Categories
opinion quickie

America’s Decline

Coronavirus Brings American Decline Out in the Open:

The U.S.’s decline started with little things that people got used to. Americans drove past empty construction sites and didn’t even think about why the workers weren’t working, then wondered why roads and buildings took so long to finish. They got used to avoiding hospitals because of the unpredictable and enormous bills they’d receive… They grumbled about high taxes and high health-insurance premiums and potholed roads, but rarely imagined what it would be like to live in a system that worked better.

The most immediate cost of U.S. decline — and the most vivid demonstration — comes from the country’s disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic.

You speak to an American, they’re convinced America’s the greatest country in the world. If you ask them why, they’ll throw out all manner of things, and indeed, there’s many things that are pretty good.

However, if you looked at America over the last 6 months, particularly as coronavirus has set in, as an independent observer you’d be hard put to say the trade-offs are worth it. It’s amazing if you’re rich in America; it’s terrible if you’re poor. I don’t know about you, but it’s not quite the balance you’d like to be living with.

Categories
opinion politics

2020

The year is now 2020.

14 years ago, I started this site as I was planning a move from Melbourne to Sydney. Previously, I’d been publishing on a friend’s server, buried in a subfolder, but that’s when the site came into its own. So now, with this post, I’ll have published items in 3 different decades – ain’t that a thing about getting old.

Right from the start, this site has been about my own political observations – one of the very first things written here was about the Cronulla Race Riot in December 2005, a decidedly unwelcome event for someone just about to move to the city.

It seems to have been an isolated incident of sorts, in hindsight, as we never quite got to something so nakedly racist on the streets of Australia again, but it left a high water mark – a new edge for the Overton window to nudge up against. And to some degree, you’d think over the years we’d nudged the Overton window the other way, with things like the Apology to the Stolen Generations, but that turned out not to be the case. We go into 2020 with the Conservatives in power across the US, UK, Australia, India, Russia… so many places of influence holding back and pushing towards a long-lost golden age without really understanding why that golden age existed in the first place.

Australia is on fire. I mean it in the worst possible way; at the time of writing, some 5.8 million hectares have been burnt, more than the Amazon fires of 2019, millions of tonnes of CO2 unleashed into the atmosphere just as we don’t need it, an estimated 500 million wild animals dead, a government in disarray as to how to respond, towns on the coast being evacuated by the Navy because there’s no other way out and the only safe place is to shelter on the beach because nothing can burn there after all.

14 years ago, I didn’t think that was coming. I knew global warming was an issue, but I didn’t know that we had such little time to turn the tide. I hoped that someone in charge knew what needed to be done; I voted along the lines that I thought would make a difference, but 14 years on, we’re still where we were, a brief flirtation with doing the right thing now six, seven years ended, and a government apparently in utter denial about what it takes to get it right.

A lot changed in that time.

A lot needs to be done still.

How do we start? Plant a tree. Speak to your neighbours about the issues. Figure out how you can reduce your impact. Talk to your family about what is coming, and how we can act to overcome that. Call your local MP at the state and federal level, speak to your councillors. Ask them what they’re doing, because we’ve seen now what it means to have warming truly come home to roost, and if we don’t want to live in a Mad Max world in our lifetimes, then we need to start changing it now.

Let’s make 2020 the year that you make a difference.

Categories
opinion politics

Globalisation and Inequality

This thinkpiece is opinion with some small basis in researched reality, but please don’t take this as definitive. All my own views.

The argument being made in the US post-Trump and in the UK post-Brexit is that the forces of globalisation and free trade have led to increasing inequality, and that’s what the working class of these countries is getting upset about – their increasing distance from the “elite” that are perceived to benefit from the globalisation at the cost of the working class.

Except what’s happening here – to put it in Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat terms – is that the playing field is flattening, at least at the lower end of the income distribution. This means more than just bringing the developing countries up to the standard of the developed countries – it’s also causing the developed countries to drop down a little, or more rather a reversion to the mean.

The way the working class in developed nations are feeling the pain is an inevitable consequence of this globalisation – the advantages they had were only ever relative, because for all that there’s said about equality, it was never the case that developed economies were “equal” – it was entirely in their average lying well above the global average.

But now… it’s not so much. The working class in developed economies is being levelled with the working class in other economies. The working class of developing economies are coming closer to equal footing as borders come down in the pursuit of the dollar. Immigration makes this even more so, where those willing to work for a low wage by developed economy standards are comparatively better off by their personal standards because it’s a high wage by their own standards; this only starts to break down when the wages in their home countries lift enough that the differential isn’t worth it.

Inequality has always been there; inequality, globally, has gotten lower. However, where it was also unequally spread – where some countries had less internal inequality – it’s now being more equally distributed around the world as a global population is included and free trade and movement of labour makes the production of goods anywhere the same.

Categories
opinion politics rant

The Role of Shame in Politics

And so at long last, we reach US Election Day 2016, when a reckoning has finally come for the American political system – the candidates perfectly set up as the establishment facing the insurgents, the know-nothing Donald Trump squaring off against the know-it-all Hillary Clinton.

How did we get like this?

How did we get from the point where once upon a time, a candidate that was even threatened with being revealed to be cheating on his wife, would step back, stand down, or resign altogether than face the music, to the point where we’re seeing a candidate standing despite those accusations and worse being thrown around, and still he appears to be as close as a 3% gap?

What changed to allow this to happen?

Shame. Or the lack thereof.

It is the nature of public shame more than anything in democracies to operate as the public conscience of the politicians. It is not the law that forces a resignation in the face of allegations of adultery, for instance; it is shame that pushes a politician to resign when word comes to light of legitimate but morally dubious donations; it is shame that forces departures that allegations of falsehoods bring to light, no matter how legal it may have been at the time.

It is shame, a somewhat quaint notion intrinsically linked with the quainter notions of honor and propriety. It is with shame that we have driven much of the better behavior without needing to codify it.

It was a key component that drove the first parliaments in England – honor and shame being what for years was enough to bring glory and to end careers. So much of parliament’s rules are mere conventions, and adherence to these is driven by the honor of doing the right thing. Where a parliamentarian would cross a line of honor, the sheer shame of doing so was in it self enough to force change.

Now? Who would bother with feeling shame, if the penalty isn’t there? Where’s the big stick as a result?

Let’s take the concrete example in Australia most recently of George Brandis, Attorney General. Ignoring the Solicitor-General’s advice should be grounds for dismissal due to ministerial dereliction of duty; misleading Parliament should have been sufficient for the shame of those deceitful actions to force Brandis to walk, as apparently it’s not an offence to do so.

Brandis didn’t walk, he didn’t fall on his sword, and Turnbull didn’t dismiss him.

Instead, these days, there’s no shame in it. It’s being able to go to the extremes of previously tolerated behavior, and then keep going, because what’s the penalty?

And thus we have Trump. A man with no shame so much that he keeps getting away with so very much and reaping the reward. We don’t hold Trump to a higher standard; we understand this man is poor and devoid of character in many ways, but it doesn’t matter because he’s on the side that uses shame when convenient and brushes it away. It’s not illegal, why should he apologize?

The outright denial of facts and truth is entirely possible if there’s no shame in doing so. If there’s nothing to say “You lied and you ought not have done that,” then where are we left to go?

Where is the shame in treating humans the way we’ve done in Nauru and Manus Island? Political expediency rules.

Truly, we will need to restore shame to its rightful place amongst the emotions that govern those who would governs us, because without it, Trump isn’t the last on this band-wagon, and that’s a truly terrifying thought.

Categories
opinion

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.
Categories
opinion

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.

Categories
opinion

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.)

Categories
opinion politics

Semblance of Reason

On the weekend, there was a horrific crash on the Pacific Highway, where a B-Double truck swerving to avoid a ute on the wrong side of the road crashed into a house, killing an 11 year old boy in his sleep. The driver of the ute was also killed, and the truck driver taken to hospital with serious injuries.

The Pacific Highway is a 600+ km highway between Sydney & Brisbane, and its upgrade has been long promised. I used to live halfway up it, and I drove it myself this holiday season. It’s come from being a nightmare stretch of road with one lane in each direction for much of its length to being dual carriageway for over half its length.

The cause of this crash was a car being where it shouldn’t be, on the wrong side of the road. The driver may have been fatigued and inattentive, or he may have been distracted, or any number of reasons for being on the wrong side. The truck driver wasn’t to blame – he did his best, but the consequences were unfortunate.

In the aftermath though, media and community attention has for some unfathomable reason focused on the fact that a speed camera 1km away from the location of the crash had been switched off, following a review of the effectiveness of cameras. The new O’Farrell government said they would switch off those cameras proven ineffective, and this was one of 38 switched off. The transport minister has now promised to switch this particular camera back on, bowing to community pressure.

Why?

There’s no suggestion speed was involved – police have not said what the cause of the ute being on the wrong side was, but there’s no mention of speed in any of the reports. The camera was 1km away, and being a speed camera it would have only provided a temporary deterrent, and meant little if the driver was distracted or fatigued. And yet in the interests of appearing to do something, a speed camera is being switched back on, despite proving ineffective.

Why is it that people clamour for these things without any semblance of a reason for doing so? What would they think a camera would have done on that fateful night?

Categories
asides opinion

Obama is the Democrats’ Nixon

Obama is the Democrats’ Nixon:

Thus Obama took office under roughly the same political and economic circumstances that Nixon did in 1968 except in a mirror opposite way. Instead of being forced to manage a slew of new liberal spending programs, as Nixon did, Obama had to cope with a revenue structure that had been decimated by Republicans.

Liberals hoped that Obama would overturn conservative policies and launch a new era of government activism. Although Republicans routinely accuse him of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.

This debt debate has dragged on far too long. and Obama’s negotiation is far too forgiving to achieve anything like an equitable result.

Categories
opinion rant

The Trust Issue

Apparently, the biggest single issue that “ordinary Australians” have with Julia Gillard is that she has “lied” about introducing a carbon tax, breaking an election promise. It goes without saying that Gillard is far from the first PM to have broken a election promise, let alone one about tax; the difference is this time, her opponent hangs on to that and doesn’t let go of a line until it proves to have wormed its way into the psyche of the average voter.

Why is it though that adaptability is derided as an unworthy notion in politics? If there’s one thing you learn from politics, it’s deal making – the art of compromising in order to achieve outcomes. As we saw after the election last year, obstinate refusal to participate in a process of negotiation tends to leave you with no seat at the table – and this carbon tax is the result of that very same process of negotiation that won the ALP a face-saving second term. The “lie” became one because of the result that the electorate handed to the parties, and achieving a pragmatic result ought to be accepted as better than partisan bickering along idealistic lines that achieves nothing.

The same goes for American politics: a refusal to engage on the issue and work out a compromise that achieves something simply leaves the government floundering, ineffectual and showing the frailty of the system. Being able to think beyond your own self-interest is the mark of a mature adult, not sticking to a position in the face of evidence and reason.

I despair at the inability to accept compromise or a change of position in our political leaders. Why do we expect them to be so unreasonable? The violence and vehemence that fills what passes for political debate is not a sign of an healthy democracy where open conversations occur.