11th November…

remember

On the Trek

Oh, the weary, weary journey on the trek, day after day,
With sun above and silent veldt below;
And our hearts keep turning homeward to the youngsters far away,
And the homestead where the climbing roses grow.
Shall we see the flats grow golden with the ripening of the grain?
Shall we hear the parrots calling on the bough?
Ah! the weary months of marching ere we hear them call again,
For we’re going on a long job now.

In the drowsy days on escort, riding slowly half asleep,
With the endless line of waggons stretching back,
While the khaki soldiers travel like a mob of travelling sheep,
Plodding silent on the never-ending track,
While the constant snap and sniping of the foe you never see
Makes you wonder will your turn come–when and how?
As the Mauser ball hums past you like a vicious kind of bee–
Oh! we’re going on a long job now.

When the dash and the excitement and the novelty are dead,
And you’ve seen a load of wounded once or twice,
Or you’ve watched your old mate dying–with the vultures overhead,
Well, you wonder if the war is worth the price.
And down along Monaro now they’re starting out to shear,
I can picture the excitement and the row;
But they’ll miss me on the Lachlan when they call the roll this year,
For we’re going on a long job now.

Banjo Paterson

And is the war worth the price? Something to ask every time we send people to die in freedom’s name, and I’d say doubly so when so many of us are prepared to settle for something less than freedom at home.

Was it a bomb, was it a plane, was it Superplot?

Let’s imagine that it’s the late 20th Century or early 21st, and that for some reason we want to make it look like a plane hit the Pentagon and, depending on the details of our scenario, three more hit a couple of New York skyscrapers and something else, perhaps the White House, that doesn’t actually get hit but looks as though it might have if not for a bit of luck and some ballsy passengers.

There are a number of people who believe that around the time various unknowns in the US did exactly that, and have focused on all kinds of details, some genuine discrepancies and oddities and some not, to find reasons to think it was anything other than the ‘official narrative’. I’ve got no problem with picking away at and asking questions of official government versions of events to see if what’s said stacks up – governments and their officials being very low on my list of people I’d trust with my wallet I’d say it’s irresponsible not to. But if we’re going to say that those things we can’t readily explain or that look wrong actually mean the whole event was staged just to look like a conspiracy of religious lunatics to crash planes by an entirely different conspiracy made up of people still unknown 12 years on (possibly still religious lunatics, though again entirely different religious lunatics), then it’s only reasonable to pick away at and ask questions of that narrative as well.

I think the way to approach that is to assume for the moment that the conspiracy theories are right, or at least as right as a bunch of different competing conspiracy theories can be, and trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the conspirators plotting to make this happen. So like I said at the top, let’s imagine that we want to make it look as if the Pentagon and the WTC were hit by planes and a fourth target got away by luck more than anything else. And let’s ask a some questions that the real conspirators, if any, would surely have asked themselves at some point.

First off, and in the spirit of Mitchell and Webb, why are we doing any of this? I don’t just mean what are we hoping to achieve, though it’s worth asking that too. I mean is faking the hijack and suicide attack of four commercial aircraft on prominent landmarks the minimum effort necessary to guarantee achieving whatever it is we want? True, it’d be attractive to our hypothetical conspiracy because it doesn’t do any real harm to the country as a whole – thousands of lives and some ruined real estate, yes, but the country’s military and infrastructure are practically untouched and any economic damage is temporary unless the goal is a nice long war, in which case who cares because that’ll cost a fortune anyway.

But that aside, are we prepared to risk our lives – because there’s absolutely no question that getting caught and convicted before or after the event would mean anything other than a death sentence – to do this? And can we achieve what we want with something less than faking a suicide attack on the Pentagon with a hijacked Boeing? If we’ve got two or three planes already teed up and ready to crash into the WTC and wherever else then I’d be saying no. No, we don’t need to fake a plane crash on the Pentagon when we’ve already arranged three genuine ones elsewhere. It’s complete overkill and if three actual attacks on civilian/political landmarks won’t bring about what we want what makes us think we need to fake one on a fourth military landmark? And if there is some compelling reason then for fuck’s sake why not just use another plane?

Of course some theories say that no planes hit the World Trade Centre either and that in fact they were holograms used to disguise missiles, or just disguise bombs going off at the right moment. Oh, sorry, sound generating holograms mimicking the noise of an airliner for the people and cameras below, which are certain to be pointing upwards after the first not-a-plane ‘hit’. In which case I’d ask my fellow conspirators why, if we’ve got access to this amazing hologram technology that can fool both people and cameras into ‘seeing’ planes crash into New York skyscrapers – and let’s for the moment ignore Occam’s advice and assume that such technology does exist – why we aren’t putting on a similar hologram show at the Pentagon for a camera we know exists. Isn’t it a bit of a hole in our plot to leave such convincing fake evidence absent when we’ve seen to it that the world saw, or thinks it saw, this in New York?

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Also, how sure are we that our possession of this hologram technology isn’t going to leak and some awkward internet bastard isn’t going to point the finger at us, and then we’re back to risking the electric gas noose or whatever the Yanks use in federal capital cases? But assuming our hypothetical conspiracy doesn’t rely on Star Trek hologram technology, and assuming that my fellow conspirators have persuaded me that (a) three plane crashes isn’t enough to provoke our Middle East wars or get Bush re-elected (in 3 years’ time) or sell airport scanners or whatever we’re trying to do, and (b) that for some reason we can’t or don’t need to use an actual plane the fourth time but can get away with faking a plane crash, I’d be asking how many people need to be in on the plan and reliably sworn to perpetual silence. Because I’m worrying that the number might be higher than some of my fellow conspirators think.

It goes without saying that we, however many of us there are, will keep shtum. We don’t need to bribe or threaten each other – we’re all in this together and have to trust each other implicitly, because just one of us could assure immunity from prosecution plus a plastic surgery job and new ID by going to the feds and dobbing the rest of us in to face an uncertain number of years locked up before an all too certain execution. But what about all the rest of the people who’d have to be in on at least part of the conspiracy? How many people are we talking about here because I’ve a nasty feeling we may need to bribe and/or threaten and/or quietly assassinate somewhere between thousands and millions of people.

First we’ve got the WTC demolition crews plus anyone who might become aware of them and their work. I’m not the conspiracy’s demolitions expert – his grandmother has sadly been taken seriously ill at the moment – so I’m having to take a wild guess here based on some quick internet research. But the biggest explosive demolition of a steel structure, the J. L. Hudson department store, took months of preparation, including the twenty-four days spent by a dozen people planting about a ton of explosives – more than 4,000 charges in 1,100 locations, according to the contractor’s website. Okay, part of the reason for the length of time was that architectural drawings weren’t available to help, which I assume isn’t a problem for us, but on the plus side they didn’t need to work in secret in buildings that were occupied and had thousands of people working in them every day and hundreds more coming and going all the time.

Did I mention that at only 439 feet the J. L. Hudson store was much smaller than either WTC 1, 2 or 7? Oh, well it was, so since they’re all occupied and we’re trying to be secret I’m guessing we’ll need maybe two or three times as many people and at least as much time (albeit spread out more by the need to stick to evenings and weekends) as it took to bring down the J. L. Hudson, or fewer people and much more time. Or heaps and heaps of people in a short space of time. Which is all problematic because the chance of accidental discovery of our plot seems to increase greatly both the longer the explosives planting takes and the more people we throw at the job.

In fact that brings up another question – do we actually need to demolish the things at all? Really? Wouldn’t just kamikaze airliner attacks do what we want, and if so why don’t we just crash some planes and not even worry about whether the buildings fall down? And having touched on the subject of WTC7, can someone remind me why we’re blowing it up but not crashing a plane into it or even making it look like a plane crashed into it? I can’t help thinking that, you know, do it properly with the staged plane crash or let’s just not bother with WTC7.

Anyway, numbers. So let’s say we can wire up the New York buildings with only 30 or so guys, even if it might take a year or two, during which some clumsy sod might knock a hole somewhere awkward and some building maintenance guy could see something he shouldn’t. Does that mean we need to take all the building maintenance people into the conspiracy or can we take some kind of action if it actually happens? And the emergency services people who might spot something that’s not as it should be after we hit/not-hit it with a plane? Even if we don’t take them into the plot there needs to be a contingency bribe fund to either buy the silence of as many people who might stumble across the plot or to buy someone to silence them. Bearing in mind the unprecedented scale of the criminal act we’re planning the payments, whether bribes or for hits, will need to be similarly large or again we face the risk of someone taking what they know and exposing us, after which the whole thing unravels and we get executed. Is that going to cost less than we have or than we’ll make from what we’re trying to achieve?

And still on the number of people whose silence will be needed, we’re not actually demolishing the whole Pentagon, right? So it’s just the guys who’ll fire the missile or set the bomb or whatever, plus whoever’s on duty in the various air traffic control rooms who’ll confirm they saw the right things on radar, i.e. an aircraft where there really wasn’t one, and also anyone at the airlines and airports who’ll be needed to confirm the loss of the aircraft, yes? Oh, but no. Because surely we also need everyone who works there and who might survive to ‘see’ a plane hit the Pentagon, and if we’re not actually going to crash a plane into it then we’re going to need them all to say yes, absolutely it was a plane, I saw it as clear as I see you now. Even though there won’t be one. And since they’re all federal employees I’m guessing their co-operation won’t be cheap. And there’s about 30,000 of them.

Now to kick off with I thought we could get away with just the ones whose offices look in the direction our ‘plane’ is supposed to be coming from, but then it occurred to me that any number of people could be late into work and be on the roads outside or have a reason to be in a different part of the building where they might notice the absence of an aircraft where the news later reports there was one. Then there are all the people who work in buildings that overlook what we’re going to say the flightpath is. Or for that matter anyone who happens to be out and about in the area who might take note of the fact that there was no plane where we’re planning to make everyone think there was. That could be potentially anyone in the Washington DC area and anyone, truckers and tourists and business visitors and the like, who could conceivably pass through the wrong place at the wrong time and see a pronounced absence of the right thing. Christ, five million people live in the area, plus the possible non-locals.

Obviously we’re not going to let them in on everything but even if we’re just making sure that everyone’s singing the same song the perpetual silence of that many people is just impossible to guarantee, especially as some of them will probably die and the rest may be just pissed off enough about that to spill their guts no matter what we’ve paid them, which collectively would probably have to have been the GDP of the whole country anyway.

The more I think about it the more I reckon the whole idea is madness. The stakes are so high and we’d need so many people even for just the New York bit that it seems as likely as not that someone will choose to leak and let the rest of us face the consequences, and I just can’t see the Pentagon part coming off at all without the whole thing being blown wide open. Frankly I feel it’d be at least a million times cheaper, easier and safer for us and just as effective to just get a couple of dozen idiots who are prepared to die in the name of their cause to hijack and crash four aircraft, and if any bulidings actually fall over as a result then it’s a bonus.

In fact given time, some money and the right kind of retarded, wannabe martyr, death wish idiots on hand I reckon some cunt could organise it from a fucking cave.

This is why we can’t have horrifying things

Some time ago I blogged on the news that the Australian nannies had recognised that the majority of people in Australia are adults and that many of those adults like to play computer games, and finally persuaded the Australian censors that bringing videogame classifications into line with other media was overdue. This was to be achieved with the addition of an R18+ classification by the end of 2011, although to no great surprise (though my general blogging neglect meant I didn’t write about it) it ended up being delayed again. But  at the beginning of this year Australia finally allowed adults to buy adult themed computer games, with more than half a dozen games given R18+ ratings in the first two months of 2013.

Great, you might think. Okay, so there’s a few games that have been classified for adults when the content seems pretty much the same level as games that got MA15 ratings in the past, but since one of the objections to the absence of the R18+ category was that some games were being classified too low that’s probably not a real problem. Besides, if parents decide their younger teens are mature enough to play something that involves lots of gore and splatter and/or occasional tits and ass then they can just go buy the game for them and allow them to play under whatever supervision they feel appropriate.

Unfortunately the censor hasn’t been given its marching orders and is still able to refuse classification, and since all media must be classified anything that’s refused has been given a de facto ban. According to Wikipedia

Content which may be Refused Classification include:

  • Detailed instruction or promotion in matters of crime or violence.
  • The promotion or provision of instruction in pedophile activity.
  • Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.
  • Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
    • (i) violence with a very high degree of impact or which are excessively frequent, prolonged or detailed;
    • (ii) cruelty or real violence which are very detailed or which have an extremely high impact;
    • (iii) sexual violence
  • Depictions of practices such as bestiality, necrophilia or other practices that are revolting or abhorrent.
  • Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
    • (i) activity accompanied by fetishes or practices that are offensive or abhorrent;
    • (ii) incest fantasies or other fantasies that are offensive or abhorrent

Which is mostly pretty cut and dried, not to mention reasonable, but appears to give them a number of relatively subjective outs. Top of the list there is the term “offensive”, a meaninglessly subjective criterion since what offends me may not offend you and vice versa – I find it offensive that there are still laws being written in any nominally free nation that include concepts as fucking vague as “offensive”. “Gratuitous”, “exploitative” and “abhorrent” aren’t a lot better.

So I’m kicking myself slightly for feeling at all shocked that in the last week – within the same 24 hour period, in fact – two games aimed squarely at adults, Saints Row IV and State of Decay, have been refused classification and thus effectively banned in Australia.

The Saints Row 4 video game has been refused classification by the Australian Classification Board due to the appearance of an anal probe weapon and “alien narcotics” in the game.
[...]
“The game includes a weapon referred to by the Applicant as an ‘Alien Anal Probe’. The Applicant states that this weapon can be ‘shoved into enemy’s backsides’,” wrote the Board.
“The lower half of the weapon resembles a sword hilt and the upper part contains prong-like appendages which circle around what appears to be a large dildo which runs down the centre of the weapon.
“When using this weapon the player approaches a (clothed) victim from behind and thrusts the weapon between the victim’s legs and then lifts them off the ground before pulling a trigger which launches the victim into the air.
“After the probe has been implicitly inserted into the victim’s anus the area around their buttocks becomes pixelated highlighting that the aim of the weapon is to penetrate the victim’s anus. The weapon can be used during gameplay on enemy characters or civilians.
“In the Board’s opinion, a weapon designed to penetrate the anus of enemy characters and civilians constitutes a visual depiction of implied sexual violence that is interactive and not justified by context and as such the game should be Refused Classification.”
The Board also took a dim view of the game’s drug use, especially as it gives the player character extra abilities.

Or as the Board itself put it in a PR:

In the Board’s opinion, Saints Row IV, includes interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context. In addition, the game includes elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards. Such depictions are prohibited by the computer games guidelines.

Okay, it’s pretty weird even for a computer game weapon and certainly not something suitable for the Candy Crush brigade, but it’s also cartoonish violence, isn’t it? And I can recall at least one alien anal probe based cartoon gag on the small screen.

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I’m assuming this episode of South Park wasn’t banned in Oz, and if not I have to wonder how Cartman, with his gratuitous effing and blinding plus the fire farts and alien communications antenna unfolding itself from his arse, got a pass and the equally ridiculous alien anal dildo launcher weapon in Saints Row IV didn’t. Yes, drug use was mentioned, but even without getting into the case for legality there’s been plenty of drug use in movies and TV over the years. The Wire, Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction – did all these and others all not get an Australian classification? Don’t even bother to answer since I have them on DVD.

And then there’s the reasons for State of Decay, which I though sounded like a straightforward zombie shooter but is apparently also a non-stop drug fuelled haze.

The Classification Board’s report, obtained by news.com.au explained that it banned the game because it contains the option of self-administered drugs throughout, in order to restore players’ health or boost their stamina.

“These ‘medications’ include both legal and illicit substances such as methadone, morphine, amphetamines, stimulants, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, codeine, aspirin, ‘trucker pills’, painkillers and tussen,” the report reads.

“Of these, methadone, morphine and amphetamines are proscribed drugs and the term ‘stimulant’ is commonly used to refer to a class of drugs of which several are proscribed.”

/sarc How can I have been so silly? Of course an open world zombie survival game is going to reward players whose characters in game spend their whole time ripped off their tits rather than running from, hiding from and hacking up zombies. And naturally whenever this happens the player themselves feels the effect by the magic of, er, game magic. Come on, we’ve all puked in our own laps after making Shepard get shitfaced to the point of passing out in that bar in Mass Effect 2, haven’t we?

You didn’t? You know what, neither did I.

So we’re back where we were a few years ago: adult gamers in Australia having to wait around for the game to be specially ruined for the Australia market because the censors didn’t like something in it that in terms of the whole game was a really trivial point.

“State of Decay has been refused classification by the Australian Classification Board (ACB). We’ve run afoul of certain prohibitions regarding the depiction of drug use. We’re working with Microsoft to come up with options, including changing names of certain medications in the game to comply with ratings requirements. Whatever our path forward, it’s going to take a bit.”

Or, as several commenters wrote on both of The Age’s articles, people will just buy Refused Classification games abroad or online. And we shouldn’t be surprised if at least a few take the path of least resistance and get a pirated version instead of paying. But if the government and its regulators are going to make doing the decent thing too hard that will be the inevitable result.

All of which makes me think that if the censor refuses, for sometimes quite subjective reasons, to pass games that people want to play but, for obvious practical reasons, can’t stop people getting them elsewhere there isn’t much point in having a censor at all.

Thrills and spills

So by now everyone will be aware that Australia’s first knitting Prime Minister has been stabbed in the back by her own party in favour of the former Prime Minister she stabbed in the back for labor barely three years ago. Let’s just lay that out in a time line:

  • 4th December 2006 – The Australian Labor Party decided that Kevin Rudd is the man to lead them to victory over incumbent PM John Howard in the forthcoming election.
  • 3rd December 2007 – Kevin Rudd leads the ALP to a landslide victory over incumbent PM John Howard, and in such decisive fashion that John Howard actually lost his own seat.
  • 24 June 2010 – The Australian Labor Party decide that Kevin Rudd, the same one who led them to electoral victory, is a fucking liability electorally speaking as well as a pain in the arse to work for, choosing to dump him for his deputy Julia Gillard. Having been told his time is up Rudd stands aside without a fight.
  • 21st August 2010 – As Prime Minister Julia Gillard leads the ALP to a no score draw in the election and has to form a minority government relying on the promised support of Senate Greens and some of the cross bench MPs in the House of Reprehensibles.
  • 24th February 2012 – After time in Gillard’s cabinet and then the back benches Rudd challenges for the leadership of the ALP again. Three days later the ALP votes and Gillard beats Rudd 71 votes to 31.
  • 30th January 2013 – Julia Gillard, having steadily lost popular support and, presumably, having gone quite mad, announces that the next federal election will be on 14th September 2013, about a fortnight before the last day it can legally be held (UK readers might find bells ringing from that last bit).
  • 21st March 2013 – Having continued to lose support Labor MPs seem finally to notice that many of them are likely to lose their seats and cushy jobs at the election. Rudd, having spent much of the last 13 months saying he wouldn’t challenge for the leadership again, stays silent. Simon Crean, a member of Gillard’s cabinet, called for a fresh leadership contest and announced that he supported Kevin Rudd to replace Gillard as leader and Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and Deputy PM each stand for their existing jobs and Kevin Rudd continues to stay silent. Gillard is elected unopposed and promptly fires Simon Crean, who complains that he thought Rudd would actually challenge. Rudd then states that he will never be Labor leader again.
  • Today, 26th June 2013, three months later – Rudd’s supporters petition for a Labour caucus with the intention of forcing another contest on what, due to Parliament being about to rise until the election, is for all practical purposes the last possible day they could have one. Gillard raises and calls for a contest without waiting for the petition. To negligible surprise Rudd announces that despite his promise he’s changed his mind and will stand against Gillard, and goes on to win by a dozen votes.

So there we have it, the man that Labor wanted/didn’t want/didn’t want/didn’t want/wanted all along is back, having seen off the red headed pretender who betrayed him/rescued the party/betrayed him/betrayed the party/was brilliant/was a total lost cause.

And needless to say, all this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with polling predictions that with Julia Gillard as PM Labor will be reduced to perhaps as few as 30 seats come the federal election while under Rudd it’ll be 50 at worst and if they’re lucky they might even make another draw or a tiny majority. Each and every member of the Labor caucus is thinking only of the good of the country, natch, and the kind of naked self interest that is no doubt suspected by millions is actually not a consideration at all. Honest. Although…

… if that was true then why the fuck did they ditch Kevin Rudd, not once but three times, to begin with. I was going to make a joke about Rudd asking why the ALP had disowned him three times, but since I wonder if the bastard hasn’t got a messiah complex anyway I think it’s best I don’t.

A necessary evil, redux. A reply to @Veresapiens.

Last weekend’s post on minarchism versus anarcho-capitalism and my long winded explanation as to why I put myself in the former category rather than the latter prompted a response from @Veresapiens, one of the people I’d been discussing the topic with on Twitter beforehand. @Veresapiens said he didn’t intend to debate my conclusions but to add a little food for thought. Since the answers to his points shed a little more light, and also because Safari went tits up part way through, I’m making the reply in the form of another blog post

One subtle assumption running through the post is that Australia is always considered as a single entity, whether ruled by a State or not (eg wondering how ‘the country’ could be defended in an anarchy). My view is that you have essentially 23 million ‘sovereigns’ and their properties in an anarchy, and Australia remains only the name of the continent.

True, I did talk about Australia as a single entity but generally I intended it to be in a geographic sense. It is, Tasmania and some mostly nearby islands aside, a very large single landmass roughly the size of the 48 contiguous US states. There are 23 million people spread extremely unevenly around that area, and my hypothetical ancap and minarch Australias assume the same. I imagine the minarch one would probably keep most or all of the existing states and territories, but shrink the federal government to a fragment of its current real world self while devolving nearly all its power downwards to the states and beyond into local/municipal councils and finally into homes and individuals, which is where most libertarian types would hope the vast bulk would end up. I probably should have put in a paragraph covering this but it was in the mental draft of the follow up post. Mea culpa.

That, in itself, changes the nature of ‘conquest’. With a central authority and defense force, an invader’s goal is to cause the central authority to surrender (to save its own skin) and turn over its defense infrastructure to the invader. Without a central authority, who does the invader have to defeat? Everybody. In every town. Defeat and occupy. Not an easy task to occupy every bit of Australia. Might be easier to trade with the locals than to occupy them. (Although the US does seem to prefer the occupy route…)

This is the nub of the problem in Australia. You said it’d be no easy task, but I think in fact it’d be very easy due to the fact that Australia has among the lowest population densities of anywhere in the world. Further, the population is heavily centred toward the south east while the north west coast is practically uninhabited. From memory the largest town between Perth and Darwin, Broome is under 9,000, and has almost halved in the last decade. There’s got to be close to 3,000 km of coast between Broome and Darwin in the north and I’d guess around double that south to Perth. Much of it isn’t sparsely inhabited, it’s simply uninhabited.

Things are no better in the interior. Alice Springs, in the rough centre of the country, is under 30,000 or so, and there’s nothing bigger it between there and Adelaide in the south or bigger than 10,000 between Alice and Darwin in the north. South east of there is Anna Creek Station, a farm larger than New Hampshire inhabited by about 10,000 cattle and, as far as I can tell, fewer than fifty people, and that’s counting the town of William Creek (population in the high single digits). Free people able to defend what’s theirs because it’s in their interest to do so is a great idea, but for how long could the 50 most well armed free individuals in New Hampshire hold the entire state against even, say, the smallest National Guard of any of the other 49 states? Why would anyone want to take over somewhere like that? Maybe nobody apart from possibly McDonalds would, but not far away (in Australian terms) is Olympic Dam, a very large multi-mineral mine and the largest known uranium deposit on the planet. The area’s not quite as unpopulated as Anna Creek Station but the two local towns that support the mine still have only around 4,500 people between them, about a third of whom are under fifteen years old.

The problem’s that Australia has a lot of empty space. As I said in the original post I’m far from any kind of expert on this, but I have looked at a map and thought about what would stop someone landing a big force somewhere on the empty coast south of Broome and simply marching across the country, rolling over all the small towns of a few hundred or a couple of thousand until it was ready to besiege the larger places. You can get a very long way between defenders, and for most of the way across those defenders are always going to be in very small numbers. If done very quietly and with a bit of luck you might even get quite far into the interior before anyone was able to raise the alarm that they were under attack or notice that other places had mysteriously gone silent. In reality that’s not possible because there’s the Australian Defence Force in the way: a navy to see you coming and harass you at sea, an air force and army to join the navy attacking the forces trying to land and, if successful anyway, to trade all that empty space for time and make you spend every inch of the 4,000 kilometres you have to go to the populous south eastern cities wondering when they’d bomb the ever-loving fuck out of you again.

Imagine driving from Seattle to Disneyworld and being periodically shot at the whole way there. That, but mostly in a desert with few restaurants and fuel stops, all of which have even more people there shooting at you. The ADF can do this. They might not have the numbers and strength to guarantee an outright victory against a large invader, but they don’t need to. They just have to be good enough to inflict enough pain and damage to make it too much effort. I’m not convinced any non-state alternative could do the same. The population density is just too low for the idea of invaders having to fight for every yard to work for long, and I don’t see how private military companies defending people on a subscription model would work unless the PMCs of Melbourne and Sydney were up for attacking enemies as they try to cross the Gibson Desert – the free rider problem here would have a large geographical element to it too.

I’m a little dubious of the argument that even though we don’t want a State, if we don’t have a State of some sort to defend us against invaders, we might be invaded and conquered and end up with a State. And it will be a bad State.

I’m wasn’t really making that argument with the post. I was attacking the counter argument – that millions of free individuals could offer enough resistance to be an effective deterrent – on the grounds that it doesn’t apply everywhere and offering Australia as an example of somewhere that there’s a strong possibility, if not a probability, it would fail.

As to anarchy in general, I don’t envision that we would get a nice efficient homogeneous anarcho-capitalist society in the absence of a State. All I have in mind is that absent the State, people would be allowed to interact voluntarily and form social structures that suit their needs. The capitalists, syndicalists, communists, etc, could all try out their philosophies. Some would work and some wouldn’t. There would also no doubt spring up evil little mini-states of various sorts. Very dynamic – probably very messy for awhile.

I think where the state might finally die a long overdue death would be in the more populous countries. Imagine if the people of North America or Europe decided that they could realistically defend themselves against aggressors without a state, that there’d be enough armed free individuals willing to fight because it’d be in their self interests to do so that all potential enemies put the idea of invasion into the too hard basket. Eventually it’d be the smaller nations like Australia left with militaries and states wondering what the hell they need them for when all the former big boys, including the ones supplying the small countries, are giving up on them. Then it’d get really interesting, and I agree with you that it’d probably also be quite messy as everyone worked out their preferences and how to accommodate them without demanding a state force them on everybody else.

Bottom line for me, still, is that even if you are right about the best way to secure the local populations from invasion, your sincere desire to do good is not sufficient justification for taking away the independence of any individuals who disagree with your approach. And unless your minarchy can force participation, it doesn’t differ, essentially, from the anarchy case where people voluntarily contribute to defense.

I agree that desire to do good isn’t a good reason to take away even one individual’s freedom to choose not to participate, and also that a minarchy where nobody in general participates is functionally identical to anarchy. I feel the problem with the concept of the state is not just the monopoly of force but its universal application of force on the citizenry. It’s no good having competing education systems, healthcare, police, etc, if you’re forced to pay for the state provided services anyway. Defence might sound like a special case but what I’m suggesting is not to the exclusion of free individuals being able to defend themselves and their homes too. Funding the state provided service without force is the tricky part, so what I’m trying to develop is an idea of minarchy that forces participation only in extremely limited areas that anyone from the poorest to the wealthiest person could opt out of with no significant effect on their personal lives, meaning the state could be – in fact would be – destroyed at any time if enough people got sufficiently annoyed with it to change their behaviour into forms that starve rather than feed the beast.

In fact I suspect the real challenge is getting enough people to see the state as a beast that may require starving to death or near death occasionally until the point is reached that it’s entirely surplus to requirements. I don’t expect I’d live to see that happen even if I was born just seconds ago, and I’d be lying if I said I thought the process would take much less time than the Renaissance. Like I said last week, I see no way we can get there from here and even minarchy is a long way off.

A necessary evil? Minarchy, anarcho-capitalism and the state.

Some minarchist libertarians say that while they like anarchy as an ideal they’re not anarchists because they still see a role for the state, and that while it may be evil unfortunately it’s a necessary evil. Anarcho-capitalists reply, quite reasonably, that a necessary evil is still evil and that the state can never coexist with truly free individuals. That’s kind of where it grinds to a halt because even minarchists who agree that a true anarchy based on non-agression and property rights would be the most fair, free, just and desirable system might simply be unconvinced that that ideal is achievable in reality. Or not with social groups larger than a few dozen like minded people, which is few enough that you could probably make pure communism work as well.

Is there any way that free individuals can live not under but with the state? I think it might be possible – I don’t say is possible because I don’t think its been tried – and I think it depends a lot on how the state is viewed. Frustratingly for anyone with libertarians leanings many people regard the state as just the thing we have to have to run the country, or even as a benefactor who looks out for us all and does its best to take care of us. You’d have to be pretty cynical to believe that everyone in government is evil but it’s a pretty common view among libertarians and anarchists that the institution of government is inherently evil. For someone who’s spent a lot of time bagging governments this doesn’t come naturally, but I’m going to write here in grudging defence of the state and argue that while it has very often been evil it might be something we still need for the time being.

Sharp intakes of breath all round: how can you possibly suggest that, Angry? States all have a monopoly or a near monopoly on force and have always been depressingly willing to use it. Surely if you believe that the use of force on unwilling law abiding individuals to acheive an outcome, even a good outcome, is always wrong then the idea of states is wrong as well. That’s what they do and it’s what they’ve always done, so unless we’re going to enter the murky waters of ends justifying the means they must be inherently evil even when they’re trying to do something beneficial.

Well, yeah, that is what states do and always have done, and left to their own devices I’m pretty sure that’s what they will continue to do more or less indefinitely. Or until they spend themselves into oblivion, which is looking likely for some if they insist on growing and having ever greater influence over the minutiae of their citizens’ lives at the expense of the citizens themselves. And sure, yes, it’s evil to force money out of rich and poor alike in the name of providing various things and claiming that they’re all “free”, and I’d say even more evil to monopolise education so that many people can be made to to believe the “it’s all provided by the government for free” lie.

But is no state at all the only alternative and is it really possible to for free individuals in an anarchy to provide for themselves the useful things that we get from the it at the moment? I think the answer to both, at least for everyone who’s alive right now, is no, and I think so because one thing a state can do – possibly even the only thing it should even attempt to do or be allowed to do – is to defend itself so as to ensure the liberty of the people in it. Yes, I’m talking about the minarchist’s wet dream, the so called night-watchman state, or “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency Government” as I’ve always thought of it.

Literally

When you look critically at what you get from the state that you couldn’t possibly provide for yourself or go out and shop around for in its absence lots of things that you think really have to be state funded, which is a polite way of saying citizen-robbed, lots of sacred cows start to look pretty unholy. Education, healthcare, transport, even policing and law – they’ve all got non-state alternatives or could happen without a government being there, say the ancaps.

That may be true, although persuading the millions and millions who have been conditioned to believe that such things are provided “free” is another matter.* Defence and disaster management is something else. These functions, or function if you think the latter is part of the former, are something that states are… well, not necessarily good at since we can list endless examples of defence projects that have either delivered a poor product, been late, been over budget or all three. But if defending the country so as to ensure the liberty of the people in it requires a dozen frigates plus many more smaller ships, half a dozen submarines, and nearly 100 F/A-18s, not to mention dozens more helicopters, transport aircraft, maritime patrol aircraft, and any number of tanks, troop carriers, wheeled vehicles and small arms for all the people who ride around in them, then it’s hard to see how even a fraction of that lot would ever be bought, maintained and particularly manned in an anarchy.

The defense function is the one reserved most jealously by the State. It is vital to the State’s existence, for on its monopoly of force depends its ability to extract taxes from the citizens.

Murray Rothbard

Ah, the ancaps might say, but in a peaceful anarchy there’d be no need for a formal organised defence force. That can as easily be used to attack as to defend and so its existence is a threat to others, who have to raise their own armies and perpetuate the miserable cycle ad infinitum. Sure, they concede, that’s not the only reason why an opposing state might want to invade but without a state usurping the natural right to defend oneself by whatever means seem appropriate many free citizens will be armed anyway and able to offer resistance to invaders. Some anarchists even suggest that the difficulties faced by Allied forces in Afghanistan show how effective armed resistance by the people who live there can be against an external enemy.

Well, maybe that would work in some places. Maybe if you’ve got enough people fighting against an invader and something about the country – its size, terrain, whatever – favours the defenders then that might be possible. But that doesn’t prove that it’d be possible everywhere. That list of planes, ships and tanks I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back is a very rough inventory of the Australian Defence Force, and I used it for a reason. Three of the four most populous nations on the planet are to Australia’s north-west, and while Australia has peaceful trading relationships with them you couldn’t exactly describe any of them as being libertarian utopias. A resource rich, lightly populated and minimally defended nation with, since there’s no state, little or nothing in the way of alliances and mutual defence treaties might look tempting to a larger nation with a well equipped standing army.


See?

I’ve seen ancap arguments that adequate defence, at least enough to give potential enemies a bloody enough nose to make them wonder whether it’s worth the effort, is possible in an anarchy or a near anarchy, and as I said just now I’ve seen more than one point at Afghanistan as evidence for this. True enough, Afghanistan has proved a monumental pain in the cock for the US and its allies, Australia and the UK included, over the past decade despite the large number of troops sent there and the huge technological advantage they enjoy, and it’s not even the first time in recent history this has happened as anyone old enough to remember the Soviet occupation or bright enough to Google it already knows. However, I have two objections to this argument. Firstly, Afghanistan may be relatively lawless but it is in no way an anarcho-capitalist society unless the scope of ancap is broad enough to include warlords and an authoritarian theocracy. That might not make a practical difference, but the second objection is that any reputation Afghanistan for being difficult to conquer and a nuisance to invade utterly failed to prevent the Soviets in the 1980s and George W. Bush more recently from doing exactly that. On top of that Afghanistan differs from our hypothetical ancap Australia in another important way.

Oz-Afghanistan-size-comparison

Afghanistan’s population is nearly half as large again while the country itself is smaller than all but one of Australia’s mainland states. Neither are densely populated but assuming around a third of the population is willing and able to fight there are about fourteen or fifteen defenders for each square kilometre of Afghanistan. In Australia it’d be just one.

Have a look at a map of Australia’s population centres. Now have a look at the minerals and resources that an invader might think about helping themselves to rather than trading for. Notice how much there is where there’s really not anyone there to defend it. Notice also how the vast majority of the armed to the teeth free citizens in our hypothetical anarcho-capitalist Australia live on the opposite side of the country from where any invasion would probably come from. Short of penguin hostility and the threat of Tasmanian secessionist breweries there are no enemies to Australia’s south. Now consider how well armed the inhabitants of Darwin in particular and the Northern Territory – where the fifth largest town has a population of just 5,000 – in general would need to be to deter nations numbering in the millions. I suppose if every third person had either a tank, a tankbusting jet aircraft or an Iron Man suit then maybe, but the problem is that individuals and small groups just can’t afford either that stuff or the time to learn how to use it properly.

And even if that problem could be solved what’s to stop an invader simply bypassing Darwin completely, landing forces on the most convenient and least defended piece of Australia’s 25,000km of coastline, grabbing whatever it was they came for and simply starving out Darwin later? Not much in our scenario, but in reality Darwin’s defended by the ADF and all its expensive gear, paid for the rest of the country because the government insists it’s in everyone’s interest for all of Australia to be defended by well armed professionals who do that for a living so the rest of us can produce beef, mine coal and iron, sell over priced houses or whatever each individual decides to make a living out of.**

So while an anarchy might still be able to provide a good enough defence to deter external aggressors if there wasn’t a really strong motive for invading to begin with or if there were enough defenders to make an invader pay a bloody price for every rock, but there’s no guarantee it’d apply to really motivated invaders or where defenders are spread so thinly that they can be picked off fairly easily. Really, if you want to know how easy it’d be to knock over an Australia inhabited by people living in peaceful anarchy, or something very close to it, you need only ask an Aborigine. They’d probably tell you that it’s already happened once before.

And if one nation feels the need to maintain a standing defence force, wouldn’t its neighbours do likewise just in case a future leader got thoughts about a good offence being the best form of defence? And in turn wouldn’t their neighbours do likewise, and their neighbours and their neighbours? Probably, human nature being what it is, which makes it hard for anarchy to take root and easy for it to whither before it can mature and become stable – another reason why I think it’s unrealistic to think we can get there from where we are now even if it’s where we should be aiming to get to eventually.

So I’m for the nightwatchman state, then? No, not quite. As I said near the beginning of this blog I think a change in the way we view the state would help us manage it. If we agree that the concept of the state is inherently evil, or at the least inherently dangerous, then thinking of it as something akin to a friendly tea drinking man with a torch and a whistle who keeps an eye on our property for us may be almost as grave a mistake as thinking the state is your friend. I feel a better way to look at it is like a large and especially vicious dog, one that can serve a purpose guarding the gate but which you know damn well would take your hand off if you let your guard down. You might be willing to keep and feed such an animal because it does have a use to you, but you’d keep it on a very strong chain or loose in a well fenced yard and would never ever under any circumstances let it into your home.*** Inherently evil? It might not be intelligent enough to be evil, which is fair given the amount of stupid governments are capable of, but it’s certainly inherently dangerous and you probably wouldn’t let your kids within a hundred yards of it.

If we looked at states like that we’d very quickly reach the conclusion that allowing it to govern us is naive bordering on insane, and would instead insist that though we have a use for it we control the state rather than the other way round. What kind of legal and financial means to control it – the type of fences and lengths of chains for the vicious guard dog – I’ll blog about next time. Hopefully I won’t be so busy earning enough to feed my share to the real life state that it’ll take as long to get round to as recent posts have.

* A side reason why I’m more a minarchist than an anarcho-capitalist is that while I’d agree it’s an ideal I don’t think that it’s possible to get there from here. I think it’s likely that minarchism will be a necessary intermediate step, though even that seem likely to be so difficult, what with so many hundreds of millions unweaned from their government tit and unaware that they’re actually being milked more than fed, that I’m not optimistic about living to see it.

** And of course even all that expensive gear might not be enough. I’m no expert but against a large invasion I imagine we’d need to scream for help from allies and/or trading partners, though if the ADF had the means to go scorched earth on some of the resources I imagine trading partners might step in to help voluntarily just to prevent those resources being put beyond use for any length of time.

*** Although the use I’m talking about here is defence I want to make it very clear I am not likening defence forces or anyone serving in them to a vicious dog – I am likening the institution of government that tells the defence forces who to shoot at and drop bombs on to a vicious dog.

ANZAC Day

remember

I’ve become a little time poor for regular blogging in the last year or so and as both of my readers probably know I’ve moved over to Twitter, recently the scene of the kind of free speech battleground that’s made me miss the blogging lark quite a lot even though I wasn’t on the receiving end. I would certainly have made time for this blog’s traditional ANZAC Day post anyway, but considering how fragile are the freedoms paid for with the blood of men and women it feels more important than ever that such sacrifices are marked.

This year, despite my complete and utter lack of religious conviction, I intend to pop along to the Dawn Service – and if you’re in Australia please consider doing the same and visit www.raiseaglass.com.au for locations and times – and at the time this blog post is scheduled to hit the web I should be on the way. I won’t be praying or singing hymns, but I shall be standing quietly at the back somewhere, sacrificing by choice a tiny bit of my time to commemorate those who’ve given up years of healthy life or use of limbs or their last breath.

And as every year I’ve also spent a little time this evening looking for a suitable poem. Think on this.

Campfire Thoughts

 

Sitting by the campfire glow
do you drift in silent thought
think of diggers young and brave
and countries where they fought

Resting in their compound safe
did they stare at lucent flame
then imagine if they could
they were back home again

Fighting Boers in Africa
on the hills or open plains
did they circle late night fires
and miss their home town rains

Middle eastern deserts bare
under mesmerising stars,
did they stand around a fire
and talk of eastern bars

Near the battle fields of France
where so many gave their lives,
did they sit by warming fire
share photos of their wives

Once again in world war two
resting on Kokoda’s track,
did our boys group round a fire
and think they’d not come back

Inside deathly prison camps
endless cruelty brave men bore
did the weak surround a fire
dream of Australia’s shore

Hillsides bare, now in Korea
called the forgotten war
did our diggers make a fire
pray for their full withdraw

Troops were called up-on again
now Vietnam’s jungle dense
did they drink by campfire’s glow
say, “this does not make sense”

Serving now on foreign shores
tropic nights or winter sun
do they sit by campfire warm
glad when their tour is done

Next time you’re by campfire glow
drifting into silent thought
think of diggers young or old
remember why they fought.

David J Delaney
14 July 2009 ©

Visit the War Poetry website: www.warpoetry.co.uk

Keep that shit to yourself and stay in your fucking bunker

The (not-) Mayan nonpocalypse may have come and gone but since the coming year has a 13 in it I think it’s not too unlikely that some weapons grade bellend somewhere is predicting our doom sometime in the next twelve months, especially given that the last end of the world had barely finished not happening before people were recycling the tired excuse that the dates had been miscalculated – amusingly the only thing about the whole unevent that was at all predictable. So with that in mind, a belated look at what Foamy the Squirrel had to say shortly before the Big Fat Nothing of nine days ago.

I’m not sure I believe him.

Misfire

The dead of Newtown, CT, have only just begun to be buried but certain parts of the media are doing their damnedest to make sure the story stays unburied for as long as humanly possible. Readers, I give you the a report from Nine News and also the take of their print brethren at Melbourne Herald Sun and a piece of froth flecked outrage that has passed their respective in-house test for balanced journalism, factual errors and partisan language notwithstanding. In case the video on that link isn’t viewable from outside Australia here’s a screencap of part of it – you’ll see why in a minute.

Screen shot 2012-12-18 at 20.03.24

Now let’s get straight into the lip foaming copy, shall we?

Two Victorian high schools sent students as young as 12 on an excursion to a shooting range just two days after a US gunman killed 20 children and six educators in the Sandy Hook massacre.

And if Victoria was anywhere near Connecticut or if the head had seen the news and been inspired to organise the shooting trip because of it that would be perhaps insensitive in the first case and more than a little fucking weird in the second. However, this took place more than 16,000km – over 10,000 miles for those of you working in old money – away, and, as Nine eventually get round to hinting, was organised and booked well before the appalling murders of last Friday.

“It crossed my mind (to cancel the trip after the US tragedy) … but do you stop teaching swimming because someone drowned?” Ballarat High School senior co-ordinator Michael Cook told the Herald Sun.
“We were really too far committed to it.”

Michael Cook makes a very good point, though if it were me I might have mentioned all those charity sausage sizzles in aid of the Black Saturday bushfires three years ago. I don’t recall anyone cracking the shits about people lighting up barbecues after a couple of towns erased from the map, hundreds or thousands of homes destroyed and 174 left dead by bushfires that occurred right fucking here in this state. Tad hypocritical? Don’t answer yet – I’m not done.

This is Harold Holt, Prime Minister of Australia from Januray 1966 to December the following year, when he disappeared and drowned (presumably – his body was never recovered and so there are various entertaining alternative theories) while swimming off Portsea, south of Melbourne.

220px-Harol_Holt_PM

This is… well, it kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

From here

From here

In case you’re wondering the Harold Holt Swim Centre was named couple of years after the event. And nobody seems to have any kind of problem with that, instead pointing out that Holt was a keen swimmer when non Aussies ask why the hell they named a swimming pool after a drowning victim.

But I digress, because having dealt with the schlock journalism of emotional shit stirring we get to the slack journalism of getting things fucking wrong.

More than 50 students from Ballarat High School and Beaufort Secondary College were taught to fire up to 20 rounds each at the Beaufort Gun Club yesterday.

Rounds? Look at that screencap at the top again. Look more like the kind of guns that fire cartridges of shot to me, but perhaps I’m just being pedantic. Rounds, cartridges, bullets, shot – kinda sorta all the same thing to some people, including some journos who seem to pick up most of what they know about guns from Hollywood. Which would explain the next sentence.

The students, aged between 12 and 15, were heard talking about the Connecticut school shooting during the excursion while their classmates learnt to use the rifles.

RIFLES? Look, Nine, a gun that is too long to be a pistol isn’t necessarily a rifle. Do you really have no staff at all who are know the difference between rifles and shotguns and are capable of spotting it before you go to air/web? Christ’s sakes, I’m not saying you should be able to recognise it as a shotgun event just from what’s going on in the picture (looks like some kind of trap discipline to me, which I’d say is a great way to start newcomers since everything – shot and targets – is going away and you can set things up to throw fairly easy ones to give everyone a good chance of breaking a few clays), but surely you’d, oh, not being a journalist I wouldn’t know, but maybe phone the fucking club and ask?

However, Nine weren’t the only ones to say it was rifles, though they were still using the term while showing close-ups of break action over/under shotties on the early evening news. I’d heard rifles mentioned on the car radio earlier, and although my own first experience of shooting was with rifles I suspected it might actually be shotguns because the school’s in rural Victoria and shotguns probably aren’t uncommon in farming towns. There’s a zillion sodding rabbits out there, after all.

So Nine’s real sin might in fact be not doing their own story and just re-writing someone else’s. Hmm, who could that be?

…told the Herald Sun.

Source: Herald Sun

The Herald Sun, where we read:

A VICTORIAN high school has defended its decision to take students as young as 12 on a shooting expedition two days after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Screen shot 2012-12-18 at 19.49.24

Journalism or churnalism on Nine’s (and others’) part? I’ll leave that for you to decide, but I find it interesting that the Herald Sun piece, time stamped 3:23pm, actually mentions shotguns rather than rifles. Whether that was a hasty correction after everyone else had jumped aboard the outrage bus and was screaming about rifles, because the creature responsible for the murders in America used a rifle too you know, I have no idea, but it just means the story is slightly more factual (it still talks about rounds). It’s still not exactly what you’d call balanced when it contains phrases like this (my bold):

More than 50 students, aged between 12 and 15, from Ballarat High School and Beaufort Secondary College attended the Beaufort Gun Club yesterday where they were taught to wield shotguns and fire up to 20 rounds each.

I’ll tell you now and for free, those students were not taught to wield a shotgun or anything else. Wielding is what you do with a weapon (do please check your dictionaries for the definition of wield, Herald Sun journos) and while like practically anything else it can be used as one a shotgun of the type designed for trap shooting is not a weapon. It’s just a gun. I could bore you with details of why it’s not even a weapon, or is at best sub-optimal as a weapon, from the point of view of the fluffy bunnykins, but if you’re interested you can Google the differences between trap and field guns along with the differences in gun design for different clay target disciplines. Or you could trust me on this: it’s just a gun and not a weapon in the same way that a carving knife is just a knife and not a dagger. Dangerous? Yes, that goes without saying. But not a weapon, only a gun.

And not being a weapon the kids would sure as hell not have been taught to wield one. They’d have been taught to handle and shoot one safely and responsibly so that they’re not a danger to themselves or others, which may be the reason they didn’t come back dead or scared half to death but, well, like this.

Students participating in the outing at the shooting range yesterday were heard discussing the Sandy Hook massacre while their classmates fired.

A 14-year-old Year 8 student described her first experience holding a shotgun as “fun”.

“I was a little nervous, but I’d definitely do it again,” she said.

And despite the predictable whining from the state Education Minister and a gun control lobby talking head (why do we even have a gun control lobby here – they’ve already won) about the timing of the trip, protests from the school about it having been booked long before notwithstanding, I personally think it’s entirely appropriate to teach responsible and safe firearms handling when the fallout from irresponsible, dangerous and downright murderous firearms handling is in people’s minds.

Or would you not want to teach kids interested in swimming how to stay afloat because Harold Holt drowned?

P.S. Just out of interest I wonder will the left suddenly learn to love Murdoch now his publications are reminding us that he is – and I have a vague recollection always was – opposed to private citizens owning effective means of defence? Seems odd that he chose to give up citizenship of one country to become a citizen of one of the few, perhaps the only, nation on the planet that recognises that right.

Liberty in Britain and Australia – a reply to John Galt

On Monday regular commenter John Galt left a comment on the female bishops post after I’d replied to someone else saying that despite everything I still feel that overall Australia is a marginally less illiberal country than the UK. Not in all respects to be sure, and I’m not denying that Australia is a slightly worse place to live than the UK if you are, say, an overweight smoker who likes a beer while getting a suntan. And I emphasise that I think it’s only slightly worse. But more than once I’ve expressed the thought that if I were to grade all aspects of life in both countries from a libertarian perspective and come up with an overall score then Australia would come out a bit ahead. When I first said this I also said that I thought Australia was probably only five years behind the UK, but I’ve been for longer than that now and it still doesn’t feel quite as under the government’s heel as the UK did when I left it.

But in a short comment reply there wasn’t room for that kind of detail so all I said was that for all that Australia can be pretty illiberal I maintain that in a broad sense the UK is worse, though like most of the nominally free world both nations have got noticeably less free in recent years. To which John Galt said:

Obviously you’ve not bought any cigarettes in Australia recently.

Not to pour scorn, I expect the same bollocks in UK by 2015.

True, I haven’t bought cigs lately, though both my regular readers (hi, Mum) will know that I have watched and blogged on the topic over time. For example, this time last year I blogged on how the smoke ban has led to notices outside doorways claiming to extend the property rights of building owners ten metres out into the street. At least that’s how far away from their doors they say smoking is banned, and of course that includes part of the road and any private car that are on it too. I’m pretty sure I’ve also mentioned that the tobacco display bans contained an exemption for tobacconists in most places, but not in the ACT where they are mad and insisted that even shops that sell little else but tobacco hide the products behind cupboard doors even though you have to open a door on the street to get in there in the first place. I have not mentioned that just a week or so ago I saw what I assume is an infringement of the tobacco display ban in an outlet somewhere in Victoria – I’m not saying where – and nobody seeming to give much of a shit about the smokes being >sharp intake of breath< visible to anyone who happened to look over the counter.

But yes, of course I realise that anti-smoke nannyism is rife here and exceeds that of the UK, and as I touched on at the top other forms of nannyism such as alcohol, drugs, healthy eating, tanning beds and so on are as bad or worse than in Britain. I've come to believe that lobbyists and politicians here are actually addicted to telling other people off about their assumed addictions.*

But there are a few other points to consider here, which taken together are why I say that overall the UK is less free. Firstly, some of the disposal of individual liberty has been done by Australia to keep up with other nations doing the same thing, and some has been done first for the sake of not wanting other countries, including Britain, to be the first to do it. In the case of plain cigarette packs this has been stated openly at least once. I think it was then Health Minister and current AG Nicola Roxon and it was words to the effect of "If we don't act now and bring in plain pack legislation there is a real danger that the UK will beat us to it." I really should have that in the bookmarks because it shows it to be less about health and more about political vanity (and possibly some lingering pain over losing the Ashes).

Yes, doing something to be first to do something is a moronic reason to have a policy, but with so much of western politics revolving around vainglorious dickheads talking about how under their leadership their country is leading the world it's neither a surprise nor unique to Australia. Britain is leading the world with CCTV monitoring of its citizens, the US is leading the world with making flying anywhere less fun than being waterboarded between episodes of The X Factor, Australia are leading the world with nonsense about plain tobacco packaging, and so on. I never claimed that Australia's government is leading the world in minding its own fucking business, just that I think its current obsessions are less intrusive and illiberal than those of its UK counterpart.

The second thing I want to point out is that Australia has no relationship with an external body along the lines of the UK's relationship with the European Union etc. The relationship of the states to Canberra may be a bit similar but Canberra is still in Australia and Australians vote for the federal government there. A convicted criminal such as Haigh can appeal his case as far as the High Court of Australia and no further because there is no equivalent of the ECHR to which Australia has given the power to overturn domestic laws and legal decisions. There are still lingering ties with the UK that are kind of similar but seem mostly to revolve around Mrs Windsor being queen of both countries.

I suppose it could be argued that UK law would therefore take precedence over Australian law if, say, a change from male primogeniture to unisex primogeniture was desired by one country and not the other. "Sorry, colonial types, but you've agreed to have our Sovereign as your head of state too, and if we say boys take precedence and you don't like it or vice versa then you have to put up with it." But despite the current news of buns in ovens (I was determined not to say any more on that than I've said already) that's all theoretical at this point. If Kate does have twins and if there's one of each flavour the future head of state could be decided by the handful of people in the room at the time and whether they agree to tell a porky about who emerged first – all aboard the tinfoil hat express but remember I have first dibs on this particular conspiracy theory.

In any case it's not in the same league as having daily influence over domestic law. Britain does not, for instance, tell Australia whether its supermarkets can sell produce in grams or ounces or how long the employees of those supermarkets may work each week. Such things are decided in Australia, end of. The head of state stuff can also be done away with as soon as enough Australians want it binned and some Oz only arrangement made instead. I'm still hoping for Her Royal Australian Highness Queen Kylie the First, because why the fuck not.

Then there's the issue of economic liberty. Like the governments of all nominally free countries both the Australian and UK governments do not allow any but a handful of their citizens the freedom to keep all the products of their labour. In Australia this is currently anyone who earns less than $18,000 or so, which I'mtv sure isn't very many people but I'm equally sure is probably a hell of a lot more than the number who earn under £8,105 in the UK. Beyond those thresholds both governments feel that they and not the individual who earns it have an increasing right to the product of labour. Further, a comparison of Tax Freedom Days shows that British residents work for the state for 150 days a year while Australians only work 112 days before earning for themselves. I’m pretty sure this is before considering that all governments also agree that states have the right to run up massive debts and unfunded liabilities on behalf of their citizens, and the relevance to a discussion of liberty in the UK versus liberty in Australia is that British governments have lately been considerably more profligate than even the most spendthrift Australian ones. In other words 150 days and 112 days of working for the respective states are probably both underestimates, but when considering the size of Britain’s debt, unfunded liabilities and continued deficit the former is probably a larger underestimate than the latter.

Then there are those laws I mentioned. If he felt like it David Cameron could suspend almost any UK law, up to and including habeas thanks to Blair-era legislation that neither Cameron nor anyone else in politics seems remotely interested in repealing. Despite my low opinion of politicians I think that most or all of the ones in Westminster now can be trusted not to abuse this power, but since the future is always unknown I maintain that this is a power that no government should ever have. Other powers the government granted itself and its successors in the Blair days have already been extended beyond their initial intended remit and, predictably enough, abused to the detriment of individual liberty in the UK. I’m not aware of similar ‘mini-Enabling Acts’ (h/t to the sadly closed Devil’s Kitchen blog for that term) in Australia – yet.  I’m no lawyer so for all I know there could be something, but if so I’ve not heard of it. And I’d have expected Australian libertarians who know far more about Aussie law than I could ever hope to learn to have made enough noise that I would have heard about it if habeas corpus could be suspended by ministerial fiat here the way it can be in the UK.

And while we’re on the topic of illiberal laws in Australia, and coming somewhat tangentially full circle back to anti-smoking laws and similar nanny state legislation, there’s the point that I’ve made once or twice before that no matter how under Nanny’s thumb people who live in Australia’s cities might be this becomes increasingly theoretical as you get into more rural parts of Australia. I’m not saying that everything is different there but as a practical matter enforcement becomes harder in the more remote parts of the interior. When the nearest cop, local government officer concerned with tobacco legislation, or just baccyphobic busybody might be hundreds of miles away what the law says people may do and what they actually agree between themselves might be different things. It’s not unlike the old traditional ‘lock in’ that went on in many British pubs who were prepared to quietly ignore the then law that said no drinking after 11pm, except that I expect local law enforcement often knew about the lock ins and turned a blind eye provided nothing too blatant went on. Is there scope for for those who’d cock a snook at an unnecessarily intrusive and illiberal law to an even greater degree in those parts of Australia where hardly anybody lives?

Let me me put it like this. Back in 1993 something strange happened in Western Australia about 350km north of Kalgoorlie. Just after 11pm on 28th May there was a large ‘seismic disturbance’, and the handful of truckies and gold prospectors in the area at the time reported seeing what was described variously as a flash or a fireball and hearing a distant explosion or a low frequency rumble. It was found to be way too large for a mining explosion (which wouldn’t take place at night anyway) but it was consistent with seismic activity in region, though of course that wouldn’t explain the flash. A meteor would but there was no sign of a crater so flashes notwithstanding it was put down to an earthquake. And for a while nobody thought further of it until a few years later when someone investigating the Aum Shinrikyo nutters who’d attacked the Tokyo metro with sarin gas noticed that the cult owned Banjawarn Station, a sheep station of half a billion hectares about 350km north of Kalgoorlie. And which sat on a uranium deposit. Suddenly people looked at the mysterious seismic event with flash and explosiony sounding rumble again, and there was serious speculation that Aum Shinrikyo had actually tested a small nuke of a couple of kilotons or so in Western Australia. Right under everyone’s noses, only not really right under everyone’s noses because the only noses anywhere near were those of Aum Shinrikyo.

Now it has to be said that they probably didn’t. I can’t find anywhere that’s positively identified exactly what the event was but the AFP investigated Aum Shinrikyo and the bottom line is that there’s no evidence that they tested a nuke there. All the same, something bloody big happened and almost nobody noticed. As Bill Bryson wrote about it much later:

This is a country [...] so vast and empty that a band of amateur enthusiasts could conceivably set off the world’s first non-governmental atomic bomb on its mainland and almost four years would pass before anyone noticed.

So if an event on a similar scale to a 2 kiloton explosion can go almost unnoticed for two years and its cause not completely settled to this day, I reckon you could say hang what the law says and hold a gay wedding indoors with the entire party smoking cigarettes from Marlboro branded packets with no health warnings.

And Canberra might never know.

* This is based on what appears to be the neo-prohibitionists’ definition of addiction, which is any activity, pastime or habit that gives some people any kind of pleasure or enjoyment. And since so many neo-prohibitionists have such a massive hard on for telling everyone else to stop doing things they like doing I can only assume at this point that the nannies themselves are, ipso facto, addicted to nannying.**

** I concede that more research is probably needed into this apparent addiction, and if the federal government would like to give me a multi-million dollar annual budget I’ll be all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake.

Nothing else will happen this week, and nothing at all for several weeks round next June

In the same way that I didn’t care about two people I’d never met and and am not likely to meet getting married and was really quite sick of hearing about it by the time it actually happened, I don’t care that they’re now expectant parents. I’m not being curmudgeonly here. I’m delighted when people I know break the happy news that they’re having a baby, but I manage the disappointment of not hearing about it from the >99.9999% of the world I’ve never met and am overcome with indifference when it’s a sleb. What I said of the weddingathon is just as applicable now:

Despite my long standing republicanish tendencies I don’t harbour any ill will towards William and Kate. Okay, it does annoy me slightly that unless Australia ditches the monarchy he’ll be ‘my’ king one day, but that’s not his fault. The poor bugger never asked for the job and for all any of us know may turn it down when the time comes. So no, I have nothing against them, but I don’t know them and they don’t know me and it’s vanishingly unlikely that that will ever change, which means I have nothing but indifference towards them either. Sorry if this isn’t entering the flag-waving spirit that seems expected of everybody British born, but I’m just not prepared to jump on the bandwagon and sit here pretending that it’s in any way meaningful to me.

And there’s no reason anyone else should apart from the fact that millions are adherents of the cult of celebrity, of which the British Royal family is very much a part. Somewhere in Vietnam there’s probably a Mr and Mrs Nguyen who are also expecting their first child, and the indifference of rest of the world is such that not only does it not care, it doesn’t even know whether or not Mr and Mrs Nguyen exist. Worse, parts of it are probably only dimly aware of the country they live in because some good movies have been made about a bad war there.

Putting it another way, have a look at this screencap of a Google image search.

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 11.14.00

Do you personally know any of the people in the images? Do you feel the need to express joyous feelings towards the ones you don’t know? Obviously you hope people’s pregnancies go well because you’re a weapons grade shit if you sit there wishing all the various horrible pregnancy complications on someone, but do you feel like e-mailing photo libraries asking for your congratulations to be passed along to any of the couples in the images? No? No inclination at all? So why will millions be mailing St James’ Palace?

This is something that happens to most people sooner or later and I don’t get why I should be expected to express happiness, or any emotion at all, for Wills and Kate when nobody thinks I should for any of the other 7 billion people who aren’t in my own social circle. I do get that it’s welcomed by some who can expect to get away with releasing bad news while most of the world and media are distracted for several months, and I do get that it’s welcomed by the media themselves who can milk it thoroughly for cheap news of poor Kate’s latest bout of morning sickness.

But I don’t get why it’s of more than academic interest to the rest of us and why any couple expecting a child should also expect to have to release images of the fucking sonograms to the press. Or for that matter break the news much earlier than planned because a hospital admission would only lead to press speculation otherwise.

So now we all know, okay? Any chance we can leave it there and just have the one day of multi-page coverage when the royal sprog/s is/are dropped? I ask in hope, but no real expectation, of not seeing the news filled with speculation of the baby’s name, sex, weight and eventual height and fashion preferences for the next several months.

“I’m not a monster anymore…”

… says convicted serial killer Paul Steven Haigh, representing himself in his appeal to have a minimum prison term applied to his sentence, sorry his life sentence, make that his six life sentences so he can have a chance of parole.

Over a period of nearly two hours on Monday, Haigh read a series of essays to the court about topics such as remorse, callousness and sympathy.

He described his six murders as “horrendous”, “abominable” and “repulsive”.

“What I am today [is] a far cry from the monster of yesteryear,” he told the court on Monday.

Haigh said he was not incorrigible and should not be denied his freedom.

I’m not one for writing off and denying even the hope of eventual freedom to even the worst criminals. I’m not saying let ‘em out – not denying awful criminals the hope of eventual release is not the same as actually releasing them. They should still have to earn their release and satisfy everyone that they’re not a danger. That many have apparently pulled wool over the eyes of those who make the decisions doesn’t say the principle’s wrong, just that it’s not always being done all that well.

So it’s not for me to say whether Haigh is or isn’t incorrigible and should have a chance of (as opposed to a guarantee of) freedom one day, but is it for him either? I realise this is a bit Catch 22 but I’ve always felt that someone who really is completely overcome with remorse for their crimes would accept that their punishment by incarceration is appropriate. On the plus side he hasn’t killed anyone since he’s been inside… apart from just that one guy:

Haigh, who has spent more than 30 years in prison, was also convicted of killing sex offender Donald George Hatherley, whom he helped hang in a jail cell at Pentridge Prison in 1991.

He told the court on Monday he was assisting Hatherley to commit suicide.

And of course that’s also illegal anyway. Still, he hasn’t killed anyone for more than 20 years, which is nice. So should he have a minimum term and therefore a chance of parole? Like I said, I don’t have the answer but I think dim prospects of release are fairer than all hope removed. However, I think he probably should spend some more time in the prison library. In the biology section.

He told a story about a butterfly becoming a caterpillar and said: “Though I don’t claim to be a perfect butterfly yet, I am not a caterpillar either.”

A butterfly becoming a caterpillar would be an example of regression, surely? Though to be fair there are enough examples of journos fucking up the basics of the animal kingdom that he mightn’t be guilty of that at all.

On faith, freedom and female bishops

So the Church of England has debated the issue and ending up saying no to the idea of women bishops. This, we’re told, is a final no, but it strikes me that at some point in the past it was probably almost equally definite that there would no be women vicars, and yet today the Anglican church both in and outside of England has plenty of women priests who are not Dawn French. The article even says that it’s killed the prospect off for at least five years, which doesn’t sound all that final to me. For now though it does look like this has put the kybosh on the idea in the CofE.

And I say this: so bloody what?

There will now almost certainly be calls in Parliament for the Church of England’s exemption from equality legislation — effectively allowing it to discriminate against women by barring them from becoming bishops — to be removed, opening the way for women to bring a legal challenge.
[...]
Ben Bradshaw, a former Labour minister, said: “This means the Chruch is being held hostage by an unholy and unrepresentative alliance of conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics.
“This will add to clamour for disestablishment, there is even talk of moves in Parliament to remove the Church’s exemption from the Equality Act.”

Look, it’s their religion and if freedom of religion is to remain in Britain then we all have to accept that practitioners of a given religion can run it however they like providing it doesn’t actually harm anyone else. And no, not providing an opportunity to be bishops is no more harming women than the lack of opportunity in Britain for people of either gender to become astronauts. The bottom line is it’s their god-club and their rules, and whether the first rule of god-club is not talking about god-club or no mitres are men only or no gay weddings in our buildings it’s still their rules. I’m for gay weddings if gays want to marry and I’m for female emancipation and the opportunity for the girls to seek any work they choose up to and including that of sperm donor. But as with the obvious case of sperm donation, freedom to seek doesn’t mean that there must be a guarantee that the position must be made available to women.

Is it silly that women shouldn’t be bishops? Yeah, I’d agree with that, but I’d add that I find it no more so than many other aspects of religion in general and Anglican Christianity in particular. If it’s sillier I’d say it’s only because some other parts of the Anglican Communion have gone ahead and allowed female bishops. But is it unreasonable? Should the CofE be compelled by secular law to allow female bishops? No, I don’t think so. If you want to remove the exemption on the principle that all are equal before the law I’d be all for it, though I’m really for laws that dictate and restrict how one is allowed to think and choose to be ditched as fundamentally anti-liberty. And if you wanted to disestablish the Church on the grounds of separation of Church and State I’d support that too. But this isn’t about applying the law equally or any such noble notions. This is just punishing a religious minority (I’m guessing CofE regulars are in a minority these days?) because their world view isn’t modern enough for you.

It’s a religion, yes? An unscientific and untestable faith in a 14 billion year old entity as explanation for literally everything? It’s not supposed to be modern, surely? So let them have their rules, outdated as some of us may think they are, and let those ladies who want to be bishops apply to those parts of the Anglican Communion that are open to the idea. Or start their own church if competition for positions is too intense in Scotland and visas for anywhere further are too much hassle. If, as we’re told, the big worry for the Church was a schism with traditionalists and evangelicals leaving then why don’t the pro-female modernisers leave instead. This is how freedom and tolerance actually works, you see. Their god-club means their freedom to set their rules, as I said before, and the rest of us tolerate that since we know that freedom also means that nobody who disagrees has to stay in the god-club.

Or are we admitting that Britain isn’t a free country after all? If so that might be a start toward becoming one.

 

PS A brief apology. Obviously I intended making a joke about bashing the bishop but I just couldn’t think of one. To anyone who is offended by this oversight, please take 50¢ and phone someone who gives a shit.

Remembrance

 

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Anthem for Doomed Youth – Wilfred Owen, 1917

One for the Ambush Predator’s zoo

I’ve noted before that with the move online newspapers have found they have far more space than they used to, and on slower news days seem to have often given in to the temptation to fill up some of that vast space with, well, shit. To be fair they always did this with the dead tree editions before there was an internet and they’ll probably continue for as long as the cult of Sleb exists no matter what the medium. No major crimes, wars, political stupidity and/or ill advised affairs? No problem, just write half a page of repeated gossip about some soap actress and follow it up with a page and a half of speculation.

But with the move to the digital media newspapers came up with a brand new form of crap padding: images. Almost every article, no matter how mundane, must be accompanied by a picture. David Cameron made a speech? Quick, get me a photo of David Cameron in case everyone’s forgotten what the fucker looks like. And make sure it’s a picture of him talking in case the readership has forgotten what making a speech is as well. Shooting incident? Get me a picture of a gun right now, even if it’s the wrong gun. Yes, even if it’s not the right kind of gun. Warble gloaming and claims about the hottest decade on record? Get me an image about something hot… yeah, of course a stock photo of a hot girl will do just fine. I’ll be in the gents for ten minutes if anyone’s looking for me.

But where they often smash through the bottom of the barrel is with filler in the form of a pointless picture gallery, such as this one about a train crash yesterday south of Melbourne. Why? What extra information does The Age think we’ll get from 16 photos of train wreckage that we can’t already glean from one of the initial articles plus follow ups and video? Worst of all is when the gallery exists solely because of some minor entertainment story or for no apparent reason at all, because that’s when they seem to give the job to work experience kids, bored couriers waiting for someone to sign for a delivery and, perhaps in the spirit of Douglas Adams’ Megadodo Publications, random people who wandered into the building by mistake and haven’t found their way back out yet.

Why the fuck I even click on these sometimes is beyond me – I’m sure someone will say it’s an addiction, which may be the topic of an upcoming blog – but from time to time I do. And just now I spotted one that belongs in JuliaM’s collection of wolverines labelled as bears, deer standing in for moose, jaguarundis with ambitions of being jaguars, and infinitely interchangeable buffalo and bison. The gallery is about celebrities who look like animals, and in it Liza Minelli is somewhat unkindly compared with an emu.

Personally I don’t see much emu-ness about her in that picture but these things are necessarily subjective. The thing is I don’t see much emu-ness about the picture on the right either, and that might be because I’m pretty sure that it’s a fucking ostrich.

The neck of the Emu is pale blue and shows through its sparse feathers. They have brown to grey-brown plumage of shaggy appearance; the shafts and the tips of the feathers are black.

Wikipedia

This would be bad enough if it was The Teletubbygraph and its dyslexic approach to zoology again, but in this instance it’s an Australian website stuffing up the identity of a bird that doesn’t exist anywhere apart from Australia, the coat of arms of Australia and, until he died, under the fake arm of an Australian entertainer. So for people everywhere chained to desks without food until they’ve made a pointless photo gallery for the online edition of some newspaper here’s a very easy way to tell the difference: ostriches are the ones with the teeth.

This is an ostrich

You’re welcome.

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