The Taliban Take Qatar

Those delightful scamps, the Taliban, are to open an office in the Gulf state of Qatar.

My brain is a wonderland of rabbit holes, so I present to you a little exchange between the Taliban rep and a real estate agent that I had in my head when I read this news. Yes, I should get out more.
Real Estate Agent: So, Mr…Smith, was it?
Taliban: Smith, yes. Smith.
Real Estate Agent: Mr Smith, what sort of premises are you looking for?
Taliban: Outside of town, you know, somewhere dusty, room for plenty of Toyota sport utility vehicles.
Real Estate Agent: Oh, so a compound?
Taliban: Yes, something like that.
Real Estate: Room for a growing family?
Taliban: Er…yes. People will come and go. Trucks, mostly.
Real Estate: Any particular hobbies?
Taliban: We like shooting…
Real Estate: Photographers are we?
Taliban: We hunt for infidels, mostly.
Real Estate: Not sure they’re native to Qatar…
Taliban: Oh, we find them everywhere, they’re like a pest.
Real Estate: Great! You’d know more about it than me, you sound like an expert.
Taliban: We like shooting planes, too.
Real Estate: Oh, I could take photos of planes all day long, such amazing machines.
Taliban: Yes, although they are built by imperialist scum from the West.
Real Estate: (pauses)…(laughs)
Taliban: (laughs)
Real Estate: Very funny. We do have one place that might fit the bill. Here’s some photos. Lots of storage…
Taliban: Oh, some very nice places for the guns and rocket launchers. And enough space to park a stolen Russian tank!
Real Estate: Very spacious compound indeed.
Taliban: I like it. A few tents here, a rifle range there, a commando course in the north corner, it’ll be lovely.
Real Estate: I knew you’d like it. So I have your name here already on the form…occupation?
Taliban: Tricky. Bit of this, bit of that. Let’s leave out the opium trading, child marrying and arms trading, shall we? (laughs)
Real Estate: Oh, you are a funny one, Mr Smith.
Taliban: Just put ‘crusher of imperialist dogs.’
Real Estate: Perfect. Middle Management, then?

Don’t Turn Away

Something has been boiling away in the background for me, professionally, for the last six or eight months. It’s the first thing I’ve felt really connected to (again, professionally) for a long time because it is something worthwhile, something that will actually help and something that I have been able to apply my experience to in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve done something utterly lacking in moral worth.

I don’t do immoral things – I’d be a much wealthier man had I decided to take those gigs with a certain tobacco company, a certain booze company or a certain gambling company. Whether you deem that immoral or not is your problem, not mine (and vice versa), but the point is, I try and take a principled stand.

So this thing that I got caught up in was partly due to white hot anger. A digital services company had taken a non-profit for a fairly substantial ride on a project. I ran through in my head how it should have gone and realised that if I had been in charge, we’d have had it out the door for 60%, still made money, paid everyone properly and we would have had something to be proud of.

Anyway. Every now and again, I hear a story that reminds me why I am doing it. It’s not my full-time thing, I am effectively consulting to it for nothing but don’t wince about it. It’s worthwhile. It’s devilishly clever. And hopefully, it will stop things like this happening:

Ned is a guy who lives in Sydney. He’s 50, and he’s intellectually disabled. I don’t care what you want to call it now, but he’s not like “everyday people.” He works in a workshop and gets a ride to the workshop everyday. Everyday, he gets a ride home in a cab – with a cabbie who knows where his home is.

One day, Ned asked a cabbie whether he was going to his home suburb. When the cabbie said yes, Ned thought that the cab was the right one. It wasn’t.

After 45 minutes driving around, the cabbie got annoyed. We know that – because we saw the footage. The cabbie dropped Ned at a station. Not the police station. It should have been the police station. But it wasn’t. Ned went missing for 10 days. It’s thought he went interstate. We don’t know that – but we know he was missing for ten days. They think he’d made it to Brisbane. He was found 5 minutes from his home. He was one of the lucky ones. He was safe.

What is important in this story isn’t only that Ned was found. It was that at no time in ten days did any member of the public care to call the authorities. Clearly Ned is a person who needs, needed, help.

A few days ago, someone who does understand ‘duty of care,’ failed to notify authorities. It turned out very badly. I would ask that we all are aware of what can happen when we ignore the extraordinary.

When you see someone who is distressed, or who is seemingly distressed others, please don’t ignore it. Please call for help.

Call for help. Sometimes these people are very intimidating or we’re just not sure how to handle them, but even if you just call the police and make sure they arrive, you’ve done something. I know that I’ve let these things pass me by, wrapped up in my own world and not wanting to get involved. They’re brothers, sons, uncles, fathers, grandfathers. Sisters, daughters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers. They are loved and sometimes the very reason they are out and about is because they are loved, because their carers were able to let go for long enough to let their loved be a part of a society that doesn’t want to know them.

This thing that I’m doing, that we are doing, will hopefully save Ned from going missing for ten days and the pain and suffering this caused his family. I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m awesome – I most certainly am not – but to say to you, don’t turn away. I must learn to practice what I preach, too. And this project is holding me to account.

Richard Dawkins is Finished….Apparently

Professor Richard Dawkins is an incredibly clever man. He is a pre-eminent evolutionary biologist, with a gift for speaking and a gift for the written word. He is erudite, can be very funny and, as I have already said, he is very, very clever. He is perhaps the world’s most famous atheist and probably has made more money from his atheism than anyone. He has a pretty impressive temper and doesn’t mind going into a frothing rage in front of a television camera.

He can also be vile, abrasive, unpleasant and rude. This week he was firing away on a reasonably prominent science blog (I don’t read these things, so I am relying on the internet to tell me it is so), ripping into Rebecca Watson who calls themselves Scepchick.
Scepchick had complained about somebody asking her to his hotel room at 4am after a party. She thought it was creepy and fair enough. Dawkins didn’t think it was enough to complain about, so posted this:

Dear Muslima,

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so …

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

It isn’t particularly witty or funny and despite me not being a fan of his at all (well, I wouldn’t be, he thinks I’m an idiot), I consider it beneath his usual level of communication. The patronising inverted commas are his as is the irritating correction to ‘proper’ spelling.The post is unpleasant, cranky and hyperbolic. At no point in Watson’s complaint did she compare herself to anybody in such circumstances. Empathy doesn’t appear to be Dawkins’ strong point, as though this is something that we hadn’t already worked out. Even some of his fans will accept his rhetoric is a teensy bit overblown.
Well. It kicked off something of a storm of protest across Sceptic and Atheist websites. There have been calls for boycotts of his books (no differentiation was made between his scientific texts and his ranty atheist ones), speaking engagements (again, no differentiation) and television programs.
It seems the Sceptic/Atheist community does the same thing to itself that it does to the religious community. There is some assignation of blame to reprehensible behaviour to the religion itself rather than the people in it. Dawkins was ripping into Islam, as though all Muslim women suffer the awful fate he outlined above.
It’s fascinating, I think, that any member of a particular school of thought, can be surprised about the views and approaches of someone in that same school of thought. Like the Christian church, Atheism is a, ahem, a broad church and is full of just as interesting and wide a range of characters as any religion. Dawkins is a leading light in New Atheist thinking. It also turns out he’s sarcastic and weirdly sexist.
Some Atheists paint themselves as holding a monopoly on clear and rational thinking, as Dawkins only just stops short of doing himself. The mortal pain with which some of his followers have felt over the past few days is exceptionally strange – the guy hasn’t lived up to a set of ideals they have set for him and so he must be cast in the pit of pariah, his every spoken word now derided as invalid because of his indiscretion in a blog comment.
Was he drunk? Was he high? Was he in a bad mood after a fight with Lalla? Was it jealousy or a professional disagreement with a prominent blogger who isn’t a professor at an English university so shouldn’t be as famous as she is?
Who knows? It’s not really the point.
You see, it’s interesting how we build people up to be something they aren’t. Julia Gillard was expected to deliver much in the way of what the Left were expecting from her, and she hasn’t. The asylum seeker policy is probably worse than even the Liberals, she’s still holding out on same-sex marriage and she has so far failed to soften many of the hard edges filed onto Australia under the Howard Government. Whether you agree with those agendas or not, there is much howling from the groups who wanted them and derision from the other side when they don’t happen and cries that go something along the lines of the pearler Charlie Pickering tweeted on the same-sex marriage.
‘How an atheist can be anti-gay marriage is beyond me’
Well, Charlie, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns out there. The Atheist community has climate-change sceptics, racists, rapists, misogynists, any prejudice and criminality you want to name. Atheists, just because they choose not to believe in God, do not automatically become left-leaning beams of sweetness and light. They remain human and susceptible to human foibles and frailty. And in Gillard’s case, political realities. Just like people who call themselves Christians. Funny, isn’t it, how we’re all the same when you peel back the labels.
Dawkins is a product of his time and place. He has entered his eighth decade on planet Earth, lives in the rarified atmosphere of academia and has a truckload of adoring fans who praise his every move. He thought he could get away with being a bit of a jerk (because, in my opinion, he has done so for years) and has paid the price. He’s probably slightly bewildered how he managed to get it so wrong.
Dawkins has done what most heroes do – he’s trodden in it good and proper and then, to make it worse, refused to listen to why people are upset with him. It hasn’t changed my opinion of him – I think he’s abrasive, uncouth and generally unpleasant. What it doesn’t make him is a scientist we should ignore. Christians shouldn’t be afraid of his science and even less afraid of his anti-religious dogma. Mao and Stalin with their armies and reigns of terror couldn’t stop religion, he can’t either.
(N.B . I am not comparing Dawkins to Stalin or Mao – the point I am making here is that they had far more power and might and tried to stamp out religion with violence and repression. They failed – China’s pre-Communist Era Christian population was tens of thousands, by the time of his death it was nearing a reported 50 million. Dawkins has words, books and television and apart from his terrifying temper, is otherwise a reasonable chap when not talking religion. As in not a murderous psychopath.)
I was surprised that he was so offhand about Scepchick’s incident but I was more surprised about the reaction. I think people are tiring of his constant, greying monotone about how religion is terrible. He hasn’t produced anything new on the matter, just said the same thing, over and over. I should imagine following the Dawkins tour is like touring around behind a stand-up comedian – it’s the same jokes, the same stories and the same old thing. You can go to a good church for ten years and not hear the same sermon twice.
Dawkins probably isn’t finished – the cosy, self-congratulatory atmosphere of University life will see to that, and his dedicated acolytes will return because they have nothing else to believe in. I will say I’m mightily impressed with the Atheist and sceptic communities – they treat their own like they treat those with whom they disagree. That’s the sort of consistency I can respect.

Victoria’s Offensive Language Law Changes Are Bollocks

In the fine tradition of politicians looking like they’re doing something, the new Baillieu government in Victoria has decided to fine people swearing in public on the spot. Which, let’s be honest, is different to actually being offensive.

This is instead of charging people with offensive language and hauling them into court only to have the charges dismissed by the magistrate in what is obviously a waste of the court’s time. Offensive language laws are long past their use-by date as the community has become more tolerant (this is different to accepting) of people swearing in public. It’s part of the social fabric and unless the surrounding language is intended to be threatening, most people just brush it off.

Many on Twitter, as usual, are blaming the moral conservatives and the evangelicals but I find it hard to see either of these groups explicitly supporting the new legislation. Basically, the new legislation is more about clearing the matter in one hit, in the same way councils do with parking fines, rather than let magistrates let the ‘offender’ off. These groups might drink a dry sherry in honour of the new laws, but unless my Aunty Betty has been writing letters (and she does), nobody is going to be all that impressed.

I think you’ll find the Victoria Police are behind it.

Baillieu wants to give Police the excuse to grab people on what is effectively a technicality. If a Police officer directs someone to do something and gets the predictable response that goes along the lines of ‘Get f***ed, pig,’ then the Police now have a marvellous excuse for grabbing the offender, fining them a couple of hundred bucks and sending them on their way after what will no doubt be a thorough search. That’s what this is all about, it’s the twenty-first century clip over the ear with added rights infringements.

If you want to blame the evangelicals (I’m not exactly sure who people think these evangelicals are) or the moral conservatives (a marvellous social caricature used as a scapegoat. Again, who are these people? Apart from Aunty Betty, I mean), go right ahead. But I think you’re missing the point. If the Police fine a hundred people on an average Saturday night in Melbourne, that’s twenty grand for the state’s coffers, or a millions bucks for a year’s worth of Saturdays. How many of those hundred people will want to take this to court? Not many. No doubt the process will be as tortuous as contesting a parking fine and that’s the point.

Worse, and far more insidious than the ad hominem argument of evangelicals/moral conservatives, is the fact that it is giving the Police a fantastic excuse to decide to search you where they previously wouldn’t bother. Police probably don’t bother with offensive language charges on their own because it sends them to court, causes endless paperwork and rarely gets past the magistrate. Those are the sorts of shenanigans nobody needs for somebody dropping an f-bomb in public. Now the Police know they’re more likely to make it stick, they’ll fine you and search you because, hey, why not while you’re already writing a ticket?

See where this is going? With a bit of luck, someone they really want to talk to will go for a bit of biffo and they’ve got them in the cells, nice and handy for assessing whether they can get them for something else.

I’m not dismissing ‘moral conservatism’ or evangelicals as a factor, but they’re not the driving force. I can’t say there’s much evidence to support the argument but it is the sort of thing Aunty Betty would do. She once rang my father early on a Sunday morning asking him to preach against a Pizza Hut slogan that went, ‘Get Stuffed.’ He told her to get stuffed, but reasonably politely, as I recall. For the record, swearing doesn’t offend me, despite my membership of the Christian church. There’s rather more going on in society to worry about people saying words to which we have attached weight for strange reasons.

Fining somebody for offensive language is remarkably stupid and is massively inconsistent. People like Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones are wilfully offensive in their on-air and written ramblings yet they never, ever swear at or to their audience. Baillieu isn’t interested in keeping the peace, he’s interested in raking in a few bucks, playing hard ball on law and order and giving Police a new motivation for collaring somebody they normally wouldn’t – or couldn’t.

I reckon that’s far worse.

Rock Bottom Is Up From Here.

It appears we have actually reached the bottom of the barrel, finished scraping it, checked it over for anything left, kicked the barrel over and dug about fifteen feet down. Because today Australia’s political debate centred around whether or not Cate Blanchett’s opinion on climate change and our – her – government’s response, was valid. She has chosen to express her opinion and values by helping front a union-funded political campaign encouraging Australians to think past the media’s woeful representation of the carbon tax pricing scheme (I’m looking at almost all of them here) and engage, using her celebrity for something she deems useful. While I don’t take much notice of what celebrities think, good on her.

The question of its validity rose up because, well, she’s a woman and a rich one at that. But what’s this? There are other people in the ad. Our very own, beloved, Michael Caton (he who plays pretty much the same character in everything he’s ever been in ever) is in it too, but his opinion wasn’t questioned, presumably because the validity of people’s opinions are means-tested. I’m just waiting for some idiot to say maybe Blanchett would understand all this better if she had…sorry, wrong argument, she’s got kids. See? How else are we to denigrate a woman with power and an opinion if she has kids?

Just to make sure, Channel 9’s Sunday evening news crossed to the Wharf Theatre to talk about whether she was being treated harshly. Why even bother getting involved in that dog whistle argument? Barnaby Joyce’s rabble-rousing was tired and messy and incomprehensible. The government were nowhere to be seen, despite the campaign being to their benefit.

To be fair, part of this has blown up because this Labor Government are the biggest bunch of numpties when it comes to explaining any of their policies. They are trying to actually do something (as well as being forced to do other things by people like Andrew Wilkie) and the something is good not just for the country but the world.

To illustrate: The Labor Party would take a focus group to a pub and explain the benefits of providing a free beverage. The media would be there, it would all be carefully stage-managed. The PR people would arrive in their Audis, the carefully selected working family representative (slightly heavy 35 year-old with 2.5 kids) would be nicely turned out in chinos and a polo shirt. Then the Minister would start speaking:

‘The liquid in question we present here today is a carbonated beverage, made with hops and malt and when consumed, usually orally, it makes the conshoomer…’

At that point, Tony Abbott would burst through the door with a bunch of carousing National Party wallopers, tear off his shirt and shout, ‘Free Beer!’ and everyone would vote for him instead.

And time and time again the media, and the Labor Party, let this happen. Labor can’t explain the Mining Resources Tax without treading on themselves and sections of the media somehow make Gina Rinehart look like a battler. Climate change isn’t explained properly and carefully by anyone, including Tim Flannery, because they cannot master the art of cut-through. The Coalition and the media, including Fairfax, are producing so much static that Labor just can’t catch a break, and it’s their own fault. The only break they’ve caught is an email from the Coalition whip moaning about MPs missing divisions.

Good government includes telling the story of policy and this government fails to tell a story that people can understand and digest. I’m for the carbon tax pricing scheme (I had to delete tax even though that’s not what it is but it’s all we hear because Labor never rebuffs it) and I’ve had to dig long and hard to even understand what the government could be maybe possibly be doing. Not every one has the time or the mad Google skillz, or the political engagement that goes beyond a shirtless, screaming Tony Abbott. Or the willpower, to be honest.

That’s not meant to be patronising, by the way, except possibly to Labor’s media advisors. Given the state of political discourse, people have been happier listening to Abbott rather than some nasal Labor minister whining about how it’s good for working families moving forward.

We’ve got this because we’ve asked for it. We are not demanding enough of our politicians, we are not holding them to the high standards we expect and we are letting them waste our Sundays bitching about a perfectly legal ad supporting the policy of an elected government. Nobody has made anything of Angry Anderson (that’s not me, by the way) being the climate sceptics’ front man (I actually thought he was dead) and nobody has questioned Rinehart’s lunatic views based on the amount of money she has in the bank.

Why are we letting the media question Blanchett like this, why are we consuming it and why isn’t the Labor government coming out swinging like they did when the Liberals leaked an email?

SlutWalk Means One Thing To Me

Nobody deserves to be raped.

There is no excuse for rape. There is no excuse for rape.

Her clothes are no excuse for rape. Her occupation is no excuse for rape. Her refusal to have a drink with you is no excuse for rape. Her refusal to have sex with you is no excuse for rape. It doesn’t matter if you are married or in a long-term relationship, there’s no excuse for rape.

It doesn’t matter which drugs she might have taken, if you’re a footballer, if she’s a sex worker or a nun or anything in between – there’s no excuse for rape.

It doesn’t matter what you think, what you believe, what she believes, what I believe. There’s no excuse for rape.

There just isn’t.

There’s no excuse that anyone has to have this explained to them. There’s no excuse that we’re still having to tell people that it is never the victim’s fault. Nobody wants to be raped, nobody deserves to be raped, every one on this planet holds the right to be safe from being raped.

There’s no excuse for rape. Not now, not then, not tomorrow, not ever.

You may not like the name of Slutwalk, you may not really understand why it’s called that. You will see people marching in it who don’t really get it either. But it doesn’t matter. It’s happening because there are people in this world who hate women enough to think that they were ‘asking for it.’ You may not agree with the morality of many of the people walking, you may be a Christian, a Muslim, an Atheist or nothing or everything, but the message is clear – there’s no excuse for rape and there’s no excuse for blaming the victim.

I’m a Christian and I would join this walk because everyone on SlutWalk has one common belief:

There is no excuse for rape.

That’s a good enough reason to hit the streets with people you ordinarily wouldn’t.

If you don’t agree, keep reading this post until you do. If I only knew one person who had been raped, it would be too many, but I know way more than one. And that breaks my heart and that is another reason I would join SlutWalk.

It’s very, very simple.

There is no excuse for rape.

The Truth Is Out – Super-Injunctions Are (Hopefully) Dead

As with Trafigura, so it was with Ryan Giggs, for Gentleman of Football. Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named Ryan Giggs (previously known on this blog as Stupid English Footballer)(when he should have been known as Stupid Welsh Footballer, thank you commenter) in parliament as the footballer at the centre of the current super-injunction row. The vanity of a footballer who plays for the very famous Manchester United is now in serious tatters, but it was long-gone before he was actually named.

I said in my previous post that it was unlikely that celebrity affairs were going to be brought up in Parliament as they were hardly in the national interest. They’re not. If Ryan Giggs is stupid enough to cheat on his wife in five-star hotels with an instantly recognisable former reality television star, that’s his own business. Giggs’ fall from grace is entirely of his own making and during his fall he managed to hit everything he could to ensure a blood corpse. Sure, it takes two to tango and Imogen Thomas must have been nuts for thinking it was a good idea, but Giggs couldn’t be bothered springing the extra cash to suppress her identity as well. The Sun newspaper’s crowd-sourcing of the legal risk has worked a treat, aided and abetted by the wonderful concept of parliamentary privilege.

It brings into sharper focus the fact that super-injunctions were being misused by celebrities who were protecting their hide, rather than the truly vulnerable. British PM David Cameron has (yawn) promised a review of privacy laws but what I’m interested in is the fact that this went from being someone protecting their privacy (however vainly) to the issue actually, genuinely, being in the national interest. It became the national interest because it once again raised the question of what the point of a super-injunction is and how are they even allowed in a society with a free press?

The facts of the super-injunction are pretty sordid and, in and of themselves, a waste of the paper and the oxygen and megabytes consumed to discuss them. We’re hardly surprised a footballer can’t keep his pants on (although one wonders about the staggering choice of using 5-star hotels, public places, in which to conduct the affair), but the fact that such unimportant information can be suppressed by a national instrument such as the court system is profoundly troubling. It’s astonishing that this stuff even reaches a court room.

The issue of whether this affair is newsworthy or not is another matter. I don’t believe it is, but millions of Sun, Daily Mail, Express and whatever other tabloid you can think of seem to think it is, as long as the woman is attractive and the celebrity famous enough. The twist, of course, is Giggs’ hypocrisy which one supposes just scrapes it into a very wide definition of news.

The founding purpose of super-injunctions appear to be lost in the mists of time but they were certainly not designed for this sort of stupidity. It seems to me they can be used for things that are just embarrassing rather than a matter of national security because separate legislation handles national secrets and security.

With the age of over-sharing via Twitter, Facebook and the open Internet, we have a terrific, anonymised way for the world to find stuff out. Giggs and his irksome ilk are now going to have to behave themselves like normal humans or wear the consequences of their transgressions. The price of their fame is that, sadly, they will be pursued by the very people and institutions that make them famous. The media gives with one hand and takes with the other. Once they tire of you or they sniff hypocrisy, you will be splashed across the pages of the national dailies, complete with judgmental commentary. Facts are optional and often invented to increase the outrage factor.

On the upside, it might stop you from cheating on our wife, embarrassing your family and making you a figure of hate and/or international ridicule. The wheels have fallen off the well-polished family-man Giggs’ wagon – well, they fell off when he basically tried to sue the entire Internet – but the hubcaps of super-injunctions themselves are lying in a ditch beside the motorway as the wheelnuts undo themselves. The centuries-old tradition of parliamentary privilege has twice destroyed the assault on the public interest that super-injunctions are.

The truth is out and the biggest, if not the first, casualty of this war is the ignoble practice of super-injunctions.