Further comment superfluous.

A friend challenges me to briefly discuss the difference between communism (as in, it’s a common refrain from the right that all sorts of left wing (or even mildly populist centrist) politicians are just communists, basically, and all sorts of public figures to the right of Ghengis Kahn in our political systems are just, essentially, fascists.

obama_nazi_communist_muslim_peaceWhat’s the difference, huh, pontificator?

Well, this was all started by the way the terms are used by all sides to demonise anyone the protagonists don’t like – most obviously, poor old President Obama, who seems to be one of everything depending on which angle the person doing the criticising is coming from.

So laving aside, for a moment, whether those insulting generalisations, have any meaning, and honing in on the core of the question – what is the difference between communism and fascism? – and the answer is, precious little, looking at history.

But it should immediately be said that most communists believe there has never been a communist society, and there have certainly been fascist ones, so that exemption should be acknowledged.

There is a real difference, though, even between Stalinism, state socialism, Sovietism, Maoism, (or whatever you want to call the regimes that have masqueraded under the title communist), and Fascism.

Fascism has been supported in the past because it protects the rights of the rich industrialists, and in Spain, Italy and Central America, the Roman Catholic Church, as well. (Which is why it has always been so split in half between deeply conservative opinion and “liberation” theology.) In general, fascism did a very poor job of protecting the needs of workers – as they were irrelevant to the programme, and was antithetical to any type of organised labour at all – and this was seen especially so in the rural areas of Spain and Italy, and later throughout South America. Other than in Germany, where it can be argued that materially the workers did quite well under Nazism at least for a while, but that was coming off such a low base that it hardly counts.

But at least sometimes, state socialism has historically been successful at delivering basic needs to many people. Cuba is probably the most obvious success story where literacy rates and free essential healthcare are better, for example, than in the USA.

But it must also be immediately acknowledged that any success has been through the removal of free comment, dissent and freedom of movement, and it has also been responsible for grinding poverty and even starvation, especially in Cambodia, China, Russia and North Korea, where it can further be argued that starvation was used as a shameful article of deliberate public policy.

The worst of the worst.

The worst of the worst.

There is no doubt that the worst mass murderer in history was Mao-Tse-Tung, whose crimes dwarf Hitler’s even, by a factor of at least three or four times.

Stalin was also responsible for maybe as many deaths as Hitler.

Of course, history is written by the victors, and I have heard it argued that the “industrialisation” of horror by Hitler sets him and the Nazis apart from all the other horrible people the 20th century threw up. I am not sure that’s relevant, though the images of the cattle trucks and crematoriums have seared themselves into the West’s collective consciousness, to be sure. Then again, if we had film of hundreds of thousands of those opposing Mao (and some supporting him) being machine-gunned or buried alive, we’d be just as deeply shocked by the ‘industrial scale” of that.

Dead is dead, after all.

We think what links all totalitarians (which is a better word, I think, than any of the names of specific movements) is that they essentially do not care genuinely about the rights or opinions of the governed, or they are prepared to discard them lightly, and they enact laws, and create situations, where the people governed have no recourse against the Government, whatever that Government is called. The move from a pre-fascist to a fascist state can then be accomplished virtually overnight, and often with a veneer of legality, as in Germany in 1933.

So is there any sense in which totalitarianism is still relevant to modern Western countries? Aren’t we past all that?

In our carefully-considered view, there are many in position of great power in America that have no regard for the rights of the Governed at all.

They are headed by industrialists like the Koch’s, (and there are many others), but they also include many of the multi-headed hydra-like organisations that continually denigrate the role of government per se, and lead people who are ill-educated to question the core principles of democracy.

By our observation, there is little doubt that these people are almost entirely on the right – often the far right – and they have, as a plan, the deliberate takeover of the Republicans as their stalking horses for the gutting and enfeebling of American democracy.dollar

They also flood the Democratic Party with money through more carefully concealed channels, in order to corrupt the system entirely.

Which is one reason their encroachment on the civil state rarely excites any attention from legislators.

He who pays the piper plays the tune.

TNY_electioncosts_optIn our view, until thorough finance reform is enacted, (and we don’t believe it will be), then the people cannot take back control of their republic, and that is why we believe America to be, quite genuinely, in a pre-fascist or neo-fascist state, and one that any thinking American should be utterly committed to resisting.

In short, we are deeply pessimistic about America’s future.

A final cataclysm could be triggered by the deliberate engineering of a legislative log-jam combined with a stock market collapse, very possibly based around a debt default, which would be equally engineered. Artificially creating concern about economic performance, or actually precipitating a collapse in economic performance, is a classic last-stage fascist tactic.

In our considered opinion, Democracy itself is under threat in many places in the world, but nowhere more obviously than in the United States, and we see little or no determination in America to face it, living in the bubble, as Americans so often are, of the oft-repeated nonsense that they are “the best country in the world”.

In many ways, and laudably, America is wonderful – but it is also very badly served by the continual lie that it is incapable of being improved or cannot learn form the opinions and experiences of those overseas.

fcWhere one sees it repeated parrot-fashion by an increasingly right-wing media, interpolated subtly into popular debate, into foreign news coverage, even into sports coverage, it is very easy to also see it as “Go to sleep. Go to sleeeeep. Everything’s OK, go to sleeeeeeeeeeep.”

Bread and circuses for everybody, and if you don’t think that’s enough, well, you must be an intellectual pinko Commie bastard.

And incidentally, the increased militarisation of police, and more significantly the constant excusing of excessive police force, incident by incident, is just one more very obvious precursor to fascism. The casual and growing acceptance that it is OK to harass and jail whistleblowers, or even to kill US citizens deemed to be a threat without trial, on American soil or overseas, are other indicators.

Well, Sleepers Awake! we say, before you wake up one morning and find Democracy has become little more than a sham, and your freedom to discuss it or to do anything meaningful about it has been stripped from you. We all need to understand that fascism works by taking over public institutions and making them its own, NOT by abolishing them. A semblance of Democracy is not the same thing as Democracy.

America will always have a Congress and a Senate. It will always have State Legislations. You’ll still elect the local Sheriff and Judge. That doesn’t mean they will always respond to voters, and can’t be entirely under the purview of the shadowy paymasters who really pull the strings.

You have been warned.

Further reading: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Communism_vs_Fascism

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

 

The latest utter drivel coming from the right in America is that they’re going to impeach Obama for using (well, threatening to use, anyhow, and he probably will) an Executive Order to break the (Republican organised) log-jam on Immigration.

Now, we don’t wish to comment on American immigration policy – too complicated from this distance, and we have enough problems with our own in Australia – but we sure as hell feel able to comment on the idiots who think he should be impeached.

Can you see the difference between Obama and these enthusiastic users of Executive Orders? There are two essential differences.

exec order

Yes, we think you spotted the two differences pretty quickly didn’t you?

Given the staggeringly low level of achievement of both the House of Reps and the Senate since Obama came to the Oval office, and the GOP’s deliberate and unashamed obstructionism which looks set to get even worse, we suggest that #uppittydemocratniggerwhoinsistsonfuckingdoingstuff just about explains the current impeachment push.

And just for the record, in case any of our Republican readers don’t do big three-digit figures, Obama has used Executive Orders less than any of the others except Lincoln.

Frankly, if the hard-right GOP continue to eschew any attempts to create any bipartisan agreement, then we’re hopeful that Obama just presses on and gives the Republicans the regular whacking they so richly deserve. He has been altogether far too polite and reserved with them thus far for our liking. It’s time to give these Tea-Party-led-by-the-nose numpties a lesson in Government. Which is not the same, please note, as Opposition.

In doing so, he’ll give his own party and supporters something to cheer, too. Which they need.

An exceptionally well-researched piece of work by AP and Rachel Maddow which you can read here goes even further than our irritated rant. It points our that at least three former Republican Presidents used exactly this sort of action to grant – yes, you’ve guessed it – protection to illegal immigrants living in the USA, when Congress couldn’t get it’s shit together.

Bizarre. Bring it on, we say.

We all

I cannot strongly enough recommend that you watch this two and a half minute video. If you do nothing else this year to improve yourself as a person, do this. You will change your life, and make a hugely positive to the lives of those around you. Personally, we are going to watch it again and again.

In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities. It has reached nearly three million views on YouTube. I frankly wish it could be seen by everyone on the planet. What a change it would make in our societies. Perhaps you could share this blogpost, on your Facebook page, your own blog, or wherever, and help that happen?

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

Her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on the power of vulnerability is one of the most watched talks on TED.com, with over 15 million views. She gave the closing talk, Listening to Shame,  at the 2012 TED Conference in Long Beach.

Brené is the 2012 author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. She is also the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), and I Thought It Was Just Me (2007).

Brené is also the founder and CEO of The Daring Way – a teaching and certification program for helping professionals who want to facilitate her work on vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness.

Brené lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, Steve, and their two children. You can find out more about her at http://brenebrown.com/

forgotten- irish slavesThey came as slaves; vast human cargo transported on tall British ships bound for the Americas. They were shipped by the hundreds of thousands and included men, women, and even the youngest of children.

Whenever they rebelled or even disobeyed an order, they were punished in the harshest ways. Slave owners would hang their human property by their hands and set their hands or feet on fire as one form of punishment. They were burned alive and had their heads placed on pikes in the marketplace as a warning to other captives.

We don’t really need to go through all of the gory details, do we? We know all too well the atrocities of the African slave trade.

But, are we actually talking about African slavery?Fascinatingly, in this case, no.

King James II and Charles I led a continued effort to enslave the Irish. Britain’s famed revolutionary Oliver Cromwell furthered this practice of dehumanising one’s next door neighbour.

The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves.

Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.

From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade. Families were ripped apart as the British did not allow Irish dads to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to a helpless population of homeless women and children most of whom died. Britain’s solution to their penury was to auction them off as well.

During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England.

In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.

Many people today will avoid calling the Irish slaves what they truly were: slaves. They’ll come up with terms like “Indentured Servants” to describe what occurred to the Irish, and it is true that some were, and were held under less onerous regimes than the slaves. However, in most cases from the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish slaves were nothing more than human cattle. They never became “free”, and they never returned home.

Meanwhile, the African slave trade was just beginning during this same period. And it is well recorded that ironically African slaves, not tainted with the stain of the hated Catholic theology and more expensive to purchase, were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts.

African slaves were very expensive during the late 1600s (50 Sterling). But Irish slaves came cheap (no more than 5 Sterling). If a planter whipped or branded or beat an Irish slave to death, it was never a crime. A death was a monetary setback, but far cheaper than killing a more expensive African.

The English masters quickly began breeding the Irish women for both their own personal pleasure and for greater profit. Children of slaves were themselves slaves, which increased the size of the master’s free workforce. Even if an Irish woman somehow obtained her freedom, her kids would remain slaves of her master. Thus, Irish moms, even with this new found emancipation, would seldom abandon their kids and would remain in servitude.

mulattoIn time, the English thought of a better way to use these women (in some cases, girls as young as 12) to increase their market share: the settlers began to breed Irish women and girls with African men to produce slaves with a distinct complexion. These new “mulatto” slaves brought a higher price than Irish livestock and, likewise, enabled the settlers to save money rather than purchase new African slaves. Some mulatto children obviously were born as a result of rape or consensual sex between owners and black slaves. Many more were the result of a deliberate breeding programme.

This practice of interbreeding Irish females with African men went on for several decades and was so widespread that, in 1681, legislation was passed “forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale.” In short, it was stopped only because it interfered with the profits of a large slave transport company.

England continued to ship tens of thousands of Irish slaves for more than a century. Records state that, after the 1798 Irish Rebellion, thousands of Irish slaves were sold to both America and Australia. There were horrible abuses of both African and Irish captives. One British ship even dumped 1,302 slaves into the Atlantic Ocean so that the crew would have plenty of food to eat.

It is hardly ever spoken about, but there is little question that the Irish experienced the horrors of slavery as much (if not more in the 17th Century) as Africans did. There is, also, very little question that those brown, tanned faces you witness in your travels to the West Indies are very likely a combination of African and Irish ancestry. In 1839, Britain finally decided on it’s own to end it’s participation in this highway to hell and stopped transporting slaves. While their decision did not stop pirates from doing what they desired, the new law slowly concluded at least this chapter of nightmarish Irish misery.

As we look ever more clearly at our past, Irish slavery is a subject worth remembering, not erasing from our memories. Or is their story to be one that their English pirates intended: to have the Irish story utterly and completely disappear as if it never happened?

None of the Irish victims ever made it back to their homeland to describe their ordeal. These are the lost slaves; the ones that time and history books conveniently forgot. It is time they were remembered.

Anzac dead in captured Turkish trenches in Gallipoli

I wrote this poem remembering attending so many Remembrance Day services with my mother, whose husband, the father who I never knew, died at 46, a cheerful but essentially broken man, after six years of service in the Royal Navy..

I am very proud of this poem, both as a poem, in and of itself, and as an authentic expression of my feelings and some things I consider important.

I am largely a pacifist in my outlook, but I have great respect for those who put their lives on the line defending values I hold dear, and opposing tyranny.

It references not only those solemn services attended at memorials with my mother, but the many times since I have seen elderly people stand and pay their respects to the dead of both World Wars, and other wars.

Anzac DayThere is a wave of emotion sweeping Australia at the moment when Anzac day rolls around, with record numbers of people attending Dawn Services both around the country and in places overseas such as Papua New Guinea and Galipolli.

Increasingly, those people have young faces. The great grandchildren, grandchildren and children of those who were wounded, broken, and died. Why the sudden upsurge of interest? Perhaps younger people today look back to a past when the issues were simpler and convictions stronger.

I am also sure that the 39 Australian service people killed in Afghanistan since hostilities broke out there have something to do with it. The Americans and others have lost more people, of course, but those 39 lives are a grievous loss to a country with a population as small as Australia’s, just as the disproportionate sacrifice of the World War I diggers left a scar across the country that took generations to heal: the faces and stories of those brave young people killed in Afghanistan in recent years sure focuses the mind.

I am also reminded, on this solemn day, of the most important thing ever said about conflict, which is, of course:

“War will continue until men refuse to fight.”

If you are interested to purchase my collection of poems called Read Me – 71 Poems and 1 Story - just head here.

(Article re-published for Anzac Day 2013 and Remembrance Day 2014.)

Look at her. Bright, beautiful, intelligent, her whole life ahead of her. And dead.

Georgina Bartter, 19, was found unconscious and convulsing at the Harbourlife festival at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair this Saturday.

Friends reported the teenager, one of 5200 people at the festival, took one and a half pills, before she died of organ failure.A “beautiful, outgoing girl”, Georgina would not have taken drugs knowingly, her family told 7News.

Superintendent Mark Walton says a report is being prepared for the coroner. “(A post-mortem) is a matter for the coroner and the family and that will be determined next week,” he said.

An autopsy would find what was in the pill that contributed to her death.

The teen from Longueville on Sydney’s north shore was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital just before 5pm, but suffered multiple organ failure and died.

Police arrested 78 people at the waterfront dance party for drug offences.

Superintendent Mark Walton said he’s concerned large electronic dance parties are closely associated with illicit psychoactive drugs. “It does not matter what location they are held in, there is no doubt the nature of the entertainment is intrinsically linked to that drug use.

“She fell to the ground more or less and then people started waving down the security and paramedics,” witness Andrew Demetriou told 7News. “Quite simply, you do not know what you’re taking.”

In a statement, Harbourlife organisers said their thoughts were with the teenager’s family.

“We can hardly imagine the pain and heartbreak they must be feeling and they have our deepest sympathy,” a statement on Facebook said.

Organisers said a paramedic was with the girl just one minute after she collapsed. A first-aid tent at the festival included paramedics and an emergency doctor.

Police are asking anyone with knowledge about synthetic substance sellers to come forward.

The Bartter family has told 7News Georgina would never have taken the drugs knowingly althugh they later apparently said it was “very out of character”. But whether or not she did, she certainly didn’t expect to die.

Ms Bartter was the eldest of three children and graduated from Wenona private school last year, where she was a top student.

Simon Bartter with his daughter Georgina at her 18th birthday / Picture: Instagram

Simon Bartter with his daughter Georgina at her 18th birthday / Picture: Instagram

Schoolgirl Anna Wood died after taking ecstasy in 1995

She had only just returned from a dream holiday to Europe during a study break from university.

Her close friends said they were “completely shocked” by Ms Bartter’s death and were receiving counselling last night.

“She was really lovely to everyone at school. She was the life of the party,” one friend said.

“Everyone’s in shock. She had so much potential and it was way too early.”

Schoolgirl Anna Wood died after taking ecstasy in 1995

Schoolgirl Anna Wood died after taking ecstasy in 1995

Ironically and sadly, Ms Bartter was born in 1995, the same year Anna Wood, 15, who became the face of the anti-drug war after she died from popping an ecstasy tablet at a rave party.

We have a message for the young of our country and all countries.

When you take illicitly supplied drugs you have no idea what is in them. The people who create these drugs and profit from them have no quality control, and no care for what damage they may or may not do. They simply want your money. Cocaine, for example, is regularly cut with poisons and other drugs (such as veterinary) that are not intended for human consumption. Psycho-active drugs can be a cocktail of whatever the drug maker has at hand.

You have no idea how your body will react to any illegal drug you ingest. Worse: just because you had no bad reaction last time does not mean the same will be true next time, because different drug batches contain different substances and mixtures.

We are not wowsers, by any means. We’re not talking here about the occasional puff on a joint. We are talking about the vast range of party drugs that have swept the world in recent years. You simply can’t know what’s inside what you are taking. And they can kill. Anyone. Suddenly, and without warning.

You pick which one will kill you. We can't.

You pick which one will kill you. We can’t.

We have long argued that proper quality control is the strongest reason why illicit drugs should be legalised and regulated.

The other advantages of this approach would be a generalised harm minimisation regime, fewer casualties, more immediate access to advice for drug users, better and more freely available drug information, an inflow of tax dollars to fund better prevention and care provisions, and above all draining the criminal underworld of their vast financial wealth generated from illegal sales.

Prohibition has failed, and has little or no effect on the quantity of drugs illegally entering our society. Whole countries, like Mexico, are now in thrall to the trade, with over 100,000 deaths in that country directly attributable to it in recent years.

Many leading police officers and politicians around the world agree with us that a new way must be found, and fast.

Alex Wodak is a physician and the director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, at St Vincent's Hospital, in Sydney, Australia. Wodak is a notable advocate of drug reform laws.

Alex Wodak is a physician and the director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, at St Vincent’s Hospital, in Sydney, Australia. Wodak is a notable advocate of drug reform laws.

Meanwhile the president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Alex Wodak, said the tragedy highlighted the need for a shift away from a “criminal- ­justice ­approach” to illicit drug use.

“Instead of relying heavily on law-enforcement measures like ­sniffer dogs we should be doing what they are in Europe and be providing pill testing,” Mr Wodak told The Australian.

“You can get the pills tested at these sorts of events and they will tell you what is in them - it turns it into a less dangerous practice.”

The widespread use of sniffer dogs could be counterproductive and encourage risk-taking behaviour, Mr Wodak said. “People who are carrying substances they have bought off the streets illegally might swallow ­excessive quantities in order to get rid of the evidence quickly and sometimes this has led to death.”

We say: Until drugs are legal and quality-controlled, or until someone can tell you everything that is in a pill and you can make an informed decision about what you are putting in your body, avoid them. Unless you think seeking a good time buzz is worth risking dying for.

Rest in peace, Georgina. Our deepest sympathies to you and all who knew you.

abbottdutton

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), and Australian Health Minister Peter Dutton (R) during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, 5 November 2014.

 

As we have pointed out before, Australia has been slow and mealy-mouthed in sending aid/health workers to try and control the Ebola outbreak at source.

Yet even now some small move has been made, as PM Abbott and Health Minister Dutton have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table, people around the world, and indeed at home, could be forgiven for being a little confused about Australia’s response to the Ebola crisis.

The government has been sending out somewhat mixed signals over what help it can offer, as is now pointed out for the world to read on the front page of the BBC website in the UK. Nice.

First, the Abbott government refused to send any official medical or military personnel to West Africa, a decision for which he was widely criticised on this blog, inside Australia, and overseas, at the same time as President Barack Obama was saying the US should be encouraging health workers to volunteer to go to the frontline.

Mr Abbott has now bowed to pressure and announced Australia will be contributing A$20m (£11m; $17m) to help fund a British Ebola response clinic being set up in Sierra Leone. However, the prime minister has been vague about who will be staffing it.

The Australian side of the operation has been contracted out to the private health provider Aspen Medical and Abbott suggested most of the staff would be recruited locally, but contradictorily health officials in Sierra Leone have said the principal thing they are lacking is qualified local doctors.

Meanwhile, the managing director of Aspen Medical, Glenn Keys, has said around 350 Australians have registered with the company to go and help.

What is clear is that the prime minister is sticking by his line that no government medical teams or military personnel will be dispatched.

Mr Abbott said the decision to contract in Aspen had been reached after Britain agreed to treat any Australians who become infected while in West Africa, something the Australian leader had said was his principal concern.

It’s now emerged though, that the European Union had already made a similar offer to treat Australian staff that Mr Abbott had rejected.

 

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

 

Yet the media in Australia have been perfectly silent in asking him “Why?”, and still are. Especially as the end result is Australia’s response has looked very tardy and been delayed by crucial weeks. Meanwhile the poor of West Africa continue to face death rates from Ebola of up to 90% of all those infected.

Add to that the strong criticism Australia has faced after it became the first developed country to ban the issuing of visas to anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Sierra Leonean government called the move “discriminatory” and “counter-productive” suggesting it created a climate of panic.

As the BBC say, anyone who’s visited Australia will know they take a tough line on bio-security. There are strict rules about bringing in food products due to fears of bringing in disease.

But given that only a handful of people have been tested for suspected Ebola in Australia and all have tested negative, the government here risks being accused of showing a lack of compassion in the eyes of many around the world.

What is more important is that if this outbreak is not stopped AT SOURCE, and somehow transmits itself into other poor areas of the world with bad sanitation and inadequate health services – the rest of Africa, India, Pakistan, Central and Southern America, great swathes of South East Asia, even China – then we would be looking at an Armageddon scenario. In the face of which, Abbott and Dutton looked nothing more nor less like rabbits stuck in the headlights. So much for “strong leadership”, eh?

obama in churchMeanwhile, the political and media beat up worldwide on the outbreak has continued, with near hysteria levels, in the USA in particular.

A couple of weeks back we predicted that there wouldn’t be another Ebola case in the USA in the next seven days. It’s now 14 and counting.

But has the fever of commentary died down? Hardly. And why is so annoyingly obvious. The Republicans knew that by making Obama look “weak” on Ebola, by terrifying the population, in simple terms, then they would hurt the Democrats. And so they did, as seen in their “wave” of wins in the mid-terms on Tuesday just gone.

In fact, as is widely acknowledged, Obama’s response has been a small miracle of intelligent healthcare policy.

That he has not received the credit for acting smartly, promptly and effectively – not just in the USA, but in West Africa – is truly sickening.

mitch-mcconnell-glum
Excellent article on Rachel Maddow’s site today, which effectively skewers any idea that the Republican Party somehow now have a mandate to govern. The arguments should be read widely in America today: very good commonsense thinking.

It’s going to be a hot topic in the coming days and weeks. Having taken control of the Senate, is there a new GOP mandate for it to pursue with its new-found control of both houses of Congress?

That’s a question Republicans and Democrats will be debating in coming days, as the GOP makes the case that its election victories add up not only to an electoral “wave”, but to a mandate – a genuine endorsement of conservative policies – while Democrats cast them as something less.

Part of the problem is that we’re dealing with terms that have no specific, generally accepted meaning. For example, was this a “wave” election? Maybe, but there is no actual definition of the word, and because it’s somewhat subjective, opinions vary.

A “mandate,” meanwhile, also seems to mean different things to different people. Traditionally, it’s supposed to be part of a democratic model: a candidate or a party presents an agenda to the public, the public then endorses the candidate or party, and the winners claim a popular mandate. That is, by prevailing in an election, the victors believe they’ve earned the popular support needed to pursue the policy measures they presented during the campaign.

As of this morning, Republicans are predictably claiming just such a mandate, and at the surface, it may seem as if they have a point. The GOP took control of the Senate, expanded their House majority, flipped some state legislative bodies, and fared surprisingly well in gubernatorial races. The result, they say, is an endorsement from the American people that affords them the right to pursue their top priorities.

It’s a nice argument, which just happens to be wrong.

The Republican right can't have it both ways. But they will try.

The Republican right can’t have it both ways. But they will try.

Right off the bat, perhaps the most glaring flaw with the Republican pitch is that the GOP seems to believe only Republicans are capable of claiming a mandate.

Two years ago, President Obama won big, Senate Democrats kept their majority for a fourth-consecutive cycle; and House Democratic candidates earned far more votes than their House Republican counterparts.

Did this mean Dems had a popular mandate for their agenda? GOP leaders replied, “Absolutely not.”

Indeed, the Republicans said the opposite, concluding that Obama and his agenda may have been endorsed by the nation, but it was the GOP’s job to kill the every Democratic priority anyway. They proceeded to be the most obstructionist Congress in history, rendering the nation effectively ungovernable.

Elections have consequences? Republicans have spent the last two years insisting otherwise. It’s laughable for GOP officials to now change their mind and declare, in effect, “Mandates only exist when we win.”

What’s more, the obvious question for those arguing that Republicans have a mandate this morning is simple: “A mandate to do what, exactly?”

Think about the policy platform Republicans emphasised over the course of the last several months. Let’s see there was … well, we can’t forget about … but they certainly pushed … there was a real debate about issues such as … Ebola-stricken terrorists crossing the border from Mexico?

Look, it’s not exactly a secret that the GOP’s priorities, such as they are, do not enjoy broad national support. The party did its best to obscure its unpopular ideas for fear of losing. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) even went so far as to tell reporters the other day, “This is not the time to lay out an agenda.”

Not to put too fine a point on this, but that, in a nutshell, effectively ends the “mandate” debate. A party, no matter how well it does in an election, cannot claim a mandate for a policy agenda that does not exist and was not presented to the people. Vaguely blathering on about smaller government, or using explicitly abusive negativity, (as we said yesterday), doth not a mandate make. What exactly do the Republican Party stand for as opposed to against?

Republicans ran an “agenda-free campaign.” Did it produce big wins? Yes. Unarguably. Did it create a mandate? Very obviously not.

oopsWe feel rather guilty posting these, because to be frank we couldn’t translate a single word of Engrish into any of the various versions of Chinese, and certainly not in writing.

And the fact that hundreds of millions of Asians, Europeans, South Americans, Russians and Lord knows who else speak very passable English as well as their own mother tongue while your average English plod struggles to remember a smattering of their schooldays French is a shame to us all in the Anglophone world.

Nevertheless, they’re bloody funny, so cultural imperialism be damned, here they are.

funny-chinese-sign-translation-fails-1

The interesting thing about this supermarket sign is that it actually makes sense. Fuck is the English-sounding equivalent of a Chinese character that means “Dried”.

Although personally, we think it’s a crie de cœur from children the world over.

(See our strategic use of French there? Impressive, huh?)

funny-chinese-sign-translation-fails-15

Yes, well, we’ve all eaten a bit of that in the Chinese hole-in-the-wall eatery we stumble across after a night on the lager. Moving on …

funny-chinese-sign-translation-fails-6

We love it. We’ll have a plateful of Whatever, thank you, and hold the custard. What we really love is that after toasting everyone in rice spirit for a couple of hours this is exactly what all guai lo actually say after a nineteen course banquet when asked what they’d like for dessert. The idea of actually putting it on the menu for people to point to wearily is rather apt and charming.

toilet

Last but not least, make sure you use the right toilet in the store. This one is reserved for the smallest of minorities, but that’s OK. Disabled elderly pregnant children have rights like the rest of us.

For more F*** Ups just put F*** Up in the little search box top left of this page. Have fun!

What he said.

What he said.

You will be aware, Dear Reader, that we adore F*** Ups in packaging, social media, advertising, and, thank the Lord, billboards.

Somehow a F*** Up on a billboard is just so much more noticeable, isn’t it?

Well, in our determined mission to make the world a much better informed place, and especially our beloved world of advertising and marketing, here are a bunch of doozies that have hit our mailbox in the last week or so. More as they come to hand!

 

hitman

 

The placement of one billboard next to another is something ad agencies rarely have any interest in, not yet the media companies themselves, apparently. But as you can see, it’s of great import …

 

behold

 

Always a good idea to consider double-entendres when writing billboards. Or maybe this Church community is so naive they just didn’t spot the obvious confusion.

 

pussy

 

It’s not even enough to consider how well designed your billboard for oven-safe clothing at Aldi is. You also have to check the sign that was on your chosen billboard before yours. Gulp.

 

macdonalds

 

And there’s that “what will my ad be next to” factor in play again.

Do yourself a favour, next time you buy a billboard, ask what the next ad to it is all about, too. If your media buying company can’t tell you, sack them and find one that can.

Otherwise, as we pointed out some two years ago, this can happen.

On the right, a billboard for a laudable new safety at work campaign, highlighting the distress when police turn up at a suburban home to tell a wife and her daughter that the husband, er, won’t be home from work. Ever.

On the left, a lap dancing club advertises its wares.

 

outdoor

 

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear …

For other F*** Ups just type F*** Up in the search box top left of this page :-)

 

donkeyWe do not consider ourselves to be either Robinson Crusoe or Nostradamus in predicting a poor day for the Democrats today in the USA. It does not require us to be especially prescient to predict a dark day for the centre left, and a big celebration night for the centre-right. Commentary and polls have been running strongly that way in the last ten days.

Many races will be a lot closer than people have been predicting, but in general we expect the Republicans to do better tonight USA time. We are ambivalent on whether they will take control of the Senate: on balance, we have suspected JUST not until very recently, but as the counting continues it is increasingly possible, undoubtedly, especially if the Democrats are in trouble in a swathe of Southern and Western States where they had hoped to hold off GOP challenges, as in states like Arkansas and Colorado.

Why the Republicans are doing well is perhaps more interesting.

A referendum? Maybe. But on much more than just the Presidency.

Barack ObamaThere is a general assumption that the result will be a “referendum” on President Obama, who has been struggling in the polls for some time now, despite a strong bounceback in the American economy.

There is a pervasive view in America that the economy is not doing well: despite a recovery from the depths of the recent recession, markedly higher employment levels and a soaring stock market, the economy remains the top worry for voters, with an overwhelming majority pessimistic that conditions won’t get better soon, according to Tuesday evening exit polls.

When Bill Clinton won the Presidency he famously had a large sign on his campaign headquarters walls that cried out “It’s the economy, Stupid”, to remind him and all spokespeople to focus on the economy as by far the most important issue for voters. Well today, 78% of Americans said they are worried about the economy, according to CNN reporting on national exit polls. Another 69 percent said that in their view economic conditions are not good. Nearly half of voters said the economy is the most important issue facing the country at 45 percent. Health care, foreign policy and illegal immigration are also top concerns, but ranked well below.

Overall, 65 percent said the country is on the wrong track and 31 percent said it’s headed in the right direction, the exit polls found.

The survey of 11,522 voters nationwide was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 281 precincts Tuesday, as well as 3,113 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 24 through Nov. 2. This will bias the results against the Democrat incumbent, as pre-poll votes favour the Republicans, and the poll quotes a sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. Nevertheless, the broad thrust of the poll is essentially right.

But Republicans shouldn’t celebrate too hard

The voters have thoroughly had it right up to their yingyang, according to exit polls released Tuesday evening. The national survey of voters showed broad dissatisfaction with both parties, the Obama administration and Congress.

58% of those casting ballots in the midterms were either dissatisfied or angry at the White House, while just 11 percent said they are enthusiastic with the administration and 30 percent said they were satisfied, according to CNN.

Another 54 percent said they disapprove of President Barack Obama’s job while 44 percent said they approve.

But the winners are winners by default. The Republican leadership does not fare well in the eyes of voters either, with 59 percent saying they are not happy with GOP leaders in Congress.

And as for the parties as a whole, 56 percent view the GOP unfavourably, while 53 percent say the same of Democrats. Hardly a crushing endorsement for the Republicans. More like “a plague on both your houses”.

And a whopping 79 percent said had a negative view of Congress, according to CNN. This statistic has hardly changed since the Republican-led shut downs of Government some time back.

Politics as a whole is the loser

Meanwhile, voters are split on how much the federal government be involved in people’s lives, as 41 percent said the government should do more and 53 percent said the government does too much.

The trust level is also staggeringly low. Sixty-one percent said they trust lawmakers in Washington only some of the time. Democracy itself is under question here. Accordingly, we expect to see some solid swings against incumbents of both parties tonight.

voter IDWe also expect to see a bigger turnout from Republican voters than Democrats, favouring the GOP, and that’s before we factor in the ludicrous “Voter ID” push from the right which may have effectively disenfranchised as many as 7 million Americans, almost all of whom would have voted Democrat. If the Republicans take control of the Senate by less than those 7 million votes in the States that have enacted voter ID legislation then what we will have been watching is little more than a legalised coup d’etat. It won’t be the first time, either. Remember the Gore-Bush fiasco in Florida?

Whatever you believe about the ID laws, the other factor is that GOP voters are currently more motivated to vote partly through their visceral hatred of Obama – some of which is undoubted racially-based, sadly, but also through perceived American weakness on the international stage, and other hot buttons – but also through deep concerns about the size of Government debt, especially on the far right with the Tea Party and its fellow travellers. The other significant factor is that voters that identify as Independents can expect to break heavily in favour of the Republicans, reversing recent trends, and again reflective of the generalised malaise with all incumbents and with Democrats in particular.

There is little question that along with a generalised dislike of Government per se in the Western world at the moment, there is a pervasive concern about the size of Government, and the arguments of small government libertarians have gained some traction with those who feel especially disgruntled. Whether this will turn into a broadly-supported consensus for what a small government democratic society would look like is, to our mind, far less likely. Small government is all very well until they start to abolish the bit you happen to like.

Building agreement to substantially reduce the role of Government following sixty years of mixed-economy high-touch post-WW2 consensus politics will be much more difficult than promising to keep expanding spending inexorably. We suspect pork barreling is not about to disappear anytime soon.

Ye will reap what ye sow. So be careful what you sow.

However, what we see in this election is the net result of years and years of relentlessly negative campaigning by the Republicans, in effect “talking down” the economy, talking down the President’s performance, and talking down confidence generally. In our entire adult life of closely following American politics we do not recall ever having seen such a sustained barrage of brutal criticism, virtually entirely unsupported by any serious policy alternatives.

In reality, apart from the race card, this is due to one factor above all others. Let down, in our opinion, by an inability to strike the right note in promoting their successes, the Obama Administration has actually been one of the more successful in recent American history, in a variety of areas, but this news has completely failed to cut through the miasma of rabble-rousing from the Republicans.

wall streetExamining just one of the key areas of Obama’s activity (there are many we could point to) reveals this to be true.

The economic cataclysm of the Global Financial Crisis can be laid squarely at the feet of two very contrasting Presidents, Messrs Clinton and Bush, who both bowed to pressure to de-regulate Wall Street and American banking practices, which led directly to the economic crisis and cost millions of innocent little folk worldwide their savings, and worse, their homes and jobs.

The resulting “austerity” measures didn’t touch those who played fast and loose with the world’s money, none of which was their own.

What the f*** did Obama ever do for us? Well, this lot, for a start.

In response, in terms of Consumer Protection, the Obama government has been one of the most involved and proactive in history. Just consider, he:

Ordered 65 executives who took bailout money to cut their own pay until they paid back all bailout money.  http://huff.to/eAi9Qq

Along with Congressional Democrats, pushed through and got passed Dodd-Frank, one of the largest and most comprehensive Wall Street reforms since the Great Depression.  http://bit.ly/hWCPg0http://bit.ly/geHpcD

By signing Dodd-Frank legislation, created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau http://1.usa.gov/j5onG

Created rules that reduce the influence of speculators in the oil market.  http://bit.ly/MDnA1t

Fashioned rules so that banks can no longer use consumers’ money to invest in high-risk financial instruments that work against their own customers’ interests.  http://bit.ly/fnTayj

Supported the concept of allowing stockholders to vote on executive compensation. http://bit.ly/fnTayj

Endorsed and supported the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of 2009 that closed offshore tax avoidance loopholes.   http://bit.ly/esOdfBhttp://bit.ly/eG4DPM

Negotiated a deal with Swiss banks that now permits the US government to gain access to the records of criminals and tax evaders.  http://bit.ly/htfDgw

Signed the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, which closed many of the loopholes that allowed companies to send jobs overseas, and avoid paying US taxes by moving money offshore.http://1.usa.gov/bd1RTq

Established a Consumer Protection Financial Bureau designed to protect consumers from financial sector excesses.  http://bit.ly/fnTayj

Oversaw and then signed a bill constituting the most sweeping food safety legislation since the Great Depression.  http://thedc.com/gxkCtP

Through the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, extended the False Claims Act to combat fraud by companies and individuals using money from the TARP and Stimulus programs.  http://bit.ly/SLTcSa

That’s quite a list. Yet these directly attributable, unarguable and very welcome successes – and this is just one area of government we could look at – have been largely drowned out by the constant cat-calling and nay-saying across the aisle.

No matter how much we support historic measures like Obamacare, the “pivot” towards Asia in foreign policy, and other historic changes, we freely concede as natural supporters of Obama that small revolutions are never without controversy, and even the success of a reform like the new health insurance system in the USA will always be something of a “curate’s egg”. Massive reform always involves partial failure, and results in future trimming of the sails. This is natural, and acceptable.

Just one of thousands of examples of the disgraceful tactics employed by the right to rubbish Obama.

Just one of thousands of examples of the disgraceful tactics employed by the right to rubbish Obama. Just pop “Obama is a Socialist” into Google and see for yourself.

What bemuses us is how so much of our politics has descended into complete opposition to the party in power, and viciously so in many cases, whereas previously the role of Opposition was to oppose with principle, to achieve bi-partisanship where possible, and to propose alternatives where the difference of opinion was unbridgeable.

We condemn this drift into mindless yahoo-ery as unhealthy for society.

The fault is by no means all on one side of politics – indeed there will be those who leap to accuse us of the very same failing, and possible sometimes justly, (we are only human) – but in general the verbal (and sometimes physical) thuggery is demonstrably more common on the right, often hiding behind the cowardly anonymity of the Internet – the modern equivalent of scrawling on a wall – to spread their ridiculous and offensive “memes”. And overwhelmingly, the target for these memes has been Obama himself, and his family. No President in history, even George Bush who was viscerally detested by the Left, was subjected to this level of abuse, vindictiveness, and outright falsehood. As my mother would say, “give a dog a bad name” … Well, it’s worked.

Disgusting "humour" like this is freely available all over the internet. Should concepts of "free speech" protect those who produce it from sanction? In our opinion: No.

Disgusting racist “humour” like this is freely available all over the internet. It seeps into the body politic and corrupts it. Deliberately.

Which is why, as they celebrate their likely successes tonight, we urge thinking Republicans to crow less and think hard that this is a very dangerous furrow to plough.

What we are seeing is a wholesale abandonment of decency and consensus as principles worth following, and that is a very dangerous and unwelcome step.

The GOP need to pause and consider that if they achieve some measure of power tonight by winning control of the Senate, then if they are not careful they will - in due course -find themselves hoist by their own cruel and destructive petard.

Is it too much to hope that faced with the reality of power the right will abandon their childish name calling and rediscover a sense of purpose beyond blind obstinacy and negativity? Yes, we rather fear it is.

We will post comment on the individual races in due course.

AbbottThe Australian government is facing yet more criticism for not sending health workers to Africa to help fight Ebola.

A 25-bed US field hospital that will treat international health workers who contract the virus is due to open soon.

The Australian government now has no excuse not to fund health workers to travel to Africa, said Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King. And she’s right.

“It is now up to the Abbott government to act,” Ms King told journalists in Canberra on Friday.

Australia has so far refused to send health workers to Africa because it says it could not evacuate and treat them if they got infected with the virus.

It has provided A$8m (£4.4m) to frontline services and A$40m (£22m) to the World Health Organization and has not ruled out increasing that contribution.

‘A risky situation’

“We will not be putting Australian health workers in a risky situation in the absence of evacuation plans and an appropriate level of medical care and we cannot currently supply that,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said last month.

But the Australian Medical Association, the Public Health Association, the Healthcare and Hospitals Association and non-government organisation Medecins sans Frontieres have all called for the Australian government to substantially increase its contribution.

Sierra Leone and Amnesty International have condemned Australia’s decision to suspend entry visas for people from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa as “counterproductive” and “discriminatory”.

Ms King said there was a split in Cabinet about its response to the crisis, with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison “taking charge” and Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Health Minister Peter Dutton losing control of the debate.

Nearly 5,000 people have died of Ebola so far. More than 13,700 people have been infected in total, the vast majority in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

UPDATE NOV 5th It has today been announced that the Abbott Government have caved in and will allow volunteer medical staff to travel to the affected areas in a government-supported effort.

Diab

 

You can see, in this beautiful, soft face, the gentle soul of a professional who dedicated her life to helping others. A soul with hopes, fears, dreams, just like the rest of us. And now she is dead. For being a dentist.

We are posting this photograph in memory of Dr. Rou’aa Diab, a female dentist, who was arrested by the Islamic State on August 22, 2014.

She was arrested with four others in Al-Mayadeen, a city on the border of Iraq.

Without a trial, Diab was charged with the crime of “treating male patients”, and was executed by decapitation.

Dr. Diab was was beheaded for the crime of helping prevent and treat dental disease. She should be recognised by the dental community, and the world community, for her innocence, and her bravery and dedication.

And her name should never be forgotten.

May you rest in peace Dr. Rou’aa Diab.

IS are rabid animals who have slaughtered thousands upon thousands of completely innocent people. They must be put down.

So facepalm worthy, they made a statue for it.

So facepalm worthy, they made a statue for it.

OK, forget Cock Flavour Soup. I mean that was good, but we’ve gone one better.

Thanks to our eagle-eyed correspondent, we have now have what must be the all-time unfortunate packaging f*** up – yes, two in just a week!

OK, it’s from Iceland. Or at least, it’s from the frozen foods retailer called Iceland. But they speak English in both places, right?

This apparently got through the client, the marketing department, the quality control dept in the agency … no one in the retailer said anything …

Honestly. I mean, really?

And you thought the horse-meat pies was big news.

 

minge

 

Rumours of single men heading to Iceland for Christmas are greatly exaggerated. And if you don’t get the joke, which we’re sure you do, just click here. If you absolutely feel you need to. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=minge

As always, for a full list of F*** Ups we have brought to the world for group derision, just pop F*** Up in the search box top left of this page and hit Enter.

Go on, you know you want to.

This has to be the best ever. Unless, Dear Reader, you know better? And yes, we’re not idiots, we know it could be a photoshop internet meme joke thing, but at this point, sans evidence from Snopes.com, we’re treating it as a real F*** Up, especially as we have seen other equally unlikely ones that we know to be true.

Some fancy dusting, right there ...

Some fancy dusting, right there …

Meanwhile, just coz we’re nice, here’s the best mice pie recipe ever. After all, Christmas isn’t far away now, right? And Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without mince pies. This easy recipe for the rich, sticky, sweet fruits wrapped in pastry reveals why they are so more-ishly delicious.

Mince pies have been eaten as part of a traditional British Christmas since as long ago as the 16th century. Back then they were made with meat (hence the name) but now they are made with sweet mincemeat; a mixture of dried fruits, sugar, spices and brandy.

Cute new design that has become popular recently.

Cute new design that has become popular recently.

Home made “mincemeat” is quick and easy to make and there are also many great commercial brands out there to use instead. The advantage of making your own is that you can, ahem, sample it as you go. Fun for all the family. And your tummy. And the kitchen smells simply awesome.

Suet is an important part of the mincemeat and is an animal fat, so if you don’t eat meat, look out for vegetarian version or make mincemeat using an alternative fat.

Shortcrust pastry is my preferred mince pie case, some like puff pastry, you choose.

INGREDIENTS
  • 350g / 12oz plain / all purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 225g butter / 8 oz cubed or an equal mix of butter and lard
  • 1 beaten egg + 1 cold water as needed
  • 1 jar of mincemeat, shop bought or home made (see below)
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Depends on size of tin used.
PREPARATION

Heat the oven to 205°C/400°F/Gas 6

Make the Pastry

  • Place the flour, butter and salt into a large clean bowl.
  • Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, working as quickly as possible to prevent the dough becoming warm.
  • Add the egg to the mixture and using a cold knife stir, add cold water a teaspoon at a time until the mixture binds but don’t make it too wet that it is sticky.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes

Assemble the Pies

  • Choose a muffin or bun tin for the size of the pie you want. Choose from a standard 12-cup muffin tin down to small canapé size. The number of pies will depend on the size of cup you choose.
  • Dust a work surface lightly with a little flour and roll out two-thirds of the pastry to 1/8″/3mm thick. Cut circles to line the cups of your tin, don’t worry if the pastry doesn’t come to the top.
  • Fill the pastry lined tins 2/3 full with mincemeat.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to the same thickness and cut smaller circles to fit as lids on the tarts or to be decorative, cut stars or other fancy shapes.
  • Dampen the edges of the tart bases with a little cold water and press the lids on. Make a small hole in the surface of each pie with a small sharp knife to allow the steam to escape (you can omit this if using star-shaped lids).
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 20 mins (15 mins if making canape size) or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the icing sugar.Mince pies are delicious served hot or cold on their own or with Brandy Butter.They will keep well if placed in an airtight tin – up to seven days. Depending on your personal preference, they benefit from a gentle warming in the oven before serving. As an alternative, eat them with any creamy cheese like Brie or Camembert – unexpectedly perfect combination!

Mincemeat recipe

INGREDIENTS
  • 6oz/175g raisins
  • 4 oz/ 110g sultanas
  • 10 oz/ 275g currants
  • 4 oz/110g candied, mixed peel, finely chopped
  • 6 oz/175g shredded suet (beef or vegetarian)
  • 1/2 lb/ 250g soft, dark brown sugar
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 Bramley or cooking apple, cored and finely chopped, no need to peel
  • 4 tbsp brandy
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 150 minutes
  • Total Time: 170 minutes
  • Yield: 3 X 1 lb Jars
The other good thing about Christmas catering!

The other good thing about Christmas catering!

If you prefer, add whiskey instead of brandy.

If you prefer, have a glass or two yourself while cooking.

It’s Christmas. You’re allowed.

Nom nom nom.

 

 

clown

 

There is a curious and well-known phobia where otherwise sane, rational people are scared of clowns.

The phenomenon is relatively recent, as the white-faced red-nosed version of clowns that some people find so alarming is a construction of the 20th century. Before that people with anxiety found something else to fixate on.

Now it seems there’s good reason to be worried. At least in Europe and the USA.

Clowns attack passers by

Freakish aggressive clowns, some allegedly armed with knives, pistols, and bats are driving French towns crazy, chasing down and attacking people.

In the southern port town of Agde, about 15 ‘clowns’ were arrested in a high school car park for ‘laughing manically’ while chasing people. In nearby Marseillan, a clown was detained for damaging a car.

In Montpellier: a ‘clown’ beat a man 30 times with an iron bar and then stole his wallet. Three motorists in the area also complained of “scary clowns.”

The French freak-clown wave began in the north a couple of weeks ago, in suburban Douai. In Bethune, a fake clown got a six-month suspended jail term for threatening passers-by.

A French police statement blames the web. “Since mid-October, a rumor inspired by videos published on the Internet has created the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France. Symptomatic of the impact of the Internet, this phenomenon can lead to damaging individual acts and disturbances to public order”.

The ‘clown craze’ is thought to have been triggered by a viral YouTube video and a recent episode of American Horror Story featuring a killer named Twisty.

Clown attack cases didn’t begin in France though: London’s Metropolitan Police dealt with 117 clown-related incidents in 2013.

In Portsmouth, UK, a masked figure began stroking passers-by in the city streets with a single red-gloved finger. As we come from Southampton, we’d believe anything of people in that particular locale.

US police have also made dozens of clown-related arrests, most prevalent in California.

Fear of clowns? It’s understandable.

But why be scared of the very look of a clown?

Coulrophobia – fear of clowns – is difficult to understand. They straddle a cultural nexus between fear and entertainment, but are generally intended to be affectionate, especially towards children.

The phobia may grow from the fascinating concept of “the uncanny valley”. The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers.

The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as something moves toward a healthy, natural human likeness but does not become entirely indistinguishable from a human. Examples of the effect can be found in the fields of robotics and 3D computer animation, among others. Unless the simalcrum is perfect, some people find it disturbing – and some find it so in the extreme.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970. The hypothesis has been linked to Ernst Jentsch’s concept of the “uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”. Jentsch’s conception was then elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche”).

Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some human observers’ emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly “strange” to some human beings, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

For robot, read clown. But why would humans react this way to something which is “almost” human, but slightly different, like a clown? The science is fascinating.

 

"What do you mean you don't want to have sex with me my pretty?"

“What do you mean you don’t want to have sex with me my pretty?”

 

A number of theories have been proposed to explain the cognitive mechanism underlying the uncanny valley phenomenon:

  • Mate selection. Automatic, stimulus-driven appraisals of uncanny stimuli elicit aversion by activating an evolved cognitive mechanism for the avoidance of selecting mates with low fertility, poor hormonal health, or ineffective immune systems based on visible features of the face and body that are predictive of those traits. Put simply, we avoid mating with weird looking people.
  • Mortality salience. Viewing an “uncanny” person elicits an innate fear of death and culturally-supported defences for coping with death’s inevitability.
  • We don’t want to get sick. Uncanny stimuli may activate a cognitive mechanism that originally evolved to motivate the avoidance of potential sources of pathogens by eliciting a disgust response. The more human someone looks, the stronger the aversion to its obvious defects, because (1) defects indicate disease, (2) more human-looking organisms are more closely related to human beings genetically, and (3) the probability of contracting disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and other parasites increases with genetic similarity. To some people, clowns look sick. We don’t want to catch whatever they’ve got.
  • They mess with our brains. Thanks to a concept called “Sorites paradoxes”, when we see a character with both human and nonhuman traits it undermines our sense of human identity by linking qualitatively different categories. That’s why quasi-human monsters like vampires are simultaneously attractive and scary. And why some Halloween costumes scare the bejeesus out of some people.
  • They just don’t measure up to our expectations. There is a concept of “violation of human norms” which says that if someone looks “almost” human, they elicit our model of a another human being and we have detailed normative expectations of how they will behave. Their non-human characteristics will be more noticeable than if they were trying to be something totally non-human, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a clown stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a clown doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

So there you have it. If you’re frightened of clowns, you may have deep biological reasons to be so. Although frankly, we think having your new iPhone nicked by a hoodlum is the best reason to view with alarm someone approaching you in the street looking like a refugee from Billy Smart’s circus.

Thanks to Mix FM for gathering together people’s photos of the monstrous electrical storm that hit Melbourne in the wee small hours of Monday morning and to Colin for alerting us to them.

It was a real doozey, and the traffic and train chaos from power outages and flooding the next morning was astonishing. It is only a matter of time, of course, before some religious nut blames it all on God being angry over homosexuality, abortion, or the Australian cricket team. Actually, looking at the result against Pakistan, I think the cricket team were to blame.

The Wellthisiswhatithink household was certainly bleerily woken up, with candles lit in advance of the expected blackout which for some reason didn’t occur, unplugging computers from the wall etc. We’re only sorry we couldn’t take our own photos, but the new camera hasn’t arrived yet … of that, more soon!

 

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tuni-MMAP-mdThe so-called “Arab Spring” was hailed at the time in the West as the beginning of a creeping democratisation of the Middle East, belatedly joining most of the rest of the world on the faltering path to democracy, separation of powers, and so on.

What is clear is those expectations were vastly overblown.

What happened in Egypt was one nasty dictatorship was replaced by an even nastier one when “democracy” elected a Government unacceptable to the military, to the capitalists, and to the West. In Libya the West got rid of Gadaffi but a lack of central leadership meant we replaced him with a series of vicious tribal warlords controlling their own little chunk of the country. We fomented an uprising against Assad in Syria and ended up with a brutal civil war and IS. In the deeply conservative Gulf States any change has been entirely negligible. If nothing else, the West has learned that involvement in the Middle East is always a matter of herding cats.

But there is one shining example of success. In the cradle of the revolutions that swept the Arabic-speaking world, the secular party Nidaa Tounes has now won the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary election, defeating its main rival, the Islamist party Ennahda, according to two analyses of results across the country. The Islamist party has apparently accepted the result with good grace. “We have accepted this result and congratulate the winner,” Lotfi Zitoun, an Ennahda party official, told Reuters. Zitoun said the party reiterated its call for a unity government, including Ennahda, in the interest of the country.

North Africa expert Michael Willis, a fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, said the decline in Ennahda’s electoral popularity reflected public discontent with their handling of the economy. “On the doorsteps, the economy was the main issue. Nidaa Tounes is seen as having the expertise to get the economy back on track.” Nidaa Tounes is 10 percentage points ahead of Ennahda. It has won 83 seats, with roughly 38 percent of the popular vote, to Ennahda’s 68 seats, representing about 31 percent of the vote, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported after tabulating its own count of 214 of the 217 parliamentary seats.

A parallel tabulation conducted by a Tunisian election observer organization, Mourakiboun, placed Nidaa Tounes at 37 percent and Ennahda at 28 percent. Those figures were based on a random sample of 1,001 polling centers across the country, with a margin of error of 2 percent and 1 percent on the respective totals.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new political process.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new democratic political process.

Officials from both parties said that although premature, the counts matched their information.

Official results have not yet been released, and parties are restrained by law from announcing their own count before the election commission does. Provisional results are expected on Monday, but final results will take at least 48 hours.

Early results also showed a surprise gain for the party of the Tunisian tycoon Slim Riahi, who ran a flashy campaign that included handouts and pop concerts. Some of the smaller political parties fared badly under a new voting system, in particular Ettakatol, a coalition partner in the former government.

Nidaa Tounes, led by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, 87, is an alliance of former government officials, liberals and secularists that was formed in 2012, largely in reaction to the post-revolutionary chaos under the Ennadha-led government. It was sharply critical of the Islamists’ performance and ran a campaign for a modern, secular society.

The results, if confirmed, would be a blow for Ennahda, which won a large popular vote and 89 seats in 2011 but struggled to manage rising insecurity and a sliding economy.

Tunisians filled polling stations on Sunday to elect a new Parliament, expressing a strong desire and some trepidation that, after months of political turmoil, the country would turn a corner nearly four years after a revolution.

Officials said the provisional turnout was nearly 62 percent, which election observers said demonstrated Tunisians’ support for democracy.

24The elections are the second in Tunisia since the popular uprising that overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and set off a wave of change that was later dubbed the Arab Spring. They will bring in a new Parliament and government for a five-year term. Presidential elections are scheduled for next month.

The immediate return for Tunisians in maintaining a lid on tension and achieving a peaceful transition will be, of course, yet more tourism dollars flooding into the country. The country has also maintained close relations with Europe, and with France and Italy in particular, with growing mutual trade.

colloseumAn island of sanity in troubled north Africa, it is also an exceptionally interesting and beautiful country, with a fascinating history of civilisation going back thousands of years, notably being the home of the Carthaginian Empire which was so dominant in the Mediterranean area in centuries before Christ, and it was later occupied by Rome which made good use of its vast fertile soils to produce huge amounts of cereals, plus olive oil, figs, and more. Various waves of conquerors including Ottoman, Arab and French have created a multi-layered and outward-facing culture.

The country lies within a couple of hours flight from the major population centres of Europe. No-one could begrudge them this “peace dividend” and let us hope they continue to provide a beacon for sanity for the whole Arab-speaking world. Indeed, the rest of the region can learn much from Tunisia beyond its peaceful transition of power – it also has a large number of women MPs, a highly progressive code of individual freedom for women, Islamic extremism is rare (although not non-existent), the country enjoys a relatively open low-tariff economy, and it is accepting of Christian and most significantly Jewish minorities.

Today, we salute the Tunisian people for their fortitude and commonsense. When we rail and wail at the inability of much of the region to behave intelligently, let us look to the example of Tunisia, and hope.

Abdullah ElmirA Sydney teenager who ran away to join jihadists in Syria is the pawn of terrorists who “groomed” him just like pedophiles groom their child victims, a terror expert says.

Abdullah Elmir has turned up in a propaganda video for the IS group, also known as ISIL, after disappearing from his Bankstown home in June, saying he was going fishing.

The video is the fourth in a series called “Message of the Mujahid” which features foreign fighters, with previous releases showing British, French and Moroccan jihadists.

Grand Mufti quick to condemn "Islamic" extremists

Grand Mufti quick to condemn “Islamic” extremists

The Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, urged Muslims to reject calls from abroad tocommit violence against Australia and said it was “utterly deplorable for violent extremists to use Islam as a cover for their crimes and atrocities”.

In a joint statement, the nation’s peak Muslim organisations expressed “profound concerns and sadness” over Abdullah’s appearance in the Islamic State video and said there was an “urgent need” to examine how and why the teenager felt the need to leave the country and fight with a terrorist organisation.

In the clip, the 17-year-old threatens Australia and any nation that would try to stand in the group’s way.

Professor Greg Barton from Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre says Elmir was recruited by wanted terrorist Mohammad Ali Baryalei, an Australian based in Syria.

He says terror recruiters lure targets by making friends through social media, like many sexual predators.

“It’s like sexual predation,” Professor Barton told the media.

“Somebody might strike up a friendship in an online chat forum and present themselves in a different fashion – to try to get them into their web. By the time they actually meet the people they’re speaking with, they may be in too deep to know better.”

He says the boy appears as a “pawn in the machine” in the chilling video.

“He thinks he’s the star … but the reality is, his new friends have got him a one-way ticket,” he said. “He’s not in charge of his own destiny at all, he’s being used.”

Prof Barton says young people are the easiest to radicalise.

“Teenagers, 20-somethings, particularly young men more than young women, are vulnerable to making rash judgments,” he said. “And they tend to be more rebellious toward (older) generations and sceptical of establishment figures.”

It is believed former Kings Cross bouncer Mr Baryalei, 33, recruited Elmir through western Sydney street preaching group Parramatta Street Dawah.

“He’s said to have recruited 30 plus young people – mostly in western Sydney through Street Dawah” Professor Barton said.

We agree with Professor Barton. What we are seeing is teenage braggadocio. No 17 year old understands the geo politics behind the likes of IS, they have no idea what the reality of death and injury is on the battlefield, they do not yet have an understanding of the terrible implications of the violence they may wreak on other families or what it really means to take another life, nor do they have the discretion to understand varying views of their own religion. What we are seeing here is the sophisticated internet version of the gathering of child soldiers by unprincipled militia in Africa and elsewhere.

abdullahThis young man will, one day, without any doubt, die a bloody death unknown, unmourned and unmarked in the conflict in Iraq. Those who recruited him as a footsoldier will not bat an eyelid at his passing.

Even if he does not, his life is effectively ruined, as he will no longer be welcome in his home country. The very best outlook he probaby has is to become a stateless refugee, in hiding.

It is all very sad, and a huge burden of guilt lies on the souls of those who recruit our innocents. The cases recently of two young Austrian women who travelled to join IS only to find themselves pimped out to fighters, impregnated, and now unable to leave after becoming utterly disillusioned, is yet more evidence that these people deserve our unflinching condemnation.

Meanwhile,  Abdullah’s family have said they are shocked and devastated. They believe he has been “brainwashed” and they want to know who paid for his air ticket and encouraged him to go. They have described him as academically bright and caring: and it is often so - those with intelligence, compassion and passion are the easiest to turn to the darkness.

We should all pray this young man somehow survives and is reuinted with those who can care for him. That, however, is vanishingly unlikely.

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Note to Real Estate Advertisers … remove Lorum Ipsum from your website and replace with actual captions before you let the site go live.

*sighs*

What do they teach the young people nowadays? Mutter mutter, grumble grumble.

Mind you, it’s easily done.

I well remember many years ago my company was preparing a website for the Liberal Party who were about to defend their Victorian Government in a general election. (Don’t shoot me, fellow leftie peeps, it was paying work and not all my partners were lefties.)

eff-kennettAnyhow this work mainly consisted of sticking up simple web pages with each Liberal candidate on, and then a short bio after them.

But in preparing the draft of the website for the notoriously mecurial Jeff Kennett and the Liberal Party luminaries, the junior flog who was doing the grunt work on the website hadn’t been provided with a list of names of the candidates, so he just typed “Some Liberal Wanker” as a placeholder under each photo. He was presumably a leftie, too. Or maybe just sceptical about politicians generally.

Anyhow, the account executive concerned bundled up the website draft without looking at it and emailed it to everyone for their approval. Like that.

When we realised the error, with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs, a few bottles of wine were opened and we bunkered down waiting for the phone call telling us we’d been sacked.

But apparently, when Jeff saw the mock up, he laughed like a drain and commented, “Well, most of them are!”

A politician with a sense of humour? Who knew?

Since those days Jeff has gone on to reinvent himself as a media personality, a passionate supporter of his beloved Hawthorn Football Club, and most of all as an effective and thoughtful advocate for the anti-Depression group Beyond Blue. And good on him, too. Having once been one of Australia’s most polarising personalities, he is now considered something of a local treasure, and the work he’s done on Depression has changed lives. Funny old world.