Court case against the union had been too slow, and Heydon fawningly interjected to lead more evidence from him about it. “You’re making powerful points,” said Heydon, concluding:

If anyone within Boral does have ideas for the future regulation of institutions so as to avoid this happening in the future, we’d be interested in seeing that.

Heydon dutifully recommended blackmail charges, and also called for reform of Supreme Court processes to avoid the delay Boral had complained about.

The court subsequently established a new Employment and Industrial List, which hears anti-union cases and is headed by a judge who formerly represented Grocon in its high profile case against the CFMEU’s safety protest.

Meanwhile, Boral sued the CFMEU, with Kane claiming that its blockade cost the company $28 million. The more credulous journalists — such as the Herald Sun’s Stephen Drill — took this claim at face value.

Ironically, given Boral’s complaints about delays in the Supreme Court, it was ordered to pay part of the union’s costs after causing a six week delay by changing its case on the ninth day of the trial, after ten witnesses had already been heard. And despite being allowed to move the goal posts during the match, Boral settled for just $4 million in damages, a long way short of Kane’s fantasy.

But that was just one prong of Boral’s attack. It had also been working closely with the ACCC to have the union sued by the government for exactly the same blockade (despite the Boral settlement), as well as continuing a campaign in the media for criminal charges based on the April 2013 meeting.

The usual suspects in the press were (over-)excited by that prospect. In August, Stephen Drill published a report, including confirmation by eyewitnesses, about a Taskforce Heracles police raid in the CFMEU office — an exciting scoop but, unfortunately for Drill, completely false.

But in December 2015, two and a half years after the meeting, Setka and Reardon were arrested in front of their families and charged with blackmail.

They weren’t accused of threatening violence. They weren’t accused of seeking personal gain. They were accused of organising a boycott of building industry employers over an industrial issue — the appointment of health and safety representatives.

This was a big deal. It is very unusual for a purely industrial dispute to be treated as a criminal matter. In one of the many court hearings since then, Justice Weinberg (himself a former Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions) tried in vain to identify a precedent for blackmail charges in this context:

Perhaps they are a little experimental. An attempt to see how far the reach of the criminal law can go in this area.

Leading industrial law professor Andrew Stewart observed:

As long as you are not beating someone up or damaging property, criminal law hasn’t really had much of a role to play at all. If these guys are found guilty, and if the evidence does not show they were doing this for personal gain, that they were acting in the course of an industrial campaign, it sets a massive precedent and it’s just hard for me to see where the stopping point is.

Boral seemed unconcerned that its own behaviour might be criminal under this new expansive approach — for example, by threatening to sack employees if they don’t hold a vote to remove conditions from their lawfully made EBA.

For now, their campaign to attack the CFMEU by undermining the prevailing legal norms was bearing fruit.

But the thing about criminal law is that it adheres to strict rules of procedure and evidence, developed over centuries to protect fairness to the accused — a far cry from trial by media or the loose approach of Heydon’s TURC witch hunt.

Even before the committal hearing, the CFMEU’s lawyers began pulling on the threads that would see the case collapse.

For instance, Taskforce Heracles had obtained warrants for phone intercepts on Setka and Reardon, but when Magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg reviewed the affidavits used to obtain the warrants, he made the unusual decision to release them to the defence due to his concerns about the process.

When approving warrants, judges and AAT members are required to consider the interference with privacy and the gravity of the offences being investigated.

The first affidavit made a single reference to litigation brought by Boral and made no reference to privacy.

The magistrate said a telephone intercept could reasonably be expected to capture conversations between Setka and Reardon and their lawyers and other parties as well as “sensitive and confidential information”.

“Those are all matters that should have been placed before the tribunal members having regard to privacy.”

The implication here is that the police might have misled the AAT by omission, downplaying the fact they would be eavesdropping on privileged conversations between the accused and their lawyers.

(This parallels another case: an earlier TURC criminal case against the ACT branch of the CFMEU saw a warrant thrown out because of a “failure to disclose fully the circumstances that were required to be disclosed”. That case was a similar attempt to apply criminal blackmail charges to an industrial demand. That case also spectacularly collapsed.)

On the morning of the first day of the hearing, the union was also given access to a raft of documents the ACCC tried to keep secret. Rozenscwajg said their affidavit was weak and the documents showed a “cooperative relationship” the defence had a right to explore. The documents included emails between DLA Piper (lawyers for the ACCC) and Freehills (lawyers for Boral), and crucially, notebooks and draft versions of the Boral witnesses’ statements.

And when those witnesses took the stand, the wheels came off the prosecution case. As The Age’s Nick McKenzie put it:

It is inexplicable that no one who pushed for blackmail charges to be laid against Setka and Reardon applied the sort of blow-torch scrutiny to the central witnesses that they would inevitably face when the case reached a committal hearing.

So it’s hard not to wonder if a desire to bag the biggest union scalps in the country blinkered the judgment of those who sought to criminalise what the union movement always insisted was industrial conduct.

Their claims were never challenged by Heydon or his bumbling counsel assisting, but this was a different arena.

The two key witnesses were Paul Dalton, who arranged the 23 April meeting, and Peter Head, who had attended as a witness.

Their evidence did not seem to square up with the allegation that a threat to cause millions of dollars of damage was being made:

Peter Head told the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court union bosses John Setka and Shaun Reardon spoke passionately about their concerns for the safety of workers at builder Grocon’s city sites during the meeting.

“It was calm, it was pleasant. There was no overt aggression but certainly passion for the cause,” he said.

Dalton was similarly unfazed at the time of the meeting, and “repeatedly said he did not feel as though he had been threatened during the meeting, but later accepted he had been.”

He was so unconcerned by what had happened that he (perhaps criminally) destroyed his original notes of the meeting on the same day, after being told by Boral’s in-house lawyer they “did not contain any evidence” and were “irrelevant”.

In fairness, they might have been right, as Dalton “conceded his notes do not characterise his conversation with Mr Setka as being of a threatening nature.”

Other documentary evidence at the time suggests there was no perceived threat. Dalton’s notebook referred to briefing documents being sent to Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz — but those briefings don’t refer to any alleged blackmail, and neither politician mentioned any such allegation either.

(Dalton’s credibility surely took a hit here, as he claimed he “can’t recall” whether Abbott or Abetz were “militant about the CFMEU”… yeah, right.)

It was only later, when Boral was contemplating its approach to TURC, that the meeting was retrospectively deemed threatening. And when the ACCC failed in its bid to block draft witness statements being released, the defence team was given a window into Boral’s back-room operations in preparation for TURC.

At TURC, the similarity between the men’s statements was taken as a virtue. Counsel assisting, Jeremy Stoljar, wrote “Their accounts are consistent. Thus they corroborate each other.” But he had not questioned whether the similarities came as a result of collusion rather than corroboration.

And he had not questioned to what extent their statements — prepared more than a year after the event — had been massaged. There was certainly plenty of opportunity, as nearly 60 draft witness statements were prepared by Freehills:

The court heard one Boral executive witness statement was changed 18 times while the union said another was changed 41 times.

A key phrase, “cut off the supply lines”, alleged to be uttered by the union officials was not in the executives’ original notes and was only included in statements a year later, the CFMEU said.

A detailed comparison of the statements at various stages of preparation also threw up curious similarities. For instance:

Mr Head maintained the recollections in his first draft were his own, made without reference to Mr Dalton’s notes.

And yet:

His first draft contained several almost identical quotes to those noted in Mr Dalton’s final statement.

The unorthodox process of drafting these witness statements was of such concern that after the DPP formally dropped the charges, Magistrate Rozencwajg commented:

It highlights [that] how police take statements is far more conducive to getting the facts as witnesses see them.

This just underscores that the blackmail case was never a real police prosecution — it was driven by Boral and its creative, anti-union lawyers, and given a push along by a creative, anti-union royal commission.

And they failed.

This time.

This is not the end of the matter. This was not the first attempt to bring a blackmail case against a union official making an industrial demand, and it won’t be the last. Professor Andrew Stewart warns:

Comments in the royal commission report and the initiation of this prosecution have now placed a very large question mark over the role of criminal law in relation to industrial action and union activities. Today’s decision has done nothing to resolve that.

They won’t stop attacking workers who stand up for themselves. We need to join our unions, turf out anti-union governments, change the rules to put a fair industrial relations system beyond doubt, and stand in solidarity when one of our comrades is attacked

Touch one, touch all.

You’ve probably already seen this HD footage of 1992 Tokyo; it’s been doing the rounds. I finally took the time to watch it today and I was struck by how much the framing, the palette, and even the soundtrack reminded me of 1993’s Patlabor 2: The Movie (without the tanks and mechs, obviously).

In which Greg Jericho proposes to answer the question: is Scott Morrison dumber than a hamster?

Firstly in 2016, Scott Morrison took what was a pretty easy win on company tax cuts for small businesses and turned it into a fight on the ALP’s terms by including an unfunded and uncosted but clearly expensive proposal for tax cuts to begin eight years later for companies with a turnover above $1bn.

It allowed the ALP to turn the tax debate into one about equality and fairness, and those large business tax cuts remain stuck in the Senate.

This time around we have a series of income tax cuts — the first of which are an easy sell for low- and middle-income earners — but which Morrison has yet again combined with an unfunded and uncosted but clearly expensive proposal to begin in seven years that would see people earning between $41,000 and $200,000 paying the same marginal tax rate.

In a stroke it once again allowed the ALP to shift the tax debate onto its favoured turf of equality and fairness and immediately made it more difficult to get the legislation passed through the Senate.

Is anyone actually advising the government?

I’ve been giving Strides a go to see if I can develop some stronger habits. Early days yet, but after setting a daily goal of 50+ kanji reviews, it’s been nice to see my Wanikani backlog clearing out. So far, so good.

Anne Twomey has an interesting legal/political history column in The Australian today. It’s about about two Australians expelled from the British parliament, but focuses on Arthur Lynch:

Some might see Lynch’s life as one of contradiction — he was a colonel in both the Boer and British armies. He fought for and against the king. He was an Australian elected to the British parliament, disqualified from it and sentenced to death for high treason, who went on to serve in that same parliament, with distinction, for nearly a decade. Yet throughout, he was true to himself and showed courage and principle. Unlike the politicians of today, who change course at the first adverse report of a focus group, Lynch led a life undaunted.

The creator of the Medieval Death Bot — which tweets one-line summaries of fatalities recorded in English coronial records — is putting together a book of highlights, Murdered by Clerks:

Through death, Murdered by Clerks gives us a rare, first-hand look into everyday life for common people of the English Middle Ages.

And lurking amidst these common people is a recurring chorus of especially murderous clerks. Their bloodlust, while appearing insatiable, is the result of a particularly medieval naming convention – all those who were employed in a profession because they could read and write were referred to as clerks, which included not only scholars… but students as well. With the Death Bot featuring a coroners’ roll from Oxford, the cup of clerk murders overflows, and Murdered by Clerks highlights the best of the best. Brawls, street fights, wrestling gone wrong – it’s all in there. Students, drunk and armed with swords, are not to be trusted…

And here’s an excerpt.

Don’t be put off by Knights of the Dinner Table’s amateuristic art and occasionally confusing word-balloon placement; it combines funny adventures with surprisingly deep character development. It’s a highlight of my month, every month — and with this Bundle of Holding offer, you can get a stack of collected PDF volumes for under $25.

My preferred podcast app, Pocket Casts, has been bought by a joint venture comprising podcast and public radio networks. There is a conspiracy theory about that they are going to start harvesting scads of user data, and although the developers have denied it, NPR’s Thomas Hjelm told Hot Pod, “we’re eager to explore … better tools for podcast creators to understand how their content is being consumed”. So that’s a maybe?

(If Pocket Casts does take a drastic turn as a result of this deal, I will switch to Overcast. When I’m asked for an app recommendation, I already recommend both. I prefer the Pocket Casts interface, but that’s a matter of taste, and I’m sure I could get used to the alternative if I had to.)

Here’s a nice physics puzzle game based on the shapes of falling letters: Supertype.

The Nintendo Labo is a lot of fun. It starts with the Gunpla-style satisfaction of snapping pieces into place to build something cool, but then your cardboard construction comes to life — the piano is amazing!

The real power seems to be the ToyCon Garage software, which is a simple programming interface that lets you tinker with the included toys, or design and build your own. We’re already seeing lots of neat experiments, but my favourite is this Labo Motorbike controller for a kid’s wheelchair.