Archive for the ‘Political musings’ Category

Red HijabThe nightmare of a terrorist attack on innocent Australians?

No. That has started already. It has been going on for years, and it will go on for years. It may never end. As long as some marginalised nutter can find a knife, a bomb or a gun, innocent people here and overseas will always be at risk.

No: what we face now is the nightmare of random abusive attacks on entirely innocent people just because of their dress, or their religion. Victims of the hysteria whipped up around IS and other groups, not least by our own government – for shame – and certainly by the media, and the Murdoch tabloid media especially.

In Melbourne last week a Muslim woman was bashed and pushed from a moving train in a vicious racist attack.

Police say the 26-year-old victim was standing near the door on an Upfield line train when a woman approached her and started making racist remarks.

The culprit then allegedly grabbed the victim by the neck and hair and repeatedly slammed her head into the wall of the carriage.

She then pushed the victim off the train as it pulled into Batman railway station, police said.

Police are hoping to speak to two men who approached the woman to offer help after the attack last Thursday.

Police do have a description of the attacker.

She has unusual light-coloured eye brows, short dark hair and a heavy build.

She was wearing baggy jeans, a puffy hooded top and runners.

The incident was captured on CCTV and police are now in the process of reviewing the footage.

We sincerely trust a severe example is made of this scum, who behaves as if 200 years of civilised decency had not produced, in Australia, a country which is uniquely racially content, even in today’s fraught climate.

We are a decent people – our country was built on immigration and always will be. Here, we do not judge people by who they are but by what they are – by the efforts they contribute to wrest a living from this challenging country. We welcome people from anywhere and everywhere.

Yes, there is naked racism in Australia. We are not naive. There is in every country on the face of the planet. But it is much less persistent or obvious than in most other places, and certainly in equivalent Western countries.

Let us make an example of this attacker – as a community, we say “no further”. Stop this insanity before it starts. Women all over the country are reporting abuse and worse as they walk the streets.

Not here. Not in our name. Not in Australia.

 

 

We are, in general, wary of politically-active actors or musicians. Too often the luvvies are just promoting themselves via the causes they’ve latched onto, and achieving some spurious cachet while doing so. There are honourable exceptions of course: George Clooney on Somalia, Angelina Jolie on breast cancer and poverty, and Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and Bono on poverty. There will be others.

And now we have Leonardo Di Caprio on climate change. And he nailed it.

This short and poignant speech should be played to every politician and climate change denier on the planet. Please share this post widely and share the speech.

We absolutely need a worldwide carbon trading scheme with an agreed price on carbon, and we need to stop supporting polluting industries (especially coal and oil) with taxpayers’ funds, so people pay the real price for using these products. And we need a massive investment in effective new technologies, accepting that they may not pay their way immediately as they are perfected.*

Nothing else – nothing else – is acceptable. We cannot and must bequeath this crisis to our children.

Well done Leo. Wot he said. With a wrecked ecology we will have no economy worth speaking of. While the world agonises over IS and other terror threats, THIS is a real, immediate existentialist crisis.

*Australia’s Liberal-National Government (read: Conservative) have just scrapped the carbon emissions trading scheme and reduced investment in “green” technologies.

scotlandGiven the tightening in the opinion polls in recent days, including two with the Yes vote ahead, (although one was a very small sample), there has been a sudden rash of fevered speculation about what would happen if Scotland votes “Yes” to independence on Thursday, UK time.

All the way along we have been predicting a narrow win – perhaps a very narrow win – for the No vote, even when polls were showing a huge lead for the Noes.

But we confess the current volatility in the Scots electorate is giving us some pause for thought.

It’s clear from looking around the edges of the debate that there is considerable momentum for the Yes side as people get nearer and nearer to the day. Their rallies have been rowdy, good natured and well attended. In contrast, “No” activities have seemed mean and mealy-mouthed. A strong air of hurt rejection characterises much of the No campaign, whether it be the ludicrous announcements of some retailers and banks that they will relocate to England if the Yes vote gets up (they won’t) to the ever more strident allegations from English politicians that an independent Scotland is heading for economic ruin and an uncertain currency future, and probably outside of the EC at that. So there, and yar boo sucks.

This angst is all playing right into the hands of the Yes campaigners, of course, who simply call this further evidence that the English think of the Scots as less intelligent, less capable and less important in the world scheme of things – which is exactly what the English do think, of course. Democracy is an interesting thing, sometimes. Sometimes the people can see quite clearly what politicians deep, core opinions are, and they use their vote accordingly.

Anyhow, this “making your mind up” thing just before the actual day is a growing feature of elections and votes of all kinds, evidenced worldwide, born of less ironed-on support for one party or another, or one position and another.

We’ve seen it a lot recently: the last minute swing to the Liberal-National Coalition that toppled the last Victorian state government in Australia, the small but significant decline in Lib Dem support prior to the last General Election in England, a swing to Obama in the last few days of the last presidential election, Kevin Rudd doing better than expected at the last Federal Election in Australia, especially in Queensland, the pushing of the FDP below 5% in the last German elections as their supporters fled to both right and left in the last 10 days … yes, the “last minute swing”, to someone or other, is now so common as to be almost predictable. Politicians know it – it’s why you rarely hear a pollie say nowadays “Yeah, I reckon we’re home and hosed, we’ve got this,” because they know that’s a sure-fire formula for last minute desertions or abstentions.

So, given the general ineptness of the No campaign, a Yes victory is possible. They have the all-important “Mo”. We also suspect that the polls are somewhat under-estimating the Yes vote, as it is the nature of people’s responses to pollsters that they tend to report supporting the status quo more enthusiastically than they report supporting radical change. Radical change nevertheless sometimes occurs – witness the recent rise in support for the National Front in France, for example, which well outstripped its opinion poll performance.

What no-one appears to have discussed, however, is what will happen next week if the Noes win, but by a wafer thin margin. 50.5% to 49.5% for example.

Scotland will be seen to be split down the middle – and we’re also betting that the split will reflect historical strains in Scottish society that have never quite been resolved. We expect the Yes vote to do better amongst the University-educated, (Scotland has a fine tradition of intellectualism), amongst the poor and disenfranchised (for whom it is a useful way to express a generalised disgust with those that govern them, and Westminster in particular), and the “old Scots” – those that self-identify as members of the great Highland nations, that were never entirely subdued by the English.

Roman Catholics will also, we predict, heavily favour “Yes” over Protestants, the young will be more enthusiastic than the old, and so on.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. A Scotland that is still part of the Union, but where that Union is patently obviously deeply unpopular with large swathes of the population, is a Scotland where government’s legitimacy will be essentially harmed. The No vote needed to win big to put this to bed, and they’re not going to.

A notable feature of the debate in the last couple of years has been the idea that “Westminster” is somehow inherently flawed – unwieldy, or corrupt, or unresponsive, or all three. To combat that malaise, which is very real, a substantial effort to create yet more effective devolution of power will become a core priority in the wake of a narrow No win, but it would delivered to a country that will be exhausted with concepts of constitutional change.

Whilst many believe that the British peoples would do well to become a federated nation with much greater powers devolved to the English regions, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the general public’s appetite is likely to be a long way behind that idea and focused on other more pressing issues like jobs, and economic health generally. Not to mention the fact that another uncertain Middle Eastern war apparently looms.

So Scotland might well be left with just the slightest taste of “freedom” on its lips, but essentially nothing substantial changed at all. That’s not going to be good for the basic compact between Government and the governed that lies at the heart of good civic compliance.There is nothing inherently and enduringly stable about British society than any other – remember the poll tax riots?

And in simple terms, all that means is that all the talk of this being a “once and for all” decision – an oft-repeated construction which suits both sides right now – might be, and probably is, a little hasty. If the No vote only wins by a poofteenth and a bit, we don’t expect this issue to go away.

What would we do, if we were resident in Scotland today? (One of the peculiarities of this vote is that you get a vote if you live there, wherever you’re from, but not if you were born there and now live elsewhere. Who dreamed up that little nonsense?)

Well, we have always been deeply wary of the way the British civil service works to mangle and strangle necessary change.

 

"But I love you." "Look, it's not you, it's me."

“But I love you.” “Look, it’s not you, it’s me.”

 

Westminster often moves turgidly slowly to enhance public freedoms, and to emancipate those whose position is hemmed in by lack of opportunity or rights. Far from being a notable and consistent reforming body, steadily pursuing the path to enlightenment, Westminster actually behaves erratically, sometimes going through great bursts of action (say, the establishment of the National Health Service, the de-criminalisation of homosexuality, the freeing of the colonies, the abolition of the death penalty – or in purely economic terms, Margaret Thatcher’s rolling back of trade union power, and her selling council houses and public assets) interspersed with periods of rigidity and retreat (how ridiculously long it took to emancipate women, a century of mistakes in Ireland, the failure to reform British industry pre-Thatcher along European enterprise lines being the most obvious recent example, the fact that the landscape is still blighted by urban decay in so many old Victorian cities, and perhaps lagging so far behind Europe in creating new “Green” industries to replace old ones).

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we believe, as an article of political faith, that Government that is nearer the people it governs is usually better Government. Faster, more quick to make necessary change, better informed to resist foolish change.

That’s why we are, on balance, convinced of the Yes camp’s arguments. We don’t think an independent Scotland inside the EU would really be all that different to the Scotland that is inside Britain now, and we are reasonably certain the EU would (after some huffing and puffing) admit an independent Scotland, just as we believe they will admit an independent Catalonia eventually. Independence would be a boost to Scottish morale, and give the Scots the absolute right to chart an innovative and successful course, without constantly looking over the shoulder to see what someone in Birmingham, Kidwelly or Ballymena thinks. And if they don’t work it out, well, the residents of Lyme Regis, Pembrook or Derry won’t be paying for their errors, will they? That seems just fine to us.

Re-writing boundaries is a continual project: there’s no reason to believe that where we stand now is where we always will stand. We need to roll with the punches, and move on, as friends. What we need to be very aware of is that will be most urgently required not if Scotland votes for independence, but if it very narrowly doesn’t.

plane

If only he WAS going to be flying one of the jets, Abbott might not be quite so enthusiastic.

In the last couple of weeks, we have watched dismayed as Australia has become perhaps the most gung ho of all the world’s nations waiting to wade in and “stop” IS – the so-called Islamic “State”.

Let there be no mistake – we also think these appalling thugs need expunging from the world, and as soon as practicable.

But we are alarmed and worried by the enthusiasm with which the Australian government – especially Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – have not just fallen in lock-step with our Western allies. but have been seen to be stoking the fires of conflict with a triumphalist air that amounts to “Look at us, we’re strong leaders, and you want strong leaders, right?”

We are undoubtedly already seeing the first signs of a deeply unpopular government using the conflict to bolster its electoral fortunes – a so-called “khaki election” looms – and given that our bravura chest-beating almost certainly increases the likelihood of a terrorist attack against Australians, that’s a very risky card to play. Nevertheless, for a Prime Minister with a Government that has proven itself both tone-deaf and gaffe-laden, the conflict with IS is the gift that keeps on giving. “Hey! Let’s all stop worrying about Medicare co-payments and go BOMB something, already!”

This rhetorical style has been echoed to a lesser extent by Cameron in the UK and the Republicans in America, especially the surely past-pensionable John McCain, but much less so by a carefully-nuanced President Obama. It’s almost as if Barack phoned Tony and Dave and said “Ramp it up a bit, will ya, cobbers? We’re a bit bruised over here and I have to be a more laid back.” Surely not?

There’s no question that IS are pretty much the worst of the worst going round at the moment, but let us be absolutely clear what their murderous public tactics are designed to achieve. These are people playing a long game, who have no respect or care for their own lives or for others. They are trying to drag the democratic West, against which they have a visceral, systemic hatred, into a seemingly endless conflict in a war zone where the alliances and influences shift weekly, and where the sectarian divisions are about as deep as it is possible to find them. It’s virtually impossible to “pick winners” in this environment, because this week’s ally is last week’s mortal enemy. As even Abbott himself once presciently remarked about Syria, “it’s a choice between baddies and baddies”.

We have already seen America co-operating with Iran and Russia to attack IS – both countries currently under sanctions and blockades from the West. We have seen America calling openly for Iran to aid in the fight against IS, despite the fact that they already are, a call that has been rejected by the top Ayotollah, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are already doing.

We have moved from being a day away from air strikes against Assad in Syria (thankfully averted when it became clear that the gas attacks on the Syrian public were probably carried out by rebels, and perhaps that the White House knew that all along, and even allegedly that the rebels were deliberately encouraged to do so, under Western guidance) to now cautiously needing to support him against IS, which will lead to the partial abandonment of the non-extremist Syrian opposition, or what may be even more bizarre, the joining of Assad with his former enemies to create a newly viable Syrian state to defeat the IS and Al Nusra insurgents.

How anyone is supposed to conduct a sane rational policy in this environment is beyond us. It’s a floating, shifting miasma of shifting lines, and we see no end to it. We are reasonably sure, though, that bellicose trumpeting is the least helpful thing we can do, especially as we have no idea how that plays amongst the general public in the contested regions.

What IS knows is that in this confused environment, mistakes can and will happen. IS and their backers know that the first time a bunker buster hits a school in Mosul there will be a flood of worldwide sympathy from both within the Sunni Muslim community and without it, and there’ll be a fresh rash of recruits flooding to a simpler, less complex view of the world than that offered by democracy. The angst and confusion created by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza will be seen to be just a shadow of what’s going to happen in northern Iraq and parts of Syria. Indeed, the mistakes (and concomitant slaughter of innocent civilians) are already happening, even if they’re not being widely reported in mainstream media.

Is there any question Bishop sees this as her chance to leap Malcom Turnbull and become Abbott's obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her "death stare", we'd be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

Is there any question Bishop sees this conflict – and that with Russia in the Ukraine – as her chance to leap Turnbull and become Abbott’s most obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her “death stare”, we’d be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

But that’s only the half of it. We cannot deploy hundreds of Australian troops (and thousands of Americans) plus people from all parts of the globe, and not expect some of them to fall into IS hands.

If we see that the road to war has been greased by the appalling executions of journalists and aid workers, not to mention the mass slaughter of civilians, Peshmerga and Iraqi army fighters, then imagine what will happen the first time video is released of a clean-cut Aussie or Yank fighter pilot or special forces hero having his head clumsily sawn off for the camera.

The calls for “boots on the ground” would surely become irresistible, especially if a newly-bolstered Iraqi army makes no discernible progress in recapturing rebel-held areas, or in forming a more broadly based Government capable of yoiking together Sunni and Shia in a workable state.

Having failed once to pacify Iraq, there is little doubt that we are very close to being dragged into the same maelstrom again, with a side serve of Syria and for all we know Lebanon and God knows where else as as well. We do not purport to know what the answer is – although one thing we cannot understand is why the Arab states, who are at least as much at risk from IS as anyone else, especially Saudi Arabia, cannot be prevailed upon to play a much more intrinsic role – perhaps they are so aware of the powder keg many of them sit upon that they dare not risk enraging them by sending ground troops to attack the Sunni IS as 85-90% of Saudis are Sunni – but as a start we could at least begin by not looking so goddamned happy to be heading off to war again.

We are not alone in our caution, which frankly borders on despair. This excellent opinion piece by experienced Middle East hand Paul McGeogh in the Sydney Morning Herald deserves to be widely read. His neat skewering of the lack of Arab co-operation, the unseemly rush to attack and the lack of an exit strategy (yet again) is spot on, and echoes our own concerns.

war sheepIt seems to us that only those who have actually fought wars show real reluctance to engage in them again. That is rarely politicians, especially those who have spent their entirely career crawling slowly up the political ladder.

Having seen the slaughter of innocents, the gore, the messy incompleteness of most military solutions, military men are almost invariably more cautious before setting off to the trenches once more.

But politicians revel in the limelight. It’s that set jaw, that gleam in the eye, the grimly-expressed determination. Not a hint of doubt, or worry, or regret. Nothing is allowed to ruffle their seeming purposefulness.

The prelude to war always looks to us like people with their egos way out of control about to play roulette with other people’s lives, and right now, it sure as hell looks that way again.

One of the more interesting things about the current debate in Scotland over the referendum on independence (which is becoming closer, although we still predict, at this stage, that the Yes vote will just fail – but watch this space) is the confusion about what will happen to the currency if Scotland votes yes. Coletta Smith at the Beeb wrote an interesting article laying out the options, which we provide a briefly edited version of below.

Begins: 

As the people of Scotland weigh up how to vote in the independence referendum, they are asking questions on a range of topics from the economy to welfare.

The Scottish government says it will continue to use the pound post-Yes, but the UK government, supported by the other Unionist parties, says it cannot. They say a “currency union” will no longer be acceptable.

So what is a currency union?

People shaking hands

It’s when countries with different political systems decide to share a currency. The Euro is the biggest example of this, but it’s perhaps not the best comparison as so many countries were involved with widely different types of economy. Greek’s rural islands are a long-way from Germany’s industrial powerhouses. Scotland and the rest of the UK’s economies are much more alike. So what are the pros and cons of sharing the pound?

Paper with interest rate sign on it

There is an understanding when you join a currency union that you give up some of your economic power. Scotland wouldn’t be able to change its interest rate, even if the economic picture in Scotland was different to the rest of the UK. It also means that limits may be placed on the amount it can spend in its budgets – that’s to help prevent situations like the Eurozone crisis.

Currency Unions can also fall apart if people feel that one country is much stronger than the other, as we saw in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

On the plus side it would make life easier for citizens of Scotland not to have to change currency; it would make life easier for businesses on both sides of the border who would only have to operate in one currency, and it would mean the Bank of England would still be the lender of last resort.

That would mean that Scotland’s large financial services sector of banks, insurance and life assurance companies would still be supported by an organisation with much bigger resources than the Scottish government.

But will Scotland be able to use the pound? The foundation of disagreement can be found by going back to February this year when the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats made a joint statement saying that if Scotland votes for independence, they would not be able to still use sterling – whichever party was running the UK.

The Chancellor George Osborne believed that would be the end of the issue, and called on the Scottish government to announce a Plan B for the currency.

However, the response came back that the statements were “bluff and bluster” and that if a Yes vote happened a more practical decision would be reached.

There is simply no way of knowing whether that is true or not. It is possible that after negotiation the UK may agree to share the pound. But for now, this central issue of the referendum is the one with the least clarity for voters.

So what are the other options?

The Unicorn coins

If it turns out that Scotland isn’t able to use the pound in a formal currency union, there are a few other options. They include;

  1. Keep the pound – Countries across the world do this with the dollar, like Hong Kong and Panama. They call it “dollarization”, so this option has become known as “sterlingization”. It has all the advantages of simplicity, but would mean Scotland having no control at all over interest rates and other monetary policy decisions. It would be a little like being on a roller coaster, you’re in for the ride even though you don’t have any access to the controls.
  2. New currency – Way back in history Scotland used to have its own currency. It would mean the Scottish government would have total control, but would be a huge change and an unknown quantity so it might not be trusted. There is a fear that people might pull their money out of the new Scottish currency and move it into the rest of the UK, which would be seen as a safer bet. Scotland would also be totally responsible for bailing out its own banks and savers should anything go wrong. Some pro-Yes backers, including Jim Sillars and Dennis Canavan are in favour of a Scottish currency.
  3. Different currency – Could it be the the Euro or even the dollar? The Euro might not be all that popular these days, but once-upon-a-time Alex Salmond was keen for Scotland to join the Euro, describing Sterling as a “millstone around Scotland’s neck”. Although the Euro has weakened dramatically in recent years, it’s unlikely to stay that way forever. Others suggest Scotland should use the dollar, and become a petro-economy. That’s because a big chunk of Scotland’s economy depends on oil and gas – an industry which operates in US dollars – and that it might not be the wildest idea in the world to adopt the dollar as its currency.

The White Paper reminds voters that even if a formal currency union was created between Scotland and the rest of the UK “it would of course, be open to people in Scotland to choose a different arrangement in future”. Ends …

Fascinating stuff. The Wellthisiswhatithink crew think that if – big “if” – Scotland votes yes, then the right thing for the Scots and the rest of Britain would be for them to have their own currency, linked to their own economic policies. That seems only fair to the Scots, as well as the English, the Northern Irish, and the Welsh.

black and whiteWhich leaves the fun opportunity to name it.

Our vote would be to call it the Scottie, and have a pair of little terriers on the reverse face like the Black and White whisky label. They’re so cuuuuuute! Then again, we are not entirely engaged in the matter and cannot honestly say we have given the matter exhaustive thought.

What do you think a new currency should be called?

Send us your suggestions and we’ll see they’re passed on.

We are reminded the Irish named their independent pound the “Punt”.

Apparently, they wanted it to rhyme with the colloquial term for “Bank Manager”.

executionSurely the strongest argument against the death penalty is the number of times more modern investigation techniques – or simply  more aware and less biased – investigation techniques reveal innocent victims – for they are victims, too – who have spent half a lifetime locked up for a crime they never committed.

It is simply never worth risking executing innocent people – an irreversible step, of course – in order to exercise revenge against theoretically more “proven” killers, when the burden of proof can often rarely be high enough to absolutely ensure a miscarriage of justice cannot take place.

How many of these people would have been murdered by the State were it not for advances in DNA and for the efforts of the legions of anti-death penalty advocates, lawyers and campaigners worldwide just beggars belief. How many innocent people have been executed is less clear, although one we are certain of was Troy Davis.

This story makes the case better than a hundred leaflets. The state was sure these men were guilty. They coerced confessions from young men of weak IQs. This HAS to stop. An immediate moratorium on all death penalty executions should apply everywhere in the world, and especially in America, a country we hold to a higher standard than some.

https://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/24896051/half-brothers-freed-after-three-decades-in-prison/

The Death Penalty Information Centre website in the United States should be required reading for any resident of that nation who cares about what is done in their name, and anyone, indeed, anywhere, who is uncomfortable with death sentences.

This very important article in Vox, based on Russian research, reveals an apparently staggering level of support for ISIS in Europe, and in France in particular, where one in six people report supporting the extreme terrorist Sunni group that has been slaughtering Christians, Shias, Sunnis who don’t agree with them, and anyone else who gets in their way.

And the level of support rises as respondents get younger.

 

Very, very worrying.

Very, very worrying.

 

We somewhat doubt the veracity of the research and wonder if people are confabulating “ISIS”, “Gaza” and “Hamas” in their minds. In any event, it’s a sad and sorry finding even if it’s only partly accurate, and the radicalisation of Islamic youth is one of the most distressing and tragically predictable outcomes of the growth of so-called “identity politics”, which is now playing out throughout the West, and increasingly in a new black-white divide in America, as well.

But despite this survey it would be wrong to see this phenomenon as something unique to young followers of Islam. Indeed, as one of the sources quoted in the article remarked:

The rise of identity politics has helped create a more fragmented, tribal society, and made sectarian hatred more acceptable generally. At the same time, the emergence of “anti-politics,” the growing contempt for mainstream politics and politicians noticeable throughout Europe, has laid the groundwork for a melding of radicalism and bigotry. Many perceive a world out of control and driven by malign forces; conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringes of politics, have become mainstream.

It is so. This isn’t a religious thing. It’s all about contemptuous disenchantment and disempowerment.

That said, the fact that we actually find most interesting in the graph above is the much LOWER figure – virtually negligible, in fact, in polling terms – in Germany.

In our analysis, this can be explained by three simple factors.

Whilst there is racial tension within Germany – particularly where the Turkish immigrant population is concerned, it is less of a problem than elsewhere.

Even with the persistent (if small) growth in Neo-Nazi skinhead violence, the vast majority of Germans utterly reject the balkanisation of politics based on race. Given their recent history, and the efforts the State makes to prevent racial abuse or anything that smacks of it, this is laudable and not at all surprising.

Another differentiator, of course, is that much of the Islamo-fascism currently being exhibited in the world is explicitly anti-Israeli and by extention anti-Jewish, and expressing sentiments that could possibly be interpreted or misinterpreted as anti-Jewish in Germany is still well-nigh impossible, again for very obvious reasons.

The third reason, and this is very significant, is that the German economy is significantly wealthier and more successful than the British, or the French. There is plenty of education and work to be had, and both are the perfect balm for the vast majority of young people, of all racial backgrounds, who might otherwise be led into more extreme conclusions about society.

Recent riots in France were painted as "Islamic" by commentators, in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Recent riots in France were painted as “Islamic” by commentators, but in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator says, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Unemployment – especially youth unemployment – is the perfectly fertilised and endlessly productive seed bed for extremism of all kinds, whether you look at 1789 France or France last year, 1917 Russia, 1933 Germany, 1970s Northern Ireland, the “Arab Spring” of 2011, or America, France and Britain today.

And where that unemployment falls most onerously on any particular racial or religious groupings, particularly a grouping that considers itself as a minority, then you have a recipe for immediate and predictable disaster.

But even when that miserable judgement is made, it is the generalised “anti politics” trend that concerns us most – even more than any passing fad for Islamic extremism that threatens us today.

The simple fact is that when people perceive their leaders as corrupt, when people perceive them as petty, when people perceive them as habitual liars, (with plenty of evidence), when people perceive them as lacking in required levels of intelligence or leadership skills, then they do not blame the individuals as much as they blame the system. And variously, they turn (and they can turn very quickly) to revolutionary creeds – Marxism, Fascism, religious extremism: whatever is around and easily grasped as a panacea, really.

Anti-democrats don't start out carrying a sign saying "crush democracy". They know it frightens the horses. And they can be alluring - Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster.

Anti-democrats don’t start out carrying a sign saying “crush democracy”. They know it frightens the horses. And they can be superficially attractive – Josef Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster, for example.

This is precisely why we have frequently labelled America a ‘pre-Fascist” state* – not because we believe there are organised groups of people seeking to subvert the American constitution and replace it with some Hitler-style figure – there are such groups, but they are still largely fringe dwellers, and there are also big money groups that wield far too much malign financial power over the political system, such as the Koch brothers, but their influence is still basically visible and trackable – rather, it is because the fracturing of America into potentially warring tribes is so very palpably obvious when viewed from a distance, matched (equally obviously) by an increasingly careless disregard for civil rights and privacy from the authorities.

A frightening realisation that often comes later in life is that democracy, in all its expressions, contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. The very thing that makes democracy so worth preserving – freedom of opinion and the resulting freedom of speech – is the very weapon that can tear it down.

History teaches us, again and again, that there is a tipping point when a majority of people despair of the system and when they do they are prepared to consider a replacement – any replacement. Or it can be a highly motivated minority, with good organisational skills.

Shorn of the wonderful, soaring rhetoric of its core principles by the behaviour of its key players – our political leaders, and the media – democracy simply seems increasingly and hopelessly out of touch and irrelevant. All it needs is a half-credible populist to repeat the people’s complaints alluringly, and the complaints are worldwide, and they are devastatingly simple and enticing:

“I don’t trust them”, “They’re all just in it for themselves”, “They don’t know what to do”, “They’re just taking the piss out of the rest of us, and we’re paying”, “They don’t care about us.” “What can I do? They won’t listen to me.”

At one and the same time, powerful cabals in business and the military foolishly consider they can take advantage of such unrest to position themselves to take over as “a strong voice”, to run things (skimming off the top, of course) while the hubbub of dissent dies down, until – inevitably – they realise they have seized a tiger by the tail, and they can’t control it. “Temporary” restrictions on freedom become permanent, and apply to these fellow travellers as much as they do to the rest of us. They imagine themselves isolated from the crackdown by their money, except – as they invariably discover – they are not.

Anti-politics. It is louder in the West than we can remember at any time since we started paying attention in the 1960s.

“They don’t care about little people.” “Just a bunch of snouts in a trough.” “They’re all stupid.”  “There’s no real difference between them, anyway. It’s all a game.” “I just don’t trust ‘em. Any of ‘em.”

Indeed, as we write these phrases, it is all we can do to stop from nodding in agreement. They are so seductive.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

Except if we are seduced by them, we will hate what comes after. As Winston Churchill supposedly famously remarked:

“Democracy is the worst form of government, it’s just better than all the others.”

Actually, and somewhat ironically, the most famous defender of modern democracy might not have actually generated those words, although in his lifetime he did say a lot about democracy, especially when its survival was threatened with the horrors of German and Austro-Hungarian Nazism, Italian and Spanish Fascism (amongst others), and Soviet-style “marxism”.

Churchill did say something like this in the House of Commons on  11 Novem­ber 1947) but it appears he was quot­ing an unknown pre­de­ces­sor. From Churchill by Him­self, page 574:

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

So, although these are Churchill’s words, it is an amusing historical footnote that he clearly did not orig­i­nate the famous remark about democracy. We wonder who did. Anyhow, here are some orig­i­nal things that the great man did say about democracy over 70 years in public life:

If I had to sum up the imme­di­ate future of demo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics in a sin­gle word I should say “insurance.” That is the future — insurance against dan­gers from abroad, insur­ance against dangers scarcely less grave and much more near and con­stant which threaten us here at home in our own island.
Free Trade Hall, Man­ches­ter, 23 May 1909

At the bot­tom of all the trib­utes paid to democ­racy is the lit­tle man, walk­ing into the lit­tle booth, with a lit­tle pen­cil, mak­ing a lit­tle cross on a lit­tle bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or volu­mi­nous dis­cus­sion can pos­si­bly dimin­ish the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of that point.
House of Com­mons, 31 Octo­ber 1944

How is that word “democ­racy” to be inter­preted? My idea of it is that the plain, hum­ble, com­mon man, just the ordi­nary man who keeps a wife and fam­ily, who goes off to fight for his coun­try when it is in trou­ble, goes to the poll at the appro­pri­ate time, and puts his cross on the bal­lot paper show­ing the can­di­date he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foun­da­tion of democ­racy. And it is also essen­tial to this foun­da­tion that this man or woman should do this with­out fear, and with­out any form of intim­i­da­tion or vic­tim­iza­tion. He marks his bal­lot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and together decide what gov­ern­ment, or even in times of stress, what form of gov­ern­ment they wish to have in their coun­try. If that is democ­racy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.”
House of Com­mons, 8 Decem­ber 1944

Stirring stuff. And how unlike any modern politicians that come to mind, except, perhaps, the trio of dead American heroes, JFK, RFK, and MLK. Little wonder that they seized the imagination so thoroughly, and are still revered to this day, even though their feet of clay have been comprehensively documented. They talked about the principles of Government, not just the outcomes.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept that breeds a system.

In today’s world, once again – and urgently, in our view – we need to make the argument for democracy itself. Not for nothing do the appalling leadership of extremist Islam, epitomised at its most horrible by ISIS, reject the very concept of democracy at the very same time as so-many of their co-religionists seek to acquire and embrace it. ISIS and others of their ilk know they are engaged in a death struggle for their narrow view of the universe against the very principles that democracy uniquely espouses: the principle of protection under the law whoever you are, whatever your creed, sex or colour, true justice that is separated from the government and which can hold the government itself to account, freedom to express oneself fearlessly, genuinely participatory government, the rights of women and minorities to be treated as equals, and much, much more.

For our own internal stability, and in defence of those who dream of democratic freedom everywhere, we need to make our passion for democracy loud and clear, recapturing why we believe it to be superior to the alternatives.

Even if we don’t care about personal freedom, let us carol from the rooftops that it has been shown to be more economically successful – and more sustainably – than any other system.

Even Communist China, containing fully one-third of the world’s
population, enjoying its hugely successful democracy in chinaexperiment in State-directed capitalism, is increasingly recognising that it cannot endlessly stifle the opinions and behaviour of the governed.

They have recognised that they can release a gale of innovation and improvement by asking the opinion of their own people (a truly alien view for the whole of Chinese history thus far) and thus they are taking faltering steps to introduce more freedom into their system without triggering a cataclysm of change.

As just one measurement, the level of openly critical comment in China today is measured in vast multiples compared to even ten years ago, as is the nationwide passion to tackle corruption, which has been endemic in China since time immemorial.

How ironic that the People’s Republic of China – until recently a vile and periodically vicious autocracy – is cautiously embracing a belief set that we seem essentially content to see wither on the vine. Certainly when measured by the public behaviour of our elite.

If nothing else, our leaders and opinion formers should be arguing for the success of liberal democracy as an economic vehicle – not, please note, arguing in favour of unfettered capitalism – as the proven way forward for humankind.

The evidence is that democracy spreads wealth better than any other system, to the widest possible number of people, even while it grapples with the excesses of the runaway freight train of capitalism. Democracy actually restrains the worst features of capital’s behaviour – environmental vandalism, for example. (And if you want to see the results of capitalism that is not fettered by democracy, both in terms of economic failure, cronyism, violence, and environmental vandalism, just have a look at Russia today.)

But more than mere words, more than argument, we need to make democracy work for the governed.

As a beginning, we need to act with utter ruthlessness when evidence of corruption or rorting the system is uncovered.

Sad Statue of LibertyWe need to be deeply suspicious of centralising power, and passionate and enthusiastic about devolving power to the lowest practical level concomitant with effective decision-making.

(For this reason, we are tentatively in favour of Scotland voting for its independence next month, despite acknowledging that it might not appear to be a sound decision economically, at least in the short term. Not that we think it will.)

We must watch our security services and police like hawks, ensuring that the work they do is effective, but that their understanding of the proper limits on their powers is thorough and genuine.

We must defend and encourage media diversity, because a plehtora of opinions expressed openly is the best possible way to generate the ideas we need to successfully navigate our new century and beyond. Anything that compresses media ownership into fewer and fewer hands, blithely covered up with promises of editorial independence that everyone knows are false – is actively dangerous. NewsCorp, and those like unto it, are bad for the health of democracy. “State-owned” news outlets – unless protected by the most rigorous legislation – are a contradiction in terms, wherever they are.

We must encourage bi-partisanship, not because we want our democracy reduced merely to fudge and lazy compromise, but because the public needs to see – to witness – people of good faith working together on their behalf or the social compact with the governed will collapse.

It follows that the role of Opposition is to oppose what it truly believes to be wrong, rather than simply “everything”, and that Government should habitually respect and consider the opinions of those who disagree with it. The impasse between Obama and the Congress in recent years was an economic annoyance, to be sure. But it was a political catastrophe.

Where disagreement is genuine, then the debate should be conducted with civility. Even when one considers another person foolish in the extreme, misguided, or lacking perception, the skill is to make that point in such a manner that they will at least consider you may be wiser or in possesion of a better idea, and also so you may carry public opinion with you. And so that the public can see your good intentions, and not just your muscular antagonism.

We “dumb down” our debates at great cost and at our peril.

If something is “dumb”, the people know they can do without it. When politicans dumb down their discourse, when they are relentlessly trite or scathingly negative, encouraged, aided and abetted by a media that has an increasingly – vanishingly – small attention span, they are not playing some clever stratagem.

In risking a backlash against democracy itself, they are lining themselves up to be thrown in a prison, or worse, by the tidal wave that replaces what they blindly thought was inexorable and irreplaceable. They are beating ploughshares into pikes, and putting them into the hands of those who – when they aren’t even offered complex, thoughtful or educated opinion to consider – can see no reason why they shouldn’t adopt simpler ideas expressed in slogans.

working mensAs democracy swept across Europe in the mid-late 19th century and into the 20th century, it was buttressed by wise souls who ensured that every village, every town, had facilities for the dis-semination of ideas and knowledge, for the edification of the working poor, (such as with the Working Men’s Institutes of Britain), so that they would become participatory members of a new compact.

The privileged who led these conscious efforts to uprate the skills and learnings of the poor were driven by belief, not by an empirical calculation that they were providing a safety valve for the expectations of the people. They believed that a government of all cannot exist if the all is disenfranchised through ignorance or lack of opportunity. So they set about creating the knowledge that would let people fully participate.

Yet today the efforts of those great communicators have been hijacked. Today they are largely directed into providing an endless diet of sport, or reality TV, or mind-numbing time-consuming soap opera and unedifying “popular” drama. Modern media resembles nothing more than an electronically-delivered diet of “bread and circuses” – a tactic for mind control, remember, employed by the Roman dictatorship very successfully for 400 years. “Don’t worry about how we are governing, or who for – here’s a load of bread and a free ticket to watch the gladiators. Come back tomorrow for more of the same.”

And today, devoid of any understanding of why democracy matters, the governed have essentially lost interest, and satiate themselves instead on a diet of moronic “entertainment”.

Ask yourself: where are the civics classes in our schools and universities? Where are our unions, who taught people not just how but why they should defend their rights? Where are the rhetoricians, stirring our minds with ideas and concepts? (Answer, making a “Ted Talk” to their fellow intellectual and financial elite.) Why have our political parties shrunk to be miniscule mockeries of their former selves, with memberships so ludicrously small as to make them nothing more than stripped-down bureaucracies, homes for duelling apparatchicks?

Un-engaged and uncomprehending, the people are ripe to be captured by that simplest and most terrifying of ideas.

“It’s all their fault. Let’s go get ‘em.”

Who “they” are varies from theatre to theatre, of course. Alarmist? Look at that graph at the top of the page again.

Democracy is not the natural form of government for humanity. Violence is. Democracy has been hard won with the stout arms and often the lives of millions, for over 2,000 years.

Democracy will not persist if it is dysfunctional. Democracy will not persist if it is not protected. Democracy will not persist if we lose the argument.

Think about it. Discuss.

 

*For history buffs, there is a famous quotation, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

  • Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin were the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.
  • Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”
  • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.'”

fallenA very sad story in the newspaper in Melbourne today, noting that over 104 people over the age of 50 died in their homes in 2011, and lay there dead for a week or more before their bodies were discovered.

Even sadder is that some of those people – victims of heart attacks, strokes, and falls, for example – might have survived if found sooner. And saddest of all is that the same litany of little tragedies are surely repeated every year in every city in the world.

We live in a world which is theoretically more connected than ever. And yet, as more people live alone – especially more older people – any sense that we all live in a village with an eye on each other’s welfare is receding into distant memory.

We recall growing up in a typical middle-class street, with friends and neighbours in abundance in all directions.

Connections were not made because people were nosy and inquisitive, but simply because people were polite and caring. It would be unusual not to greet the people who lived nearby with a cheery “Good morning” when walking past them. Indeed, more so: to nod, smile and utter a greeting to complete strangers, who often became, in due course, acquaintances, and then friends. Nowadays, likely as not, people would shy back, concerned you were a nutter or from a religious cult.

We live in a colder, harder world, where the idea of a harmless conversation over the fence or sharing a quick cuppa on the back step seems immeasurably quaint.

Do yourself a favour. Do the world a favour. Go knock on their door. Any excuse will do – or just ‘fess up. “I thought we should know one another.”

Especially if they’re old, and alone. Just do it.

 

MRS TURKINGTON

She used to stand, proud and erect, the Colossus of Assembly.
Headmistress of St Catherine’s Church of England Primary
Concentrating Camp
For David and Gareth and Julie and Helen and Me.

Talons grasping the eagle-winged lectern
she would gravely announce
“All God’s Creatures Here Alive
Ancient and Modern, Number 35”
,
and God help you if you didn’t sing.
(Except he wouldn’t.
because he was silenced by a glance
from Mrs T, as well.)

She had a cane, but never used it.
If found running in the quadrangle
she just pinned you to the blue breeze-block walls
with Yorkshire-steel eyes and asked you what
exactly it was you thought you were doing?7
And whatever it was, you stopped it.

Bubble-gum swallowed, marbles pocketed.
Prize conker? Dropped it.

I heard some time ago Mrs T had died.
They found her on the floor.
No-one called, no more.
So no-one saw.

Been there for days, they said.
All thin, and gnarled, and very dead.

In later life, she’d mellowed.
Her skin had yellowed.
I used to see her in Church, a bit
when time had pushed her shoulders up in the middle.
She just got all bent, when the rheumatics hit.

Always sent me a Christmas card,
even when her life got hard.

Mum used to shove one under me nose to sign for her
so I suppose she’d always got it,
and then thought I never forgot it.

I never thought I would, but
I felt sorry when they found her,
fallen and forgotten at the bottom of the stairs.

She had a cane, you see.
But she never used it.

fistAs you can see by clicking the link below, a Sydney Premier Division AFL player has risked spending 20 years in jail for sucker punching an opponent during a game.

Risked 20 years in jail?

Absolutely: that’s the new available sentence for a one punch “sucker punch” – also known as “coward’s punch” – that results in the death of the victim, whether that death results from the punch itself or from a head hitting the ground.

Watch the shocking vision here:

https://au.sports.yahoo.com/afl/news/article/-/24751903/afl-player-throws-sickening-sucker-punch/

As reported, the incident occurred during the UNSW/ES Bulldogs v Western Suburbs Magpies game on Saturday afternoon.

A Magpies player can be seen chasing his opponent before throwing a left hook that instantly knocks the Bulldogs player out.

The only way you can see the very obvious and incredibly stupid assault is by clicking the link above because vision was originally posted on YouTube as part of AFL Sydney’s ‘Match of the Week’ video before it was taken down.

The disgraceful act is gaining worldwide attention, with US website The Bleacher Report posting: “Australian Rules Football is a physical game, but there is no room in the sport for a cheap shot like this.”

The incident has also been condemned on social media:

It is not clear who the players involved are, but the victim is reportedly okay. We find it simply astonishing that any young man would engage in this behaviour after all the recent publicity over the dangers of this kind of behaviour.

One thing’s for sure, he should be kicked out of his club, and banned by the AFL for a very, very long time.

 

In a development that will shock Australians already anxious about the possibility of home-grown jihadists launching terror attacks on home soil, explosives similar to those used in the 7/7 London tube bombings and maps possibly targeting two NSW locations have been uncovered in a ­suburban home.

The media are reporting that one map ­contained the words “George St’’ and “uniform’’, believed to refer to a uniform shop on the Sydney street near Central Station.

The second map had references to “brothel’’, “bridge’’ and “grave’’, believed to be a site in Newcastle.

Australian Federal Police have joined the investigation.

Daniel Fing / Picture: Channel 9

Daniel Fing / Picture: Channel 9

Police discovered the maps while raiding property in Pullenvale, north of Brisbane, last week which was being rented by NSW man Daniel Fing, 30, who was taken into custody.

The haul of explosives included 22 litres of liquid explosive material TATP, (triacetone triperoxide peroxyacetone) which is favoured by ­terrorists for suicide attacks as it contains no nitrogen and is therefore undetectable by searches looking for nitrogen traces, and which was used in the ­London attacks because it can create a military grade explosive. Given the extreme instability of the material, the threat to the local area of accidental detonation, let alone any deliberate attempt to set off a terrorist explosion, must have been very significant.

“It’s an extreme explosive. It’s made from very common household ingredients,” explosives expert Dr James Blinco from the QUT School of Chemistry in Brisbane said.

Astonishingly – and especially given the likelihood of any old crazies and ratbags only loosely-connected to any formal terrorist group deciding to perform some unthinkable act to achieve their five minutes of infamy – the recipe for TATP is freely available on the Internet, including a YouTube video which demonstrates how to make the explosive.

We have one simple question to ask Googe, YouTube, and the rest.

Why?

Especially, as a quick Google search reveals, Mr Fing has previous, bombing a love-rivals car with the very same explosive back in 2006, a crime for which he was sentenced to four years in jail.

Surely we should be seeking to reduce the free availability of information about explosive manufacture, which no one could possibly need for legal purposes? We are normally very loathe to restrict or censor information, but this one would seem to be a no-brainer, especially in today’s troubled world.

We are also concerned about the fact that this haul seems to have been discovered by happy accident. The Brisbane Times reports that a real estate agent unwittingly stumbled across other suspicious items on Wednesday night, leading to officers discovering the explosives.

In 2011, Mr Fing survived a drive-by shooting when a gunman allegedly opened fire at his home in Belmont, NSW. The man charged with Mr Fing’s attempted murder was later found not guilty. Police have not said if they know the whereabouts of a woman who was living at the Pullenvale house with Mr Fing. He is currently facing charges dating from 2012 of wounding, assault, weapon and drug possession and is due to face a NSW court on August 27.

Sheesh.

richardWe have no idea if Cliff Richard is guilty of having assaulted a young man under the age of 16, 25 years ago, or at any other time. He vigorously denies the charge, but then so have others who have subsequently been found guilty. What is undoubtedly true is that the worldwide publicity effectively organised by the police before he has been charged with anything is deeply worrying to anyone who values due process and concepts of privacy.

Famed QC Geoffrey Robertson outlines his concerns in an article we link to below, and it is well worth reading for anyone who value concepts of liberty under the law.

As Robertson points out, “Police initially denied “leaking” the raid, but South Yorkshire Police finally confirmed yesterday afternoon that they had been “working with a media outlet” – presumably the BBC – about the investigation. They also claimed “a number of people” had come forward with more information after seeing coverage of the operation – which leads one to suspect that this was the improper purpose behind leaking the operation in the first place.  This alone calls for an independent inquiry.”

We all need to consider the implications of this very carefully. Imagine, if you will, that a police officer (or team of police officers) has a suspicion that someone – anyone, you – is guilty of having committed a serious crime. If the way this matter has been conducted is to be a template for the future, then they make no effort to contact you directly, even though they know where you are, but they do confirm their investigation to the inquisitive media and invite their co-operation.

Remember, this is without proof, or charges having been laid. It seems nothing more nor less than a deliberate tactic to stir up other people to come forward with allegations or evidence against you.

This type of “fishing” behaviour, which must inevitably result in great damage to a person’s reputation before it is even known if charges will be laid, is not how police investigations happen in a liberal democracy, and it strongly implies that some Police in the UK are either unaware of the appropriate way to behave, or no longer consider themselves restrained by concepts of liberty and privacy.

Remember, Richard may be guilty of absolutely nothing at all. But we don’t expect to see him hosting any Christmas specials anytime soon.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-way-the-police-have-treated-cliff-richard-is-completely-unacceptable-9672367.html

For the record,

In a statement on Thursday, Sir Cliff took appeared to take aim at the force’s decision, saying: “The police attended my apartment in Berkshire today without notice, except it would appear to the press”.

He added: “For many months I have been aware of allegations against me of historic impropriety which have been circulating online.

“The allegations are completely false. Up until now I have chosen not to dignify the false allegations with a response, as it would just give them more oxygen.”

He also said that he will “fully cooperate” with the police.

The televised raid was also criticised by Conservative MP and Former Deputy Commons Speaker Nigel Evans, himself previously cleared of sexual assault charges by a unanimous jury vote, and currently fighting furiously to retain his Parliamentary seat following a grassroots campaign to unseat him as an MP, who told ITV:

“It appears the press knew what was happening before he did and the world’s media were camped outside his doorstep. A press helicopter was up before the police even arrived — he is quite right to be angry about that. Questions have got to be answered.”

They have indeed.

img-thingHard as it may be to believe (doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?) it is three years today since the very first article was posted on Wellthisiswhatithink.

For the stattos amongst you, in that time we have published a total of 783 articles, (about one every 33 hours or so), and received 3,631 comments from just about every corner of the planet, the vast majority of them thoughtful, educated, pertinent, and largely kind and supportive. There has been very very little trolling or hate mail.

We are most grateful for the effort you make, Dear Reader, in “keeping the conversation going”.

Our busiest ever month was April this year when a post about a customer complaint to RyanAir went viral. Only three months in the three years have had under 2000 visits and in total, we have had 252,298 visits. No, wait, 252,299 … 252,300 … oh well, you get the picture. Average daily hits are running at 1,115 so far on 2014.

By far our biggest number of posts (550) have included the category “Popular Culture et al” in their header, followed by Political Musings (359), Humour (147) and Business Management (91). We hope you will agree that our stated goal when we started, to re-report things that interest us (and always the credit them, please note) and to make our own opinions known where we feel strongly about something, has been met.

We thoroughly enjoy writing the blog, which we see as influencing world debate by one small regular drop in an ocean of opinions, (but who knows which drop is the one that causes the dam to break, eh?), but most importantly we enjoy it as a way to reach out, engender discussion between people of good will, and provide a little harmless entertainment, too. If that’s how it works for you, we’re glad. That’s how it works for us.

Science fiction author Philip Dick said it all.

Dick also famously remarked "In the middle of an irrational Universe governed by an irrational mind stands rational man." Amen.

Dick also famously remarked “In the middle of an irrational Universe governed by an irrational mind stands rational man.” Amen.

“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups … So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

Well, we would not claim to make up whole universes. Just the occasional thought, perhaps.

But we sure as hell don’t want to leave all the reality-making to the powerful, the cashed-up, and the privileged.

Especially for those facing oppression and blind authority, the massive explosion of the blogosphere is hope, democracy and liberty in action.

Long may it continue.

We’re not absolutely sure if this photo is genuine.

It might be a clever photoshopped viral meme designed to make a point ahead of the Scottish independence poll. Or it might just be the perfect example of Rule #1 of outdoor advertising – see your medium before you stick the ad to the train, and don’t put any of it over (a) doors that move (b) big sticky-outey things that make it impossible to read your ad.

16298_10154447715075181_3713551417262544299_n

Either way, very funny.

For more glorious F*** Ups in advertising, packaging, social media et al just put “F*** Up” in the search box top left of this page and hit enter …

flagsMeanwhile, based on the polls, if you are remotely interested in the politics of the thing, it is still looking likely that Scotland won’t vote to become an independent country, with the “yes” side of the poll declining recently, although fervent yes campaigners point to the still large number of undecideds and the fact that a larger percentage of women seem undecided in particular.

Our guess – and we’re usually right – is that the referendum will fail, but more narrowly than the current polls indicate. Still, with a month to go, there is still time for momentum to build either way as people focus more and more on the actual event.

A wrap of the movements of the polls can be found here. In reading polls, psephologists agree that what really matters is the overall look of the trends, and the averaging of them. On that basis, it should be noted that since this poll tracker began, the “yes” side of the argument has only been in the majority, very temporarily, twice.

(With thanks to Dickie Ember for forwarding us the Alex Salmond train photo.)

 

Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

The current emergence of the ISIS (Islamic State) insurgency in Syria and Iraq reveals the curious nature of the background diplomacy that goes on all the time, invisible to the man in the street, because you have to read the news stories BEHIND the news stories to work out what is really going on.

The ritualistic condemnation of Russia over the shooting down (most likely by separatist pro-Russian rebels) of MH17 near Donetsk (and the previous less violent kerfuffle over the Crimea) has led to mild sanctions being employed by the West, and a lot of publicly-expressed anger, at least some of which was undoubtedly sincere.

In return, Putin and his cronies have placed bans on certain imports from the West, such as Australian wheat, which are going to be virtually ineffective as we can’t produce enough wheat for world demand as it is, and the Russian business will be quickly replaced by delivering the wheat to countries like Indonesia, instead. Nevertheless, there has been a general chilling of the relationship between the West and Russia, or at least it appears so on the surface.

And as usual, the relationship between America and Iran seems pretty well stuck in deep freeze, although some very minor steps towards a rapprochement have taken place recently, and especially since the departure of the conservative idealogue Ahmadinejad and his replacement with the much more pragmatic and moderate Hassan Rouhani.

Ironically, though, America, the West in general, and Russia and Iran find themselves on the same side against the Sunni insurgents now slicing off the heads of those they disagree with – including, according to some sources, beheading children and putting their heads on display in a public park in Mosul – stoning so-called adulterous women, perpetrating the most horrific massacres, driving out religious minorities including Christians, and generally proving themselves to be the worst of the world’s current crop of uncivilised, idiotic savages.

In a shocking revelation, it has emerged that in the week-long Islamic State offensive in Sinjar, which began last Sunday, the militants killed at least 500 Christian Yazidis, according to Iraq’s human rights minister.

Several residents, including children, were buried alive, while around 300 women (believed to be from those Buried_aliveChristians who chose to pay a fine rather than leave the area or convert to Islam) have been kidnapped as slaves. The revelation was made by Iraq’s human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. In an interview al-Sudani alleged that the ISIS buried some of their victims alive, including women and children.

“We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar,” Sudani pointed out.

“Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar,” Sudani said.

In response to the Yazidi crisis, President Obama has authorised air drops of relief food to fleeing refugees and air strikes against the murderous ISIS, but interestingly recent air strikes have been claimed not to be by US jets. In which case, who is doing the bombing?

The most likely answer is almost certainly a mixture of Iraqi planes, flown and maintained by Russian and Iranian pilots and engineers, as the nascent Iraqi Shia government hasn’t got around to training its air force yet, and Iran has definitely bombed ISIS previously as their fighters neared the iranian border. Or it may have been Iraqis themselves, although this is considered unlikely. Or even Turkish fighters, as Turkey (especially the Turkish military establishment) is alarmed in the extreme about the pressure on the Kurds in the north (who, despite their antipathy towards Turkey, provide a useful buffer against the chaos further south) and their fears that the extremist Sunni ISIS could start to destabilise their secular democracy even more than it is already being notoriously weakened by the populist and increasingly authoritarian President Erdogan who was re-elected over the weekend in a poorly-attended poll.

This interesting article seeks to make sense of the conflicting signals coming out of northern Iraq currently.

What is certain is that behind the scenes, American, Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats and spooks are undergoing a much less antagonistic relationship than we see in public. Information sharing is the very least that’s going on – in all probability, “real time” battlefield intelligence is also being shared to make the fight against ISIS more effective.

Which is yet another modern example of the famous old adage Amicus meus, inimicus inimici mei or “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. This understanding has powered geo-politics since it was first expressed in Sanskrit in the 4th century BC by Kautilya, the “Indian Machiavelli”, so perhaps it’s unsurprising to see it happening again.

As the fiercely anti-Communist British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared during the Second World War, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons,” when speaking in support of British aid to Soviet forces.

So the next time you hear a politician thumping the table and weighing in against some other country, bear in mind the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes may be far different. Or to put it more simply, politicians frequently feed us bullshit.

Really, who knew?

 


Kindergarnered

Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

He would appreciate it if you could share this poem by linking to this blog post in any way you can.

"Who's the guy over your left shoulder?" "Can't remember, keep smiling ..."

“Who’s the guy over your left shoulder?” “Can’t remember, keep smiling …”

Good news for everyone who has missed Julia Gillard in public life – and there are some – she’s back.

The former Prime Minister has lain low since the 2013 leadership spill — but she appeared in public today to launch a former colleague’s book. Looking healthy and cheerful, (and on her pension, frankly, why the hell not?) Gillard launched former climate change and industry minister Greg Combet’s memoir, The Fights of My Life, at the NSW Trades Hall this morning.

In her address, Gillard issued a language warning to readers — joking that anyone who blushed from bad language needed to have a cold compress on hand.

Interestingly for us, Gillard also confirmed she urged Combet to run as leader when it became clear it was her time to go, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. She said: “I wanted to see the next part of his life being for the support of his colleagues to lead the Labor government into the 2013 election but it was not to be”.

Former Labor minister Combet recently told the ABC’s 7.30 that Ms Gillard had offered to stand aside for him if he wished to do battle with Mr Rudd. Instead he retired from politics at the 2013 election.

In our opinion, history will judge that this was a crucial loss of nerve. Combet is tough as nails, as seen by his principled and courageous leadership of the dockworkers in their battle with Patricks and the Howard Government, especially when battling the intransigence and bullying of Peter Reith. As the veteran of dozens of industrial negotiations, he had the sort of “real world” experience that a political junkie like Tony Abbott lacks, and although he would probably still have lost to Abbott on the principle of Buggin’s Turn (Labor was surely un-re-electable, wasn’t it?) he would have made a thoughtful, serious, incisive leader of the Opposition and #onetermtony would have very predictably been up for taking in two and a half years.

As it stands, we suspect our next Prime Minister will be Combet’s mate Bill Shorten, (although he did back Albanese in the leadership contest), so no harm done, from their perspective. But with his gnarly, bespectacled intensity and sheer intellectual clout we think Greg Combet might just have been the Prime Minister Australia never suspected he could be. We said so at the time. No-one agreed – in fact, we were were laughed out of court by everyone we advanced the theory to. Which is why we now find Ms Gillard’s and Mr Combet’s revelations interesting. Or to put it another way, nar nar nar, we told you so.

If this isn't the next Prime Minister of Australia, then god didn't make the little green apples, and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime ...

If this isn’t the next Prime Minister of Australia, then God didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime …

We’re historically pretty good at picking winners.

Despite a recent (but very temporary) bump in the poll standings for Tony Abbott over his brawny Putin-tweaking response to the downing of MH17, put your money (if you can find someone to take it) on Malcom Turnbull to replace him in a coup before Christmas, especially after the shambolic ALP in Victoria nevertheless manage to reasonably comfortably topple the incompetent but poorly-communicating Liberal-National Party Coalition in November.

In Victoria, Labor are current 3-1 “on” a victory, (hardly worth the risk, except one third of your stake for certain is better than none of it for getting it wrong, we guess) and the Coalition 2-1 against. If the Coalition suddenly lifts its game we reserve our rights to change that prediction, because if a week is a long time in politics then 122 days and 5 hours is a positive aeon, but we don’t see any real sign that is going to happen.

Considering the Napthine Government just delivered the highest spending infrastructure budget in Victoria’s history without borrowing a cent, one does actually feel rather sorry for them.

Of further interest to those who mainline psephology, (oh, look it up), we see that Labour in the UK are 5/6 to win the largest number of seats there, against Evens for the Tories. We think that’s too tight, and Labour are currently much better placed. We’d be interested, if you disagree, to know why. And in the US the Democrats are paying 1.60 to the dollar against 2.25 for the GOP. Unless Hillary is discovered doing something highly illegal between now and 2016, we reckon you should lump on, although the mid-terms later this year will be a further helpful guide, so maybe hold off for now.

Er … that’s it.

*Gabbled in a very fast high-pitched voice “All betting advice is purely speculative and should not be taken as true. Don’t rely on us. All care, no responsibility. No, nu-uh, tough shit, so sue us.”*

Desperate: Seven-month-old Mihag Gedi Farah weighs just 7lbs and was hours from death after arriving at a field hospital in Dadaab, Kenya. His mother walked with him for weeks from Somalia after their livestock died. Doctos yesterday gave him a 50-50 chance of survival. Photo: AP

Desperate: Seven-month-old Mihag Gedi Farah weighs just 7lbs and was hours from death after arriving at a field hospital in Dadaab, Kenya. His mother walked with him for weeks from Somalia after their livestock died. Doctors yesterday gave him a 50-50 chance of survival. Photo: AP

 

We were struck by a comment left by a reader of the Melbourne Age on a story there today concerning the dead children of Gaza and Israel.

“If we’re going to grow a consciousness, let’s look at the 18,000 plus children that die EVERY SINGLE DAY from starvation, worldwide.”

A sobering point, right there.

Why is the world so transfixed by the terrible toll in the Middle East yet so unmoved by the scale of the ongoing, ever-present disaster elsewhere?

In our view it is the immediacy of the relationship between a shell and those blown to pieces by its blast, and the culpability or otherwise of those who fired it. The same is true of the recent shooting down of MH17. We rage against these deaths because it’s easy to “pick a side”, and we think we know who is responsible.

The other factor is clearly wall-to-wall media coverage. Photographs of hideously wounded women and children, tumbling into our consciousness time after time, affect this writer as much as anyone else.

But the curious thing is that the ongoing starving to death of millions of the world’s children is just as much the result of human actions that are blatantly obvious, and where blame can equally be sheeted home.

Civil strife – and the puppet-masters and arms merchants who fuel it – displaces millions of people and leaves the weakest open to succumbing from the combination of fatigue, illness and hunger.

War interrupts the orderly flow of food and supplies, sometimes for years.

And when natural forces conspire to destroy crops and livestock, our response is predictably threadbare unless a campaigning journalist manages, for once, to seize our attention momentarily.

Meanwhile, all around the world, Governments restrict foreign aid budgets to play to the biases of their domestic audience, as Bob Geldof pointed out in Melbourne as recently as yesterday.

So why is this catastrophe largely ignored? It is more, we feel, than merely a world-weary exhaustion that “it was always thus”, or that the problem is intractable and therefore we choose to ignore it .

It is a combination, in our view, of a lack of media coverage – persistent child starvation is not, after all, “news ” – that does not force us to confront what is happening as a result of our inaction.

And it is the result of a tragic, identifiable, and cursed lack of moral will-power in our political classes.

One might cynically argue that there are no votes in starving children, especially starving children overseas, but we suspect the core problem is even more fundamental and depressing.

We suspect our political leadership simply don’t care or they don’t have the mental capacity to provide true leadership. They just don’t have the imagination or the skills to devise solutions, and neither do their sycophantic advisors, there are no quick sound bites for little brains in the topic, and solving the problem requires a generational effort, which can’t be accomplished by the time they next seek re-election.

But a dead child is a dead child, nevertheless. Same pain. Same grief. Same hopes, dreams and future talents lost.

Every day we lose 18,000 future doctors, leaders, farmers , ecologists, writers, scientists, administrators, artists, musicians. The people who will drag their nations and continents forward, step by painful step, to become peaceful and self-sustaining.

And we just don’t see them. The 18,000 dead children, every day. Just as dead as the children of Gaza and Israel. They have names, like Mihag Gedi Farah.

Just as outrageous, and just as preventable.

We just don’t see them.

olivia leeA sudden ray of sanity, and a joy to the world.

http://www.theage.com.au/world/jews-and-arabs-refuse-to-be-enemies-20140724-zw7q0.html

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something as simple as a hashtag on Twitter re-framed and refocused the debate in the Middle East, talking peace to the leaders on both sides, and hastening an end to the conflict?

We would urge everyone to express their sentiments on Twitter, Facebook, boy on shouldersInstagram and anywhere else you can think of.

You just never know.

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.

girl and boy

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. US intelligence officials think that the most “plausible” case scenario (and we agree) is that these separatists were not aware that MH17 was a passenger flight when they fired what the United States believes was a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile.

Seeing through the fog

So what’s going on here? Bluster? Fact? Mis-information? Genuine disagreement? 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.