alison parker

 

There has been a lot of well-meaning commentary in the media that it was too shocking – too visceral, too intrusive, too disrespectful – for many media organisations to show the footage of a young American news reporter and her colleague being shot in America.

We respect those arguments. One of the better ones is here.

We also, respectfully, disagree.

One of the issues with gun violence – indeed, violence of all sorts – is that it is frequently sanitised before being presented to us. Filmed from outside a scene. Or blurred. Bodies are pixelated. Streams of blood are avoided or covered up. Body parts are swept away.

But in our view, only when people confront the truth might they be shocked into actually doing something about the problem.

The exactly similar debate occurs when we consider photo coverage of wars, or for that matter famines. Not for nothing was the Iraq war coverage reduced to mostly nonsense through “embedding” tame journalists. The Governments concerned knew that was the only way they could maintain support for the obviously illegal invasion.

In our view, we must all be made to turn our eyes to the reality of the state of the world. not glimpse it in a stilled frame or hear it in a sound grab. We need to look our world square in the face, and take responsibility for it.

Not because we are voyeurs, or because real life real time violence is manna for our satiated media-swamped pallets. Both those criticisms are fair, but they are not the point. We need to confront shocking truth because as the poet says “if any man dies, his death diminishes me”.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward deserve to be remembered not only for how they lived, but also how a mentally disturbed man with a legally-obtained gun ended their worthwhile lives, and cast their loving families into misery.

Because if we have the willpower, we can do something about mad people with guns – we can improve the connectedness in our society, we can  improve respect for law, we can make guns more difficult to get and keep, we can improve mental health provision, and we can build a world view that says taking another human being’s life should be the hugely horrible exception and not the norm. We can do all this, if we are moved to act together, and with determination.

We will never make our societies perfect. That way lies madness and the simple sloganeering of fools.

This is what war looks like. War is not how we see it on television. Every time someone cries "Drop a bomb!", this is what it means.

This is what war looks like. War is not how we see it on television. Every time someone cries “Drop a bomb!”, this is what it means. It means innocent deaths by the uncountable thousands – 500,000 innocent civilian deaths in Iraq alone, thus far.

But if we are to create coalitions of the willing to oppose the steady and seemingly inexorable slide towards casual violence and disrespect for others, then we need to face up to the truth.

If the innards of Dachau and Auschwitz and the rest had been seen in popular media in America and the United Kingdom in 1942 the Second World War would have been over sooner and fewer lives lost.

If the Gulags of Siberia had been exposed rather than just whispered about, Stalin would have been overthrown.

If the murderous indifference of Mao that led to umpteen dozens of millions being deliberately starved to death as political policy had been exposed in all its shocking brutality then he would never have come to rule one third of the world as a heartless despot.

How did Pol Pot do what he did? Why did the West stand by and support him – step forward Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – because he was a bulwark against Vietnam? Because that disgusting realpolitik judgement was never balanced by pictures of two million Cambodians slaughtered with pick-axes, machetes, sticks and pistols. No lens ever captured their suffering until it was too late.

Do you know why Kim-Jong Un is still in power in North Korea? Because saying “mothers are made to drown their babies in prison camps” does not have the same effect, even though it should, as showing those mothers’ hysterical, tear stained faces and the floating corpses of their children.

Too harsh? Too horrible?

Maybe. But it’s the truth. And the truth is also that the look on Alison’s terrified, innocent face as she confronted her insane, hate-fuelled murderer needs to be seen.

She deserves us looking into her eyes, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.

Because only then will people demand that she is the last – or if not the last, sadly, then a very rare event indeed – of all those innocents slaughtered for no good reason by sociopaths who hold their life to be unimportant – or at least, not as important as what their own sick views or desires.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, and all those traumatised by this horrible event.

yollyDear Reader, if you have enjoyed Well This Is What I Think in the last four years (Yeah, we know, four years! Crazy? Right?) we would ask you to show your appreciation by backing our Kickstarter fund with however much you can reasonably afford.

And especially if you enjoy and support live theatre, and you believe in nurturing new talent.

We are very very excited to tell you that our new Kickstarter project – ECLECTICA – is now live.

But only for thirty days, and the clock is ticking.

Please click the link and find out what it’s all about, and how you can help!

There’s even a crazy whacky-doo video from your esteemed correspondent to enjoy. And when you go there, please click the Share This Project link to spread the word.

As well as your very kind monetary support, this is absolutely vital for our success.

 

eclectica

Be a part of making it happen: FIND OUT ABOUT ECLECTICA HERE!

Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. Ten thousand times over.

In their own words: why people were celebrating International Go Topless Day on Sunday

Women and men in approximately 60 cities across the globe took part in the International Go Topless Day on Sunday.

Demonstrators in cities like New York, Paris and London took to the streets in order to break taboos around female nudity, protest against double-standards and to make it easier for women to breastfeed.

In their own words, here’s why people were willing to bare their chests in public:

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We’re not protesting. We’re exercising our right to bring awareness to the subject. This is about equality. There’s no problem with men not wearing shirts at the beach. I made the drive here to take away the stigma for women.

As long as men are allowed to be topless in public, women should have the same constitutional right. Or else, men should have to wear something to hide their chests.

  • Claude “Rael” Vorilhon, founder of GoTopless.org

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In our society, men and women are supposed to have equal rights. But women are commonly arrested, fined and humiliated for daring to go topless in public, a freedom men have had for decades. To protest this unconstitutional gender discrimination, GoTopless.org is holding National Go-Topless Day events in cities nationwide. Thousands of women will be baring their chests that day in the name of equal rights.

  • GoTopless.org statement

It’s logical. Why can a man go outside topless and a woman can’t? We should be able to do it without anyone harassing us. It’s just meat, it’s just breast and it’s nature.

  • A demonstrator in New York speaking to the Guardian

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It’s absurd that someone has judged topless women as obscene, and yet topless men is considered normal in our culture. We just abhor the double standard. We are practicing our rights. We think everyone should try it — it’s a lot of fun.

  • Carolyn Estes, a demonstrator in Austin, Texas, speaking to NBC

The significance is really to challenge the double-standard and to challenge this notion that there’s something morally reprehensible about women being topless when men have been able to be topless for so many years. It’s just about loving your body in whatever state it is in.

  • A demonstrator in New York speaking to the Guardian

Null

A woman’s nipple being criminalised and so hyper-sexualised make certain things like breast-feeding really difficult, especially in public … It is discrimination based on gender to tell women to cover up.

  • Demonstrators speaking in New Hampshire

The main problem people have with breast-feeding is they sexualise breasts, so it offends them. If we could make them less taboo, breast-feeding would be much more acceptable in society.

  • Jessica Wardell, a demonstrator in New Hampshire speaking to Reuters
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There should be no reason why my breasts should be different from his chest.

To which we can only say, “HEAR HEAR”. This is a topic we have discussed on this blog before, and will again. This double standard is simple sexism, and should be done away with. Womens’ bodies are not “dirty”.

Last but not least – have a look at this photo, doing the rounds in American media. Why the f*** do you have to PIXELATE a nipple? Have Americans never been on holiday in Europe?

Don't look too closely, the demons will get you.

Don’t look too closely, the demons will get you.

Bizarre. Simply bizarre. The human body, in all it’s wonderful and weird shapes and sizes, is beautiful. We should celebrate it. Most of all, we shouldn’t let one half of the population do something the other half of the population isn’t allowed to. Patriarchal bullshit. So there. Harumph.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

And meanwhile, our new Kickstarter project just went live – whoo hoo!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1330314396/bringing-variety-back-to-melbourne-with-a-focus-on/widget/video.html

eclectica

Very excited to let all followers of the blog know that I have just started a new Kickstarter project to bring a whole new Variety show to the stage in Melbourne. Poetry! Music! Clowns! Improv! Circus! Theatre! Comedy! Dance! Stuff! Yes, all of that.

The show will focus on unearthing new talent, or giving a boost to established talent that need an outlet.

It’s a bit scary, but you know what? If you don’t do, you … er … don’t do.

This has been my dream for as long as I can recall, and I’ll be frank, a recent health scare (all is well, never fear) has made me realise time is passing.

I will post more news of the project in a few days when Kickstarter hopefully approve it. Watch this space!

PS! Performers in the Melbourne area, don’t delay, signal your interest to me by emailing me on steveyolland@yahoo.com now.

UPDATE! PROJECT NOW LIVE!

  • Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children’s genes
  • New finding is first example in humans of the theory of epigenetic inheritance: the idea that environmental factors can affect the genes of your children
  • The team’s work is the clearest sign yet that life experience can affect the genes of subsequent generations.

In a fascinating study discussed in the Guardian newspaper and elsewhere, it seems that genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations.

holocaustThe conclusion from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war.

They also analysed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.

Her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance” – the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, diet and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren.

The idea is still highly controversial, as scientific convention states that genes contained in DNA are the only way to transmit biological information between generations. However, our genes are modified by the environment all the time, through chemical tags that attach themselves to our DNA, switching genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that some of these tags might somehow be passed through generations, meaning our environment could have and impact on our children’s health. If so, it will provide a whole new area of preventative health care.

Other studies have proposed a more tentative connection between one generation’s experience and the next. For example, girls born to Dutch women who were pregnant during a severe famine at the end of the second world war had an above-average risk of developing schizophrenia. Likewise, another study has showed that men who smoked before puberty fathered heavier sons than those who smoked after.

GenesThe team were specifically interested in one region of a gene associated with the regulation of stress hormones, which is known to be affected by trauma. “It makes sense to look at this gene,” said Yehuda. “If there’s a transmitted effect of trauma, it would be in a stress-related gene that shapes the way we cope with our environment.”

They found epigenetic tags on the very same part of this gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their offspring, the same correlation was not found in any of the control group and their children. Through further genetic analysis, the team ruled out the possibility that the epigenetic changes were a result of trauma that the children had experienced themselves.

“To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” said Yehuda, whose work was published in Biological Psychiatry.

It’s still not clear how these tags might be passed from parent to child. Genetic information in sperm and eggs is not supposed to be affected by the environment – any epigenetic tags on DNA had been thought to be wiped clean soon after fertilisation occurs.

However, research by Azim Surani at Cambridge University and colleagues, has recently shown that some epigenetic tags escape the cleaning process at fertilisation, slipping through the net. It’s not clear whether the gene changes found in the study would permanently affect the children’s health, nor do the results upend any of our theories of evolution.

Whether the gene in question is switched on or off could have a tremendous impact on how much stress hormone is made and how we cope with stress, said Yehuda. “It’s a lot to wrap our heads around. It’s certainly an opportunity to learn a lot of important things about how we adapt to our environment and how we might pass on environmental resilience.”

The impact of Holocaust survival on the next generation has been investigated for years – the challenge has been to show intergenerational effects are not just transmitted by social influences from the parents or regular genetic inheritance, said Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of paediatric genetics at University College London.

“Yehuda’s paper makes some useful progress. What we’re getting here is the very beginnings of a understanding of how one generation responds to the experiences of the previous generation. It’s fine-tuning the way your genes respond to the world.”

Can you inherit a memory of trauma?

Researchers have already shown that certain fears might be inherited through generations, at least in animals.

Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta trained male mice to fear the smell of cherry blossom by pairing the smell with a small electric shock. Eventually the mice shuddered at the smell even when it was delivered on its own.

Despite never having encountered the smell of cherry blossom, the offspring of these mice had the same fearful response to the smell – shuddering when they came in contact with it. So too did some of their own offspring.

On the other hand, offspring of mice that had been conditioned to fear another smell, or mice who’d had no such conditioning had no fear of cherry blossom.

The fearful mice produced sperm which had fewer epigenetic tags on the gene responsible for producing receptors that sense cherry blossom. The pups themselves had an increased number of cherry blossom smell receptors in their brain, although how this led to them associating the smell with fear is still a mystery.

boy-infront-of-city-e1342200914945-1024x501

The implications of this study are surely enormous. One can only imagine the impact on children of parents living in vicious war zones like Syria and Iraq. The children of parents suffering the horrors of famine in Africa. What changes are we wreaking in our gene pool from the modern day stress of living in overcrowded urban environments, especially those that are grindingly poor, such as in Mexico, Brazil, the Phillipines, India and elsewhere?

And very close to home, what are the impacts on the eventual descendants of the poor people trapped in seemingly never-ending detention in the Australian  immigration system: people who have already suffered the trauma of leaving their homes as refugees, escaping persecution.

We have often heard “the sins of the fathers are vested in the children”. Now it seems their innocent suffering may be, too.

The decision follows the Federal Court’s move to overturn approval of Indian mining giant Adani’s $16.5 billion Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland.

“This government will repeal section 487.2 of the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act which gives activists the standing to sabotage decisions,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament on Tuesday. The change was approved by federal cabinet on Monday night and went to the coalition party room on Tuesday.

Despite widespread community reaction, it is expected to be introduced to parliament this week.

It has been argued that the $20 billion investment in Carmichael could create 10,000 jobs, although estimates of jobs created in coal mines have previously been hugely over-estimated.

Summarising the Liberal-National Coalition’s position, Attorney-General George Brandis said the laws as they stood allowed “radical green activists to engage in vigilante litigation” to stop important job-creating projects.

“(It) provides a red carpet for radical activists who have a political but not a legal interest, in a development to use aggressive litigation tactics to disrupt and sabotage important projects,” he said. “The activists themselves have declared that that is their objective.”

Senator Brandis called on Labor to support the bill. In response, manager of opposition business Tony Burke urged the government to table legislation so Labor could scrutinise it. It will be interesting to watch and see if Labor just rolls over on this issue, again showing how close, in reality, the two major political parties in Australia really are.

Phil Laird from the Lock the Gate Alliance said the law change would also ensure farmers could not challenge coal mine approvals.

“The laws are there for a reason, to level the playing field between landholders and the community and the big mining companies,” he said in a statement.

Liverpool Plains farmer Andrew Pursehouse said the government had now approved three open-cut mines on some of the best food-producing land in the country. “Now they want to limit who can go to court to challenge it,” he said.

(AP and others)

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

This proposed change to the law sets an ugly precedent and tells us a lot about the mentality of the Government.

Why should environmental objections – or, indeed, any lawful legal objection to development – be limited to people in the immediate vicinity? For one thing, pollution is no respecter of artificially created legal boundaries. Water pollution can spread far from its original source, and once in the environment chemical pollutants can end up hundreds if not thousands of miles from the source. (Witness the radioactive material from Fukushima reaching the West Coast of the USA, for example.) Air pollution can spread over thousands of miles. And why would it only be the interests of those near the Great Barrier Reef, for example, if a development was proposed that threatened its existence or well-being? Or Kakadu?

More and more, the Abbott Government acts like a petulant child every time it finds itself opposed.

abbottAbbott himself – and Brandis, amongst others – adopts a discordant, hectoring tone that is superior at best and utterly dismissive of any opposition to their whims at worst.

This attitude is very unpopular with voters – rightly so – and is one of the main reasons the Government is so “on the nose”.

As it stands, it is clearly un-electable again.

That recognition is what’s feeding into renewed concerns about Abbott’s leadership, as swathes of anxious Liberal MPsDeputy opposition leader in the Senate senator George Brandis face losing their seats if opinion polls stay anything like they are now. We have always said that having been near-mortally wounded in the first challenge to his leadership it has always been a matter of time before another came along.

In our view, there is a strong argument that until “clean coal” technology actually eventuates – which it may never do – that the environmentally and socially-responsible thing for government’s worldwide to do is to slow-peddle on new coal developments. For one thing, they are likely to be only marginally profitable, hence the reluctance of many banks to get involved in financing them. This doesn’t deter coal companies from trying to establish new mines, of course. After all, they’re coal companies. It’s what they do. Turning around a company from its core purpose to do something else is so difficult that very few organisations ever even attempt it.

That doesn’t mean the rest of us need to fall into line.

Unsurprisingly, as it’s made from trees, Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. According to the United Nations Environment Program, coal emits around 1.7 times as much carbon per unit of energy when burned as does natural gas and 1.25 times as much as oil.According to the groundbreaking, peer-reviewed “Carbon Majors” study, tracing all historic greenhouse gas emissions back to specific companies and entities, the coal industries of the world own 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions from 1854-2010.

Renewable_EnergyInstead of fiddling with the law to remove legal protections put in place by their own Howard Government (how ironic) the Liberals and Nationals need to take a leadership role in moving away from coal as it’s default answer to energy, both here and overseas. As Greenpeace note: the world doesn’t need more coal, it needs an energy revolution. We have enough technically accessible renewable energy to meet current energy demands six times over. 

Our Energy [R]evolution blueprint shows how renewable energy, combined with greater energy efficiency, can cut global CO2 emissions by almost 50 percent, and deliver half the world’s energy needs by 2050.

The case against coal is very strong. This American argument lays it out in terms anyone can understand. Yes, moving away from coal requires investment, political will, bi-partisanship and imagination.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, no matter what coal industry lobbyists might say.

Warning: this article contains NSFW offensive language and an excruciating gaffe.

Friday marked 100 days until the official release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – be still our beating hearts – and the franchise managed to celebrate in the worst way possible.

The Hunger Games’s official Twitter account released a (now deleted) poster where the worst-of-all-never-let-it-be-breathed-in-public C-word was accidentally strewn right across dear old Jennifer Lawrence’s face.

Now we know JLaw’s a sport, but really. Gentlemen. NONE of you noticed before you did this?

Find art director. Fire his or her sad ass.

cunt

 

Thanks to The Independent for the spot. And most of the rest of the internet. Jennifer will be starting to wish the damn thing had never been invented.

For more F*** Ups, just put F*** Up in the search box to the top left of this page. Enjoy.

recycle poems

 

poem

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS's hands.

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS’s hands.

Why does the so-called Islamic State engage in such brutal and shocking practices as beheadings, not to say crucifixions and burning people alive?

Of course, the practice of beheading is invoked in the Koran, and certain Muslim States still use it to inflict the death penalty – most notably and regrettably the Western ally Saudi Arabia – but only the most extreme Islamic non-governmental militants carry it out in the modern day. Why?

Psychological warfare is a key part of the Islamic State’s military strategy

Even where outnumbered, as they were in Mosul in June, the IS fighters have used their reputation for terror to dissuade Iraqi forces from ever seeking battle.

Which poorly paid soldier wishes to risk decapitation, impalement, or amputation for the sake of a distant, crumbling government?

As strategists have noted from the Roman Empire onwards, fear is a uniquely effective weapon. Down through history, regimes and insurgents have all behaved in hideously violent manners to discourage their opponents from fighting effectively. This is one reason IS is so deliberately and theatrically brutal.

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. firefighters arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo Friday, November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. pesonnel arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo on November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

By no means is this limited to terrorist organisations, or Muslim extremists. The tactics of the indiscriminate use of snipers, wholesale slaughter of populations, systematic rape of the civilian population and more were all evident in the conflict in the “civilised” Balkans in the recent past, enacted by all sides.

It has been acknowledged that the initial Allied assault on Iraq’s capital was intended to create “Shock and Awe”, to the point of naming the assault precisely that, to deter the local population from supporting the regime and to encourage the largely poorly trained conscript army to lay down its weapons.

The atomic slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by America was deliberately designed to force the Japanese Government to sue for peace. It was undoubtedly a “terrorist” act – designed to sow terror – but it has been long argued that the terror was justified to shorten the war and prevent a greater loss of life. That is as may be – the argument will continue forever – but it was unquestionably the most dramatic example of psychological warfare before or since in the history of mankind

Brutality is a form of deterrence

Slicing through the neck and vertebrae of a journalist or aid worker is one thing. With horrible calculation, IS understands that Western governments are, to some extent at least, dissuaded by the prospect of a British or American soldier meeting with a similar fate. It would mean not just political embarrassment, but also an unimaginable propaganda boost for the jihadist cause. Which is why, two days before declaring their caliphate, IS threatened to attack the US if they were targeted militarily. Their rhetoric presently outstrips their capabilities, as former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove has argued, but the track record of massacre and torture gives these threats, to Western audiences, added menace. Brutality is therefore also a form of deterrence, affecting both politicians and public.

Propaganda by the deed

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby - beheaded on the streets of London - knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby – beheaded on the streets of London – knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

Terrorism is a form of propaganda by the deed. And the more chilling the deed, the more impactful the propaganda. The graphic nature of beheading, the focus on the individual, and the act of bodily desecration involved all render this far more chilling than the explosion of a bomb, even where the latter’s death toll is greater.

In the UK, the killing of Trooper Lee Rigby was uniquely horrific because of the targeted, mechanical quality of the murder.

There’s little new in this approach, particularly the massacre of captives and the method of beheading for the purposes of terrorisation. The American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan in 2002, the American businessman Nick Berg in Iraq in 2004, and several others thereafter.

Does all this actually work?

It can. But there are two ways in which a strategy of brutality can backfire, as well.

The first is that it can induce your enemies to fight even harder, because surrendering is such an awful option. One academic study showed that the Wehrmacht’s policy of treating Soviet POWs brutally undercut German military effectiveness on the Eastern front. Moreover, the Soviets’ own relative brutality to Germans meant that German soldiers fought harder in Russia than in Normandy. The lesson? IS can make its enemies flee, but it would be a foolish Iraqi unit that surrendered – and the net effect is that the “Islamic State” has to fight all the harder.

The second problem is that IS says it is in the state-building game: creating “the caliphate”. It is out to conquer, not merely to annihilate. But it was precisely such excessive and indiscriminate violence that proved the downfall of IS’s precursor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni groups, armed and protected by a surge of US forces, turned on the group in the so-called Awakening, expelling it from the same Sunni-majority areas in which it’s now encamped. Although IS initially sought to restrain itself in the places it seized over the first half of this year, its record has been patchy, to put it mildly. Iraqis may be accustomed to being ruled by terror, but it doesn’t mean they like it. The conjoining of local Sunni militia (some of which have previously been in conflict with the USA) to fight IS is happening again now. The West’s attitude – especially given the extremely variable quality of the Iraqi army in contesting ground with IS – is obviously “better the Devil you know”, or, if you like, “the lesser of two evils”.

This is one of the reasons – in addition to the Islamic State’s megalomania – that the group was expelled from al-Qaeda earlier this year. As Osama bin Laden wrote in a letter, pursuing jihad “without exercising caution … would lead us to winning several battles while losing the war”. Thus the modern jihadist’s dilemma: when does a strategy of calibrated terror turn into a self-defeating orgy of violence?

One more factor, however, is especially chilling. It is that IS doesn’t really care if it wins or not, and might even be doing all it can to “lose”. It has been argued that the eschatological “end times” cult actually believes it will be defeated by a coalition of opponents on the fields of Iraq – reduced to 5,000 fighters – but in that moment Jesus Christ will return and defeat the invaders, ushering in the end of the world. Read more in this brilliantly researched article in the Atlantic at What does IS really want?

For the end times to happen, IS needs to suck in as many foreign opponents as possible, by becoming increasingly violent and threatening. But as The Atlantic article says:

… the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

Acknowledgement: Partly taken from an article by Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a PhD Candidate at Harvard University in the Telegraph newspaper.

We told you we’re obsessed. And now, thank goodness, we have remembered this. And found it. Productive afternoon.

How jolly, jolly good Python were at their peak. They manage to skewer medical pomposity and the incompetence of most health systems in one wince-inducing spot. Enjoy!

What’s your favourite Python sketch and why?

Welcome to Hell.

Welcome to Hell.

Beware a man seeking some peace and time to think.

We have recently completed some renovations at home, Dear Reader, and we now have yet more electrical devices that helpfully go Ding when they want to let us know they’ve done their bit, don’t know how to do their bit, or maybe they’re just feeling lonely because we haven’t sworn at them recently.

We have a toaster. It goes ding. Because two pieces of toast soaring into the air and landing in the dog’s bowl isn’t enough of a clue that it’s done its job successfully.

We have a cooktop. Electric. Swanky looking. It goes peep whenever you press a button. Take a ring all the way up from one to nine and that’s nine peeps. Leave a tea towel within a hundred yards of it’s blinking red diode controls and it peeps. It probably peeps on the hour just to share the existential horror of its owners at the passing of the day, but we haven’t caught it doing that yet.

We have a new oven. It peeps when it gets cold. It peeps when it gets hot. It peeps all the bloody time. It probably peeps hello as you come through the front door. It also has a bell as well as a peep, for when one has inadvertently turned a timer on because one cannot master the buttons. Given time, we will write a multi-instrument symphony for the oven alone.

We have a dishwasher. Leave the door open. Peep. Finish a wash cycle. Peep peep. A celebratory extra peep for shiny, dry dishes.

fridge_angryIt lives in the kitchen with the fridge. That doesn’t peep, beep or ding. It bongs. When left open. Weird noise. Booo-ONG. Still, it’s Korean.

It has a little door on the front of it to let you get to the milk faster because it’s just too damn exhausting and time consuming to open, like, the whole fridge door. The little door has to be closed with the precision used to manufacture nuclear centrifuges because leave that open and a sepulchral bong sounds not once, but twice.

If you forget to switch your immaculate new iPhone to airplane mode on retiring you can pretty much guarantee that’s the night, as you lie there desperate for sleep, collapsed with sheer exhaustion, that you are awoken by a new Facebook friend you haven’t spoken to in real life in thirty years messaging you to tell you that he’s getting divorced over that little dalliance with a waitress and could he come stay for a bit. PING!

Do you think he’s ruined his life or is it a fresh start? PING!

Will the kids get over it? PING!

Should he be worried that he’s on his fourth scotch for the night? PING, PING, PING!

Ping-is-an-app-that-keeps-you-notified-about-the-things-youre-interested-in.(Frighteningly, there’s even a popular iPhone app called, appropriately, Ping!, to send you random “humorous” or “useful” messages during the day. You’d have to really be Johnny No Friends to want that. Sad but true.)

A text message comes in. Buzz, Ding! (Yes, both.) Don’t forget the breakfast meeting at 6.30 am with the client. Except it’s now 4.30 am and you’ve been awake all night after being woken up by the suicidal Facebook friend.

We have a habit of getting in the car and starting the engine and then putting the seatbelt on. This upsets the car, which sings out a warning signal of not one, not two, but FIVE beeps.

Any messages the engine wants to send us – Windscreen washer bottle is empty – really? – we wouldn’t have noticed when we pressed the windscreen washer button and no water came out? – are accompanied by a beep.

As the sensors in the engine are so precise that they measure the coolant fluid dropping by as much as one one thousandth of a millimetre from full-to-overflowing – the only state it will accept for all oils and fluids – there are at least three beeps every time we start the engine, to go with the five reminding us to put our belt on.

While driving, the engine will sometimes send other messages – BEEP! – so randomly as to nearly cause us to drive off the road in shock, Mozart’s Requiem rudely interrupted to let us know that the boot isn’t so much open as just bored.

They’re building a home behind us. They start on site at 7am. The man on the little digger machine thingy who is digging drainage ditches has a device that makes his thing go beep beep beep (at a horribly screechy, high pitch designed to terrify dogs and cause them pain) when he’s reversing. Which we can just about see the common sense of, except he’s on the site on his own. So the only people he’s warning of his sudden backwards lurch are hundreds of yards away.

And they’re trying to get a lie in, after cancelling the breakfast meeting.

You know what cracks us up? The things that go ping in hospitals, on big imposing pingy machines next to very sick people. Ping, every time your heart beats. Ping if your blood pressure goes up. Or down. Or you wink, or move. You know how they reckon people in comas can hear you talking to them? Can you imagine days, weeks, months or worse lying immobile next to a machine that goes ping? Oh, the humanity of it.

Ding, beep, ping, pong, dong, bongy devices: you’re right. That is a shotgun in our backpack.

We are not even pretending to be rational. You have been warned.

11828800_10153104817654227_401710176245645621_n

Fresh back from chucking umpteen bazillion dollars at Adelaide in a desperate attempt to shore up Coalition support in South Australia, where about four Coalition seats look very vulnerable to voter anger over the decline of the ship-building industry – Hey! Remember “We’ll build 12 subs in Adelaide” before the last election”? Guess that was a “non core promise. Also called “bullshit” – Tony Abbot was today in Geelong assertively announcing “Everything we do is focused on jobs and growth.”

“Everything we do”? A cheery message to a regional city that has seen it’s car manufacturing industry decimated and it’s ship-building in decline.

Sadly, this was also the day that saw the jobless rate “jump” – the ABC’s word, not mine – from 6% to 6.3%. Against expectations. And a major news item, unsurprisingly.

Could Abbott have chosen his chest-beating words more carefully? Assuredly.

Does he ever come into contact with the real world outside the Canberra bubble?

We wonder, frankly.

We’re with the kid at the front.

‘Heat dome’ covers the Middle East to bring temperatures up to bring ‘feels like’ temperatures up to 74 degrees.

An “heat dome” has fallen on the Middle East to create “feels-like” temperatures as high as 74 degrees. The people of Iraq were given a four-day holiday last week after the government declared soaring temperatures too much to deal with. Authorities in the Middle East cautioned residents to drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun.

earth on fire
The Iranian port city of Bandar-e Mahshahr recorded an extreme feels-like temperature of 74 degrees on Friday based on a calculated heat index. The formula combined the actual air temperature that peaked at 46 degrees with the highest humidity – or dew point – temperature reading that topped 32 degrees. A dew point exceeding 26 degrees is said to be oppressive on the human body as it struggles to deal with the heat through perspiration.

“That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani in a statement. Sagaliani pointed to a high-pressure system that has cloaked the region since July for the heat surge, making one of the world’s hottest places even hotter.

The heat dome is a high pressure ridge over the region which makes normal hot temperatures seem even hotter.

The UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported that the “heat index” – a measurement of what weather feels like – is the highest ever recorded. The scientists monitoring the heat index say Iran are probably enduring among the hottest temperatures ever experienced by humans.

Meanwhile it has been warm across the globe with the north-west US and eastern Pacific starting to feel the effects of El Nino in recent weeks following the deaths of hundreds in May’s heat wave across South Asia.

climate-change-denial-350x242And Australia has since an unusually early start to bushfire season with one blaze in the Blue Mountains being fought into its forth day only two weeks after the mountains were blanketed in snow. Northern Australia also had record-breaking July with Gympie noting its hottest July day since records began in 1908 with the temperature reaching 29.4 degrees, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

It’s happening.

And it may already be too late to prevent the low end of temperature rise predictions, let alone the high end. Tell someone.

Fast.

Illustration: Mick Connolly

Illustration: Mick Connolly

 

It may be that Adam Goodes (and anyone of a bunch of other players) receive boos for their style of play.

It is also entirely obvious – Blind Freddie can see it from the coverage of the original game against Carlton – that the initial outbreak of booing was over his celebrating his celebration of his aboriginal heritage, and that has continued as the sheeple now duly join in, game after game.

Why? Goodes’s real error is being an uppity black who doesn’t know his place. That’s why the 30 or so other black players in the AFL don’t receive the same treatment.

As the West Australian asked, “Why, in the round of footy created to celebrate Aboriginal players and their contribution to making the game great, is it so offensive when one of the best Indigenous players of all time celebrates a goal with a war dance?

Why is his celebration analysed through the prism of white versus black Australia?

Why can’t he just be allowed to celebrate in his way during a round of footy set up for exactly that reason?

Why is his way of celebrating and gesturing towards the crowd who boo him any different than a white soccer player running over to the opposition crowd after scoring a goal and putting his hands up to his ears as if to say, what have you got to say now?

It happens all the time.

It’s called passion, defiance – and, yes, provocation. It’s sport, for heavens sake.”

We should note that Adam Goodes explained it like this:

“Yeah, it wasn’t something that was premeditated.

“Lewis Jetta and myself had a chat on Thursday that we wanted to represent on Friday night and we wanted to do a dance and it was a shame that Lewis couldn’t get on the board because he had something special planned as well.

“So it was all about representing our people and our passion and dance is a big way we do that. There wasn’t nothing untoward to the Carlton supporters, it was actually something for them to stand up and go “yep, cool, we see you, we acknowledge you, bring it on.” My team mates loved it. The Carlton players loved it. It’s not something that people should be getting their backs up against the wall about.

Is this the lesson we want to teach our children that when we don’t understand something we get angry and we put our back up against the wall – [and say] ‘oh that’s offensive’? No,  if it’s something we don’t understand, let’s have a conversation understand – What was Goodsey doing? He spoke about it after the game. ‘Oh, ok, it was from the Indigenous Allstars, it’s something he learnt from these under 16 kids’. I just think of those kids watching last night and they saw that, how proud they would be.”

goodes2Quite. Let us also remember, as the boos echo around the stadia, that on January 26 last year, the Sydney Swans champion was named Australian of the Year for his contribution to sport and indigenous youth, including supporting Aboriginal kids in detention centres and promoting education and healthy lifestyles as co-founder of the Go Foundation.

His citation read: “Adam is a great role model and advocate for the fight against racism both on and off the field and is admired by a great many people around the nation.”

You know what would impress me in this sad situation?

A bunch of white players doing an aboriginal war dance this weekend when they score. Not because they are celebrating Goodes’s heritage, that his to celebrate, but to 

That’s the most effective thing the whole football community could do to stop this thing stone dead, and it would be a very Australian response, too.

Bodycam shows chilling moments before deadly traffic stop

Newly released bodycam video reveals the moment a murder-accused police officer pulled a man over for a routine traffic stop before ‘purposefully killing him’.

The officer has been charged with murder, with a prosecutor saying the officer “purposely killed him” and “should never have been a police officer.”

University of Cincinnati campus police officer Ray Tensing initially told investigators that he shot Sam DuBose in the head after DuBose tried to drive away and dragged the officer along with him. But a review of the officer’s body camera footage showed Tensing was never in danger during the July 19 incident. Tensing, 25, had been a police officer for four years, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

“You will not believe how quickly he pulls his gun and shoots him in the head. It’s maybe a second. It’s incredible. And so senseless,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said as he prepared to release the video. “I think he lost his temper because Mr DuBose wouldn’t get out of his vehicle.”

Newly released bodycam video reveals the moment a murder-accused police officer pulled a man over for a routine traffic stop before ‘purposefully killing him’. Photo: LiveLeak

The video shows Tensing approach the black car and ask DuBose for his license and registration.

DuBose calmly asks why he was pulled over and eventually tells Tensing that he left his license at home.

Then – less than two minutes into the exchange – DuBose reaches for the keys and Tensing can be heard shouting “STOP! STOP!”

In the blink of an eye, a gun pops into view and DuBose slumps over in his seat. The video bounces as Tensing chases after the car as it rolls down the street. DuBose died instantly, Deters said.

“He wasn’t dealing with someone who was wanted for murder – he was dealing with someone with a missing license plate,” he told reporters.

“This is in the vernacular a pretty chicken crap stop.”

The video shows Tensing approach the black car and ask DuBose for his license and registration. DuBose calmly asks why he was pulled over and eventually tells Tensing that he left his license at home. Photo: LiveLeak

Deters continued: “If he started rolling away, seriously, let him go. You don’t have to shoot him in the head.”

The case comes as the United States grapples with heightened racial tensions in the wake of a series of high-profile incidents of African Americans being killed by police in disputed circumstances.

Deters said he hopes the swift action by his office will show that justice is being done in this case.

“I feel so sorry for his family and I feel sorry for the community,” Deters said.

Tensing should never have been allowed to carry a badge and gun, Deters said, adding that the University of Cincinnati should hand policing duties over to the city’s force.

A prosecutor said University of Cincinnati campus police officer Ray Tensing “should never have been a police officer”. Photo: AFP

“This is the most asinine act I have ever seen a police officer make,” he said.

“It was totally unwarranted and it’s an absolute tragedy that in 2015 anyone would behave in this manner.”

The university shut down its campus and placed barricades at entrances out of concern that the news could lead to protest or even violence.

City officials pressed for peace and said they were prepared “for any scenarios that present themselves.”

A series of sometimes violent protests have broken out across the United States in response to other high-profile police shootings over the past year.

Cincinnati was struck by days of violent unrest following the police shooting of an unarmed black man in 2001.

 

University of Cincinnati campus police officer Ray Tensing initially told investigators that he shot Sam DuBose in the head after DuBose tried to drive away and dragged the officer along with him. Photo: LiveLeak

 

“There is obviously reason for people to be angry,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley

“Everyone has the right to peacefully protest, but we will not tolerate lawlessness.”

With great dignity, DuBose’s family asked people to respect his memory by responding peacefully as they vowed to continue to fight for justice in policing.

“My brother was about to be just one other stereotype and now that’s not going to happen,” Terina Allen, DuBose’s sister, told reporters.

“I’m as pleased as I can be that we’re actually getting some kind of justice for Sam.”

One can only wonder at such restraint.

#blacklivesmatter

Koreans seem quite calm despite living in a state of perpetual tension on the Korean peninsula. Maybe their huge consumption of Kimchi has something to do with it.

Koreans seem quite calm despite living in a state of perpetual tension on the Korean peninsula. Maybe their huge consumption of Kimchi has something to do with it.

Anxious about that big date, crucial meeting or family gathering?

You may want to prep with a cup of yogurt: a promising new study in Psychiatry Research has found that people who eat more fermented foods, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, and kimchi, have fewer social anxiety symptoms. But note, some of these foods, such as kombucha – a fermented tea popular in the Far East and Russia – have had adverse health reactions in some people.

Researchers surveyed more than 700 people and found that the more fermented foods participants ate the less likely they were to experience social anxiety – anxious feelings of distress that interfere with daily social interactions. Even wilder is that this benefit was greatest among people who had the highest rates of neuroticism, a personality trait characterised by anxiety, fear, moodiness, worry, envy, frustration, jealousy, and loneliness.

What makes those foods so powerfully calming? Based on this study alone, the authors can’t say for sure, but previous research points the finger at probiotics, the good-for-you bacteria found in fermented foods. “Social anxiety has gastrointestinal symptoms,” says lead author Matthew Hilimire, assistant professor of psychology at the College of William & Mary, “and probiotics have been shown to reduce gut inflammation. So as the gut becomes less inflamed, some of those anxiety-related symptoms are reduced.”

Eating probiotics has also been shown to affect brain chemistry in a major way, triggering a neurotransmitter called GABA that calms the nervous system – the exact same neurotransmitter targeted by anti-anxiety drugs like Valium, Hilimire explains. The researchers hope that fermented foods could someday be a low-risk treatment for anxiety.

If you don’t want to live on yoghurt or plough through masses of sauerkraut (which wouldn’t be a problem for Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink, but Lord above it’s a problem for anyone sleeping in the same bedroom) the simplest solution might be to trial some of the many probiotics supplements now freely available.

We have long suspected that reducing “inflammation” in the system is a key way to not only improve mood but also defer illnesses like cancer. As in all things, a balanced diet seems the most sensible approach. The ancient Chinese concept of the body becoming “over heated” through the consumption of certain foods may end up being shown to be worthwhile.

chinese pharmacistChinese medicine is, indeed, interesting. On a business trip there many moons ago we were struck down with the most miserable dose of a cold or flu which then settled on our chest, and we ended up feeling very sick indeed.

Travelling alone we really didn’t have the faintest idea what to do, so wandered into a traditional Chinese chemist, full of herbs and potions and things that didn’t really bear too close an examination. The man in the white coat took one look at the hacking, sputum-fountain of a guailo in front of him and sold us a bottle of obscure liquid which as soon as we started quaffing it back at the hotel made us feel remarkably better.

So much better, in fact, that instead of discarding it when we recovered, we took it home and showed it to our GP, telling him how wonderful Chinese medicine is, and we should eat the stuff in Australia.

He asked his Chinese-speaking assistant to decipher the label, then turned back and smiled drily. He said it was hardly surprising that we felt on top of the world when quaffed it, as he strongly suspected the stuff was about 80% morphine. He quietly disposed of it in his office bin.

noose

In yet another brutal so-called “honour killing” in Pakistan, a young woman was hanged to death by her two brothers for marrying the man of her choice in Punjab province.

Aslam and Waqas kidnapped their sister Ayla last week from her home at Bhowana in Chiniot district, 250 kilometres from Lahore, and hanged her to death at a deserted place before dumping the body in a canal, according to a statement filed by Ayla’s husband Ejaz Ahmad.

How many more times?

How many more times?

The body of the woman was found in a canal nearChak-144-JB. Ayla wanted to marry Ejaz but the family was against her choice. However, she had contracted court marriage after eloping with him some time ago, said Investigation Officer Faisal Majid.

“Her family then swore to kill her for preserving its honour,” Majid said, adding that the couple had left their locality after marriage and remained in hiding. Last week Ayla’s family got information of her whereabouts and her brothers kidnapped her. They also wanted to kill Ejaz but he was not present in the house when they arrived there, he said.

The women of the world need us all - and perhaps especially men - to stand up for them. When will the Government of Pakistan act to stamp out this scourge?

The women of the world need us all – and perhaps especially men – to stand up for them.

Police have arrested both the brothers and registered a murder case against them.

The accused told the police that they had taken their sister to a deserted place and hanged her from a tree until she died, before dumping the body in the canal.They said they had no regret for killing their sister as she ‘dishonoured’ her family.

Some 760 women were killed in Pakistan last year in so-called honour killings – the most dishonourable murders imaginable.

We cannot imagine the courage of Ayla and Ejaz. We cannot but wonder at the utter despair Ejaz must feel now. And we cannot fathom the depth of depravity of Ayla’s family.

You may care to urge the Government of Pakistan to act more decisively in these matters to protect the women of that country. If so, please address a courteous email to the Legal advisor to the President, Mamnoon Hussain. His name is Mr Muhammed Faisal Kamal Alam, Consultant (Legal Affairs) to his Excellency the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and his email address is  consultant_law@president.gov.pk.

As we said, seemingly alone amongst politics-watchers, the storm in a teacup – albeit a very big, expensive teacup – is duly passing.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras votes during a session at the Greek parliament in Athens early 23 July 2015

The Greek prime minister secured the votes after a debate into the small hours

Greece has taken a crucial step towards a bailout after its parliament passed a crucial second set of reforms.

The passage of the measures means that negotiations on an €86bn European Union bailout can begin.

The reforms include changes to Greek banking and an overhaul of the judiciary system.

Thousands demonstrated outside of parliament as the bill was debated, with protests briefly turning violent as petrol bombs were thrown at police by a few anarchists.

There had been fears of a rebellion by MPs but Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was easily able to must the support required. In total, the measures received 230 votes in favour and 63 against with five abstentions. Among those who voted against were 31 members of his own Syriza party. However, this represents a smaller rebellion than in last week’s initial vote. Demonstrating the breadth of understanding that the reform package had to pass,former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was one of those rebels in the first vote who returned to vote with the government this time.

Speaking before the vote, Mr Tsipras stressed that he was not happy with the measures that creditors had imposed. Well, he could hardly have appeared chirpy, could he? That would have been political suicide.

“We chose a difficult compromise to avert the most extreme plans by the most extreme circles in Europe,” he told MPs.

Representatives of the European institutions that would provide the bailout funds will begin negotiations in Athens on Friday.

Last week, Greece passed an initial set of austerity measures imposed by its creditors. These were a mix of economic reforms and budget cuts demanded by the eurozone countries and institutions before bailout talks could continue.

This second set of measures passed early on Thursday morning were of a more structural nature, including:

  • a code of civil protection aimed at speeding up court cases
  • the adoption of an EU directive to bolster banks and protect savers’ deposits of less than €100,000
  • the introduction of rules that would see bank shareholders and creditors – not taxpayers – cover costs of a failed bank

More contentious measures – phasing out early retirement and tax rises for farmers – have been pushed back to August. As we said, these issues were always going to be the can that got kicked along the road. The political fallout will need to be managed by the Greek Government and that cannot occur in a few days.

Negotiations will now begin on approving the terms of a third bailout, with the aim of completing a deal by the middle of next month. It’s a tight timetable but doable. What is not clear is that Mr Tsipras still has to decide whether a successful conclusion of negotiations should be followed by early elections. Our bet is not.

The deal explained

On Wednesday, the European Central Bank (ECB) increased its cash lifeline to Greek banks.

The emergency injection of an extra €900m (£630m), the ECB’s second in a week, came just hours before the vote.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirmed on Monday that Greece had cleared its overdue debt repayments of €2.05bn and was no longer in arrears. The repayments, which included €4.2bn to the ECB, were made possible by a short-term EU loan of €7.16bn.

Greece’s next major deadline is 20 August, when it must pay €3.2bn owed to the ECB, followed by a payment of €1.5bn to the IMF in September.

Essentially, the deal is akin to a Bank lending money to a drunken defaulting home owner to repay the mortgage they unwisely lent them in the first place. There is a lot of talk about how irresponsible the handling of the Greek economy has been by successive Greek Governments – not to mention that tax avoidance is something of a national sport – and that is all true.work greeks

What has been especially annoying in much recent commentary has been the characterisation of the Greek people themselves as lazy. In fact, the opposite is true. They put in some of the longest hours of any workforce in the EU. Needless to say, the Greek people know this, and their anger at having to carry the burden of the stupidities of generations of those that rule them is justified. That they could be working more productively is hardly the point. At some stage, the role of both private management, union leadership and political governance needs to be taken into account. It’s not all the fault of the “bleedin’ workers”.

What also needs to be factored in is that for decades now Europe has been lending Greece money for Greece to spend on vanity infrastructure projects supplied to them by Europe – arms is a classic example, manufactured mainly in Germany – Greece has a ridiculously large navy, for example – so the EU is at the very least as culpable in helping the Greeks to get into this mess in the first place.

Historically, Obama’s intervention to urge the Europeans to settle with Greece will be seen, for those attuned to geo-political balances – as the tipping point. What is encouraging is that some of the other economic basket cases in Europe have not instantly put their hands up for extra funds. It appears that brisk diplomacy – along the lines of “Shut up, guys, we need to sort this out, we’ll look at your situation down the track” – has worked in a timely fashion. But the Eurozone is not out of the woods yet.

One good start for Europe would be to substantially reduce the overhead structure of running the EU itself. The peoples of the constituent countries might be more amenable to pulling their heads in if they see the bloated and out of control Euro bureaucracy being made to do the same. No matter how pro-EU anyone is – and we are pro-EU, for political reasons more than economic ones – the Eurocrats need a serious haircut, and fast.

Graphic: BBC

Graphic: BBC

 

(BBC and other sources)

The excellent article below – from the NY correspondent of the BBC – discusses the fascinating phenomenon that is Donald Trump, politician, businessman, and possessor of the most bizarre and oft-photographed hairpiece of all time.

For those of us wondering how this buffoon can suddenly look like the most popular candidate to lead the GOP into the next presidential election, it is chock full of good reportage and explanation.

We do not believe for a moment that donald-trump-bad-hairTrump will survive increasing scrutiny as the race progresses. We are still in the “silly season”. But he may, as this article points out, achieve something more lasting – the trashing of the Republican brand before the general election has even started. Because achieving knee-jerk popularity with the more fervent of the GOP’s right wing is not the task at hand. The GOP needs a candidate that can build a winning coalition in the whole country, and in America today, that means with the Hispanic vote. Calling Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists” seems an odd way to do that.

Interestingly, the British Labour Party is currently mesmerised by a similar character on the other side of the political spectrum, the dyed-in-the-wool left-winger Jeremy Corbyn – a late entrant into their Leadership campaign – who unlike Trump increasingly looks as if he can win it. The right in the UK can hardly believe their luck – Labour would look marginalised and irrelevant to the mass of Britons in no time flat.

For the same reason, Democrats in America are hugging themselves with glee at Trump’s performance. He doesn’t have to win the nomination to deliver the White House to them on a plate for the third election running, he just has to make the Republican Party look un-electably bizarre. And unlike the UK, where any “Corbyn effect” could be dissipated by 2020 (especially if he didn’t survive all five years as leader) Trump has the money and the bull-headishness to keep campaigning till well into the Northern hemisphere autumn and beyond. The damage he does will still be causing the Republican brand to reek a year later.

No wonder party managers in democracies wince when someone suggests the membership should select their leader, and increasingly common phenomenon.

Those who are motivated enough to join a political party or register as a supporter are often the very worst people to judge who has both the gravitas and the broad credentials to win a general election.

Donald Trump: Master of the demolition derby

Donald Trump

And lately it has come to resemble a gruesome episode of Big Brother, where it becomes near impossible to evict a boorish and abusive housemate because of his popularity with viewers.

Trump, evidently, is more than a guilty pleasure, the political equivalent of a late-night fix of tabloid TV for those returning, drunkenly, from a long night in the pub or bar. Judging by his poll numbers, a significant proportion of sober-minded voters who will next year select the Republican nominee like both him and his take-no-prisoners message, even though to many it sounds deranged and racist.

The latest poll, conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post, shows him with a commanding lead: 24% of registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, compared with 13% for the Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and 12% for the former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush. Labelling Mexican immigrants criminals and “rapists”, as Trump did in June when he announced his bid for the presidency, sounded like the demagogic rant of a fringe extremist.

To question the military record of Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war tortured so brutally that he is unable still to raise his arms above his shoulders, would ordinarily have been suicidal. But Trump is operating under rules of his own making that are perfectly suited to the voracious metabolism of the modern media, and the hyperventilated style of modern campaigning. The more outrageous his remarks, the more coverage and social media comment he generates. And the more coverage he receives, the better his polling numbers seemingly become (though most of the polling in the latest survey was conducted before the McCain controversy). Increasingly, notoriety equals popularity amongst a large cohort of Republican voters.

 

Senator John McCain

Trump questioned Senator McCain’s war record

 

This was an equation that the Texas Senator Ted Cruz hoped to turn to his advantage, until he was trumped by Trump. Though easy to lampoon as cartoonish and crazed, the billionaire tycoon has come to personify the dilemma faced by the modern-day GOP. From the late-1960s to the late-1980s, when it won five out of six elections, the party dominated presidential politics largely by appealing to disgruntled whites unsettled by the pace of racial and social change – a constituency that includes many who agree with Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration. Nowadays, however, party leaders recognise that, after losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential contests, the GOP needs to broaden its demographic appeal. It cannot rely on what was known as “the southern strategy”.

 

Jeb Bush and Scott Walker

Jeb Bush and Scott Walker are currently trailing Trump in the polls

 

Reaching out to Latino voters, who Ronald Reagan once memorably described as Republicans who didn’t yet realise it, has become an urgent priority. After all, in 2012 Mitt Romney secured just 27% of the Latino vote, proof of what Senator Lindsey Graham has called the party’s “demographic death spiral”. The GOP’s electoral conundrum has been finding ways of courting new voters without alienating longstanding supporters. Trump, who obviously runs the risk of erecting a wall between the GOP and Hispanic voters akin to the impregnable barrier that he wants to construct along the Mexican border, is single-handedly demolishing that strategy. Not only that. His early success suggests that the broad church strategy might be politically unfeasible.

Messenger or message?

If a quarter of Republican voters truly are embracing Trump – many presumably because of his nativistic rants rather than in spite of them – the outreach programme is in serious trouble. The party’s establishment will hope that voters are warming to the messenger rather than the message, but the two are increasingly entwined. Moreover, voters devouring the red meat being thrown them on a daily basis by Trump will surely look upon inclusive Republicans like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as kale-eating vegans. Now a major problem, a month ago Trump presented an opportunity writ large in the kind of large gold letters affixed to his hotels and office buildings.

 

Mitt Romney waits to address a campaign rally at Pinkerton Academy in Derry in January 2012

Mitt Romney notably failed to secure the Latino vote

 

Had the other candidates taken him down immediately after his “rapist” comments, they could have helped transform the Republican brand. Instead, figures like Jeb Bush hesitated. It took the former Florida governor, who is married to a Mexican, two weeks to come up with a strong rebuttal, calling Trump’s remarks “extraordinarily ugly”. Corporate America reacted more swiftly, with companies like NBC Universal quickly severing their ties with Trump, even though they know he is a ratings winner. There is an argument to be made that Trump helps the candidacies of Bush and Walker, the other front-runners, if only because he is eclipsing rivals, like Rubio, who pose a more realistic threat. But that line of reasoning surely underestimates the damage that he is doing, long-term, to the Republican brand. Here, the hope will be that Trump is seen as such an outlier, and such an outsider, that he does more damage to his personal standing than the party’s reputation.

Early impressions key

But early impressions are hard to shake, as Mitt Romney discovered in 2012 when the Democrats successfully cast him as an economic elitist long before he could define himself. Latino voters will surely remember the party’s rather feeble response to Trump after the media caravan has moved on. In the Twitter age, media cycles are so momentary that Trump could well turn out to be summer silly season special, much like Michele Bachman who unexpectedly won the Iowa straw poll in the summer of 2011. Certainly, party leaders will be hoping he follows the boom/bust cycle that was the hallmark of the 2012 race. Remember the Herman Cain surge or the Gingrich spike? But Trump is a seasoned pro, with more staying power and more money. His business empire has been built on his extraordinary gift for self-publicity – he is a human headline – and an ability to make improbable comebacks.

 

Nelson Rockefeller

Richard Nixon struck a deal with Nelson Rockefeller to secure liberal Republican support

 

Back in 1960, when Vice President Richard Nixon sought to tie up the Republican nomination, he ended up making a pact with the then New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, to secure the support of liberal Republicans. Because the two men met in Rockefeller’s luxury Manhattan apartment, it was dubbed the Treaty of Fifth Avenue. Arguably, the Republican Party needs a new Treaty of Fifth Avenue, the home of the famed Trump Tower, this time aimed at disembowelling “The Donald.”

Next month, he looks certain to appear on stage in the first televised debate of the campaign, qualifying as one of the ten most popular candidates.

That, surely, will be car crash television, and Trump has already proved himself the master of the demolition derby.

The statistics speak volumes about Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's management of the debating chamber, with 319 Labour MPs ejected under her rule, compared to only five Coalition MPs  as at  24.3.15. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The statistics speak volumes about Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s management of the debating chamber, with 319 Labour MPs ejected under her rule, compared to only five Coalition MPs as at 24.3.15. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In many people’s opinion (just check social media) Bronwyn Bishop – long-standing Liberal MP and culture warrior – is one of the most partisan Speakers in recent Australian history. As this article shows, she seems much harder on the ALP than she is on her Liberal and National colleagues.

Now Labor frontbencher Tony Burke says Bronwyn Bishop will have to resign as Speaker if it is shown she signed documentation claiming $5,000 helicopter charter to attend a Liberal Party function as “official business”.

Bishop will be either extremely determined or very lucky to survive the rapidly escalating attack from Labor, who will go for the jugular with undisguised glee. They never could stand her, and even less so nowadays after their experience of her as Speaker.

The leader of opposition business, Tony Burke, called for the release of original documentation surrounding the taxpayer-funded travel and said there was “absolutely no way” Bishop could remain in the role if that were the case.

Bishop faced mounting political pressure this week about her use of entitlements, which included an expense of $5,227.27 for chartered flights from Melbourne to Geelong and back on 5 November 2014.

The Speaker announced on Thursday she would repay the charter flight money even though she maintained her belief that the travel “was conducted within the rules”.

 

Tony Abbott at the wedding of Sophie and Gregory Mirabella, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Wangaratta in 2006, alongside Bronwyn Bishop and another wedding guest. Photo: Rebecca Hallas

Tony Abbott at the wedding of Sophie and Gregory Mirabella, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Wangaratta in 2006, alongside Bronwyn Bishop and another wedding guest. Photo: Rebecca Hallas

 

Bishop must also pay a penalty of $1,307, because new rules implemented after a series of parliamentary expenses kerfuffles in 2013 affecting a number of senior figures including Tony Abbott (see here if you’ve forgotten) require politicians to repay an additional 25% of any adjustment to travel claims.

Labor continues to pursue the issue, pointing to a standard government form for charter certification for parliament’s presiding officers that says “office holders may use charter transport (including aircraft, helicopters and other vehicles) for their personal transport in connection with their office holder duties”.

According to that form, the office holder must certify that “knowingly giving false or misleading information is a serious offence under the Criminal Code Act 1995” and that they “travelled on the charter and it was provided for official purposes”.

Burke said on Friday that Bishop should release the document that she had signed. The contents of the form would determine whether Labor would demand her resignation from the key role of presiding over the lower house of parliament, he said.

“The normal form would say this was official business and would also say that there are serious criminal penalties if this is put in error,” Burke told Channel Seven’s Sunrise program.

“Now, if she signs it off in the normal form and it is, you know, a Liberal party fundraiser that she’s gone to, then that’s the end of the matter, she can’t stay as Speaker, absolutely no way.

“People make honest mistakes and we all know people can make honest mistakes but you don’t accidentally get on to a helicopter and turn up at a Liberal party fundraiser, so we need to find out and the government needs to release this document for us to work out exactly what it is that Bronwyn Bishop has claimed she has done.”

News outlets are seeking comment from Bishop’s office about which form she signed, whether she will release it, and how the event in Geelong was consistent with her office-holder duties.

The Speaker denied wrongdoing when she announced the plan to repay the funds on Thursday afternoon. “Whilst my understanding is that this travel was conducted within the rules, to avoid any doubt I will reimburse the costs,” she said in a brief statement.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, had earlier demanded intervention from the prime minister, Tony Abbott, saying the case showed that Bishop “thinks she is so important that she can’t even be bothered getting a car between Melbourne and Geelong, a one-hour car trip”.

The treasurer, Joe Hockey, added to the pressure by agreeing with a radio interviewer that the helicopter trip did not pass “the sniff test”. “Look, instinctively it doesn’t,” Hockey told 2UE. The treasurer responded to repeated questions about the Speaker’s expenses by calling on Bishop to explain matters.

Unsurprisingly, after the repayment announcement, senior ministers sought to move on from the matter.

The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said she would not pass judgment because she did not know the context or the circumstances in which the trip was undertaken. “But what I do know is that she has decided to repay the amount, including a penalty, so I think that should be the end of the matter,” the minister told ABC’s 7.30 program.

The leader of the house, Christopher Pyne, said the Speaker was “doing a superb job” and had his full support.

But the Government may find the matter is not swept away quite so easily.

For one thing, the case has eerie echoes of the problems in which former Speaker Peter Slipper found himself up to his neck, which resulted in on-going attacks from the Liberals and Nationals on his position.

On 8 January 2013 the Federal Police summonsed Slipper alleging three offences against Section 135.1(5)/ Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) in relation to allegations concerning the use of Cabcharge vouchers. Slipper was due to answer these allegations in the ACT Magistrates Court on 15 February 2013. According to documents released by the court, Slipper was alleged to have used Cabcharge to pay for hire cars to visit a number of wineries in the Canberra region in January, April and June 2010.

On 28 July 2014, Slipper was found guilty of dishonestly using taxpayer funds to visit Canberra wineries for his own enjoyment. On 24 September 2014, he was sentenced to 300 hours community service and ordered to reimburse taxpayers for the $954 total that was spent on the trips. Slipper appealed the sentence, and the case was heard in December 2014. Justice John Burns reserved his decision until 26 February 2015, when he ruled the appeal be upheld and the conviction and sentence be set aside.

Bishop may consider herself fortunate that the matter is breaking out on a Thursday and a Friday, as such stories can “die a death” over the weekend as the population turns its head to sport and relaxation. But Labor will be doing everything it can to ensure that doesn’t happen. Bill Shorten and his colleagues scent blood and they are overdue a win.

(Sources: Guardian Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, Wikipedia and others)