Fog of war

Some days ago, we reported a widespread conspiracy theory (not of our making) that the shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17 was a “false flag” attack conducted by the Ukrainian government to put pressure on Russia’s leadership.

We came in for a lot of flak from a variety of people for giving oxygen to the theory, despite saying that our best guess was, in fact, that pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels shot the plane down, either as the result of a ghastly error or an act of unbelievable bastardy.

Why conspiracy theories need answering

On this blog and elsewhere we pointed out that any criticism of Russia needed to be watertight, and thus the conspiracy theories needed to be answered – debunked – to prevent Putin and his cronies being able to slough off responsibility.

Well, now, the Russians – entirely predictably – are making much of the alleged presence of a Ukrainian jet fighter near the ill-fated civilian aircraft.

The Russian claims

They have responded to the widespread opinion that Russia is responsible for the downing of MH17 by reportedly claiming that it has flight records showing a Ukranian fighter jet was close to the passenger jet before it crashed.

At a specially called briefing, Russian Lieutenant-General Andrey Kartopolov said MH17 had strayed from its regular route (why?) and had been recorded in the proximity of a Ukranian SU-25 fighter jet, which is equipped with air-to-air missiles.

“An altitude gain was recorded for a Ukrainian armed forces plane,” he said, adding that the fighter jet is capable of reaching a height of 10,000 metres. “Its distance from the Malaysian Boeing was three to five kilometres.”

“With what aim was a military plane flying along a civilian aviation route practically at the same time and at the same flight level as a passenger liner? We would like to receive an answer to this question.”

 

The Russian briefing earlier.

 

The Lieutenant-General, head of main operational department of Russian military’s General Staff, left, can be seen above speaking  to the media during a news conference in Moscow. (Photo: AP.) General Kartopolov further claimed that the Russian Defence Ministry had detected a significant reduction in Ukranian radar stations after the accident.

Citing data displayed on slides and charts, General Kartopolov claimed that nine radar stations, which are used to operate missile systems, were operating close to the site of the MH17 crash on the day of the tragedy. Within 48 hours, only two remained.

He also strongly denied Russia supplying Buk missile systems to Ukranian separatists, which has been widely speculated across the world.

“I want to stress that Russia did not give the rebels Buk missile systems or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware.” Well, whilst the first part of that sentence could be true, the last half is very obviously not. (Rebels are using Russian-supplied tanks in Donetsk as we speak.) So does that mean the whole sentence is rubbish? You be the judge.

Elsewhere, US network NBC reported that a report on Russia’s Channel One claimed the CIA was to blame for the shooting down of MH17.

LATER UPDATE

In the interests of integrity, we also point out this story, which has Western defence experts arguing that what damage pattern can be seen on the plane would seem to indicate a ground launched Buk-type missile rather than an air-to-air missile. If that is the case it would seem to be a crucial piece of information to be verified as quickly as possible.

Seeing through the fog

What’s going on here? Bluster? Fact? Mis-information? Are these the bleatings of a regime (and an unpleasant one, at that) who which to avoid responsibility being sheeted home to them, or the legitimate complaints of a Government that does not wish to be unfairly blamed for a murderous tragedy?

We do not purport to know. We really do not, and we do not make a judgement. It is virtually impossible to parse what is going on without access to all the technical information and analysis of a dozen intelligence agencies, and certainly not by wandering the internet and watching media.

We do say, however, which has been our point all along, that the world deserves to know the answer, if only to lay the blame where it accurately lies.

In the meantime, therefore, we urge caution.

Cui Bono

In particular, we would also urge consideration of the Latin phrase Cui bono /kwˈbn/ “to whose benefit?”, literally “with benefit to whom?”. It is also rendered as cui prodest.

This Latin adage is used either to suggest a hidden motive or to indicate that the party responsible for something may not be who it appears at first to be, or to argue that the way to find out who perpetrated a crime can be determined by asking ourselves “Who benefits?” Or equally, “Who is harmed?”

We confess that one nagging thought eats away at us. If you wanted to gain traction for a push back against the pro-Russian rebels, and in general terms to stymie the expansionist tone of Russian rhetoric and behaviour after their successful annexation of Crimea, (and noting the lascivious glances they are casting towards the now-independent Baltic states, for example), then what better means than to create an incident of such transcendent horror as to shoot down a civilian plane and blame the rebels directly and Russia by association?

We note, also, that while the world is focused on the crash site and the event itself, the Ukrainian government forces have seized the opportunity to mount a full-blown assault on Donetsk, moving from their foothold at the airport to assault the railway station and surrounding areas, as the first step in what may be a bloody battle to recover the whole city, which is the “second city” of Ukraine and a key target for the Government.

Too bizarre? Maybe. At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we are not, by nature, enthusiastic supporters of conspiracy theories. We have even seen it suggested – follow this if you can – that the extremist lunatics of ISIS murdered the three Jewish teenagers to provoke Israel into attacking Hamas in Gaza (and effectively destroying Hamas) while simultaneously causing huge outrage both locally and worldwide at the civilian casualties, so that ISIS (or their fellow travellers) can take over in Gaza when Hamas is basically marginalised.

The Israelis know the invasion of Gaza is wildly popular inside their own country, and the Americans, playing a long game, believe that the Israelis can effectively defeat Hamas and then resist ISIS incursion (probably by effectively re-occupying Gaza, which we must remember they left voluntarily, using the region’s strongest army and navy, unlike the weak resistance to ISIS put up by the Iraqi central authorities) so they arrange, via the Ukrainians, to shoot down Malaysian 17 because it takes the world’s attention off Israeli aggression in the key early days of the ground invasion of Gaza, and gives Russia a bloody nose at the same time. Winner winner chicken dinner thinks the CIA and the shadowy forces in the military-industrial regime.

Could such a hideously realpolitik and convoluted scenario ever possibly be true? The answer is, it could. Anything could be true. False flag attacks are common throughout recent history. (Just Google them.) We pray it is not, because what it says about the nature of governance in the world (and especially our bit of the world) is chilling indeed.

The cock-up theory of events

But in the final wash up, we are more pragmatic. Our instinct is always to accept the cock-up theory of international relations – essentially, anything that can go wrong will go wrong –  and we still hold to that view in this case, which is why we tend towards the “idiot Ukrainian rebel makes mistake on the readout on the Buk system and fires missile at Malaysian airliner”. Especially as we know the system had been used to attack military aircraft within the last two weeks. The Buk system “reads” the transponders of the aircraft it is tracking and theoretically identifies that aircraft to the man with his finger on the button. But we know to our cost that transponders on aircraft can give false readings.

Cock up. Bang. Right there. Three hundred bodies fall from the sky.

The absolute need for clarity

However, although that’s our best guess, we nevertheless urge all the authorities concerned to tackle the mysteries involved in this case as speedily as possible. As the Independent (amongst other people) pointed out yesterday, the really bizarre thing about conspiracy theories is that just occasionally, very occasionally, they are actually true. And if this was a false flag attack, then the world assuredly needs to know. Can you just imagine the Governments that would tumble? That’s why, above all, the truth would probably never come out even if it was, improbably, the case. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and find out.

But if it wasn’t, as we suspect, then we need to know who was responsible for this act: fast, and with certain proof. The level of international tension currently exhibited on all sides demands it. In California, Diane Feinstein opined that the level of tension between the West and Russia is now as high as at the height of the Cold War. That’s an exaggeration, to be sure, but it’s not a happy thought even if it’s only half true.

And for that reason alone, before the world stumbles ever closer to the precipice of conflict between its major powers, even the craziest of conspiracy theories need putting to bed, and right now.

We don’t know.

We know some of the components. It will involve vision. On both sides. It will involve a rediscovery of goodwill. On both sides. It will require confidence building. And patience. There will be many steps sideways and backwards as well as forwards.

We do not know the answer. What we do know is that this is not it.

 

dead

dead 2

 

It just can’t be this. This is not the answer.

Ukrainian crash site

The truth. We need the truth.

 

They talk about the “fog of war”. Well, what is going on in Eastern Ukraine at the moment is a full-blown war, and the truth about it is certainly foggy.

Infowars.com is well-known for peddling conspiracy theories, many of which are very obviously ludicrous and fanciful. But their post on the possibility that the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner was a “false flag” attack by the Ukrainian authorities to cast a pall over Russia bears scrutiny, if only to dismiss it, and because an event of such global significance deserves to be drenched in buckets of clear light.

Western leaders, including, in the most trenchant terms, the Australian Prime Minister, have condemned Russia for at the very least equipping and training Ukrainian rebels with advanced surface to air missiles, a charge Russia denies.

But the Infowars story raises serious questions that need to be answered.

The story they propound is so improbable, in fact – and potentially so shocking in its implications – that it absolutely requires answering, and fast.

The first crucial question is why the log of a YouTube posting that seems to ensure the rebels and their Russian allies are implicated seems to be before the actual event. This may of course simply be a mix up on a computer setting or to do with world time zones. Nevertheless, a prompt and straightforward explanation is required.

But the far more sinister query is the Twitter log of a Spanish air traffic controller working in Ukraine who frantically tweets that the Kiev authorities are responsible for downing the jet, and fears for his life as Ukrainian authorities invade the control room he is working in. The relevant portion of the video starts at just after 5 minutes.

http://www.infowars.com/video-did-ukraine-fabricate-evidence-to-frame-russia-for-mh17-shoot-down/

We stress that we make no judgement. How could we possibly? We merely say that these questions raised by Infowars and others must be answered.

If we had to guess – and who could do more than that at the moment? – we suspect an idiot with an itchy trigger finger loosed the missile imagining that any aircraft in the sky must be a belligerent, because he has been told no commercial traffic was using the skies above his head. There’s that fog of war thing, again. In which case, then Russia would stand rightly condemned for allowing the rebels access to such equipment. Then again, there’s all sorts of high-value high-tech weaponry in all sorts of places it shouldn’t be nowadays, so, again, before we rush to condemn we need to be sure the system that was fired came from Russia.

Meanwhile, our heart goes out to all the victims, and especially to their families and colleagues. We ache at the loss of many medical experts working in the crucial field of HIV containment and research, heading to our home town for an international conference. We are appalled at the loss of a fine man who worked on behalf of aborigines in Western Australia, and highly respected medical professionals from Queensland. We weep at the children and young lovers killed. As for the family who incredibly lost people in BOTH Malaysian airlines disasters, words simply fail us.

All these people – and us – deserve that the truth comes out. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth, whoever was responsible for this vicious, stupid and pointless crime.

For our discussion of the other missing Malaysian airliner and the history of civilian aircraft shot down by military forces, click this link.

 

 

Wot he said.

Wot he said.

We thoroughly enjoyed the recent TV mini series on the life of John Adams, second President of the United States, Dear Reader, not least because of the joy of watching the marvellous Paul Giamatti give it his all playing the title role.

In fact, we tend to enjoy anything which looks at the soaring ideals behind any major change in society that affected the course of history – the revolution against Charles I is another era where we voraciously consume both drama and documentaries.

We were pondering the life and thoughts of Mr Adams today who floated briefly across the environs of our internet world wide webby consciousness thingy, and were minded to look up some of his more brilliant aphorisms. And lo and behold, some of them as as valuable today as a few hundred years back.

On “Innocent before proven guilty”

“It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,’ and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

A very good point, well made, right there.

On “Facts”

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

We need to remind more than a few of today’s politicians of that comment. And while we’re about it, this one, too:

“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”

John AdamsWhen one witnesses the lengths so-called democratic Government today goes to keep information away from the Governed, (you and me), this strikes us as a huge issue.

Do we, indeed, enjoy the liberties that for many decades now we have believed we do, or has the pendulum swung back the other way in so many gradual movements that we haven’t noticed the change?

Given the challenges faced by “liberal democracy” in the world, I must admit I found the next quotation rather chilling for a number of reasons.

On “Democracy”

“Democracy … while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

Hmm. Is democracy inherently more bloody than authoritarian rule? There are many humanists and respected philosophers who have wondered so, despite their instinctive affection for democracy.

We have oft heard it said, for example, that “Left-wing Governments start more wars”, and our reading of history supports that notion to a degree. People of a progressive mindset tend to believe more passionately that things can be “fixed”, if necessary by the use of force, whereas the conservative mindset tends to preserve the status quo more deliberately.

Why would anyone prefer a powerful central government to democracy? Well, if one stifles dissent, one also stifles the painful struggles that invariably accompany dissent. But if one accepted that uncomfortable notion for a moment, then how would one ensure that any dictatorship is “benign”? And in any event, does not the very nature of a dictatorship mean that it cannot be benign, because it’s essential throttling of dissent is an act of violence against free expression?

Interesting stuff.

Decision making in a centralised system is also faster and more dramatic than in a democracy. Then20071025_JohnAdams again, that is something of a mixed blessing, is it not? Slower, more cautious decision-making processes can often lead to better decisions as well as worse ones. Not for nothing has the world been advised to Festina Lente since Roman times.

He destested anti-intellectualism.

On “Knowledge”.

“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” And also:

“I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough … the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.”

And then again, ever the lover of liberty, he also saw the danger of over-cherishing the knowledge of the elite.

On “Power”

“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak.”

Quite so. We can list a dozen or so major world leaders off the top of our heads who exhibit that failing in spades. As communications is our lifelong obsession, when we were actively involved in politics (many, many moons ago) we never tired of counselling our colleagues thusly: “Never under-estimate the understanding or wisdom of the common folk: they may not speak in our sophisticated political language, that doesn’t mean they don’t know the answers to what ails them.”

Indeed, as a brilliant and inspirational (albeit somewhat irascible) wordsmith himself, he railed against politicians that used smart language to obscure or mislead.

On “Language”

“Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.”

But it was two of his longer and more thoughtful mental meanderings that really caught our eye. The first was on the very nature of American society, which Adams understood as a “work in progress”, a great on-going experiment. He said:

“While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice our local destination.

But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world.”

Thoughts On Government Applicable To The Present State Of The American Colonies.: Philadelphia, Printed By John Dunlap, M,Dcc,Lxxxvi

It has always been our belief that America is both the worst of times and the best of times. For example, it is easy to forget that (despite turning up late, twice, as my sainted Mother always pointed out) the country made huge sacrifices in the cause of freedom in both World Wars. Yet did any country ever engage in a more brutal series of quasi-colonial adventures that have (usually entirely predictably) resulted in the impoverishment, injury and death of millions? It is easy to forget that America is hugely generous in terms of foreign aid just as it can simultaneously appear to be an economic tyrant, raping and pillaging its way across the globe. Internally, it is a country engaged in a permanent and roiling debate about the nature of society itself, and it’s civic discourse can reach depths (heights?) that are breathtaking in their profundity, and yet it’s everyday political discourse can be as mind-numbingly idiotic and ill-informed as an unsupervised kindergarten full of chimpanzees. It produces more “high art” than any other society on earth, and more dross, as well.

It seems Adams clearly saw both the opportunity and the risks.

The last, which is absolutely fascinating, refers to the relationship between America and Muslims.

If only ...

If only …

The relevance to today is obvious. In submitting and signing the Treaty of Tripoli more than three hundred years ago, Adams wrote:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims], and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Thoughts On Government Applicable To The Present State Of The American Colonies.: Philadelphia, Printed By John Dunlap, M,Dcc,Lxxxvi

If only he’d been as right on that one, too.

Bingle was kind enough to cover up her nips with some sticking plaster. #freethenipple? Apparently not.

Bingle was thoughtful enough to cover up her nips with some sticking plaster. #freethenipple? Apparently not.

You might have thought, like us, Dear Reader, that July 14th is most famous as Bastille Day. But no. Apparently, it’s  National Nude Day!

Really? Who knew? But it’s true. For one thing, as you can see, serial Instagram poster Lara Bingle posted a topless photo of herself for all her enthralled followers in celebration of the day.

The website that lists all national days excitedly tells us that “National Nude Day is a way to keep cool on a hot, sticky summer day.” Which is fine, well and dandy, unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, a rather obvious fact which has clearly escaped the enthusiastic compilers of the website.

If you went nude in Melbourne right now you would rapidly turn blue and any male protagonists would look somewhat emasculated quick smart. It’s about 50 Fahrenheit here, and bloody windy.

Nevertheless they plunge on to tell us that “Nudist groups around the world celebrate this holiday and take it quite seriously! Nudist’s (sic) are not perverts (good to know – Ed) even though their desire to go “au natural” might be offensive to the conservative population! (“Which conservative population?” we are minded to ask, but never mind.) The website excitedly continues to advise us that “Nudists are individuals who believe the human body is most beautiful in their natural state. Whether or not you agree with them, nudist’s (sic, again) encourage people to strut their stuff.”

Do they? Lots of good looking nudists persuade us to do the opposite of strut our stuff, frankly, but maybe that’s just us.

 

Anyway, we have managed to artfully combine a story on National Nude Day and Bastille Day. Our work here is done.

Anyway, we have managed to artfully combine a story on National Nude Day and Bastille Day. Our work here is done.

 

We note that the immortal painting by Eugène Delacroix, of Liberty Leading the People at the storming of the Bastille was nothing like as coy as Ms Bingle.

Still, those crazy whacky Frenchies, eh?

The French revolution inspired a lot of great art. Austrian composer Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf wrote his Symphony in C Major to celebrate the storming of the Bastille, indeed, the First Movement is specifically dedicated to it. Should you feel the need to overthrow any royalist dictatorships near you today, here’s nine minutes of audio inspiration accompanied by some nice pictures. Enjoy.

<iframe width=”640″ height=”390″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/TyuQCNijm-8″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

Dear ol’ Ditters was an interesting chap. As a curious aside, he finished writing his autobiography just three days before he died.

About 1785, Haydn, Dittersdorf, Mozart and Wanhal played string quartets together, Dittersdorf taking first violin, Haydn second violin, Mozart viola and Wanhal cello. Eminent Irish tenor Michael Kelly, for whom Mozart created the lyric tenor roles of Don Ottavio and Ferrando in his great da Ponte operas Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte, was of the opinion that although they played well their performance as a whole was not outstanding; but the image of four of the greatest composers of their time joining in common music-making remains an unforgettable vignette of the the second half of the eighteenth century.

 

 

 

 

Looks good. Doesn't necessarily do you good.

Looks good. Doesn’t necessarily do you good.

There are a vast number of online ads currently pushing the Garcinia Cambogia diet, claiming it to be a wonder for weight loss, because it contains HCA, a kind of citric acid, which is claimed in a million breathless online ads (and elsewhere) to produce weight loss.

Sadly, before you part with your $49.95, be aware that the brouhahaha is just that – a load of marketing froth and bubble.

And it could even harm you.

Here’s the relevant Wikipedia extracts:

Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) is a derivative of citric acid that is found in a variety of tropical plants including Garcinia cambogia and Hibiscus subdariffa.

Biological effects

Laboratory and animal studies of HCA have produced results that indicate a potential for modulation of lipid metabolism. However, a clinical study has demonstrated that HCA has no effect in terms of weight loss or reduction of fat mass. A 1998 randomised controlled trial looked at the effects of hydroxycitric acid, the purported active component in Garcinia gummi-gutta, as a potential anti-obesity agent in 135 people. The conclusion from this trial was that “Garcinia cambogia failed to produce significant weight loss and fat mass loss beyond that observed with placebo”.

And a meta-analysis published in 2010 revealed that gastrointestinal adverse effects were twice as likely for users of hydroxycitric acid.

One HCA product had to be withdrawn because of liver toxicity.

In a study in Zucker rats, which are genetically predisposed to obesity, Garcinia cambogia extract containing HCA showed that high doses led to significant suppression of epididymal fat accumulation, but also had high testicular toxicity. However, this study has been criticised because of possible contamination of the HCA used and various design flaws.

Like all things, peeps, there IS no short cut to weight loss. The solution? Walk more, eat less. Er, that’s it.

The blogosphere has today gone mildly bonkers over Shakira’s “sexy” performance at the Final of the World Cup. It’s all over the internet.

Seems to us, people may have forgotten her most famous performance and video. Currently 165 million hits and counting!

 

Cracking song too.

We suspect her performance will be remembered a lot longer than the Final itself, which wasn’t a great advert for the game. No lack of huff and puff and back and forth, but most of it unsuccessful. Argentina were left to rue a hatful of good chances missed, with one beautiful moment from Goetze to win the game for Germany.

 

Thank you Brazil: now, onto Russia, which somehow we suspect will not be quite as much fun for all concerned.

Thank you Brazil: now, onto Russia, which somehow we suspect will not be quite as much fun for all concerned. Photo:AFP

 

Overall though, the World Cup has been a superb showcase for the way the standard of football has become equalised around the world, with standout efforts from USA*, Australia, Algeria (who must have watched the final thinking “We could have beaten them!) and Costa Rica among the less fancied nations – especially Costa Rica – and impressive efforts from less-well-known but more major teams such as Holland, Chile and Columbia, and disastrously poor performances from previous powerhouses like, notably, England, Italy and Spain. And, of course, for the monumental slaying of Brazil 7-1 by Germany in the semi-final, which broke a nation’s heart and became a talking point for the ages.

Suarez-Hannibal28Biggest worldwide news of the tournament (sadly) was undoubtedly Luis “Hannibal Lechter” Suarez being banned from all soccer for a couple of months for biting an opponent for the THIRD time in a competitive game.

Cynics will note that didn’t stop Barcelona paying E88 million for him two weeks later. As in most sport, bullshit talks, money walks.

The other big news was the number of goals.

There were 136 of them in the 48 group games – an average of 2.83 per fixture. This was a record for a World Cup, with six more than 2002. After that the goals slightly dried up (Brazil v Germany aside) but we still saw a joint record 171 for a tournament – level with 1998.

There has been quality as well as quantity. James Rodriguez’s left-foot thunderbolt, Robin van Persie’s acrobatic header, Tim Cahill’s strike that thumped the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down over the line – all creating memories that will last a lifetime. And Miroslav Klose came into the tournament needing two goals to become the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer. He got them. The 36-year-old Lazio player scored with his first touch, from a yard out, against Ghana and become the joint top-scorer in World Cup history, alongside Ronaldo. He then scored his landmark 16th in the 7-1 rout of Ronaldo’s former side Brazil.

Horror moment was Brazilian wunderkind Neymar nearly breaking his spine following a knee in the back. Whilst the supremely talented young man was seriously injured, fracturing a vertebrae, we can all thank the good Lord it wasn’t more serious.

Teen World Cup fan Axelle Despiegelaere scores L'Oreal modelling deal after photo goes viral. Ten million women shout "Bitch!"

Teen World Cup fan Axelle Despiegelaere scores L’Oreal modelling deal after photo goes viral. Ten million women worldwide simultaneously shout “Bitch!

So what was your best moment of the World Cup?

For us it was the “vanishing spray” referees could use to mark the “ten yards” that defenders need to retreat from the ball at a free kick. Such an incredibly simple idea which should instantly be adopted in all leagues. FIFA, are you listening? Well done; now make it happen without delay!

So, your best moment? Do share. And no, we don’t mean the girls in the crowd, one of whom has now scored a modelling contract with L’Oreal.

We simply can’t believe, in 40 years of watching football, that no-one ever picked us out and offered us a deal. For a diet plan, if nothing else.

Jenny Craig, where are you when we need you?

And so it is back to domestic football, and in just a few short weeks all eyes will turn to the English Premier League for one. Which means I need to catch up on my sleep before the joy (or otherwise) of following the fortunes of Southampton FC at 2 am in the morning – new manager, new players, new goals. Who do YOU think will shine in the EPL this year, and where will Saints end up? Do let us know!

*Was this the World Cup that saw football break through its final frontier to become genuinely popular in the USA? Time will tell.

A friendly time-zone, a successful team and a travelling support that was bigger than any other, all came together to create a unique blend that led to record TV audiences and crowds of tens of thousands watching on big screens Stateside. Even Barack Obama watched from Air Force One and the White House. 

Have you heard about the new road safety ad? You're about to.

Have you heard about the new road safety ad? You’re about to.

Big ups for this road safety spot from China, via Volkswagen, who are to be warmly congratulated for a brilliant piece of marketing that is not only attention-grabbing but also very relevant to their market.

At a stroke they become a good corporate citizen and get millions of people applauding their brand.

Smart.

 

At the Wellthisiswhatithink marketing guru training school, we are becoming increasingly interested in the potential for these very localised broadcasts of text messages as a marketing tool.

As we understand it, you can send a blast of messages out to all people nearby who have bluetooth enabled on their smartphone. The opportunity to grab people’s attention as they linger in (or pass by) any given locale is interesting to say the least.

Alright, alright: no one wants dozens of unwanted text messages turning up on our phones all the time. But that simply means adhering to what we have always known.

To be accepted, all advertising (whether it’s a TV ad, a billboard, a radio ad, or a text message) needs to combine relevance, useful information, and entertainment value – when entertainment value doesn’t necessarily mean ho-ho humour, but always means what we call inherent interest, which is usually delivered via enhanced creativity. Rule one of advertising: be noticed. Rule two: no-one was ever bored into buying anything.

This great ad triumphantly ticks both boxes.

(Sorry that the YouTube video comes up covered in banner ads – now that IS annoying. Just click them away, peeps.)

 

detainee

 

CHRISTMAS ISLAND, AUSTRALIA,
JULY 2014 ~ A POEM

 

She takes a bottle,

smashes it against a breeze block

they used to build the barracks

that bake at noon and sweat at midnight.

 

Sorts out a piece of glass

sharp, fits neatly in her hand

draws it across her slender wrist

a green transluscent bow ’cross a brown cello.

 

She lies back, deeply tired.

More tired than she thought possible

sun incessant on her face

and, dignified, hoses her life over the wooden steps.

 

Within a few minutes they come running.

Rush her to the infirmary

wrapping her, scolding her,

but she is silent, crying silent, bleeding silent.

 

A dozen at least like this, they say,

because if they die their children

will have a golden future.

Dreaming of the lucky country.

 

And in the Ministerial offices

a man with glasses and a poor haircut

says we do not comment on detainee self-harm

we could not possibly comment.

 

We lock them up.

We send them back.

We give them over.

We un-person them by not talking.

 

And on the island, the woman lies

wrists bandaged, children frightened.

She is an operational matter:

she operated on herself,

but we are not allowed to know.

 

The blood bakes black on the wooden steps.

Birds carol raucous in the trees.

Her children weep midst the breeze blocks.

Merry Christmas Island.

Not.

broken bottle

As the Ukrainian Government retakes two strategically insignificant but symbolically important cities in Eastern Ukraine, this very interesting BBC article (originally posted on June 25th) perhaps explains why Valdimir Putin seems to have gone cold on further confrontation with the West.

We always said that Putin’s intentions were limited to securing the ice-free port of Sevastopol and the surrounding area in the Crimea that he will see as strategically vital to Russia’s future interests, and not to be allowed to fall into Nato’s grasp with the increasingly West-leaning Ukraine.

 

Sevastopol - it was always about the port, never about geo-politics.

Sevastopol – it was always about the port, never about geo-politics.

 

Western anxiety about the Russian moves essentially misunderstood (or were ignorant of) Russia’s historic relationship with the area.

Sevastopol was founded in June 1783 as a base for a naval squadron under the name Akhtiar (White Cliff), by Rear Admiral Thomas Mackenzie (Foma Fomich Makenzi), a native Scot in Russian service, soon after Russia annexed the Crimean Khanate.

Five years earlier, Alexander Suvorov ordered that earthworks be erected along the harbour and Russian troops be placed there. In February 1784, Catherine the Great ordered Grigory Potemkin to build a fortress there and call it Sevastopol. It became an important naval base and later a commercial seaport.

One of the most notable events involving the city is the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–55) carried out by the British, French, Sardinian, and Turkish troops during the Crimean War, which lasted for 11 months. Despite its efforts, the Russian army had to leave its stronghold and evacuate over a pontoon bridge to the north shore of the inlet. The Russians had to sink their entire fleet to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy and at the same time to block the entrance of the Western ships into the inlet. When the enemy troops entered Sevastopol, they were faced with the ruins of a formerly glorious city.

 

2248px-Panorama1854-1855

 

A very striking panorama of the siege originally was created by Franz Roubaud. After its destruction by the Nazis in 1942 during WWII, it was restored and is currently housed in a specially constructed circular building in the city. It portrays the situation at the height of the siege, on 18 June 1855, a story that still lives in the consciousness of many patriotic Russians..

Sevastopol under the Soviet Union

During World War II, Sevastopol again withstood intensive bombardment by the Germans in 1941–42, supported by their Italian and Romanian allies during the Battle of Sevastopol. German forces were forced to use railway artillery and specialised heavy mortars to destroy Sebastopol’s extremely heavy fortifications, such as the Maxim Gorky naval battery.

After fierce fighting, which lasted for 250 days, the supposedly un-takable fortress city finally fell to Axis forces in July 1942. It was intended to be renamed to “Theodorichshafen” (in reference to Theodoric the Great and the fact that the Crimea had been home to Germanic Goths until the 18th or 19th century) in the event of a German victory against the Soviet Union, and like the rest of the Crimea was designated for future colonisation by the Third Reich. But it was liberated by the Red Army on May 9, 1944 and was awarded with the title of “Hero City” a year later.

In 1957, the town of Balaklava, site of another major Crimean War battle, was incorporated into Sevastopol. During the Soviet era, Sevastopol became a so-called “closed city“. This meant that any non-residents had to apply to the authorities for a temporary permit to visit the city. It was directly subordinate to the central Russian authorities rather than the local oblast and later (after 1978) to the Ukrainian SSR administration. This reflected the startegic significance the Soviet Government placed on the area.

After the Soviet collapse

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow refused to recognise Ukrainian sovereignty over Sevastopol as well as over the surrounding Crimean oblast, using the argument that the city was never practically integrated into the original Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic because of its vital military status.

The dispute has rankled for some time. On December 17, 1992, the office of the Ukrainian presidential representative in Crimea was created, which caused a wave of local protests a month later. Among the protesters who organised an unsanctioned protest rally held in Sevastopol on January 10 at the Nakhimov Square were the Sevastopol branches of the National Salvation Front, the Russian Popular Assembly, and the All-Crimean Movement of the Voters for the Republic of Crimea.

Then on July 10, 1993, the Russian parliament passed a resolution declaring Sevastopol to be “a federal Russian city”. 

On April 14, 1993, the Presidium of the Crimean Parliament called for the creation of the presidential post of the Crimean Republic. A week later, the Russian deputy, Valentin Agafonov, stated that Russia was ready to supervise a referendum on Crimean independence and include the republic as a separate entity in the CIS. On July 28 one of the leaders of the Russian Society of Crimea, Viktor Prusakov, stated that his organisation was ready for an armed mutiny and establishment of the Russian administration in Sevastopol. In September, Eduard Baltin, then Black Sea Fleet Commander, accused Ukraine of converting some of his fleet and conducting an armed assault on his personnel, and threatened to take counter-measures and placing the fleet on alert.

Nevertheless relations apparently improved, and in May 1997 Russia and Ukraine signed the Peace and Friendship Treaty, ruling out Moscow’s territorial claims to Ukraine. A separate agreement established the terms of a long-term lease of land, facilities, and resources in Sevastopol and the Crimea by Russia.

As part of this historic agreement, the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet and its facilities were divided between Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and the Ukrainian Naval Forces. The two navies co-used some of the city’s harbours and piers, while others were demilitarised or used by either country. Sevastopol remained the location of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with the Ukrainian Naval Forces Headquarters also based in the city. A judicial row periodically continues over the naval hydrographic infrastructure both in Sevastopol and on the Crimean coast (especially lighthouses historically maintained by the Soviet or Russian Navy and also used for civil navigation support).

Like in the rest of the Crimea, Russian remained the predominant language of the city, although following the independence of Ukraine there were some attempts at “Ukrainisation”, with very little success.

Despite the treaty, Russian society in general and even some outspoken government representatives never accepted the loss of Sevastopol and tended to regard it as merely temporarily separated from the homeland.

The WE Youth Political Organisation, which advocated Russian citizenship for Sevastopol residents, published a poll in 2004 claiming that “72% of the Sevastopol citizens supported the idea of the independent status of Crimea.” Crimea was then an autonomous Republic within Ukraine. Besides, they said that 95% of the respondents supported the constant stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol even after 2045, when the time of the corresponding agreement between Russia and Ukraine was suppose to end.

Also, apparently, 100% of those polled favoured the option for citizens of Sevastopol to obtain dual Russian and Ukrainian citizenship. It is notable, however, that of the Sevastopol citizens that expressed a desire to obtain Russian citizenship only 16% wwere ready to give up the Ukrainian one.

In July 2009, the chairman of the Sevastopol city council, Valeriy Saratov (Party of Regions) stated that Ukraine should increase the amount of compensation it paid to the city of Sevastopol for hosting the foreign Russian Black Sea Fleet, instead of requesting such obligations from the Russian government and the Russian Ministry of Defense in particular.

On April 27, 2010, Russia and Ukraine ratified the Russian Ukrainian Naval Base for Gas treaty, extending the Russian Navy’s lease of Crimean facilities for 25 years after 2017 (through 2042) with an option to prolong the lease in 5-year extensions. The ratification process in the Ukrainian parliament encountered stiff opposition and erupted into a brawl in the parliament chamber. Eventually, the treaty was ratified by a 52% majority vote—236 of 450. The Russian Duma ratified the treaty by a 98% majority without incident.

2014 Crimean crisis

On March 6, 2014, in response to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, Sevastopol unilaterally declared that it wished to join the Russian Federation as a federal subject. The city council supported becoming a part of Russia, and on 11 March it released a joint resolution with the Supreme Council of Crimea to unite as an independent republic between the potential passing of the referendum and union with Russia. Ukrainian authorities strongly criticized the  referendum decision, while President Turchynov remarked that Building of the Supreme Council of Crimeawas controlled by the Russian military when vote on referendum resolution took place[24]

On March 16, citizens of Sevastopol were included alongside those in the Republic of Crimea in a referendum on 16 March 2014 on leaving Ukraine to join the Russian Federation – with official report of a majority of 95.6% voted to become a part of the Russian Federation, albeit these results are contested. (See Crimean status referendum, 2014#Alternate estimates for details). This referendum resulted in the establishment of the short-lived Republic of Crimea, which consisted of both Sevastapol and Crimea.

On March 18, 2014, the treaty on the adoption of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol to Russia was signed between Russia and the Republic of Crimea, with the following content:

  • The territory of the former Autonomous Republic of Crimea is incorporated as the Republic of Crimea (a Federal subject of Russian Federation).
  • The former Special Status City of Sevastopol is incorporated as a Federal City of Russia.
  • Both territories are incorporated as part of the Crimean Federal District.

This new status is not recognised by Ukraine and Crimea is still considered by Ukraine, the European Union, and most NATO members to remain only de jure a part of Ukraine.

 

The Russian Black Sea Fleet had been in Sevastopol for a long time. This painting by Alvazovsky pre-dates the Crimean War.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet had been in Sevastopol for a long time. This painting by Alvazovsky pre-dates the Crimean War.

 

In simple terms, the Black Sea was and is the Russian fleet’s gateway to the Mediterranean. As such it is entry point for the key theatre for the exercise of Russian influence in the Middle East, and for further egress to the Atlantic. As soon as Ukraine started leaning towards Nato, Crimea’s fate was essentially sealed.

The near-hysterical response by the West (particularly the Western media, less so Obama and the Western leaders) to Putin’s adventurism was full of fevered speculation that he was after the whole of the Eastern Ukraine, or even the whole country – or worse, that this was the first blow in a new land war between Russia and Nato.

Now, despite their ever more desperate appeals for help, the Eastern Crimea rebels find themselves assaulted by Ukraine’s ground forces while the Russian troops along the border retreat to their bases and their supply of arms dries up.

Realpolitik has done it’s work. Valdimir Putin has his port back. As we said at the time, it’s very likely it’s all he ever wanted.

For reasons which need not concern us here, we were this morning browsing the Victorian Police crime statistics for the last year on offer, 2012-13.

We came across this staggeringly depressing statistic:

Incidence of rape against minors

This year 542 +0.71%

Last year 538

Incidence of rape against adults

This year 1,106 +1.5

Last year 1,090

child abuseYou might imagine, Dear Reader, that we are about to fulminate against the growth in the incidence of rape in both cases, in a sort of Colonel Mustard-like “Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells” manner.

But although we deplore the fact that the figures are rising rather than falling, we suspect the slight rise recorded is due to natural population growth.

 

Yes, we would have hoped that we would be seeing a steady decline in these stats, given that we are all supposed to be becoming more “aware” of the disgusting nature of sexual violence. But it appears it is a very slow process.

Something for those with the purse strings of Government advertising budgets to consider, perhaps.

We should see all domestic violence and rape and sexual assault as part of the same patriarchal continuum, and until men take it seriously, it will continue.

But what really horrifies is the raw number of more than 500 rapes against children in a year. Coming up for one-third of all rapes.

500? Five HUNDRED?

How many of these are against sexually active teenagers isn’t the point.

Rape is rape, it is never justified, and no excuses or attempted slut-shaming of the victims is ever acceptable. And although they were all against people who are legally children, ie under 18, and so there will be some mid-teens in there, it’s a pound to a penny that many of these crimes were against what you and I would recognise as children. Kids. Little tackers.

And this is the REPORTED cases. Ye Gods, the mind boggles. Unreported cases would run into the thousands.

Given the high profile given to many of these types of cases in the UK in particular, and in the various enquiries into child abuse in Australia, especially involving religious and community organisations, not to mention the recent brouhaha in the UK press about whether or not there was a high-level pedophile ring operating at the top of British Government (involving, allegedly, those close to at least two Prime Ministers, and perhaps even one (now deceased) Prime Minister), we simply suck in our breath in disgust and horror that this most avoidable and heinous of crimes, which leaves lives shattered sometimes beyond repair, is so persistent and pernicious despite the obvious fact that for the offenders the advice is utterly simple and unavoidable: don’t.

Just don’t. Do something else for your kicks, don’t do that. They are KIDS, for fuck’s sake.

To steal the innocence from a child, to betray their trust, to warp and bend that child’s value system until it is unrecognisable, to sometimes terrify the child into silence: these are crimes which demand the most urgent enquiry and vigilance, and an unrelenting determination to root out the offenders. Not one adult offender in this area can possibly imagine, for one moment, that their activities are anything more nor less than utterly destructive and illegal.

We must be unyielding in our attempts to cure this plague. Period. Full stop. That’s it. End of.

(Post scriptum: this article obviously talks about Victoria, Australia. I would be very happy to publish statistics from elsewhere if you can look them up. I urge you to find out how prevalent this crime is in YOUR community. And if you know of a community where it is LESS prevalent, perhaps we can all learn why.)

Yup.

Yup.

 

So. The marketing manager for White Castle spotted nothing. Nor the graphic artist or the (presumably outsourced to Asia) printer. The account executive was out to lunch, chowing down on 100% beef chicken, presumably.

 

Probably not.

Probably not.

 

But even that pales into insignificance compared to this little beauty.

One is not entirely surprised the bain marie seems still full of the rice.

So much more …. interesting …. than a scattering of dried shallots or a cashew or two. Not sure how they got it in there, mind. Does it come in a packet?

There aren’t enough English speakers left in the world to get little details like this right, of course.

(For a bazillion other great examples in our F*** Ups series, just stick F*** Up in the search box top left on this page. Go on – you know you want to.)

dislikeOK, I am getting seriously – SERIOUSLY – over fu*king FB’s “suggested posts”.

They are just a continual irritation which makes using the social media site frustrating beyond belief, especially on a mobile phone.

I am sure they're delightful people. What the hell have they got to do with me?

I am sure they’re delightful people. What the hell have they got to do with me? Seriously?

Not content with regularly asking me to support other Premier League clubs – it’s Southampton, bitches, shut the fu*k up! – now Facebook suggests I join a group called Latvians Living In Australia.

Why?

I have never been to Latvia.

I do not know any Lats.

I do not speak Latvian.

I have never eaten Latvian food.

I have never heard any Latvian music, read a Latvian book, or dated a Latvian girl.

I don’t want to lick a Latvian girl’s feet. I am Lat-toes Intolerant.

(Sorry, it just occurred to me while I was writing, so I thought I’d throw it in there. I apologise.)

OK, I am vaguely pleased they are no longer part of Russia. For now, at least.

So why, FB, why?

I think the people should be told.

‪#‎whyFBwhy‬ ?

harris paintingA brisk debate is taking place in Australia as to what is to be done, if anything, with artworks associated with the convicted child molester and serial assaulter Rolf Harris, who as we write is facing a custodial sentencing hearing tonight. (Later: Harris was jailed for five years, to serve approximately three with good behaviour. Another 12 women are reputedly reporting alleged offences against him. The British Government’s legal officers are already considering a complaint that the sentence was inadequate.

In one town, Warrnambool, a rather attractive landscape mural painted by Harris on a loading dock has been covered up at the command of the town mayor while Councillors take the public pulse and work out whether it should be kept, covered up, or destroyed. A similar debate is occurring in the Queensland town of Bundaberg.

Meanwhile, The City of Perth says it is likely to tear up a footpath plaque in its central business district dedicated to Rolf Harris. “The boy from Bassendean” is among more than 150 notable West Australians celebrated with a plaque inlaid in the footpath of Perth’s St Georges Terrace.

Rolf Harris heads back to court today to face an almost certain custodial sentence.

Rolf Harris heads back to court today to face an almost certain custodial sentence.

What to do with the legacy of people that fall foul of the law is a vexed issue.

The calls for Rolf Harris to be expunged from art history is founded in the belief, which must be respected, that reminding victims of sexual abuse, whether children or adults, of his existence and role in society before his fall from grace, would be distressing and traumatic. This is a point of view that must be respected, coming as it does from people who are specifically experienced in the area, such as psychologists and victims of sexual assault organisations.

But at what point do we confront two awkward facts?

First, the elephant in the room is that the treatment of wrongdoers in the arts (and their output) varies enormously and for no apparent reason, and secondly the idea that the art from such people assumes a “life of its own” once it has left their mind, pen or brush, and becomes something which despite their crimes can still enrich or enliven society.

Let us tackle the first point first.

What about, for example, the case of politician and author Jeffrey Archer, whose books still sell in the millions worldwide? Should all his books be withdrawn from sale, or pulped, because he was clearly an adulterer, a perjurer who went to jail for his crime, and according to the internet allegedly involved in various other dubious matters?

Of course, it can be argued that Jeffrey Archer’s run-ins with the law were less contemptible than that of Rolf Harris, and so they may have been. Nevertheless, they seem to have put hardly a crimp in the veneer of his literary career.

And then what about the case of movie director Roman Polanski?

On March 10, 1977, Polanski, then aged 43, became embroiled in a scandal involving 13-year-old Samantha Gailey (now Samantha Geimer). A grand jury charged Polanski with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, which ultimately led to Polanski’s guilty plea to the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor as part of a plea deal agreed to by Polanski, the prosecutor, the judge, and the Gailey family.

According to Geimer’s testimony to the grand jury, Polanski had asked Geimer’s mother (a television actress and model) if he could photograph the girl as part of his work for the French edition of Vogue, which Polanski had been invited to guest-edit. Her mother allowed a private photo shoot.

Samantha Geimer as a teenager.

Samantha Geimer as a teenager.

Geimer testified that she felt uncomfortable during the first session, in which she posed topless at Polanski’s request, and initially did not wish to take part in a second, but nevertheless agreed to another shoot. This took place on 10 March 1977, at the home of actor Jack Nicholson in the Mulholland area of Los Angeles. At the time the crime was committed, Nicholson was on a ski-ing trip in Colorado, and his live-in girlfriend Anjelica Huston who was there, left, but later returned while Polanski and Geimer were there.

Geimer was quoted in a later article as saying that Huston became suspicious of what was going on behind the closed bedroom door and began banging on it, but left when Polanski insisted they were finishing up the photo shoot. “We did photos with me drinking champagne,” Geimer says. “Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realised he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn’t quite know how to get myself out of there.”

In a 2003 interview, she recalled that she began to feel uncomfortable after he asked her to lie down on a bed, and described how she attempted to resist. “I said, ‘No, no. I don’t want to go in there. No, I don’t want to do this. No!’, and then I didn’t know what else to do,” she stated, adding: “We were alone and I didn’t know what else would happen if I made a scene. So I was just scared, and after giving some resistance, I figured well, I guess I’ll get to come home after this”.

Geimer testified that Polanski provided champagne that they shared as well as part of a quaalude, and despite her protests, he performed oral, vaginal, and anal sex acts upon her, each time after being told ‘no’ and being asked to stop. Although Geimer has insisted that the sex was non-consensual, Polanski has disputed this. Nevertheless, under California law, a person under 18 cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse with anyone who is not their spouse, and Polanski has since settled a civil case with Geimer in her favour and even written to her apologising for the effect he had on her life.

So let’s just get this clear.

Roman Polanski had anal sex with an entirely innocent and allegedly non-compliant 13 year old.

Butromanpolanski have you seen and enjoyed any of his movies since? Tess? Frantic? Bitter Moon? The Ninth Gate? The Pianist? (For which he was awarded an Oscar which he could not receive because he would have been arrested.) The Ghost Writer? Carnage? Venus in Fur?

Polanski today is lauded throughout the world as a leading artist, and people regularly troop to the microphone to argue that he should be forgiven and his crime expunged.

Others will fulminate on the evil or otherwise of the people involved in these trials, but that is not the purpose of this article. It is not our place to condemn. And we are certainly not about to deny the role of forgiveness or the concept that people do bad things and then improve themselves. And it should also be said that the judge in Polanski’s original trial may well have unsatisfactorily reneged on a deal not to give him further jail time, and that Polanski therefore considered flight the only option rather than staying and facing the music. It may also be that being forced to live in Europe rather than America has caused him some hardship: inconvenience, at least.

Yet for all that he was a convicted sexual offender, at exactly the same time as many of those now being exposed in the United Kingdom and elsewhere were abusing children, and the subsequent treatment of Polanski’s art and the man himself has been markedly different to that meted out to Rolf Harris, TV personality Stuart Hall, and a number of others.

We stress that we make no judgement either way on any of these cases … we merely note the apparent double standard. Or, if you prefer, the lack of a standard.

The second issue is even more complex. To what extent does a work of art acquire a life of its own after it has left its creator? Should it not be allowed to exist, unencumbered by the travails of its creator, and judged entirely on its merits?

Those shoes look very uncomfortable.

Those shoes look very uncomfortable.

For example, Joe Shuster co-created Superman with Jerry Siegel, but then years later the world discovered that he was also the artist behind a range of extremely offensive Bondage/BDSM comics sold “under the counter” in America.

These comics were so nasty they were banned by the Supreme Court. Their publisher, a mobster turned porn peddler, was sentenced to prison because of them.

The only reason Shuster wasn’t arrested too is that no one knew who drew these books until recently, when they were accidentally discovered in a used bookstore by a comics historian.

But would anyone seriously argue that kids shouldn’t be allowed to watch Superman, or that the world would have been a better place if we’d never heard of the Man of Steel?

Moving on: Poet Lord Byron had at least two children out of wedlock, and one of them incestuously with his half-sister Augusta. He was also well-known as an enthusiastic adulterer.

Lord Byron - mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But should we ban his poetry?

Lord Byron – mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But should we ban his poetry?

Does that mean no jilted lover today should ever read his most exquisitely powerful words in When we two parted :? That would surely be a shame.

In secret we met
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

That worried look that says, "They know. They all know. I know they do."

That worried look that says, “They know. They all know. I know they do.”

Famous authors F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Hardy, Victor Hugo, Goethe, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky all engaged in obsessive foot fetishes. Hardly illegal, but definitely peculiar.

For instance, when he wasn’t busy writing Faust, Goethe managed to find a woman named Christiane von Vulpis who shared his interest and would send him pairs of her “danced-out shoes,” which is like mailing a guy your dirty underwear, only much more unsettling on a deeper level.

Von Vulpis also nicknamed Goethe’s penis “Herr Schonfuss,” or “Mr. Nicefoot,” which we assume indicates that he either put toenail polish on his private parts and/or he habitually kept them bunched up in her wingtip loafers.

No, not illegal. But definitely strange. But should it affect our view of his lyric and epic poetry, his prose, his literary criticism, his learned works on botany, anatomy, and colour?

The list of artistic behavioural peculiarities rolls on, some mere peccadilloes, some extremely disturbing.

As the BBC reported, a victim of a paedophile teacher asked for his music textbooks for children to be banned. The BBC used the debate to ask, does the work, or the art, of someone who has committed such a crime have to be condemned as well?

Brian Davey

Brian Davey

To some within the music fraternity, there were two Brian Daveys. One a devious paedophile jailed for sexually abusing girls as young as four. The other was a respected music teacher who wrote books on the recorder that many tutors regard as among the best textbooks of their kind for children.

To his step-daughter Antoinette Lyons, now 33, the two are inseparable. She waived the anonymity accorded to victims of sexual abuse to call for his books to be withdrawn: “In my opinion they were written with one aim – to get to children.” This echoes an age-old conundrum from the world of art. Can you value work produced by someone whose private life and acts you find appalling? Do the proclivities of those responsible for artistic or intellectual works have to be taken into account in their appreciation?

It seems a shame that children should be denied access to excellent teaching materials because their author was a dangerous pervert.

As the BBC explained, similar stories keep popping up: for example, Fiona MacCarthy wrote a biography of the sculptor and typographer Eric Gill in 1989 that dropped a small bomb on the art world.

Gill's work remains popular despite his bizarre and illegal sexual behaviour.

Gill’s work remains popular despite his bizarre and illegal sexual behaviour.

Gill was one of the most respected artists of the 20th Century. His statue Prospero and Ariel adorns the BBC’s Broadcasting House and the Creation of Adam is in the lobby of the Palais des Nations, now the European HQ of the United Nations in Geneva.

But MacCarthy’s book revealed that he regularly had sex with two of his daughters, his sisters and even the family dog. These encounters he recorded in his diary.

Once the allegations were known, for some of Gill’s fans, even looking at his work became impossible. Most problematically, he was a Catholic convert who created some of the most popular devotional art of his era, such as the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral, where worshippers pray at each panel depicting the suffering of Jesus.

But the Catholic Church would not budge an inch. The former Westminster Cathedral administrator, Bishop George Stack, retains an unequivocal view.

In 1998, spurred on by a cardinal’s praise for Gill, Margaret Kennedy, who campaigns for Ministers and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, called for the works to be removed.

“Survivors couldn’t pray at the Stations of the Cross. They were done by a paedophile. The very hands that carved the stations were the hands that abused. He abused his maids, his prostitutes, animals, he was having sex with everything that moved – a very deranged man sexually.”

But Stack commented: “There was no consideration given to taking these down. A work of art stands in its own right. Once it has been created it takes on a life of its own.”

Does it though? It might be easier to make this argument for the Stations of the Cross than for nude sketches of Gill’s teenage daughter. But should we therefore stop using the clean, neat typeface Gill Sans, created by Gill? That would make life exceptionally tricky for millions of people worldwide who rely on it as the core of their corporate style guide.

gesualdoPopular Italian medieval composer Carlo Gesualdo
brutally murdered his unfaithful wife, her lover, his child, yet weGesualdo Cera still listen to his music enraptured. He is remembered for writing intensely expressive madrigals and sacred music that use a chromatic language not heard again until the late 19th century.

No one remembers him for slaughtering the lovers in a frenzied attack, swinging his infant son around until he died, and so forth. Perhaps the passage of time confers some form of forgetfulness, but nevertheless. One has to wonder.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink College of Ethics we do not propose that we know the answer to this conundrum.

If we had to express a view, it would probably be that we want the work preserved, just as we wish the names of such criminals expunged from consciousness. (Unless, perhaps, some extraordinary and meaningful act of contrition has been accepted by their victims.) Both cannot be achieved, of course.

We do have one small idea. Maybe a partial answer to Warrnambool’s problem is simply to grab a brush and paint over Harris’s signature. Over time, the genesis of the work will be forgotten, as will it’s thoroughly obnoxious and destructive author, and we will all be left with what it is now.

A nice painting.

Perth woman survives US shooting

Recovering: Amy Matthews. Picture: Facebook

As a father whose daughter just trailed round the world doing the gap year thing, this story made my blood run cold.

As the West Australian reports, a 21-year-old University of WA graduate from Mt Hawthorn has survived being shot in the face during a New Orleans shooting on Sunday. Amy Matthews was celebrating the end of her studies with her best friend from Stirling when she was caught in the middle of a firefight that injured 10 bystanders. After completing a bachelor of arts in March with majors in political science and economics, Ms Matthews and a friend had flown to the US for a gap-year holiday. They had made their way down the east coast from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee, where they hired a car and drove to New Orleans. Warning: Graphic Content Footage of the shooting

It was their third night in the historic French Quarter of the city and by 2.45am, it had stretched into their fourth morning. They were walking to the next neon-lit bar on Bourbon Street, barely halfway through their US road trip, when the crack of gunshots sent people running for their lives.

At some point in the chaos a partial or whole bullet entered Ms Matthews’ mouth through her right cheek and exited through her top lip, causing extensive injuries to her gums, teeth and palate.

At the time, she assumed a flailing hand had struck her in the face but when she stopped running, she realised her mouth was full of blood and teeth.

Speaking from her hospital bed at Interim LSU Hospital, Ms Matthews told  The West Australian that she felt lucky to be alive. “I have about 10 teeth left,” she said. “It shattered the top of my palate in four places and ripped my tongue in several places. “Because the bullet was so hot, it just ripped through my teeth and burnt a lot of my gums. They had to remove a lot of dead gum.

“I think I’m very lucky because I wasn’t the only person who got shot that night. There were two people who were critical and they think one of them is going to die. I can replace my teeth and my mouth will heal but if it had have been a few centimetres towards my brain or my jugular, who knows?”

The young male suspects in the shooting fled the scene, leaving two people fighting for their lives on a panic-stricken street.

Sitting together on the pavement, their dream holiday now a nightmare, the desperate Perth women found help from an unexpected source.

Two US marines kept Ms Matthews relatively calm for the 20 minutes until paramedics drove her to hospital. “One of the marines took his shirt off and used it for my mouth,” Ms Matthews said. “I was trying not to freak out too much and the marines were trained in that so they were keeping my mind off those thoughts. “They were making jokes and telling me how I was handling it better than most of their marine friends would have. They definitely helped.”

Over several hours in the emergency department, Ms Matthews had about 30 stitches put in her tongue and a metal support fixed to the roof of her mouth.

She has since had a visit from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and her mother Amanda has flown in from Perth to be by her side.

Ms Matthews lives with her parents in Mt Hawthorn and she hopes to fly home this weekend.

“I have to be on a liquid diet for six weeks until I get implants in my teeth,” she said. “Until the bone and the gum heal, they can’t do anything aesthetically about my mouth, so I’ll have no teeth for about six to eight weeks.”

Sunday’s shooting was the third major shooting in Bourbon Street in the past three years.

Gun Culture of the USA

Amy in happier times. We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Amy in happier times. We wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Ironically, Ms Matthews wrote a thesis paper at UWA examining gun use in the US. But she said her traumatic experience would not stop her returning to the country.

“Because of last year and all the little kids who were shot, I thought something would definitely be done but it just shows you how embedded the whole gun culture is in the US,” she said.

“This won’t deter me from coming back but it makes me angry that the Government can’t be strong enough to say, ‘No, something needs to be done’.”

We can only agree, and wish Ms Matthews well. A very brave – and lucky – young lady.

Perhaps authorities could at least make it illegal to carry guns in places that serve alcohol, at least? This was the third such gun battle in Bourbon Street in recent times.

There was 2011 – when a 25-year-old was killed in a Bourbon Street shooting-spree that injured eight on Halloween night, including a tourist from France. Or the 2013 Mother’s Day Shooting, whose grainy video mirrors video captured Sunday morning: a celebrating crowd breaking up, sprinting away from the sudden shock of gunfire that left 20 injured. New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas described the shooting in a Sunday press conference as the act of “two cowardly young men trying to hurt one another,” who settled a dispute with “no regard to others.”

That disregard of others has marked a spate of New Orleans crimes, when passersby have been caught in the crossfire. Goyeneche, of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, cited a number of New Orleans incidents when young children were hit by stray bullets.

The shooters “get so caught up in their mission, which is to retaliate and send a message,” Goyeneche said. “That they don’t care who gets in the way.” Or maybe they actually seek to get others caught in the crossfire to amplify the effect. The disregard of human life, as a message, is a strategy used by terrorists, said criminologist John Penny, of Southern University at New Orleans. “That’s a terrifying and a terrorizing message.”

As we keep saying, only a “war on guns” will reduce the number circulating in the America community, and in a community where 200,000 guns a year enter the illegal marketplace stolen from law abiding homes.

To pretend, as some do, that nothing can be done about this problem, or that any restriction on gun ownership is an assault on Second Amendment rights,  is simply not good enough. Just ask Amy.

gresteA highly-credentialled and well-respected Australian journalist (and his two Egyptian colleagues) are now in jail for at least seven years, after a farce of a trial that conclusively failed to produce any evidence that they had done anything wrong at all.

Peter Greste slammed the cage he was being held in when he heard his fate, in a mixture of distress and anger. And well he might. His family and supporters reeled with shock at both the conviction and the savagery of the sentence.

Fairfax Media laid out the background to this case.

Egypt faces international condemnation over the harsh jail sentences handed down to three al-Jazeera journalists – including Australian Peter Greste – with human rights groups describing the verdict as a black day in the country’s unrelenting assault on the freedom of expression in the press and elsewhere.

Egypt’s relentless pursuit of Greste, Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed was vindictive and politically motivated, Amnesty International said. Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in jail and Mohammed was sentenced to 10 years.

Al-Jazeera journalist and Australian citizen Peter Greste stands inside the defendants' cage in a courtroom during the trial.

Al-Jazeera journalist and Australian citizen Peter Greste stands inside the defendants’ cage in a courtroom during the trial. Photo: AP

The prosecution had produced no evidence to back its claims or to support a conviction, Amnesty said. Instead, the three were “pawns” in the bitter geo-political dispute between Egypt and Qatar, the oil-rich Gulf country that finances al-Jazeera.

Qatar has long been perceived as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, the multinational religious and political group labelled a terrorist organisation in Egypt late last year as part of a vicious government security crackdown on the group and its supporters.

The Qatari government pumped billions of dollars in aid to support Egypt’s sinking economy during the 11-month term of the Muslim Brotherhood backed president, Mohamed Mursi.

The Australian ambassador to Egypt, Dr Ralph King, right, sits next to Andrew Greste, brother of defendant Peter Greste during the sentencing hearing.

The Australian ambassador to Egypt, Dr Ralph King, right, sits next to Andrew Greste, brother of defendant Peter Greste during the sentencing hearing. Photo: AP

Once Mursi was forced from power by the Egyptian military, acting on what it described as a groundswell of public support, the retribution against the Brotherhood and its backers was swift and brutal.

“The truth is that Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed are prisoners of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program Deputy Director.

As journalists in Eqypt reeled at the implied threat from the kangaroo court trial, Peter Greste’s stunned family regrouped to plan the next phase of their campaign to free him from one of Egypt’s most notorious prisons where he has spent the past six months in a 3mx4m cell with his colleagues, the censures poured in from world leaders.

The fiancee of journalist Mohamed Fahmy is consoled by a friend following the verdicts in the sentencing hearing for al-Jazeera journalists.

The fiancee of journalist Mohamed Fahmy is consoled by a friend following the verdicts in the sentencing hearing for al-Jazeera journalists. Photo: AP

Just a day after he visited Egypt to meet with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to announce the United States had released $US575 million in military aid that had been frozen since the ousting of Mursi last July, US Secretary of State John Kerry was scathing in his criticism of the verdict.

“Today’s conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three al-Jazeera journalists and 15 others in a trial that lacked many fundamental norms of due process, is a deeply disturbing setback to Egypt’s transition.

Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister [Sameh] Shoukry told me just yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance.”

Peter Greste (left) and his colleagues Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed listen to the verdict from inside the defendants' cage.

Peter Greste (left) and his colleagues Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed listen to the verdict from inside the defendants’ cage. Photo: AFP

Mr Kerry urged the Egyptian government to review all political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years and consider all available remedies, including pardons.

But despite his strong words there was no indication that the newly unfrozen military aid (including anti-personnel helicopters) would have any human rights conditions attached.

The British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed Egypt’s ambassador would be summoned to the Foreign Office over the sentencing, which he described as “unacceptable”. The Dutch took similar action, with Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans confirming the Netherlands had summoned the Egyptian ambassador.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the government was “bitterly disappointed with the outcome” – it is understood the Egyptian ambassador to Australia would be meeting with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Tuesday.

“The Australian government is shocked at the verdict in the Peter Greste case. We are deeply dismayed by the fact that a sentence has been imposed and we are appalled by the severity of it.”

Egypt’s foreign ministry appeared to reject the wave of international criticism, putting out a statement on Monday evening claiming the country’s judiciary “enjoys full independence, and the new constitution provides safeguards to ensure media freedom and to guarantee due process in judicial proceedings”.

“The defendants in this case were arrested in accordance with warrants issued by the relevant investigative body, the Office of the Public Prosecutor; due process was adhered to with all of the defendants,” the ministry said, noting the journalists still had the right to appeal.

But the ministry’s statement fell on deaf ears.

Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years in prison, while Mohamed received a 10-year term. Out of six others on trial alongside the journalists, two were acquitted and four were sentenced to seven years. The court also sentenced a number of other journalists to 10-year sentences in absentia, including al-Jazeera journalists Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, both from the UK and the Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, who has no association with al-Jazeera.

Egypt’s prosecutor general claimed the journalists had used un-licensed equipment to broadcast false information to defame and destabilise Egypt. Fahmy and Mohamed were further accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood. All deny the charges, as do the others who were charged and tried in absentia.

Outside the court, Greste’s brothers Andrew and Michael struggled to make sense of the guilty verdict and the harsh sentences – both have been in court over the past six months and like all observers did not see any evidence presented that backed the prosecution’s claims.

“Gutted,” Andrew Greste said when asked how he was feeling outside the court at Tora Prison in Cairo. “All those words really don’t do my emotions justice.”

Vowing that the family would fight on against the conviction, Andrew said the Egyptian authorities assured his family the trial would be fair and the justice system independent.

“It definitely wasn’t an outcome we were expecting … we have had a family representative at each of the court sessions and I find it very difficult to understand how we get a decision like that.”

“[Peter] is not going to give up,” Andrew said. “Obviously he is going to be shattered as well as I am sure it was not an outcome he was expecting.”

The family is considering both a legal appeal to Egypt’s Court of Cassation and an appeal for clemency or a pardon from President al-Sisi. The difficulty is than any judicial appeal, which should pre-date an appeal for clemency, could take six to twelve months.

The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also condemned the al-Jazeera verdicts.

Along with Saturday’s confirmation by an Egyptian court of the death penalty for 183 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters convicted in an earlier mass trial, the journalists’ sentences are the latest in a string of prosecutions and proceedings that have been “rife with procedural irregularities and in breach of international human rights law,” Ms Pillay said.

“It is not a crime to carry a camera, or to try to report various points of views about events,” Ms Pillay said. “It is not a crime to criticise the authorities, or to interview people who hold unpopular views.

“Journalists and civil society members should not be arrested, prosecuted, beaten up or sacked for reporting on sensitive issues. They should not be shot for trying to report or film things we, the public, have a right to know are happening.”

What can ordinary folks do?

Meanwhile, ordinary citizens of the world are left to wonder what can be done to impress upon the regime in Egypt how seriously people regard this fundamental attack on press freedom and individual rights.

Don't do business with Egypt. Full stop.

The immediate family – and the Governments concerned – must, to some degree, remain very diplomatic in their protestations for fear of enraging an already sensitive situation further, which would do Greste and his colleagues no good at all.

Even so, calls are already being made by politicians and others for formal sanctions on the Cairo regime and its supporters, such as reductions in foreign aid, financial penalties and travel bans. It is unclear whether such things may eventuate.

However such self-imposed restrictions on expressing anger need not apply to general public opinion, and the behaviour of individuals.

Eqypt relies heavily on foreign trade to support its economy.

One obvious opportunity is that if millions of people around the world decided to boycott Egyptian goods and services – and to refuse to take holidays in the country, as the Egyptians are very keen to increase their tourism trade – until Greste and his colleagues are released, and until the Government shows its bona fides on the rule of law and democratic freedom generally, then the newly-installed Egyptian regime would surely be immediately obliged to act.

So one option is to vote against this outrage with your own money. If you decided to do so, it would make sense to tweet your actions. We could suggest using the hashtag #BoycottEgypt, for example. If you do, contact the media and tell them why you intend to #BoycottEgypt until the men are released. Express your feelings to letters columns, journalists, tweet to news organisations – tell anyone and everyone. Better to tell them ten times than not tell them at all.

What else can you do?

Raise awareness. You can re-post this blog, re-tweet it, stick it on Facebook, tell your friends.

You can write, respectfully, to Egyptian embassies and to the Eqyptian government telling them why you are participating. And write to your own Government and insist they get involved. Google the details, they will be freely available.

The other opportunity is to get involved with the Amnesty International campaign to free the journos.

Take a photo of yourself holding a sign saying #freeajstaff with tape on your mouth, and make the point that journalism is not a crime. Tweet the photo using the hashtags Freeajstaff, #amnesty, #egypt, and #sisi.

(The newly elected leader of Egypt can be reached at #Sisi.)

Copy any activity to #petergreste which is the hashtag used by the Greste family to co-ordinate news and raise awareness of the case if for no other reason than to let them know they are supported.

 

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We would like to stress, we are not affiliated with any Egyptian pressure group or political movement. We long for good relations with Egypt to be re-established and we would be delighted to announce tomorrow that any boycott or any other action is unnecessary because this decision has been reversed. We do not wish to harm or disrespect the people of Egypt.

Please: act now.

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

Much to ponder. From rooster to feather duster in under a year?

 

Bad news for Tony Abbott and the Coalition continues today with the publishing of another poll that shows just how dramatically the Liberal and National parties have slumped since 2013′s election.

The latest poll shows the Abbott government is now a full 10 points below its election-winning vote. This is way beyond mere “out of honeymoon” blues.

The Newspoll, published in The Australian on Tuesday, puts Labor ahead of the coalition 55-45 per cent in the two-party preferred vote, a further depressing drop of two points for the coalition since the previous poll two weeks ago.

Primary support for the coalition is also down two points to 35 per cent, from 37 per cent, while Labor is up one point to 37 per cent – two points ahead of the coalition. This result would have seemed impossible in the dark days when Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were engaged in their death struggle. It remains to be seen if Tony Abbott goes down in history as the only man capable of breathing new life into the Labor corpse which seemed crucified, dead, buried, with multiple stakes through it’s heart and then cremated such a short while ago. That they are even competitive again so soon is startling.

It’s not all good news for Labor. Outflanked on the left, the Greens have also gained three points in the primary vote – up to 13 per cent.

Voter dissatisfaction with Tony Abbott has reached the highest level since he became prime minister, 62 per cent, and is his worst personal result since November 2012, The Australian reports. With his approval rating at 31 per cent, Mr Abbott’s net approval of minus 31 points is the worst for a prime minister since Julia Gillard scored minus 34 points just days before she was replaced by Kevin Rudd in June last year, when she was widely considered to be leading the Labor Party to certain disaster. It will not have escaped Liberal and National backbenchers that Abbott now appears to be doing the same.

 

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

They also serve who only sit and wait. Is that just the hint of a smile?

 

Whether Abbott’s vast slump into extreme unpopularity will prove enough of a motive for the hard heads in the Liberal Party to replace him with the much more moderate Malcolm Turnbull remains to be seen. We have always been of the view, even before the last election, that Turnbull would be Prime Minister before Christmas 2014. Abbott is both simply too relentlessly self-satisfied and negative to play the role of Prime Minister, a job which requires the ability to reach across the aisle to independents and natural Labor supporters to build a centrists’ coalition.

Abbot is not a conservative. He is not a “one nation” Tory. He is a radical right winger – a born-again Thatcherite, his idol in his youth. As such, he was never going to sit well in power with the essentially small-C conservative Australian public. We are seeing the hubris of Nick Minchin and others on the hard right coming home to roost. They wanted their boy – they got him up by one vote – and now he is proving to be manifestly un-re-electable. A great opposition leader doth not a great prime minister necessarily make. They might have won less big had Turnbull remained at the helm (they might have won bigger, too), but they would have won more enduringly.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has also regained a 10-point lead as better Prime Minister that he took after the budget – on 44 per cent, with Mr Abbott on 34 per cent. We do not believe he is yet “popular” – he has neither the common working man’s touch of a Bob Hawke or the swaggering certainty of a Paul Keating. But he has hardly put a foot wrong yet, revealing that he has both a good “ear” and a smart brain. His meek persona also contrasts nicely with Abbott’s arrogance.

It is well-known that Shorten wishes to keep his powder somewhat dry, and not to “knee-jerk” to every mistake or missed step from the Coalition. Thus former federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan played Shorten’s stalking horse yesterday when said Liberal-National Party backbenchers were too gutless to speak out against the “savage cuts” in the budget, which he sees as reflected in the Newspoll. “If they had any decency, they’d be standing up in the party room and holding the LNP to the promises they made to the people of Australia at the last election but they’re not because they’re gutless,” he told reporters in Brisbane. “There’s no spine in the LNP backbench either at the state level or the federal level. They sit back and meekly accept the savage cuts … which are going to hurt the peace of mind and welfare of families right across Australia.” You can expect to hear a lot more of that as each and every Budget action wends its way trhough the legislative process.

To be fair, Swan was probably speaking from the heart, too. As a Labor backbencher during the early 1990s, Mr Swan led a revolt against the Keating government’s unpopular post-election budget that increased taxes.

Anyhow, the next few months will be interesting indeed. From being one of the most successful Opposition leaders the Liberals have produced in a long time, Abbott may well go down as their most unsuccessful Prime Minister. A recalcitrant Senate filled with newly hopeful Labor and Green representatives is now replaced with one with even greater complexity. At first blush, the new Senate looks like a more amenable one for Abbott. But appearances can be deceiving. Clive Palmer, for example, knows full well that supine agreement with the Government – any Government – would render his populist message irrelevant. There’s no point being “anti” the establishment and then joining it, as the Australian Democrats discovered over the GST, and the Liberal Democrats in the UK and the Free Democrats in Germany can attest more recently.

We can therefore expect regular little eruptions of rebellion from Palmer and his mates, and watching his eye for publicity and gesture politics one can expect those rebellions to be on core issues, such as the politically smart agreement to scrap the unpopular carbon tax and return the dividend to ordinary voters as a reduction in household costs. And if they aren’t core issues, he will trumpet them as such, anyway. And every time he lays a glove on the Government, Abbott will not only look dumb, but weak. A terrible combination.

The essential problem that Abbott faces is that by manufacturing a financial crisis out of a structural deficit (which is not, after all, the same thing) he has critically reduced his room for manoeuvre. As a result, he is now stuck with slogging round the country telling everyone, basically, bad news, for at least the next 18 months.

He might even have pulled that off if his presentation, and that of his very lacklustre Treasurer Joe Hockey, had been less simultaneously preachily self-congratulatory and ham-fisted. But apart from his suddenly incoherent and uncertain delivery (has any senior politician anywhere in the world ever said “Er” so often?) he has also wedged himself by a serious of actions that were never going to get through the Senate, and which were guaranteed to appear mean and un-necessary.

The most obvious example is the GP co-payment, which looks and smacks like nothing more than soak the poor, and should never have been advanced in a month of Sundays. But once advanced, it was not “sold”, beyond a repeated mantra that this was somehow “for the good of the country”. Scores of worried little old ladies and the chronically ill duly queued up on talk-back radio stations of all political inclinations to tearfully ask what would become of them now they couldn’t afford to go to see their doctor. The message that the co-payment was theoretically designed to be capped at a maximum of $70 a year completely failed to cut through. Once again, the central Liberal Party message-meisters and their political puppets have been shown to be far less competent and aware than they are often painted.

Denis Napthine. If he's not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

Denis Napthine. If he’s not careful, Abbott will do for him, too.

(A similar problem assails the Victorian Liberal and National Parties, where two years of good financial management and the resulting announcement of the biggest-ever infrastructure spending program in the State’s history – in any State’s history, actually – is being completely overwhelmed by the unpopularity of the Abbott Government. Liberal and National Party publicists seem at a loss to know how to punch their message through. (There’s a clue in this paragraph by the way, boys.) Meanwhile Denis Napthine despairs in his eyrie and Daniel Andrews hugs himself with glee, saying very little, cheerfully waiting to fall into office. But that’s another story.)

Those surrounding Abbott need to understand this: it’s one thing to drag down an unpopular Prime Minister in whom trust has been lost. It’s quite another to sell a swingeing austerity package that very few people think is needed in the first place.

They – and he – need to lift their game very fast, or yibbidah yibbidah, that’s all folks.

 

 

We'd like Holland to go all the way in this World Cup. Just, you know. Because.

We’d like Holland to go all the way in this World Cup. Just, you know. Because.

OK, Dear Reader, I have decided on the job I want in my next life.

Don't think we can bring ourselves to support Argentina for any reason. Then again ...

Don’t think we can bring ourselves to support Argentina for any reason. Then again …

It’s to be the guy who sits in a football stadium with a pair of binoculars as a “spotter” for the cameramen for those inevitable cutaway shots of beautiful scantily-dressed 18-25 year old women who are cheerfully sitting there looking stunning while they holler and hoot for the country, all festooned in team colours with their faces painted with flags and a big grin on their face. See, someone has that job. It’s not the Director, because he’s too busy looking at the overall coverage of the game, including those oh-so-vital flashes of “colour” – that’s what it’s called in the trade. You know the ones: the crying eight year old boy watching his life get ruined forever as his heroes ignominiously crash out of the tournament, the great tub of lard with no shirt, worker’s shorts and a sombrero clutching a vuvezela and a bottle of what looks suspiciously like what you’re not allowed to take into the ground, and, of course, the wannabee supermodels who have taken a day off their relentless rise to glamour stardom to bounce up and down looking all jiggly and happy while their boyfriends explain the offside rule to them. And it’s not the cameramen finding them either. Coz they’re pointing their cameras where they’re told to. Nope, there’s actually someone whose job it is just to scan the crowd and find the young ladies (80-90% of the job, I reckon), and just occasionally a crying kid or a nearly-naked middle-aged man so we’re not all bailed up for just being a bunch of dirty old pervs. We could do that. Giz a job, Mister.

Apparently this young lady from Korea is an instant sensation in Asia. And she thought she was just going to the footy.

Apparently this young lady from Korea is an instant sensation in Asia. And she thought she was just going to the footy.

Hey: it’s dirty work, but someone’s got to do it. Here’s an example of the process. http://www.sooziq.com/11964/world-cup-cameraman-impossibly-finds-the-pretty-girl-in-the-crowd/. Why anyone would think we’d want to look at her instead of some gigantic black guy in a Nigerian shirt I can’t imagine.

A young lady from Denmark. We tried all the puns we could think of about horns but couldn't come up with any that would be publishable on a nice blog. You do the math.

A young lady from Switzerland. Oh, those crazy, whacky Swiss. We tried all the puns we could think of about horns but couldn’t come up with any that would be publishable on a nice blog. You do the math.

 

We are reminded that some years ago a very funny video circulated via email of a couple having awkward sex waaaay up at the top of a stand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, thereby fulfilling two of Australia’s obsessions – sex and sport – in one convenient time-efficient hit. Should you need to, you can see it here:

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/80740298/. Oh go on, you may as well see it if you haven’t already.

Colombia are doing expectedly well at this World Cup and garnering a lot of interest. Can't imagine why.

Colombia are doing expectedly well at this World Cup and garnering a lot of interest. Can’y imagine why.

It’s quite tame and rather funny, though probably still not safe for work – but that will depend on your work, I guess. What you can’t hear on this webpage, which you could on the version of the clip that circulated by email, is the amused banter between the Director and the cameraman. “They are, you know.” “Nah, they couldn’t be.” “They bloody are.” So funny to think that they’re probably now married with kids – either to each other or someone else – and in relatively senior professional jobs, we bet. Ah, the careless joys of yoof.

Australia have been, er, holding their end up. So to speak.

Australia have been working hard, er, holding their end up. So to speak.

Anyhow, the young ladies of the World Cup are altogether tamer, but so much nicer for it, too. Bright young lasses all of them,
to be sure. Bringing a little light relief to the fevered tensions of the game, and all quite innocently. And that, M’lud, explains why we were in the crowd with our binoculars trained on the young lady from Columbia in Row ZZ 17 and we conclude the case for the defence. Talent spotting in crowds has a long and honourable (ahem) history, of course.

*mops brow* Pammie does her first TV commerical. Photo: Tumblr

*mops brow* Pammie does her first TV commerical.
Photo: Tumblr

Belgium’s most famous teen is not the first to shoot to global stardom after being spotted in the crowd.

In 1989 a certain Pamela Anderson, then a fitness instructor, attended a local football game in Canada.Footage of the blonde on screen was well received and her success with Playboy ensued.

The rest, as they say, is popular cultural history.

And more recently supermodel Kate Upton found fame after a friend uploaded a video of Upton dancing in the stands at an LA Clippers game.

Meanwhile, here is further evidence, should it be needed, of why England, compared to the rest of the world, are really just a bunch of losers.

Right.

Right.

 

Aside  —  Posted: June 30, 2014 in Humour, Popular Culture et al, Sport
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Republican Party in the USA have been at it again this week. Demonstrating they are lurching ever more profoundly into the looney tunes orbit of American politics.

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/arizona-huppenthal-stomp-out-spanish

btobtpcb2s2b4dbkfkceAs you can see in the link above, a frequent GOP blog commentator and schools superintendent in Arizona has owned up to several incendiary anonymous comments.

Among many idiotic remarks, in a late-2010 post on the conservative blog Espresso Pundit, Huppenthal, writing under the pseudonym Falcon9, said that America only has room for English.

“We all need to stomp out balkanization. No spanish radio stations, no spanish billboards, no spanish tv stations, no spanish newspapers,” he wrote roughly a month after he was elected. “This is America, speak English.”

This raises so many issues it’s hardly worth commenting, except to say to the right in America, why be frightened of the growth in Spanish in America? Being a bilingual nation will make it easier for you to trade with South America, where growth will outstrip America this century anyway.

Ann CoulterThis is just typical of the nonsense talked by the right. Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter, because within a few years America will be a majority Spanish speaking nation whatever they think. Languages change over time. In the UK Ancient British was replaced by Latin, then Saxon, Saxon was replaced with Norman French. Norman French was replaced with Germano-English and remnants of old British. For heaven’s sake: why can’t the GOP do something more useful than being a bunch of mindless “antis”? Build a bridge, and get over it already.

Meanwhile, achingly dumb commentator Ann Coulter has sparked attention around the world (which is, of course, all she is really interested in), by criticising football just as the USA garners the admiration of the world by getting out of the qualification round of the World Cup for the first time. No American whose Great-Grandfather was born in America could possibly be interested in this “foreign game”, opined the fast-fading right wing hack.

http://www.salon.com/2014/06/26/ann_coulter_no_american_whose_great_grandfather_was_born_here_is_watching_soccer/

Let us be clear what this is. It would be easy to dismiss both incidents as laughably ridiculous, whereas in reality this is, under the rolled eyes of “they’re at it again”, ugly “dog whistle” politics.

By targeting “differentness”, whether it be a different language or the growth of a sport in popularity, what is being done hear is to “wedge” the population. To turn people against people. To leverage the innate fears of “otherness” that fester in the collective consciousness, and to make only one way the right way, if you’ll forgive the pun. And why? To distract people from looking at and tackling real issues that matter, that’s why.

There is a vast right wing conspiracy operating in America to turn one of the legs of the civic society – the GOP – into a party of antis. Anti equality of treatment for gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Anti affirmative action to provide opportunity for women, the poor, and non-whites. Anti social security safety nets. Anti healthcare. Anti “foreign”. And above all, anti-tax, because essentially, the movement is, at its core, anti the very concept of a democratic government that can raise and spend money based on a universal franchise.

This conspiracy is not necessarily conscious – although it may be – but what is undoubtedly being attempted is to coalesce the conservative white population (much of it now working class) into a coherent coalition than can combat the very obvious fact that America is now a multicultural, multi-faith, multi-sexuality and above all urban modern society that is innately not conservative.

America today has many issues to be sure, but it still demonstrates daily that it is essentially a forward-looking nation – evolving, experimenting, changing – as it always has been. This in turn horrifies those who wish to see an endless perpetuation of the position of an idealised white middle-class, by which they really mean the power of the privileged and uber-wealthy to manipulate the political system to preserve their hold over a majority of supine fellow travellers a few steps below them on the ladder.

Ironically, what means they are doomed to fail is that the middle class in America, which has long been the acquiescent lap dog of the rich and powerful, is now in near-terminal decline, as in many places in the world.

The old days of a quarter-acre block with a neat weatherboard home lived in by a nuclear family with a couple of American made cars in the driveway who live and work in a pleasant mid-size town are now utterly behind us. Nowadays more people than ever live in conurbations, and more people than ever live alone. The nuclear family unit has undergone so much change it is now unrecognisable. In the countryside, traditional industries and agriculture have collapsed with the growth of mega-agricultural companies and the disapora of young people to the cities, with the concomitant collapse of small-town retailing. In the cities, rust-belt industries have collapsed under foreign competition, their wealthy workers which once migrated into the middle class now stuck on benefits or in part time work.

What is growing is a large and vocal disenfranchised white working class, standing shifting its feet nervously and threateningly across the street from a still-disenfranchised black working class which looks just as discomforted.

The right wing dog-whistle politics is designed to drag the white portion of that congregation into the GOP’s camp, where previously they might have been expected to steer naturally to the left. The endless anti-big-government whingeing of the Tea Party gives a modicum of intellectual veneer to the process. But in fact, what is being attempted is nothing more nor less to divide America into two nearly-at-war camps, dragging one to the field of combat with a dream of an America that no longer exists and will never exist again.

On the one side, we have the urban community, the professional whites, the urbanised working class and unemployed, the blacks, the bulk of  latinos, and what remains of the contented middle class. On the other, we have the “loser” middle class with declining income and influence, the marginalised working class and non working whites, the upwardly mobile latinos, the old whites, and the Christian extremists. The right believes it can build a coalition that can win from this grouping, all of whom are feeling very “anti” everything they can think of. So they constantly propound dog-whistle “anti” messages. But they can’t. The hard fact is, there simply isn’t enough of them to build a winning national coalition. All they will achieve in building is an angrier and angrier minority, the consequences of which are horrible to contemplate.

If we backtrack a little, the essential post WWII compact between the Democrat and Republican parties ran something like this. “There are certain inalienable rights we have to take care of. We should have as close to full employment as we can create. We love immigration, because we will always need good people. We shouldn’t have too much funny money circulating but a bit doesn’t matter too much. We should support entrepreneurism, because our society is built on it. We should sell as much as we can overseas – we are a trading nation. But while we do all this, we will always look after the poor and needy, because we never want to return to the 1930s.”

Along with this bipartisanship agreement came an essentially conservative social compact. Pride in country. Pride in steady but unspectacular social change. Pride in calm.

That all pretty much changed forever around the mid-late 1960s. American adventurism overseas alarmed and then horrified the youth of the country, (especially when they were told they had to take part), and the sexual revolution galvanised it. Rapid change in the area of civil rights was agreed on all sides, but not because of any great moral conviction. It was rushed through out of fear of a racially-based conflict: the attitudes that lurked behind the change still rankled. Corruption at the highest levels led to an innate mistrust in Government that has never been overcome. The ridiculous levels of expenditure required to fight the Cold War drained the coffers of money that should have been spent upgrading and modernising American industry.

Basically, America fell apart.

The process wasn’t a straight line, but it was inexorable, and it continues. The latest ludicrous forays into the Middle East have merely exacerbated both the discontent and cost burden to the economy.

Now, America faces decades of rediscovering and reinventing itself. Problems that were created in decades will take decades to fix. And the likelihood is that America will never again be as dominant as it was for most of the 20th century. But the eagle can, and should, soar again. America is above all an inventive nation, stable, highly educated, wealthy, and determined. But to get back to the ideal of an America with a strong place in the world will require new creative thinking, and above all it will require unity of purpose as it charts a new course.

There are some signs America has the determination to make the required changes. But what is tragically also obvious is that right now the Republican Party is failing to see the absolute requirement for it to play a full and meaningful part in the compact that will be required to achieve that.

Mesmerised by the types of idiots displayed above, and a few loudmouths in Congress, the leadership of the Republican Party appears unable or unwilling to advance a coherent set of proposals to address the very real difficulties America faces. Where is the new thinking on tax policy, just as one example? Merely “cutting taxes” is nothing more than a mantra. Any attempt to deal with the sovereign debt crisis in America will need a combination of new taxes and lowering expenditure. America needs to approach the fact that it is essentially bankrupt not with ideology but with ruthless pragmatism: the American tax and fiscal system is badly in need of thoroughgoing renewal and revision. But the GOP does nothing but parrot “lower taxes” as a solution. “Lower taxes” is not an answer, is is just an “anti” dog-whistle. And not one, incidentally, that offers any real hope of relief to those that are currently being conned into supporting the whistling. The problem is much more complex than “lower taxes”. It needs America’s brightest and best to work co-operatively to effect profound and lasting change.

As one American commentator David Hawkins noted, it is interesting that in his recent startling GOP primary victory over the expected Tea Party winner, Thad Cochran reached across the aisle to registered Democrats to back him, aware of the unusual fact that in his state voters from either party can vote in the primaries of the other, provided they have not voted in a primary previously. With this timely move, and resisting millions in spending from the far right to unseat him, instead of being tossed out on his ear as the right cheerfully prophesised, he has instead guaranteed becoming one of the most influential players in the coming Congress.

The senator who looked to become the Tea Party movement’s biggest scalp of 2014 is now in position to be the small government conservatives’ worst nightmare of 2015. Cochran’s upset runoff victory has made him a totally safe bet for a seventh term, and also increased by a small notch the prospect that he and his fellow Republicans could win control of the Senate this fall. We don’t think it will, but if that happens, Cochran has not only the seniority but also the vanquished victor’s clout necessary to claim the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee — where he would surely restore some of the spend-along-to-get-along spirit of bipartisan collegiality that drives insurgents on the right absolutely nuts.

constflagfl2Will the leadership of the GOP take note of the opportunity to resurrect the old bi-party consensus? We are at a tipping point.

If they did, we would see an end to any nonsense about impeaching Obama (who has done nothing impeachable), about any more shut downs of government expenditure, about strangling the Executive of funds, or anything like it. We would see a determination to reform Obamacare so it worked better for a greater number of people, rather than lingering talk of abolishing it. We would see a deal more hard work and effort going into jointly-supported initiatives to create real economic activity, (based on manufacturing, not on paper shuffling), we would see the resolution of currency and trade issues with the fast-growing Indian and Chinese sectors, a deeper engagement with Asia generally, action on developing climate-friendly energy production, innovation in IT and industry, and much more. And we would see a re-working of the American economic system to lift the burden of big government off the backs of those it really hurts most, the very people it is trying to help.

Yes, here will always be differences in emphasis between the Democrat and Republican tribes. But the current split is toxic, and dangerous.

Being “anti” everything is, basically, anti-American, and doomed to fail. It’s called the UNITED States of America, remember?

Someone tell them.

 

 

Aside  —  Posted: June 27, 2014 in Political musings, Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Read, mark learn and inwardly digest. Or don't, if you see what we mean.

Read, mark learn and inwardly digest. Or don’t, if you see what we mean.

 

Many, many moons ago, years ago now, the Wellthisiswhatithink household decided to stop eating margarine, especially polyunsaturated margarine, and to resume eating butter.

We stopped using soybean oil (like Canola) for cooking, and starting using fat-saturated coconut oil or monounsaturated olive oil instead.

In the case of the writer, Dear Reader, one’s cholesterol level and blood pressure fell. Our cholesterol level fell substantially, actually.

With the passion of the newly-converted we told everyone we knew that polyunsaturated oil turns into trans-fatty acids at body temperature – let alone when cooked -healing-miracles-coconut-oil-third-edition-bruce-fife-paperback-cover-art and that trans-fatty acids were deadly to humans.

We also told them repeatedly of the healing miracle that is coconut oil, which we discovered quite by chance when we were employed to write the marketing letter to get people to buy the book, which we devoured almost as enthusiastically as we did the product.

We recommend the book. A must read if you’d like to avoid a bunch of nasty modern illnesses.

Anyhow, within the last few months, scientists have caught up. Suddenly researchers all over the world are on the bandwagon for butter.

Well, we hesitate to say we told you so, but, we told you so.

Ponder this:

Alternatively, use butter. The manufacturing process essentially amounts to "Milk cow, churn milk."

 

Alternatively, use butter. The manufacturing process essentially amounts to “Milk cow, churn milk.”