Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

An Epiphany

                                                        Image courtesy of Getty Images

What we witnessed in Washington last Wednesday is an epiphany, a wake-up call..

We saw a mob ransacking the Capitol, after a pep talk from Donald Trump, who had addressed them, urging them to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to prevent the certification of the Biden presidency.

Such an assault hasn't occurred since the war of 1812, but that incident involved British troops, not American citizens.

What has created a situation where American citizens feel that it's OK to attack their seat of government and prevent the democratic business of the day from being conducted?

To understand the origins of this behaviour, which is cultural, rather than political, you need to examine the digital environment surrounding individuals who behave in this way. Whilst many of them are complete lunatics (obvious from the images), many of them aren't. Many of them are otherwise solid citizens who believe they are doing the right thing.

Voltaire is quoted as observing - 

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

He's on the money.

Here are just a few absurdities believed by many who ransacked the Capitol last Wednesday -

Members of the alt-right and many conservative journalists, spread a conspiracy theory on social media outlets such as 4chan, 8chan and Twitter contained coded messages that connected several high-ranking Democratic Party to child trafficking. A number of pizzerias were named including the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington.

Then there is the meme claiming that the pandemic is a hoax, or if you don't like that one, that it is a CCP plot.

Then, if we read Qanon or 4Chan, we hear that 5G carries the Covid-19 virus, that lizard people have infiltrated all levels of the US administration (except for Trump of course) and that Pearl harbour and the Oklahoma bombing were false flags operations.

The frightening element of all this is that polling indicates that many of these conspiracies are believed by a significant proportion of Americans.

Absolutely no evidence is presented for these narratives, but that doesn't seem to matter. In any case, even if there is no evidence, an avalanche of blurry videos which are interpreted with no context are substituted.

The most heinous of these memes, and the most dangerous, is the election fraud fantasy. It's heinous because it has been comprehensively debunked by electoral officials (many of them in Republican administrations), dismissed in the courts (often by Trump appointed judges) and the recounts and audits that have been conducted have shown all results are valid.

It is dangerous because as David Kilcullen noted, it has white-anted the trust that many citizens have in their government. This trust is essential for democracy to survive. A few thousand of those citizens marched on the Capitol last Wednesday, and a few hundred broke in, attempted to harm their elected officials, and trashed the building. Some carried zip ties (apparently to kidnap congress members or senators).

Last Wednesday's event, instigated by a pathological liar, are deeply troubling.

But the most significant factor which brought the US to this point is the proliferation of dangerous online garbage. It needs to be cleaned up.That is the challenge for not only the US, free but countries worldwide. 

Friday, 1 January 2021

Good Bye and Good Riddance

Pic courtesy Jakarta Post

It’s been a remarkable year.

So much that has been bubbling under the surface has been revealed by the pandemic. Trends that were partially hidden by the everyday cut and thrust of national and international politics have been starkly revealed by the virus and its consequences.

One of the first factors to be revealed was trust in government across the globe. The USA has for long been held up as a beacon of true independence and self reliance, a nation where everybody looked after themselves, and were proud of that. The USA has also had traditionally very low trust in government - ask Ronald Reagan.

This lack of trust hasn't worked out well, given the statistics around Covid 19 deaths, and the havoc the pandemic has wrought on the US economy. The US has a death per one million rate of 1066, and Australia has 35. The US economy has tanked, and its recovery has stalled. The Australian economy was also hit, but has recovered more quickly, and the recovery hasn't been arrested by continuing outbreaks.

Soon after the outbreak, and as various governments overseas were dithering about their respective responses, our federal leadership abandoned the traditional decision making processes that had been used for decades, and set in place a centralised national cabinet. Despite the fact that there were occasional disagreements, this structure worked quite effectively, and as a result, Australia has come through, so far, at least, in a much stronger position, both socially and economically, that most other countries.

This cooperation seems to have been acknowledged by the Queensland election results, and Morrison's national popularity polling.

Generally, both Federal and State administrations in this country left the politics of the situation alone, and took their lead from the medical expertise available to them. Even when one state (Victoria) fumbled its response, the structure generally held, and in time, the situation was recovered. 

The UK and the USA completely mishandled their responses, allowing politics to become the major consideration, and the results are available for all to see. The arrogance and pig-headedness of both national leaders was apparent, especially after both became victims of the infection. One was probably lucky to survive, but both led their countries down a deadly path when they attempted to use the virus and their responses to it for political advantage. 

This blatantly partisan approach was never so obvious as in the case of the UK, when Johnson's Scottish counterpart departed company from him on the issue of shutdowns, and so many in the US saw mask wearing as a kind of political symbol of partisan politics.

Finally, the kind of national populism that had emerged post 2016 with Brexit and Trump's election was revealed as a dangerous and divisive phenomenon when it confronted a virus that has no respect for race or national borders. At a time when nations should have been cooperating,in many cases they weren't, and to a large extent, this division has exacerbated the problem.

Hopefully, the lessons of 2020 have been learned by our body politic.

And maybe, pigs will fly in 2021...


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Thursday, 17 December 2020

Basic Motoring

Thinking about it, I begin to realise that I've spent a great deal of unnecessary dollars on motor vehicles.  

I've owned nearly thirty at last count. 

At the moment, I'm looking after two vehicles belonging to offspring, one because she's overseas, and the other because he cycles to work and doesn't need it, but won't sell it because he might be transferred to a situation where he does.

Because my garaging and custodianship includes, as a condition, the right to drive the cars, I had the choice of four cars to use in my recent excursion to Canberra and back.

Now the MX5 is fun to drive, and would possibly have been first choice, but it's appreciating in value, and I'm trying to keep its distance covered low. Besides, it is not all that enjoyable on a long run down a highway. It's an interesting car, built for interesting roads.

My bride uses our "new" car, a Kia Rondo, and whilst she doesn't mind driving the 323, is happier with the Kia. This left my son's Mazda 323 Protege as the weapon of choice for my Canberra excursion. My daughter's Toyota Echo, whilst a pleasant little car, was never a consideration.

It was a journey for research purposes at the AWM, and no other family members were all that interested, so I was travelling solo. The 323 has a number of features that made it a good choice for a solo journey. First up, it has three music sources - the original cassette player, an aftermarket 6 stacker CD player, and my iPhone connected through a bluetooth plug-in device. There was never going to be any shortage of mobile entertainment.

Aftermarket cruise

Navigation was taken care of using the iPhone, on a magnetic mount which meant it was hands free and legal. I have mastered the art of using the GPS app and the music player simultaneously. A recent IOS upgrade has made this simple.

This meant that all the features expected these days on a modern vehicle (GPS, bluetooth phone connection, and music player) were all available in this twenty year old car, for the price of a magnetic phone mount and a bluetooth connector. All worked a treat, with the possible exception of the GPS, which when connected to Google maps had a bad habit of setting me up for a beeline journey down some dodgy roads if I took it literally.

The Mazda performed beautifully. It delivered 7.3 Lit/100kms at a cruise of 110km on the Newell. The aftermarket cruise control was a boon.

The air conditioning in Mazdas is renowned for its efficiency, and with the combination of well shaped velour lined seats, and a steering column adjustable for rake and distance, ensured a very comfortable driving position. Cars of this vintage generally enjoy better vision, as the styling fashion which creates blind spots for rear vision hadn't arrived in 1999.

       Mountain straight, Mount Panorama

I got to drive it around the Mount Panorama circuit on the way home. At 60kph, that was an unexciting, but interesting experience.

These things are going for about $3500 used at the moment. If you can find a low kilometerage example (like my son's car), they're a bargain.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Truth and Reconciliation

During the long drive home from four days in Canberra, I've had time, gentle reader, to reflect. 

I found what I'd been looking for in the AWM research centre on the first day, so had time to spend visiting the Vietnam display, and the rest of the memorial. It is a sobering experience.

Chatting with one of the very helpful staff, a bloke about my vintage with some service up his sleeve, we agreed on many things, including the wasted sacrifice of so many young Australians in that bitter and most divisive conflict.

This got me thinking, on the two day drive, about that residual bitterness, and what can be done now, fifty years down the track, to heal it.

We can look at conflict, resolution, and truth and reconciliation, for a way forward. Along with reconciliation comes acknowledgement of the truth. There are a few undisputed truths about our commitment of troops to Vietnam in the mid sixties.

They include the following.

The rationale for enlarging the size of the Australian army at the time grew more from fear of nationalistic Indonesian expansionism than it did from the threat of Communism, expressed through the Domino theory. Once the Indonesian threat had evaporated it was a relatively straightforward step to transfer the perception of a threat from the north to the Indochinese theatre. Vietnam was the first and only conflict in our military history when Australians were conscripted to fight in peacetime on foreign soil in an undeclared war, and when there was no direct existential threat to the Australian mainland.

The military deployment was successfully pursued as a political strategy first by Menzies, and subsequently by successive Coalition Prime Ministers from Holt to McMahon. Gorton's heart was never in it, perhaps as a consequence of his own wartime experience, and he was the leader who announced the beginning of our withdrawal. By the time McMahon was on the scene, the Australian people were well and truly divided. Support for our commitment was lukewarm, and opposition, as expressed most clearly by the Moratorium marches, was strengthening.

The withdrawal began, after Gorton's announcement, on same the day (22nd April 1970) when my sub-unit had its most noteworthy contact with a bunker system, resulting in one KIA and two WIA. One soldier had already died from heat exhaustion one day prior to this incident.

Thus began the process, first of selling this withdrawal as a noble strategy to the Australian electorate, and then ignoring the whole Vietnam episode as unfortunate history after the election of the Labor government in 1972, and the fall of Saigon in 1975.

The casualties of this whitewashing of history, in which both sides of politics were complicit, were those who had served, some willingly, and some otherwise, during the period of the Australian commitment. Vietnam veterans were relegated to the back pages of history as political collateral. This relegation has  for years, been the source of bitterness, and will remain so, without meaningful intervention, until the last of these veterans are gone.

This is despite the Welcome Home march in 1987, and the acceptance by the broader ex-service community of Vietnam veterans as worthy of the ANZAC legend. It is worth remembering that the Welcome Home march was an outcome of a determination of the veterans themselves to be acknowledged, and not an initiative that came from our political leadership.

There remains a need for our political leaders who made the decision to involve us in that conflict and its sad aftermath to reconcile with the diminishing cohort of veterans of that conflict.

Two sources of bitterness remain. The first relates to those who believed, at the time, in the cause, and were abused when they returned. The second group constitutes men, mostly conscripts, who went along with call up, as that was the law of the land at the time, but were also abused on RTA by those who opposed the war.

The New Zealanders, as they often do, have offered us a precedent. Their Crown apology was offered in May 2008, and it is worth remembering that all Kiwis who served in Vietnam were volunteers. John Howard offered a form of apology in 2006, but it scarcely raised a ripple in national media, and was restricted to concerns about treatment of veterans after the war. The opposition at the time had a letter from Graham Edwards read into Hansard, which was a fitting gesture, but neither side of politics has ever issued a full blown and unequivocal apology.

Such an apology needs to have two strands to meaningfully address two grievances. 

The first refers to the treatment of returning soldiers by those who opposed the commitment, and should be made by the leader of the Labor party, whether in opposition or government, as Labor's opposition to deployment was misinterpreted by many of its supporters as rejection of the soldiers involved, irrespective of whether they were volunteers or conscripts.

The second apology should be made by the leader of the Coalition parties responsible for the decision to deploy, and should be directed towards all veterans, whether volunteers or conscripts, as both suffered the consequences, and continue to do so.

For these and their families, it is not too late.

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Saturday, 28 November 2020

A Ghost in the Machine (II)


My MX5 is making a new noise.

That is not as worrying as when the smoke comes out, but it is not a good thing. (Cars run on smoke - that's why when it escapes you're usually in trouble).

Anyhow, no smoke has yet appeared, but the noise is a worry.

It seems to emanate from the water pump housing, isn't obvious on idle or when the motor is cold, but appears with a vengeance on the overrun when it's warmed up. 

My fellow members in the local MX5 owners' club have provided a range of suggestions from a sick alternator to a problem with the timing chain tensioner.

I know nuffink.

That is why I took it to my local mechanic who had just replaced a water pump on my son's Mazda 323. Interestingly, it has covered a similar distance (about 120000 kms). Maybe there's something about Mazda BP-ZE engines and water pumps at 120000 kms. Or perhaps there is some kind of perfidious virus. They shared a garage for a time. There was no social distancing.

MLM* (whom I trust) had a listen and reckoned it was nothing to worry about. When I asked him if it would be OK to drive to Canberra (which had been my plan) he said "sure".

I trust him, but not that far. I have changed my plans.

Yesterday I took a deep breath and drove it the 146 kms to Automotive Plus (free plug) whose boss mechanic, after complaining that the motor was hot (it was - after driving from Toowoomba), declared that it was most likely a water pump bearing.

It got me home, and the noise is no worse. 

So now, I have to decide whether to get the job done locally, or at the specialist's setup in Brisbane. The latter will require two days. You can't expect people to work on a hot motor after a 146 km highway run.

I'll keep you posted.

Hence the II.

*My Local Mechanic.

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Friday, 20 November 2020



Pic courtesy The Conversation

The media, in Australia and worldwide, is salivating over the release of the redacted Brereton Report.

Even if only some of the allegations are proven, the whole episode is deeply shocking, shameful and sad.

Shocking, because Australians have always held their military in high esteem, and these revelations come as a shock, even if we've been drip-fed rumours for years now. Shameful, because they reflect on everybody who has served or is still serving. Sad, because of the destruction of the lives of the Afghani victims and their families, and the effect they have had, and will continue to have, on the soldiers who were involved.

I can't begin to imagine the suffering being experienced by those incriminated, either directly, indirectly by association, and the fallout that is eating its way up through the chain of command. It seems inconceivable that commanders had no inkling that this behaviour was happening. It seems to have continued across a number of deployments and a number of units.

The reportage has often been over the top and sensationalist, but this is our media in 2020, and sensational reporting sells. The ABC deserves kudos in doggedly pursuing the story, and having the courage to see it through. Two ABC reporters risked everything.

The publicity has reminded me of occasional episodes when we took prisoners. One incident (covered in the chapter entitled TAOR in my memoir) involved my patrol encountering a party of about twenty civilians, woodcutters, whom we encountered in a no go zone north of the task force base.  

We stopped and searched them, and had to hold them all day until the local Vietnamese authorities came to collect them. We treated them well, gave them food and water, and provided shade. The whole episode was actually enjoyable for me, as there were half a dozen kids in the group, and I reverted to teacher mode, finding out that these children were quite advanced in their understanding of long division. It's amazing what can be accomplished with a stick writing on the ground, even when there is no common language.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this whole sorry episode (apart from the deaths of the Afghans) will be the burden these diggers carry for the rest of their lives. The suicide rates are already over the top for this generation of returned soldiers.

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Sunday, 15 November 2020

Paul Kelly Gets Better With Age


Kelly and Grabowski at their best.

Enlarge it for best effect...

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