Elon Musk, The World’s Raddest Man

Part 1 of a multi-part series, profiling Elon Musk:

In college, he thought about what he wanted to do with his life, using as his starting point the question, “What will most affect the future of humanity?” The answer he came up with was a list of five things: “the internet; sustainable energy; space exploration, in particular the permanent extension of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code.”

He was iffy about how positive the impact of the latter two would be, and though he was optimistic about each of the first three, he never considered at the time that he’d ever be involved in space exploration. That left the internet and sustainable energy as his options.

Pretty sure the heftiest question on my mind in college was “How can I get away with doing the least amount of work for the most amount of reward?” and went shallower from there. Definitely keen to find out more.

The (true) killing of Bin Laden

Not sure if this is the kind of article that sparks revolts or is conveniently ignored for real politik – Bin Laden’s location was known to Pakistan, his killing was more about managing political realities than it was about the Americans finding him and taking him out:

‘The compound was not an armed enclave – no machine guns around, because it was under ISI control.’ The walk-in had told the US that bin Laden had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 with some of his wives and children in the Hindu Kush mountains, and that ‘the ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him.’ (Reports after the raid placed him elsewhere in Pakistan during this period.) Bank was also told by the walk-in that bin Laden was very ill, and that early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment. ‘The truth is that bin Laden was an invalid, but we cannot say that,’ the retired official said. ‘“You mean you guys shot a cripple? Who was about to grab his AK-47?”

So much of this seems more believable than the story we’ve been told so far, especially from a perspective that understands the reality of the ISI’s reach and capabilities; it’s now left to wonder who will write the history of this in the long run, and what it will reflect.

Edit: and of course, the follow-up which takes this story to pieces:

And there are more contradictions. Why, for example, would the Pakistanis insist on a fake raid that would humiliate their country and the very military and intelligence leaders who supposedly instigated it?

A simpler question: why would Pakistan bother with the ostentatious fake raid at all, when anyone can imagine a dozen simpler, lower-risk, lower-cost ways to do this?

The truth is out there, somewhere.

Questioning the ANZACs

Scott McIntyre, a sports reporter for SBS news, was sacked this weekend for tweets about the ANZACs

McIntyre began his tweets on the centenary of the Gallipoli landings by criticising what he said was the “cultification [sic] of an imperialist invasion”.

He was called out by Malcolm Turnbull, and many reacting online. SBS News’ managing director had him out the door practically before it even became a news story.

But: is he that far wrong? And what value free speech?

His tweets made some upsetting suggestions; that perhaps Australian involvement in World War I was unjustified, that some soldiers Australia dispatched to several parts of the world may have been less than ethical in their conduct, and that our commemoration of Gallipoli has, to some extent, become a day of drinking and gambling bathed in crass nationalism.

For the Right, this would not stand. The calls for McIntyre’s removal were swift and loud, most forcefully from elements of the commentariat who typically condemn Twitter’s tendency to outrage and instead rally for free speech.

The lesson of the ANZACs, as I have read it from the time I was able to think it through for myself, was that getting involved in wars is bad, and especially so if they’re halfway around the world because of our allies and not because of any direct threat to our nation. That some 125,000 men died on both sides in Gallipoli 1 for a stalemate of a situation because of the blunders of commanders, that hundreds of thousands more were sent home injured, for little benefit to anyone 2.

The futility of war should be writ large in the lessons of Gallipoli, not a hagiography of the noble Diggers who went to war. The refrain of Lest We Forget is to remind us not to forget the cost and the horrors of war, not to glorify the troops as is increasingly evident in the commemorations, especially at the 100 year mark, with increasing commercialisation of the events.

The other ugly factor is the increasing “fought for our freedom” line that seems to be cribbed from the American refrains of their armies – Gallipoli was never about Australia’s freedom. Kokoda could be held to that, the war in the Pacific in World War II could be held to that, but the continental war of Europe that spilled into World War I because of the colonial possessions of the European nations? That was not glorious, necessary, or for our freedom 100 years ago.

That the soldiers who fought there have all passed away doesn’t mean we cease to commemorate, of course, but it also does not mean we look at it through rose coloured glasses, that we now glorify the dead because no-one would speak of the mistake of wars that are not necessary.


  1. Worth noting only some 8,000 Australians and 3,000 New Zealanders. 29,000 British soldiers died, but we commemorate our own far more than the British do
  2. Except the commander of the Turkish forces, who went on to lead the Turks to their Republic – Ataturk.

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.)