A Modern Day Hatchet Job

Rachel Olding and Nick Ralston in the Sydney Morning Herald today take a hatchet to males in their mid 20s in their profile of Vincent Stanford, the 24 year old accused of murdering Stephanie Scott:

The reclusive school cleaner had no known friends, no social media profiles and had uttered little more than a polite “hello” to neighbours in Maiden Avenue.

But Mr Stanford maintained a secret online life, hiding behind fantasy characters to indulge his obsession with computer games, violent videos and neo-Nazi propaganda.

Posting under the moniker of the mythical Aztec serpent Quetzalcoatl, Mr Stanford told gaming forums that he “loved stargate and videogames” and “do a bit of 3d modelling in my spare time”.

He has “no social media profiles” but he’s on gaming forums – which are in their own way a microcosm of social media, social interaction. But that’s code for ‘No Facebook or Twitter we could easily scrape, so we had to do some work’.

Anonymity is par for the course outside of Facebook and Twitter, and this isn’t something which is “a secret online life” that one hides behind – that’s the way the internet operates, anonymously.

Digital traces left by the 24-year-old in at least four computer forums reveal that he spent most of his time in front of a computer, usually playing military-themed computer games or developing his own programs.

“Digital traces” in forums reveal nothing of how much time he spent doing what, and if there’s a tween-to-twentysomething these days that doesn’t admit to spending much time in front of an internet connected device in their spare time, they’re bordering on luddites.

“Loved stargate resistance and i like fallout 3 gears of war franchise halo 1 through 3 and the dead space games,” he posted in one forum in 2012, referencing several active-shooter games.

These games were played by millions, and are amongst the top sellers played by people everywhere around the world, especially 21 year olds in 2012. Stargate Resistance is a team shooter based in the Stargate universe – the one that had a decent movie and years of a TV series called Stargate: SG1. At this point, he’s about the same as an overwhelming number of other males in Australia between the ages of 18 and 30.

Mr Stanford signed a petition to save Stargate World and Stargate Resistant, games about a violent galactic warfare.

I mean, Star Wars is a series about violent galactic warfare, but you never really see it being portrayed that way. Also, Stargate Worlds was a MMORPG that never made it, having been cancelled in 2010.

The Stargate series inspired him to write lengthy, rambling fan fiction as a teenager

Hold the fucking phone. The guy wrote fan fiction, everybody! Lengthy rambling fan fiction! As a teenager!

God forbid anyone ever find my creative endeavours lengthy and rambling.

In between the dozens of Stargate video clips that he “liked” on YouTube, he also liked pro-Nazi clips, clips supporting Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and clips about the 2011 military science fiction shooter game, Gears of War 3.

On a video about Nazi leader Rudolf Hess, he posted “RIP Rudolf Hess. Ich bereue nichts”, which translates as “I regret nothing”.

He liked clips of Nazi marching songs, Third Reich military music and German military marches.

Wait wait wait.

“In between” the Stargate videos, just in passing, Olding and Ralston touch on the fact that it appears he’s got Nazi sympathies – based on reading his Google+/Youtube profile from 4 years ago.

“In between”.

Stargate and Gears of War 3 are fantasy worlds; the Nazi thing, that’s an actual hate group that actually existed. But we’re focused here on the Stargate videos, because this is just what he did ‘in between’ watching the Stargate stuff.

Mr Stanford, who was born in Tasmania and lived in the Netherlands for a decade, moved to Leeton about 14 months ago with his older brother, Luke, and mother, Anika.

Sidestep: here’s some background. Let me just back up to the start of the article:

Few people in the town of Leeton had ever heard of Vincent Stanford before he was charged with murdering high school teacher Stephanie Scott.

“It’s really bizarre. Absolutely nobody knows him, and in a town this tiny, that’s really strange,” said Ashleigh Stockton, a receptionist at Leeton Soldier’s Club.

“He’s my age and I’ve lived here all my life but I have no idea who this guy is. It’s a bit of a mystery.”

… because he’d just moved there; the guy has moved back from the Netherlands to a town in rural NSW, just over a year ago, and the people of Leeton haven’t heard of him.

Pardon the sarcasm if it’s being laid on a bit thick here; a 24 year old who moved into town with his mum and brother and works as a cleaner doesn’t exactly grant him a public profile in a small country town.

The reclusive school cleaner had no known friends, no social media profiles and had uttered little more than a polite “hello” to neighbours in Maiden Avenue.

No known friends… or at least known to the people of Leeton, because you sure as shit can’t check if he’s got friends if he doesn’t have a Facebook profile.

Because he’s a twenty three year old who has just moved to a country town, population 6000 or so, from The Netherlands, and is working as a cleaner. It’s not exactly a situation conducive to gaining new friendships, and the internet makes it easy to maintain distant friendships with people who share your interests.

I don’t for a minute defend the guy for what he stands accused of doing to Stephanie Scott. That is truly horrific, the context of her wedding coming up makes it sadder still, and the evidence certainly seems stacked against him. It seems likely Mr Stanford will spend time in jail as due punishment for his actions.

Nevertheless, this profile is truly grating for focusing on exactly the wrong things. Having an interest in worlds of fantasy and science fiction is not strange; having a passion enough for a fictional universe that you want to write your own imaginations into it is not in any way linked to being predisposed to murder, however the article tries to carefully frame it that way.

The Nazi sympathies apparently shown through a few youtube video likes and comments from years ago could be a tip-of-the-iceberg, or it could just be youthful indiscretion and based on the context of the other 19-20 year olds he was friends with while in the Netherlands in 2010, at a time when Geert Wilders was gaining popularity there. Even Nazi videos can be contextualised with a bad crowd.

Most likely, this was a crime of opportunity – not that he is a deranged individual because of his interests and what his online profile says about him, but because he chose to do what he did to Stephanie Scott.

I can do this commentary and research with minimal effort, but it appears Rachel Olding and Nick Ralston did not – instead opting for a lazy article that plays into established fears of the loner who played video games and wrote fan fiction. How truly woeful the SMH has gotten to have stoop to this kind of level.

The Ripple Effects of the price of Oil

An analysis of the ripple effects of cheap oil

The [1974] oil shock altered power relations between the world’s main geopolitical players and created new ones. Higher oil prices had many unexpected consequences—from breeding oil wars to fueling the international spread of Islamic fundamentalism thanks to funding from newly super-rich countries like Saudi Arabia. Today’s drop in crude-oil prices, which began in the summer of 2014, may be as disruptive as the quadrupling of oil prices that created the oil shock of 1974.

It’s amazing how much of an impact the price of oil has on the geopolitical and financial landscape – and it would be fascinating to see the development of oil alternatives shake out into an entirely new landscape. Underlying all that is a fundamental factor that plays into the climate change discussion as well – it’s all about energy, and humans need it increasingly so to maintain the modern living standards we’ve become so used to in the developed world.

This goes without examining the more micro-level changes – with low oil prices, will airfares drop? Will people suddenly take more holidays in further off destinations? Will people resume buying high fuel consumption cars, too late for car companies like Ford & Holden to reverse their courses? How does that change cultural consciousness around energy use? All those things changed because the nominal price for something so fundamental to our lifestyle changes one way or another; is the price oil a proxy for all manner of things?

Aussie victory in the Cricket World Cup – at a cost

Greg Baum in the SMH today

Cocooned in sycophancy, the Australians seem not to grasp nor care how poorly this behaviour sits with the other half of a cricket-following public they repeatedly and ever more deeply divide, even in their finest hours.

They also do not seem to care or grasp how it rankles with opponents, and how insufferably arrogant it makes them look. Do they really think they are the only country that plays with passion and pride? Do they think they patented the will to win? Do they think they have cornered the market in competitiveness?

The Aussie attitudes on the cricket field are exactly why I can’t support them in a neutral match, despite having grown up in Australia and taking equal pride in the country’s efforts in other sporting endeavours. Perhaps it is because in so many other sports, the Aussies are the underdogs or at best equally matched by others in the world – while in cricket, their consistent form and distance from the rest of the pack make them arrogant in a way they don’t reveal elsewhere, or maybe it is something specific to the culture of the current team.

When you’re missing respect for an opponent, you find it easy to gloat, not just revel in a victory, and it reveals an ugly side to the players that leads to neutrals being turned away from anything but begrudging admiration for skills.

Enough has been said about the Aussies attitudes in the aftermath of previous matches and this tournament that I hope Cricket Australia and the team management take notice – boorish players such as those lead to a disengagement in the community, and that will invariably lead to lower crowds and lower participation in the long run.

(not even touching the booze-filled aftermath, though I’d make a point of comparisons with AFL and NRL grand final winners and the attitudes and outcomes they had at the end of their matches, and leave it at that.)

The Great SIM Heist

In 2010, GCHQ and the NSA hacked a company responsible for producing a huge number of mobile SIMs and stole all the security keys:

With these stolen encryption keys, intelligence agencies can monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments. Possessing the keys also sidesteps the need to get a warrant or a wiretap, while leaving no trace on the wireless provider’s network that the communications were intercepted. Bulk key theft additionally enables the intelligence agencies to unlock any previously encrypted communications they had already intercepted, but did not yet have the ability to decrypt.

It’s not so much the brazen nature of the hack – mostly built on social engineering through hacking their personal emails – as it is their ability to wiretap without any kind of oversight or leaving a trace. This exports the fundamentally digital nature of these communications, that a tap is easy and undetectable because bits leave no fingerprints and suffer no degradation.

That the agencies for the UK and the USA have done it so broadly – not merely looking at services within their jurisdictions, but globally – is now standard fare. You can only imagine the furore if it had been perpetrated by China, Russia or even puny little North Korea. It’d be evidence of the police state, the surveillance possible too massive to ignore.

That these revelations continue to come years after Manning and Wikileaks, that this is still Snowden’s work coming to light, is likely a good thing, but in the short term, I despair at what this indicates is happening behind the scenes, stuff that we wouldn’t even believe would be happening, because that truth would be stranger than fiction.