Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Muck-raking with Mick

That which cannot be seen - click to enlarge.

Retirement, gentle reader, has its traps. After finally pulling the pin at age 70 in July last, I'm discovering some of them.

One is boredom (ennui - to those seeking a more precise definition).

Boredom and ennui are (to me at least) two vastly different experiences. You can avoid boredom by activity, but if that activity has an outcome that doesn't create change, or the potential for change, in others, it becomes ennui.

We are, after all, social beings.

With that in mind, along with vehicle restoration, book marketing, travel planning, home renovation, volunteering at the soup kitchen, my fitness program, first aiding at Men for All Seasons, and my PhD proposal, I've added blog trolling.

This last activity has the advantage of providing immediate (or almost immediate) feedback.

It also provides an insight into the presence of complete nutters inhabiting the blogosphere. These Harpics* seem almost exclusively, to sit on the far Right of the political spectrum, and specialise in abuse, ad hom attacks, and a propensity for the full range of conspiracy theories. I've recently discovered a site that attracts more than its fair share of these - but I'll get to that in a moment.

Over the years, I've had fun at Catallaxy until I challenged some regular posters on the issue of subsidies for the fossil fuel and mining industry and I was banned by the moderator. This is the same moderator who writes for the Minerals Council of Australia. Coincidence maybe?

I've also commented on Andrew Bolt's blog (although his stuff has become so boringly predictable that it's a waste of time). Bolt posts comments when I use my real name, but censors anything with my 1735099 tag attached. 

Then there's a very a weird mob called XYZ who carked it for a while for reasons unknown. The nutters who hang out at XYZ are on the dangerous end of the psychopathic continuum, so it's entirely possible that they were locked away for a time but have since been let back on the streets.

There's also a Yank gun nut who blogs on a site called Stately McDaniel Manor, who gets quite upset if you point out that our Australian  gun laws work a whole lot better than those in the USA, and that the solution to 30000 plus gun deaths annually is probably not buying more (and more powerful) guns. I must wander back there again soon. Many Yanks take themselves very seriously.

Most recently I've been having a great deal of fun on a site that goes under the title of Michael Smith News.

Smith is an ex-copper who was apparently a Reg in the ADF for a while until he saw the light and became a civilian. He has also cultivated a profile as a muck-raker, after being given the boot from his radio job for threatening to libel Julia Gillard quite a few years ago.

This episode seems to have created in Smith some kind of vengeful lower brain response dressed up as "investigative journalism". This style of blogging is nothing new, of course. It probably exists because there is a fraction of the listening/viewing/reading population who have an appetite for it. The market rules, after all.

It's a kind of 21st Century resurrection of the tabloid magazine genre that was around in the fifties and sixties, and requires the reading age of a typical nine year old to be understood. You may recall Australasian Post magazine - or am I showing my age?

This audience constitutes about 10% of the lower end of the Gaussian curve of normal distribution, and as such, provides a small but steady market for assorted shock jocks. The strategy is to identify a successful personality with a profile, dig up some dirt, and turn the exercise into a kind of serialised account of the forensic chase, always promising a denouement just around the corner.

If the target is female, that always seems to add a bit of spice - misogyny is alive and well, and coming to a blog near you.....

The process never actually goes anywhere, of course, but that's not the point. It's the journey that matters, rather than the destination, and if the punters are prepared to pay the fare (in clicks, donations, and subscriptions) then it can provide a meal ticket.

Smith has been stalking Gillard since 2011, and still his acolytes gather like hyenas waiting for charges. It reminds me a little bit of the Evangelicals waiting for the Second Coming. There's a pathology common to this behaviour.

Maybe Skinner was right. Operant conditioning works with my Blue Heeler. Once she's got the drift that there may possibly be a reward for obedience, she'll obey a command every time, whether she get a treat or not. It's the anticipation that does the trick.

But I digress.

You can generally get some idea of where the vulnerabilities lie in whatever case the blogger is laying out, and the first sign is that some of your comments are censored. This was certainly the case with Catallaxy, and to some extent with Bolt.

I reckon I've twigged to Smith's vulnerability, and it relates to his appeal for donations.

He has been railing non-stop about taxpayers' money being directed by DFAT into the Clinton Foundation, claiming a lack of transparency, and digging up a whole tranche of obscure documents proving nothing in particular, but looking mildly impressive. (Reminds me a bit of the bloke walking around the workshop carrying clue board with a biro behind his left ear - doing nothing much but looking important).

When I had the temerity to politely request an annual end-of-year financial accounting for the funds donated to his blog, I was promptly censored - check the screenshot above.

This reaction is totally predictable and revelatory, and throws a bit of sunlight on the shock jock phenomenon.

There is a neat biological metaphor for this activity. If you look at the relationship between a parasite and host, you can see the system at work.

It's a simple process - identify a host (usually a celebrity of some kind who has been successful) - dig up some dirt or create a smear, and survive on the outrage generated.

It never fails, gentle reader, whilst that 10% is out there....and they always are. They provide endless entertainment.

*Clean round the bend.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Fire and Fury

Pic courtesy Toofab

I've just finished this book, gentle reader.

You're not allowed to ask me how I got my hands on a copy.

Suffice to say, I have generous friends across the Pacific.

I will, however buy the thing when it hits the bookstores here - it's a riveting piece of work, and in many ways, horrifying. It is a must have in any library.

Even if it's only 10% accurate, what is described as Trump's conduct and the machinations of members of Trump's inner circle is at the same time bizarre, delusional and frightening.

Trump comes across as semi-literate, completely self absorbed, and with the attention span of a five year-old. In fact, much of his behaviour is toddler-like. It's all there - tantrums, a need for instant gratification, and more id than ego.

His family are milking his position for all that it is worth, and following disparate (mostly selfish) agendae of their own. The inner circle leaks like a sieve, because nobody trusts anybody - family included.

Mind you, when you look at his turnover of staffers and his incapacity to honour his election promises, the book sits very well with the facts of the history of his "accomplishments" so far.

He's managed to get one conservative judge appointed, but there is no Mexican wall, the Affordable Care Act has not been repealed, and the bulk of the rest of his promises, have stalled. He has granted his billionaire mates extensive tax cuts, but when you read the fine print, despite all the hype, they won't benefit middle class Yanks in any major fashion.

There have been a few grand gestures (Jerusalem), but even that has had largely negative consequences.

But for me, the issue is how somebody so demonstrably unfit for office can wield so much power.

Like a few of my generation, I felt the backhand of US policy in SE Asia, when our weak kneed government followed it back in the sixties and seventies. God help Australia, if a Trump tantrum involves us in something similar.

We can only hope that he is managed.

Incidentally, much of the energy consumed in the White house at the moment seems to be directed towards that - managing a loose cannon who responds mostly to self-absorbed whimsy, and takes everything personally.

He chews up staffers at an amazing rate.

Let's continue to hope that there are some strong and dedicated people able to keep him in check. the consequence of his escaping the long leash, are terrifying.

In the meantime, read the book. Make sure you have a strong drink handy......

Friday, 22 December 2017

Farewell Thin Arthur.

As a tribute to Rory O'Donoghue, gentle reader, I'm posting this.

It's sad and beautiful nostalgia.

Vindication for Bishop Bill

Vigil and procession. It was cold. Pic courtesy Courier Mail.

Two fairly widely separated but recent events, both related to the Catholic church, are, in my opinion connected.

The first was the forced retirement of our bishop William Morris, in May 2011, allegedly for challenging the authority of Pope Benedict in a pastoral letter written to his congregation, (of which I am a member) on 17th November 2006.

The letter raised the option, in the face of a shortage of priests, of ordaining women and married men and recognizing the Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church orders.

Later, in 2009 he dismissed the principal of a Toowoomba Catholic primary school and two Catholic Education officials for failing to report to the police an early complaint from a schoolgirl. 

I remember him as a compassionate and courageous pastor who visited my special school seeking advice on how children with severe intellectual disabilities could be delivered a sacramental programme.

He carried through on this, and the process continues in the diocese. It was, at that time, unique, but is now being introduced in other dioceses.

But the “Temple Police" had the ear of the Vatican, and they were relentless in pursuit of Morris. 

I was one of 500 parishioners who participated in a candlelight vigil and procession supporting Bill Morris on the evening of 3rd May 2011.

The second event related to the church is the release last week of the report of the royal commission into institutional responses towards child abuse (the McClellan Report)

What has been revealed by this commission thoroughly vindicates Morris’ action in expeditiously dealing with the issue in his own diocese. His activity in this sphere seems to have been completely ignored by the Temple Police and his pursuers in the Vatican.

The hierarchy of the church is slowly beginning to understand that its behaviour is causing many Catholics to lose faith in the institutional church, whilst maintaining their strong catholic faith and value system.

It should never have come to this.

Bill Morris should still be our Bishop. I wonder how he would have fared with Francis as Pope?.

(Bill Morris has written a  memoir with an account of his dismissal. It’s an enlightening read).

Monday, 11 December 2017

The Times They Are A'changing

MacArthur and Curtin

Simultaneously last week, I finished reading Roland Perry’s The Fight for Australia and Hugh White’s Quarterly Essay Without America – Australia in the New Asia.

Putting the two together is fascinating.

Perry describes Australia’s World war 2 experience, with particular reference to the changing relationship with our two great allies, the USA and the UK.

White puts a proposition about the retreat of the USA from its position of a superpower engaged in our part of the world in the face of a more assertive, and more economically powerful China.

White pulls no punches – he discusses a scenario where we find ourselves completely on our own when it comes to the strategic balance in the Asian sphere. With Trump in the White-house, anything is possible, including an isolationist foreign policy which denies any mutuality with Australia’s interests.

“That will never be”, I hear you say, gentle reader.

Let’s take a look at the History as described by Perry. In the first instance, both Churchill and Roosevelt were in lockstep with the “Hitler first” notion, even after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

After the Yanks entered the war, the Americans began to see Australia as an unsinkable aircraft carrier and a garrison for troops and supplies to pursue the war in the Pacific. Curtin, the Labor PM at the time, saw the writing on the wall, and pretty much gave Douglas MacArthur a free hand once he arrived from the Philippines.

Curtin’s decisions are, when examined with the benefit of 75 years of hindsight, perfectly rational. Churchill made it abundantly clear that Australia was expendable, and Curtin had to fight to ensure our sovereignty.

We found our fortress Singapore overwhelmed, and Churchill reluctant to allow Australian troops to return from the Middle East to defend against a very real threat of invasion.

Complacency had allowed our defence industries to languish, and we found ourselves panicking to produce munitions, tanks and aircraft to defend the country. The pace at which this industry developed was nothing short of stunning, but we ended up relying on the Yanks, especially for aircraft. A couple of decisive sea battles turned the tide, but it was a close-run thing.

There are a few lessons in this history.

The first and most important is that we cannot assume that despite the conventional rhetoric, historic ties of kinship and commonwealth mean anything at all when it comes to warfare. The Brits abandoned us. They may have had no choice, but that is neither here nor there. “Why”, in times of crisis, matters a lot less than “What?”

If we ask the “why?” question about the support of the Yanks, we get a very stark and unequivocal answer. They supported us because they needed us (or at least our bases and geography) as much as we needed them.

Let’s move forward to 2017. Obama’s “pivot” to Asia meant very little. We have some marines in Darwin – big deal.

Trump cannot be trusted to maintain traditional alliances. He’s made that abundantly clear. China is a rising maritime power. Its economy will overwhelm that of the USA very soon. Any move by Trump to isolate China will simply drive that process harder.

The current imbroglio about Chinese influence provides a strong reminder of what is at stake.

Most western commentators have no real idea of China’s intentions, but it’s pretty clear that the Chinese seek to build influence in our neck of the woods as a deliberate and consistent policy. It’s very much in their economic and strategic interests to do so.

Putting a  withdrawal of American influence from Asia together with increased Chinese engagement provides us with a major foreign policy dilemma.

Maybe it’s time to look at our defence planning. Maybe the most recent white paper should have discussed the acquisition of missile capable submarines together with a missile shield integrated in our Jindalee OTH radar. Maybe those submarines being built in Adelaide should be equipped with nuclear power plants as well as ICBMs.

Any rapid increase in spending on defence will of course put a strain on the budget, but it’s funny how the last thing that’s ever considered is cost when politicians are gung-ho to go to war. If you look at our history, our defence spending has always been too little – too late. We’ve been lucky in the past when our powerful friends came to our rescue. We can't assume this will always happen in the future.

To quote White’s closing remarks –

China’s rise is a fact and isn’t going away. It constitutes a profound shift in the distribution of power in Asia, and is creating a new regional order in which China has a lot more influence, and America has less. America’s future role cannot be taken for granted. It won’t help to panic. Australia must adjust to this new order, by working out how we relate to china and working with other countries in Asia. This will require us to rethink a lot of things, to make some hard choices, and perhaps to pay some heavy costs. We will be changed in the process. Let’s get on with it.

He’s not wrong, but when you see China being used by one side of politics to belt the other, I don’t hold out much hope of any carefully considered “adjustment”. 

I recall so well how China was seen back in the sixties. 

Remember how that worked out?

Friday, 8 December 2017

Fun with Tax

This is an old image (from 2015) but the logic applies.

This is a very useful report, as it lists tax actually paid by corporates in Australia in the 2015-16 financial year.

I'm posting it here, gentle reader, as it provides opportunities for you to digest this information, compare it with what you pay in tax on your income, and come to conclusions about the situation.

You may even be encouraged to take some form of action. It would, in theory, be possible to boycott the zero payers. There's plenty of them.

Now, I would never suggest that of course, as I'd probably end up on the end of a law suit, but it is easy to identify these corporations from the list on the web page.

You could, for example (using most browsers - Firefox provides it) take advantage of the "find on the page" feature and type in the name of the corporation you're considering doing business with. Armed with the info as to how much tax they're contributing to the nation's coffers you can then decide whether to spend your hard-earned with them, or choose a competitor who pays an acceptable rate of tax on income earned in Oz.

Personally, I'd have a problem with any entity that pays a lower percentage of tax than I, as a PAYE citizen does.

It's called free choice.

Have fun......

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Army Infantry Museum Singleton

Gate to the museum


I drove down to Newcastle last week to visit an ex-army mate who is unwell.

He is having thrice weekly dialysis, so has a fair bit to put up with.

On my way South, I passed through Singleton, so took the opportunity to visit the Infantry Museum located on the army base.

Forty-six years ago,  as a Nasho, I did recruit and Infantry Corps training here.

SLR mags

My original intention was to visit the base itself, rather than the museum, but I got only as far as the front gate, where a civvie employee make it abundantly clear that base visits are not on.

The world has changed a bit since 1969, when the guardhouse was manned by recruits in their best kit with shiny brass and spit polished boots.

Note the LAW (M72). I carried one of these - never fired it in anger.
SLR mags
Matilda tank

There are a few signals amongst this lot that I don't recall.

The museum is relatively new, and exhibits are of a high standard. It's organised on a chronological basis, with examples of military hardware used by generations of infantrymen across all conflicts.

There were also examples of enemy weapons, both German and Japanese. You can look at displays of small arms, clothing and equipment, larger pieces of hardware, and dioramas. There's a lot to see. You could easily spend a few hours there.

Some vehicles were in evidence, including armoured vehicles as gate guardians, and a short wheel based Land Rover equipped with a recoil less rifle, something I haven't seen since 1970.

The areas concentrating on Vietnam were of nostalgic interest to me. I saw equipment that I'd used daily 47 years ago. Section weapons were displayed, including ammunition, and magazines.

The reality behind this statement creates a stark irony.

One of the displays which caught my eye was the text of a statement (above) by LBJ about Australian involvement. Given how hard Menzies and his government worked behind the scenes to to get us invited to Vietnam, it makes for bizarre reading now.

An excellent cafe is attached, and plenty of merchandise is on sale. This website provides a good source of information.

It's well worth a visit, particularly if you're interested in the history of infantry soldering in Australia.

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