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Has ANZAC Day caught the 2010s’ most contagious disease?

“Dafuq, Exile,” I hear you exclaim. “I thought you liked ANZAC Day. Didn’t you write all this a few years ago?”

Public opinion of ANZAC Day in Australia has apparently swung back and forth as different conflicts and wars, and associated protests, have gone on but these days (and I can only go on the few years I’ve been here) a good balance seems to have been found. For instance there was a time when there’d be no sport played but now ANZAC Day is a special fixture for both Aussie Rules football and Rugby League, and there are two minute silences and playings of The Last Post before traditional rivals square up and knock seven bells out of each other. … So I find ANZAC Day can be tricky to describe – it’s solemn without being sepulchral, it honours members of the armed forces without there being any glorification of war, it’s respectful without being overly deferential, it marks the loss both of individuals and of a nation’s sons and daughters, but without it turning into a day for grief and mourning. For some it’s fallen heroes, for others it’s missing mates. It’s sad and beautiful and formal and informal all at the same time. … Like I said, I think just the right balance is struck and so ANZAC Day is one of those things that set this corner of the world slightly apart.

Well, yeah, I did and for the most part I stand by it. But in the last couple of years it feels like another element has started to creep in, and while it may spring from the best intentions I’m not sure the effects are what I’d call edifying (pics link to articles).

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Now as a Johnny Come Lately who wasn’t born in Australia and has spent only the last decade or so here I’m absolutely prepared to be shot down in flames about this, but is ANZAC Day really supposed to be about butthurt over who gets to march where, posing questionably with medals and badges that you may not be correct in and/or entitled to wear, and above all, whinging about disrespect to the Essendon footy club and to Kevin Sheedy because he pushed for the creation of an ANZAC Day game? There seems to be a lot of people whose main worry is where they fit in on ANZAC Day and who want to protect their role in the occasion. Forgive me for asking where the poor bloody soldiers are supposed to fit in.

And this is where I feel one of the decade’s most virulent social diseases has started to creep into the occasion: virtue signalling. Everyone does it a bit because we all like to think we’re nice people and to be well thought of by others, but in the last few years the importance of that second part seems to be getting a lot bigger than it should be. Whether it’s buying flowers for a dead singer whose most successful album you bought (or possibly just pirated) and haven’t played for five years or joining in the twitch-hunt of a complete stranger who made a near the knuckle joke online or shot a supposedly world famous animal that you’d never heard of, it’s a bit weird and it’s about you rather than them.

Sadly I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it feels like there are now a few people around who want to be seen to do ANZAC Day better than average. I don’t just mean people who’ve seen exactly as much military service as me (i.e. precisely zero) wanting to be part of a march because someone who died before they were born was shipped off to get shot at a century ago. I don’t just mean people posing with the wrong badges because it looks cool, let alone those epic bellends who buy medals and uniforms and pretend to be veterans of some war or other despite the inevitable rage and abuse it draws from genuine veterans. I don’t just mean people in football complaining about disrespect to their clubs on a day they said was special because it was paying respect to war dead and veterans past and present.

I also mean those coma inducing bores who love to tell you how many dawn services they’ve been to, how early they got up to drag the kids out of bed to get a good place at the Shrine of Remembrance, how it was a much better spot than they’ve had before but how next year they reckon they can get much nearer the front, how cold it was first thing, how wet and cold it was last year although not as wet as the one they went to ooh when was it must have been in 2008, and did you go oh don’t tell me you didn’t go, what’s wrong with you, don’t you do ANZAC Day properly?

Fuck. Off.

It’s good that you want to show respect but here’s the thing: you’ve started to make it about you. Not the guys who died and not the guys who are dying and not the guys who are living with the aftereffects of whatever war they’ve come back from. You.

You have already have a day that’s about you, and I suppose there’s a 1 in 365 chance that it also happens to be on April 25th, but even if it is the bit where you pay respects to ANZACs and surviving veterans is not it. It’s about sacrifices by current and former soldiers, not what a goddamn fucking great guy you are for doing it every year. It’s no more You Day than it is Kevin Bloody Sheedy Day.

And if you’re upset because you’re the great grandsomething of one of the poor unfortunate guys who fought, killed and possibly died in World War One, and you’re telling people it’s ANZAC Day not Veterans’ Day, and dammit you want to march because many decades ago someone promised someone else it’d be family tradition forever, then I have two points I feel I should make.

First, the original Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was disbanded after the withdrawal from Gallipoli and split into two other corps, neither of which kept the name all the way to the end of the war. If you’re that hung up on the name and your ancestor served after 1st November 1917 you just disqualified yourself. If not then at the least your argument would exclude descendants of anyone who served only in the last year, as if their sacrifices are somehow less for being made as a member of the Australian Corps.

Secondly, there’s a way to tick both boxes and honour your family promise to march on ANZAC Day as a descendant of a World War One soldier as well as satisfy those who say marching should be done by those who have or are actually serving in the Australian Defence Force. Just click this link to begin: http://www.defencejobs.gov.au/recruitment-centre/how-to-join/

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.

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.

“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.

Money money money

I saw this headline and had a brief moment of confusion. How on earth could the black economy make Victoria lose $620 million a year? Was all the money going abroad or interstate? I read on to find out and it wasn’t long before the answer was apparent. Victoria isn’t losing $620 million a year at all.

A report by the Australia Institute think tank says cash-in-hand payments are stripping at least $2.7 billion from state governments each year by reducing the pool of goods and services tax with a cost to the Victorian government of at least $620 million this financial year. The federal government is also being deprived of billions in income tax revenue.

So what’s happening here? Is this equating of the state of Victoria with the government of Victoria as if they were one and the same just a bit of journalistic licence to save space? I’d grant the possibility but for the fact that there seems to be enough room there to add an ‘n’ to the end of ‘Victoria’ and follow it up with ‘govt’. Who knows, perhaps it was necessary to accommodate the article in the print version. But is there also some tinfoil-hatted theory that we’re being subtly programmed to accept that they are one and the same thing after all? Or worse (because it seems so much simpler and thus more likely) do so many people really not see the difference that there’s actually not much point in adding ‘n government’ to any part of that headline?

I worry that even if there are sound journalistic reasons for not distinguishing between Victoria and the government which rules sorry, I mean serves it, there might actually be something in that last one. And that’s a depressing thought because it means that few people will challenge what’s being said and point out that there’s an alternative way to view this situation:

Victoria is retaining $620 million a year that would otherwise be lost to the state government.

That is, of course, a huge oversimplification. Firstly, it ignores the possibility of value coming back in exchange for that money. We might criticise the efficiency of a system where a sales tax to create income for the states involves the rate being set for all states by the federal government in Canberra and the money being sent there by taxpayers before being sent back to their respective state governments – less various deductions for the feds, no doubt. We might argue about how much value comes back from government and how much it spunks away on needless crap and vanity projects (I’d say way too much of the latter – the $50+ million p.a. Grand Prix springs to mind – but I wouldn’t claim nothing at all for the former) but if you want a government that does stuff then it needs income. Even the very smallest government providing the most minimalist services would require a certain amount of income, and it’s naive to think that taxing something wouldn’t be the way to provide it. Even the Break Glass In Case Of Emergency minarchist state of my fantasies would need a tax, and GST might be it.

Secondly, it ignores the fact that governments are all too happy simply to run up debts to be repaid by future taxpayers when the tax revenue isn’t as much as they hoped. Government running on deficit spending is practically a hallmark of the evolution of western democracy as electorates have learned to vote for whoever most convincingly promises to give them expensive stuff to be paid for by someone else. State and local governments are different from national ones only in scale, and Victoria is no exception.*

But allowing for that, and assuming (incredibly generously) that every dollar of tax returns somewhere near a dollar of value, it’s still nonetheless a fact that individuals in Victoria are better off in the short term by an average of about $125 each. More realistically, many aren’t GST registered and more of us probably pay our taxes than don’t anyway, so some are thousands better off while others gained a big fat $0.00.** And, of course, that too is an oversimplification since it ignores the fact that those individuals will have more to spend. Even if it’s at second or third or Nth hand some of will end up with those of us who didn’t pay cash in hand to cheat the taxman. The builder who gets paid $1,000 cash in hand this week will have $91 more to spend on whatever he likes in November after he’s sent the Australian Tax Office a cheque for the GST he collected for them.*** Or he does the job for, say, $950 and both parties benefit.

Am I saying we should all not pay our taxes or that I approve of or condone tax evasion? No, not at all. Never mind the rights and wrongs, the morality of abusing a monopoly on force to take money at gunpoint from millions of people, many of whom are on below average incomes, to do what the government has decided in the hubris and arrogance it often mistakes for all knowing wisdom is in the best interests of everybody, tax evasion is a crime and you will never hear me say that anyone should do it no matter how much it might leave in the economy. If you believe there should be more money out there instead of wasted by vainglorious but clueless politicians then look at legal tax avoidance or vote for politicians who’ll actually shrink the state instead of the usual left/right dickheads. Dodging what  current laws say you absolutely must pay is Not A Good Idea.

But what I am saying is that money hasn’t just vanished from the economy, and that even if a government or supporters of big state government in general want to think that lost tax revenue is the same thing actually it isn’t. It really isn’t.

The average official salary in 2011 was equivalent to $2 per month while the actual monthly income seems to be around $15 because most North Koreans earn money in illegal small businesses: trade, subsistence farming, and handicrafts. The illegal economy is dominated by women because men have to attend their places of official work even though most of the factories are non-functioning. It is estimated that in the early 2000s, the average North Korean family drew some 80% of its income from small businesses that are legal in market economies but illegal in North Korea.

Wikipedia

And I’m also saying that maybe, just maybe, we might be a bit better off if that $620m a year could remain out there legally.

* The article does mention that the Victorian government is on track to return to a surplus of about $144 million this financial year, but since its debt is currently $15.2 billion the remaining debt will still be well over 100 times greater than the predicted surplus.

** I am scrupulously honest for several reasons, not the least of which is that I feel it gives me more right to bitch about taxes if I pay all I owe.

*** Yes, this does mean I have a quarter of records to go through, an ATO form to fill in and a cheque for GST to send by the end of the month, hence my current inclination to punch cute kittens until my own fists are bloody stumps when the subject comes up in the news.

Remember this guy?

From about six weeks ago.

Well, sure enough

A man has been charged with extinguishing the Eternal Flame at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.

The 36-year-old Yarraville man allegedly climbed over barriers and used a fire extinguisher to put out the flame on May 25.

The man has been charged with theft, criminal damage and a number of other offences under the shrine regulations, including behaving in an offensive manner.

Still no word on the motive (alleged motive?), which is the thing I’m most curious about, so it remains to be seen whether this guy is a nutcase, a common or garden dickhead, or someone with a real axe to grind and was carrying out some kind of weird personal protest. Since he’s not even been named and is just referred to as an anonymous 36 year old Yarraville man I’m starting to wonder if loony is right after all. In any case the fact there are such things as shrine regulations – in contrast to the US where I believe attempts to legally prohibit flag burning have been long declared a breach of the First Amendment and unconstitutional – means the criminal case is probably going to be over pretty quickly if the police can prove that the guy they’ve nicked is the guy in the video. Watch this space.

Two more Aussie Olympians in gun pose photo shame shock something horror probably

And just look. Look! Not only are they posing with guns but they’ve even got monocles, like they’re Bond villains or something.

Castigate them in the national media immediately and have the Australian Olympic Committee launch an investigation before announcing that they’re to come home early. And while we’re at it let’s have a statement from the governing body for their sport.

Hayley Chapman knows one thing when she competes in London as part of the Australian shooting team: She’ll have one keen set of eyes behind her watching her every move at the range.

The 20-year-old from the small town of Hoyleton, north of Adelaide, will line up in her first Olympics after being confirmed in the Australian squad earlier this month.

While she will compete in the women’s 25m pistol, her father David – who is her coach – will take part in the men’s 25m rapid pistol.

Ah. Which justifies ignoring the apparent unofficial ban on widely published photos of Australian sports people holding guns. No, okay, they’re not dicking about with them like the two swimmers, D’Arcy and Monk, that I wrote about recently, which incidentally even some of the lefty press here thought was a big fuss over something pretty insignificant (not a universal opinion though). However, and unlike comparable media photos I’ve seen of clay shooter Russell Mark, it does appear that they’re breaking a cardinal rule of recreational shooting, i.e. you never, ever under any circumstances point a gun at anything you do not mind a bullet hitting, even if you’re absolutely positive the gun is unloaded, and you goddamn well keep your goddamn finger off the goddamn trigger. And yet here they are aiming right at the camera, almost giving the feeling they’re aiming right at the viewer of the photo, and with stone cold emotionless expressions… oh, the humanity.

Being serious I’m sure they checked, re-checked and then checked each other’s guns, and possibly even went so far as to disable them as well. Or got the photographer to put his camera on a tripod and sign a waiver to cover bullet holes. The Charles Gray monocle thing is something top level pistol shooters all seem to have on to compete and the serious expressions are as typical of competitors in anything that requires a lot of concentration as they are of a minor murderer in The Wire. So not a big deal, and even less of a big deal than the still harmless antics of two stupid swimmers with less than stellar records when it comes to creating bad press. Yet still enough to make something of if you wanted to. So at the risk of repeating myself, why are the dopey swimmers punished (they’re to return home immediately the swimming events are over and may not stay in London to see the sights or even hang around the Olympic village getting laid) for posing with guns when posing with guns is clearly not a problem for the hoplophobes?*

Well, having thought about it I reckon there’s actually a reason for that. Two kids being knobs with guns is good for them to get their cocks in a knot about because it makes guns look all fwitening and dangerous – see, the vague unspoken implication goes, this is what holding a gun does to your mind, it makes you into a dangerous, reckless cocktrumpet. But when you have the Marks or the Chapmans being shown in photographs we’re seeing guns being used safely and responsibly by people who are shooting for no more reason than enjoyment and the thrill of competition. And some of the hoplophobes would want to avoid drawing any unnecessary attention to the fact that shooting sports can be both safe and enjoyable.

It would, if you’ll excuse the expression, be shooting themselves in the foot.

 

PS – and best of luck to David and Haley Chapman, who apparently are the first father-daughter duo to compete for Australia in any sport at the Olympic games.

 

* Though from the Ambush Predator via Twitter I hear that one school’s council elfinsafetee mob believe that the sound of one being used to start a race might lead to numerous cases of childhood PTSD, which presumably means Olympic coverage to West Dumbartonshire will be slightly delayed so that the sound of the starting guns can be overdubbed with the sound of a Teletubby saying ‘bang’. People for whom shooting is a hobby will have reconciled themselves to practically no coverage of any of the shooting events themselves.

No good deed goes unpunished

“If the boy responsible doesn’t own up then the whole class, and I do mean the whole class, will stay behind after school.”

I have no idea if teachers can still do this but if not I’m guessing that those of us past out mid 30s can probably remember hearing it at least once, and unless we happened to be the boy – or for the sake of equality, the girl – responsible we probably thought that it was bloody unfair. We mightn’t have even seen the boy/girl/hermaphrodite/person of indeterminate gender responsible for doing whatever it was doing it whenever they did and be as much in the dark about it as the teacher, so why this great love of collective punishment? As an adult I’ve come to suspect that it’s because trying to shame a confession out of someone, or failing that to get others to point the finger, is just a hell of a lot easier than the alternative and that often there won’t even be an alternative. Does that justify collective punishment in classrooms? I’m not sure but I’ll leave that as a question for parents with school age children to ponder, assuming, as I said before, that it’s even allowed these days.

But I am sure that when it’s a situation between adults and the state collective punishment is highly undesirable.

“If the person responsible doesn’t own up then the whole neighbourhood, and I do mean the entire postcode, will be put under house arrest.”

We’d go crazy if they said that, wouldn’t we? Well, I hope we would but seeing as how if you changed ‘house arrest’ to ‘fingerprinted and DNA swabbed’ a lot of people would nod approvingly perhaps not. Certainly there’s not enough objection to collective punishment in this part of the world when it comes to motoring offences and car confiscation, which as I’ve mentioned here before frequently punish the innocent owner of a vehicle as well as the person who committed an offence while driving it. Whether it’s because more vehicles get loaned to untrustworthy dickheads in the Perth area or whether it’s because the WA media have just picked up on this earlier I don’t know, but most of the examples of excessive punishment of innocents, i.e. confiscating the car for a period of weeks, seem to be in West Oz, while here in the eastern states it usually seems to be a couple of days. But just in case anyone in this bottom right hand corner of the country thinks that’s the worst that can happen we’ve just had a good reminder from Victoria Police that they can impound a car for something the owner didn’t do for just as long as their west coast colleagues can.

And yes, they bloody well are prepared to do it.

A man caught speeding through streets in Melbourne’s busy inner east this morning told police he was running late for an exam.

Police said the 21-year-old man was speeding along Swan Street in Richmond, ran a red light at Lennox Street and went through a pedestrian crossing before attempting to avoid police near Docker Street around 9.30am.

The Altona Meadows man was picked up travelling more than 100km/h in a 40 zone.

[…]

His friend’s car will be impounded for 30 days and he will also need to pay $689 towing and storage costs.

I don’t want to give the impression that I excuse this kind of driving because I don’t. Many people in Melbourne will know Swan Street and anyone else can tell with a quick look at Google Maps that it’s not really a 100+ km/h (62+ mph in old money) road – it’s a tram route, there are often parked cars narrowing the road to just one lane each way (shared with the trams) and there are lots of shops, often with delivery vehicles coming and going (the Street View image shows this pretty clearly). Personally I’m not sure 40 km/h isn’t a tad on the low side and doubt it’s significantly safer than the old 50 limit it used to have, but it’s not somewhere I’d feel safe doing 100 even if it was the middle of the night and the road was empty. If he really was going that fast, and since the driver in one of the WA cases was eventually acquitted I’m going to stress ‘if’, then he’s a complete dickhead that I can’t raise much sympathy for. No, nobody got hurt and as far as the speeding bit goes it is, as is the norm with speeding, a victimless crime. It’s the driving like a tool part that puts people at risk and which, rather than speeding, The Age says he’s being charged with:

The man is expected to be charged on summons for driving in a manner dangerous, speed dangerous and evade police.

Ignoring the fact that the subbies must napping on job when let that sentence though, if what’s been reported is accurate I have no sympathy with the guy at all, and if I was on the jury and felt the evidence supported it I’d say guilty of driving like a dickhead, and possibly speed dangerous and evade police to boot. But I can sympathise with his mate who has lost the use of his car for a month no matter what happens now. Even if the driver pays the storage costs and then goes to court and proves that he wasn’t speeding it doesn’t help because the case won’t be heard until months after the owner gets his car back, so the result of the court case will be moot. Win, lose or mistrial the owner of the car, who, since lending your property to a tool isn’t a crime, will not himself be in court having not been charged with anything, gets punished anyway. And I have no idea if a successfully defended case would mean that the police are required to compensate the whoever ended up paying that $689 storage charge. I’d bloody hope so but I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that they weren’t.

Some people would say that’s too bad and just the risk you run when you lend your car to an idiot, but how is an individual supposed to know the person borrowing it is going to do something idiotic? People are neither mind readers nor fortune tellers. You might balk at giving your keys to a young or inexperienced driver or someone with a heap of points, but at the end of the day if you were to lend your car to me, a driver of twenty years with a clean licence, you’d still be trusting me to behave with it. If I betray that trust you’ve already been wronged, so why does the law feel the need to punish you even more by depriving you of your property that had been used in a way you weren’t aware of and did not consent to? Do a mate a favour and if he abuses your faith in him then law comes round and stamps on your face. Hardly justice, is it?

This is a terrible kind of collective punishment, far worse than knowingly punishing innocents because establishing the identity of the guilty is too difficult or impossible because the identity of the alleged offender is known from the outset and because even for them the presumption of innocence is reversed – supposedly unthinkable where the English legal system has been a significant influence, but all too common when it comes to traffic offences which are typically victimless crimes. And worst of all it’s a wrong that Victoria’s Liberal In Name Only government appears not to have the slightest interest in putting right.

Come live in Australia… er, but not you with the funny kids

Peter Threlfall is a man after my own heart: he wants to migrate to Australia. Okay, in fairness it must be said that he wants to move to South Australia where, I am reliably informed by Mrs Exile, they’re all a bit weird (no idea, I think it might some long standing rivalry over who’s got the best arts festival or something). And also he wants to be a cop, though without actually knowing the guy I wouldn’t hold that against him, and really it’s pretty understandable seeing as he currently goes by Sergeant Threlfall in his job with the Metropolitan Police.

And he’s keen to live and work in Oz. From personal experience I can tell you that you have to be. The process is neither brief nor cheap, not even when your significant other comes with the blue passport with strange animals on. Just for a spouse/fiancé/partner type visa you have to have a medical with blood tests and chest X-rays, police certificate, references from two or three Australian Citizens who aren’t your partner, a shitload evidence to show that the relationship is genuine, and you both have to fill in a huge form which you send off with your pommie passport and all the other stuff to Australia House in The Strand, making sure to include the most important item of all on the very top: a big cheque. And then you wait for a call and if they’re happy with what you tell them over the phone they send your passport back with a visa in it, and you’re finally allowed to come and get sunburned at Christmas.

That’s a potted version, but let me say again that this is for people whose better halves are Aussie citizens. Peter Threlfall was applying through the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme, which is about getting foreign nationals to fill jobs in places out in the arse of nowhere that are vacant because the Aussies mostly want to live near the bigger cities. And that means he probably had bigger forms to fill in and more hoops to jump through than I did. It certainly cost him more – about $8,000 or £5,000 – and you also have to have a job offer already. Which Peter Threlfall did, as South Australia Police were going to give him a job as a constable in Ceduna, a small town of a couple of thousand souls a bit west of Adelaide. In fact quite a bit west of Adelaide – it’s nearly as far west as Melbourne is east, and if his missus had fancied nipping into Rundle Mall to do some shopping she’d need to allow for a good 9 hour drive. Each way. Ceduna isn’t exactly one of these pub + petrol station bush towns out in the middle of the GAFA* but it’s still pretty small and fairly isolated. But all the same Peter Threlfall and his family were prepared to live in Ceduna if that was the deal for being able to live and work in Oz, and it probably suited SA Police just as much as it did the Threlfalls.

Except the Immigration Department have just given him the flick.

AN English policeman and his family are devastated after being told they cannot move to South Australia because his stepdaughter, Sarah, is autistic.

[…]

Mr Threlfall was preparing to move his wife and family to South Australia, but was told in December they had been denied visas under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme.

He had been offered a job as a constable at Ceduna, on the state’s West Coast, and was due to start work as soon as his visa was approved.

Mr Threlfall has spent the past few months trying to reverse the decision but his family is now resigned to staying in the UK.

And it appears that this is because to the Immigration people autism = will cost the state money. Not ‘might’ – ‘will‘.

The refusal to let the Threlfalls into the country was based on the presumption his step-daughter Sarah’s condition would place a burden on healthcare and community services in Australia.

This despite the fact that there’s autism and there’s autism, and you don’t have to be an expert to be aware that not everyone diagnosed with what’s now being called an Autistic Spectrum Disorder mumbles about being a very good driver and freaks out at the suggestion of flying with anyone other than QANTAS. Sure, some people with autism do, but not all. So you’d imagine that maybe they’d look at things on a case by case basis, which I thought was what they were supposed to do with visa applications anyway, and then see that Peter Threlfall’s stepdaughter seems to be on the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum.

Mr Threlfall said Sarah worked part-time as both a cleaner and a store assistant. His family was not seeking any assistance for Sarah…

She’s also a volunteer for the Scouts and Guides and planned to study hairdressing here. So, Immigration people, this girl may meet the medical criteria to be called autistic, but Rain Man she certainly isn’t. Volunteer work and two part time jobs? For Christ’s sake, she’s almost certainly paying taxes and if hairdressers in Ceduna cost anything like what my wife has to pay she’d end up a taxpayer here as well. And if she’s capable of paying taxes what’s the fucking problem? She’d put in like everyone else, and for all we know might even choose to buy health insurance and be even less of a potential – potential, Immigration weenies – drain on SA’s health resources.

But perhaps we can’t blame the Immigration Department (my bold).

An Immigration Department spokesman confirmed Mr Threlfall and his family had applied for visas. His daughter had not met the legislated health requirement, which was partly to restrict public expenditure on healthcare and community services.

In other words Canberra wrote the laws a certain way and too bad for the Threlfalls, though bizarrely they could appeal this if they were already in Australia – why this should be so I can’t imagine, perhaps it’s just easier to say no to someone ten thousand miles away – and getting this kind of thing overruled is not unprecedented.

Two months ago, Filipino doctor Edwin Lapidario avoided deportation only after directors at his Hackham Medical Centre workplace agreed to pay $52,000 towards his autistic son’s medical costs.

In 2008, a migrant doctor working in Victoria was threatened with deportation because his son had Down syndrome.

It took an international outcry and the intervention of then Immigration Minister Chris Evans to overturn the decision to deport German doctor Bernhard Moeller and his family.

Neither of which is any help to Peter Threlfall and his family since Lapidario and Moeller were both already living and working here, nor presumably SAPOL who will have to find someone else to fill the vacancy in the police force at Ceduna. And all because the rules seem to say that whether someone has a certain medical condition is more relevant than whether or not that prevents them from working and paying tax, which itself is only an issue because Australia, like many western nations, has a medical condition of its own: welfarestateitis. It’s very very difficult to cure, but you’d think there’d be some system that migrants could sign a waiver agreeing that they’d have nothing to do with it and would ensure they’d make appropriate arrangements for their own medical care, in return for which they’d be exempt from the Medicare Levy when it came to paying their taxes… ah, but that could mean a lot of people handing over less money to the federal government than they do now, and might even lead to Aussies demanding to be able to opt out of Medicare as well.

No, now I’ve thought it through it makes perfect sense from the government’s point of view. Far easier to label and pigeonhole individuals and be relatively indiscriminate when it comes to giving people who want to live here the flick. That someone might be willing and able to make a contribution isn’t relevant when Australia seems to need migrant families with mildly autistic hairdressers less than it needs families sadistic rapist kidnappers, though to be fair they did send that bastard back where he came from. Which was Britain.

* GAFA, abbreviation: Great Australian Fuck All. Australia’s secret seventh state, encompassing much of the other mainland states, a large part of the Northern Territory, and indeed most of the continent. Despite the vast areas of sunburned scrub, desert void and eerily silent forest almost all of the GAFA is more interesting to look at than anything in Canberra.

Naked lies

Tee shirt design – click for linky

Back in February I wrote a very angry sweary blog post about airport scannersand about how the Australian federal government had decided that they’d be installed at all Australian international airports, and I explained, not for the first time, how that would influence my travelling decisions in the future.

PASSENGERS at airports across Australia will be forced to undergo full-body scans or be banned from flying under new laws to be introduced into Federal Parliament this week.

Well, if that’s the attitude then I bloody well will drive, fuck you very much. Well, really I mean I’ll carry on driving because this airport security theatre bullshit has been building up to this for several years, and since I really object to paying a lot of money to be treated as a potential terrorist instead of a paying customer I’ve sworn not to fly unless it’s really urgent and/or there’s an ocean in my way. If I can plan ahead I’ll go overland, even if it takes a few days.

Fuck. You. All.

I think one of the things that particularly infuriated me was the knowledge that my action alone, and that of the relative handful of other people who recognise this kind of security theatre for the useless unnecessary charade it is – well, perhaps not useless if you’re a politician with shares in the companies that make this stuff – also avoid flying if at all possible, is pretty futile if it doesn’t catch on. And sadly I think we can take it as read that as we head into the northern hemisphere’s summer hordes of people will soon be marching meekly through these electronic sheep dips at major airports all over the US and Europe, and in six months or so the same will apply here as people on their way to family holidays at the Gold Coast’s resorts stand tamely in line to have their children’s gonads lightly irradiated in the name of assuring everyone that they and their glowing, ah, I mean growing offspring will not explode en route. Even though any such assurances are questionable at best when they’ve failed to detect a fucking gun down someone’s knickers.

Baaaaa, baaaaa.

I despair, I really do. I mean you do get the occasional reaction, the odd burst of noise, from the herd when the cast and crew of the security theatre do something particularly stupid and/or egregious. You hear complaints when exactly the kind of abuse we were told would never happen does in fact happen. You hear them when kids – even babies barely able to crawl and kids in frigging wheelchairs, for Christ’s sake – get patted down by the security drones. You hear them when cancer survivors are left humiliated thanks to hidebound, unthinking and almost robotic adherence to badly written rules, or just covered in their own piss through pure ham-fistedness. You hear them when they loudly ask septuagenarian women if they’re wearing a sanitary towel. And then the next episode of Your Country’s Masterchef’s Got A Talented Voice Factor appears on the magic fishtank and the complaints fade. A relative handful carry on objecting, either writing about invasive searches afterwards, refusing to fly and encouraging others to do the same, or actually pitching up and the airport and then publicly refusing to be scanned or treated like a recent arrestee. But the majority just grumble before falling silent and accepting their new role as guilty ’til screened sufficient to be presumed innocent again, if not enthusiastically embrace their loss of liberty and presumption of innocence.

Did I mention that I despair? I did? Oh good.

And I will despair even more if Australia doesn’t go completely screaming batshit over the latest development. Because back in February we were told that in the interests of privacy, though not actual fucking liberty, the scanners to be installed in Australian airports would be the ones that display the stick figures on the screen. Not that that cuts any ice with me.

It’s also keen to allay concerns raised on travel online forums that passengers would appear nude on security screens as they had when similar scanners were introduced at US airports.

The technology will show passengers on a screen as stick figures of neither sex.

Not the point. As I’ve explained above and at some length in the past, my objection was never that someone might see my knob or my wife’s tits, it’s that neither of us are terrorists and there’s not a single goddamn thing in the whole fucking universe to suggest that we are. …I feel that it’s not unreasonable that I don’t get treated as a possible member of Alkyfuckingaida at airports, especially when the bastards know who I am well before I fly and can assess my potential risk in advance, leaving not much more than a need for me to satisfy them that I am, as I claim, Mr A Exile who’s never been in trouble with the police and was vetted before getting an Australian visa.

But with the Anglo-Saxon nudity taboo that’s relatively strong in western societies I’m sure for most people, and perhaps especially for women, it was indeed the thought of their personal sweater kittens and other bits being up on someone’s screen somewhere in the airport. Yes, we’re assured that staff wouldn’t be able to record images or identify who they were looking at, but the problem there is that as I recall the same assurances were made everywhere that has in fact happened. So the gingerbread man scanner was a sop to keep those folks happy. I can only hope that they find the rage coming back and, for a change, remaining as they realise that this too has turned out to be a false promise. Because the stick man scanners are still going to reveal more than some people would wish.

CONTROVERSIAL full-body scanners due to be introduced into Australian airports next month will identify prosthesis wearers, including breast cancer survivors and transgender passengers.

Earlier this year the federal government announced the new scanners, to be installed in eight international terminals, would be set to show only a generic stick-figure image to protect passengers’ privacy.

But documents released under freedom of information show that, in meetings with stakeholders, Office of Transport Security representatives confirmed the machines would detect passengers wearing a prosthesis.

Like I said, I hope those concerned about privacy will get angry about this, but I can’t help but note the time of year that this news comes out and that the scanners will be installed: the Australian winter, when fewer people are flying. Is it paranoid of me to wonder about this? Would there be anything in the idea that doing it several months ahead of the summer rush would give people time to forget about the scanners until they were at the airport in December, by which time it’s too late to buy your scanner proof undies or really do anything at all unless you’re prepared to write off the cost of your flights?

Stakeholders, including Muslims and civil libertarians, were consulted by the Office of Transport Security and raised numerous concerns.

[…]

The policy to use generic stick-figure images was introduced to placate these privacy concerns.

Internal documents also revealed a proposed privacy quality assurance program to check privacy issues was scrapped late last year.

Scrapped. Got that? Even something to address the bit most people are getting worked up about has been quietly ditched. I wrote more than two years ago that this would continue and even escalate unless everybody began voting against airport security theatre with their wallets, so if you don’t like it cancel your summer holiday plans NOW and go local instead.

This is not about making you safe, it’s about making a quid for companies that can jump on the bandwagon with products that gullible politicians can be persuaded to spend your taxes on to create an illusion of safety. As has been pointed out about a squillion times, even if the scanners were completely effective they’re going to look pretty stupid reduced to a smouldering heap of twisted wreckage the first time someone sets off a bomb while standing in the queue to be scanned. The only way to prevent that will be the next escalation and loss of privacy and dignity.

Flight number QF1984 to an unpleasant future is now boarding at gate 14.
You won’t be fully naked as you’ll be made to wear a taser bracelet – sadly not made up.

And part of me suspects we might have got to this point already if it wasn’t for the fact that there’s money to be made selling security technology in the meantime, though I suppose the taser bracelet might still be an option for the security theatre mob even when we are all expected to fly in the nip.

Shooting pool

It seems that the Australian Hoplophobia and Victimless Crimes and Non-Offences Department has been merged with the Australian Olympic Committee, if this is anything to go by.

CONTROVERSIAL swimmers Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk could face sanctions from the Australian Olympic Committee after posting photos of themselves posing with high-powered guns.

D’Arcy and Monk posed with the weapons in a gun shop in the US where the Australian swimming team has been training and competing before the Olympics which start next month.

Swimming Australia (SA) ordered the pair to remove the photos from their Facebook and Twitter accounts under their social media policy.

The AOC said it will await SA’s investigation before considering sanctions.

“We think it’s foolish and inappropriate and we are awaiting an investigation by Swimming Australia, then we’ll look at it,” AOC spokesman Mike Tancred said.

Well, I’d agree it looks pretty retarded and not the most mature thing ever photographed (though a little credit can be given for at least keeping fingers out of the trigger guards – that really winds me up when I see that), but is it a big deal? Really? I mean, let’s just take a look at a photo of another Australian Olympian, confirmed only today as being in the team for the London Games.

Russell Mark, Olympic Double Trap – click for linky

So what’s the logic here? If sportsmen being pictured with guns is somehow wrong because it’s the gun that’s the problem then how is it okay to photograph those who compete in shooting events with what, for the sake of those who might find the word G-U-N intimidating, I shall simply call an essential item in their sport? It’s no less of a gun, is it? Okay, maybe to hoplophobes and nannies there’s a big difference between a double barrelled O/U and a pump action, and certainly to those who drafted Australia’s gun laws there is. And yes, at a push I’ll agree that there are lots of little differences, but if it’s being misused – and by misused I don’t mean posing like a wanker in a gun shop – then a clay shooters gun is just as lethal. Or to put it another way, if it’s being handled correctly then a pump action shotgun is no more dangerous than a clay pigeon shooter’s gun.

So if it’s not necessarily guns in photos that’s the problem I wonder if it’s just guns in the hands of non-shooting sports people that makes the photo somehow wrong. And if it is that then I wonder how the AOC feel about shooters appearing in swimwear in general, and in particular, as I mentioned last month, the bet that Russell Mark lost on the Carlton vs St Kilda footy game which means him wearing a Borat mankini. Except of course we already know how the AOC feel about it because they said it at the time.

“Age is the problem here. Russell is no spring chicken, his days of being a model are long gone, and we don’t think it would be a good look for the team to have Russell in a mankini,” Mr Tancred said.

“Besides, this will be his sixth Olympics and he is a chance to be named as flag bearer. Imagine the flag bearer out in front of our Team in a mankini. And a big butch shooter at that.”

‘Not a good look’ is hardly a damning indictment, is it? And on top of that it seems likely that Russell Mark’s wife Lauryn is going to stand in for him and be photographed instead for a lads’ mag (for an undisclosed fee payable to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital) which I imagine will mean her showing a fair bit of skin and could mean pictures of her in her bathers. And since Lauryn is also an Olympic shooter… I don’t have to explain where I’m going with this, do I? There’s talk about Monk and D’Arcy glamourising guns but if Lauryn Marks photo shoot includes so much as one picture of her in a bikini with her Beretta that would be gold medal winning hypocrisy. Time will tell but you’d think there’d be noises about the idea already. Instead it seems like shooters in swimwear are okay, even if it’s the moderately horrifying thought of a 48 year old man wearing a Borat thong, but as soon as we swimmers with guns we’re supposed to all cry ‘Oh, the humanity!’*

But being realistic it’s not even as logical as having anything to do with what sport you compete in, as evidenced by this comment.

Nick Green, the chef de mission for the Australian Olympic team, said: “These postings today are foolish and clearly inappropriate for members of the 2012 Australian Olympic Team.

And reading between the lines I take that simply to mean ‘Oh noes, it’s teh guns’ coupled with these two individuals having a poor record when it comes to generating bad press. Foolish and inappropriate? Wasn’t betting that you’d wear a mankini in public if Carlton lost to St Kilda foolish (at least in hindsight – Russell Mark wasn’t the only one who thought Carlton were a dead cert)? And isn’t it just inevitable that someone somewhere, some tedious joyless arsehole, is going to say that Lauryn Mark’s photoshoot for a lads’ mag is inappropriate unless she’s pictured sans gun to keep the lefties happy and, somewhat implausibly for a mum of two, avec chastity belt to saitsfy the religious nuts who think a glimpse of an ankle is porn? I think the only reason the feminists aren’t frothing about that already is because they’re too busy with the Americans for sending the Lingerie Football League over here.

Look, I don’t think that the photo of the swimmers suggests the kind of attitude I’d like to see around firearms, but they’re in a gun store and not only is it likely that someone who knows what they’re doing was never far away but it’s highly unlikely that the stock is kept loaded and ready to fire. And for all we know right after the picture was taken the staff told them to stop dicking about and leave. If D’Arcy and Monk have a contract with Swimming Australia that says all social media pictures have to be approved by SA first in case someone embarrasses the team then that’s one thing, but since nobody went crazy at Russell Mark for making a silly bet and putting himself in the position where he might end up embarrassing men everywhere I’d say it’s still a little hypocritical. This isn’t even a victimless crime, it’s a victimless non-crime non-event that unless SA has training sessions in gun stores would have taken place in their free time. If they’d done a stupid posed Facebook photo with a million things that weren’t guns nobody would have said a thing. But just because it’s scary bang sticks involved half the nation, including SA and the AOC, have shit themselves over it.

As the man said: harden the fuck up, Australia.

* It could also be said that with hoplophobia being so widespread short of winning medals having the sport’s more photogenic females start taking some of their kit off is almost the only way shooting disciplines get any media attention anyway.