Category Archives: politics

Don’t share needlers.

The tone of what passes for political discussion in Australia is, quite frankly, disgusting. It’s odious and we all should be ashamed.

Just a few remarks on the “commentators”, the people that are paid to express an opinion or two. The columnists who supposedly inform us of the issues of the general issues of the day, or week as the case may be.

To start with, that repugnant human being Howard Sattler. It wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t unfortunate. He plotted and planned those questions, and his bosses should have known. He has form. But why should we be surprised by this? Controversy sells, and that’s what he was employed to do; spruik his kind of polarising bull shit. This time, shock-horror, he went too far. Crossed the line it seems, so an apology is issued. He isn’t sorry, though. He hasn’t apologised. He’s rubbing our faces in it by suing his employer for sacking him. He’s even stated for public consumption that given his time again he’d ask the same questions. He reminds us even now that the Prime Minister ought to have known what was coming. Presumably, in his befouled little mind, she deserved it. What a grub.

Then, as some sort of anything you can do, I can go lower duet, fellow abhorrent human being Piers Akerman pops up and repeats the same slurs. Quite rightly most of the nation simultaneously rolled their eyes, laughed with utter disbelief and expressed their outrage. And that would be that, except the ignominious buffoon decides that he’d better explain himself in his regular News Ltd column by blaming the ABC, Barrie Cassidy, Lenore Taylor, Malcolm Farr, Twitter and anyone with a shred of decency to call him out on his tactless, repellant aspersion.

Now you could be forgiven for thinking one (or two) swallows do not a summer make, but this a wave crest of in the lake of sewage, years in the making. It’s not simply a case of sexism against one woman and a disgraceful slur on her partner, it’s systemic racism, homophobia and xenophobia against all manner of people.

The worst aspect of this whole sorry mess is the inescapable reality that it’s our fault. You read correctly. It’s us who watches the tawdry mess on the evening news. It’s us who buys the newspapers. It’s us who subscribes to the online version of the newspapers. It’s a free country and you can read and watch what you like, but for chrissakes stop sharing the smeared faeces that passes as political analysis or opinion on your social media accounts. Instead of ignoring every one of these vile trolls, the nation is clicking on your shortened URLs, and editors then rub their hands together in Machiavellian delight because they can give their advertising clients hard numbers, advertising which pays for these vicious grubs and encourages them to churn out even more bigoted bile.

So stop it. If you really want to make a difference, if you really are so offended by a piece that these intolerant ogres write and think everyone else should read it, then take a screen capture and post that instead. Don’t give these bloody bastards the satisfaction of knowing they’re comfortable and safe, protected from the rage by the soft blankets of money that a few lazy clicks bring.

Religion is a very serious business.

It’s not always easy being an atheist.  Too often I get caught in religious debates.  The same old stuff comes out; Pascal’s Wager1, Darwin didn’t prove life came from nothing, so evolution isn’t true2, our eyes are proof of intelligent design3, and so on it goes.  As an atheist, I’m not one to jump down believers’ throats and shout at them to tell them they are deluded.  It’s one of the fundamental human rights as laid down in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; people have the right to observe their religion.

I don’t believe religion is intrinsically a rort. However I do believe it’s protected by the Law more than secular belief such as humanism and is easily corrupted.  Yes, believe in whichever deity you want and you should not be persecuted by the state for that belief.  I say “the state” because it’s perfectly reasonable for any individual to question the integrity of such a believer; if such a believer is honest with nothing to hide, then the answers should flow freely, as any statement of faith should.

Yet this isn’t what really happens.  The very well publicised Harold Camping said the rapture would occur on 21st of May 2011.  He was (not surprisingly) wrong, and not for the first time on this matter, either.  Conservative Christians in the US, UK and here in Australia oppose gay marriage using 2 common arguments as a basis; 1) it would undermine heterosexual marriage by removing rights from heterosexual marriages, and 2) the law (at least in Australia) defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  Both these arguments are, to be fair, weak.

Now I wouldn’t personally mind this kind of debate if it were on a fair playing field.  Dare I suggest most religious conservatives believe it is, or if not it’s slanted in favour of the “homosexual agenda.”  If only it were!  Organised religion is exempt from discrimination laws; religious schools can expel students and sack teachers on the basis of being gay, pregnant and unwed, or even being nonbelievers of the school’s religion e.g. a Buddhist can be sacked in a Catholic school.  That wouldn’t be such a problem if governments didn’t give such schools no strings attached subsidies!

This is nothing short of hypocrisy.

For all that, my biggest beef is that religions don’t pay tax.  Religions hold the cards here, because in nearly all democratic nations, religions are exempt from paying tax.  They are assumed to be not-for-profit organisations.

(Now to be fair, most religious organisations are not-for-profit, but how do we know if the books are kept in secret, and religion is exempt from Freedom of Information laws?)

These exemptions have their basis in medieval law, when the church and state were cosy bedfellows.  The church even had powers to tax.  That may have changed since the French and American revolutions and the resultant separation of powers, but religion remains untouchable when it comes to tax. It’s unreasonable, and unjust.

To make things a little more fair, organised religions should be taxed like non-religious charities, trusts and companies.  If a registered religious group is truly not-for-profit, then nothing changes; they won’t pay tax.  If they do make profits, or accumulate wealth through property, gifts, bequeathments, grants and so forth, then they should have to declare their income, assets, fringe benefits, etc., and thus pay tax.  Like anyone else.  The same rules should apply equally to all.

To demonstrate the hypocrisy, the Church of Scientology was taken to task by a few individuals who believe the organisation is quackery and fraudulent, claiming that Scientology is not a religion but a philosophy.  This may be true, and as an atheist I have little doubt that the accusations are true.  However the means of attack against Scientology was about their tax status, not values or ideology.  The High Court of Australia ruled that Scientology is a religion and therefore exempt from being taxed.  Anyone can form a religion as long as there is a belief in a supernatural something, and cannons of conduct exist and are accepted by the believers.  That’s all.

I’m not going to try to figure out how much governments – and therefore citizens – miss out by religious organisations not paying any tax, but as a guestimate the figure would be in he order of $1 billion.

In the meanwhile, approximately $600 million is being spent by the Federal Gillard government to place chaplains in all schools; private religious and government secular alike.  The Victorian Baillieu government is injecting a further $200 million.  These chaplins aren’t allowed to teach or proselytise, so what is the point of them being there?  I can only see them as bargain basement counsellors with no qualifications at all other than to have a working with children check like this or this.  Seriously, no teaching, psychology or any tertiary qualifications are needed at all; equivalent experience is enough.  Far from being representative of the non-secular make-up of Australia, these chaplains are all Christian4.  It’d be interesting if an atheist was appointed as a school chaplain under the NSCP.

Is it not galling enough that that secular entities don’t pay tax and yet many are given government grants, or paid contracts to provide essential services?  How is it fair that a church can “syphon” off funds from government to build a chapel instead of, say, a computer lab for students?  How is it fair that an organisation like The Salvation Army can purchase a vehicle tax free to provide for a Salvation Officer or employee in lieu of income?  (In any other context this is seen as Fringe Benefits and is thus taxed.)  This is a double dip that no other business can get away with.

I specifically mention the Salvos because they have many government contracts to provide services to the community, such as employment and food, clothing and transport.  It goes without saying the Salvation Army don’t do it for nothing, but we won’t find out how much profit they earn from these deals because they are exempt from FOI because they are a contracted service provider (and a religion).

Why can’t a secular charity or organisation provide these services?  Well, some do, but without the tax breaks afforded to them that religious organisations automatically get, secular organisations aren’t competitive in a bidding process.

All this makes me uncomfortable.  I’m not suggesting all nonsecular organisations are corrupt, but they are certainly open to corruption and have more mechanisms at their disposal to cover up any corruption.  It’s difficult to prosecute when wrongdoing is exposed, too.  Such as when a private religious school principal and his brother were taken to trial for fraud, but they were acquitted on appeal despite the obvious rort.

It’s time to stop giving religious organisations a helping hand at becoming asset rich whilst they cry poor.  Praying should not be conceded to be a public service.  Religious charities should not be allowed to discriminate when they are contracted to provide a government service to all members of the community.  Most of all, it’s time for the books to be open and tax paid in the same way, under the same rules, that secular organisations have to.

1. Pascal’s Wager suggests it’s a good idea to “hedge one’s” bet and believe in God.  If God doesn’t exist, then no harm done.  This logic fails because there is more than one god.  Also, any god who chooses humans because of their gambling habits over their value as humans is vain and capricious and therefore not worth aspiring to be with.

2. Darwin’s seminal work On the Origin of Species isn’t about first life, rather how new species evolve from common ancestors by natural selection.  It’s not just an idea, but a testable theory with observable predictions, just like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  Further, debating anything in science using the premise “but x isn’t true” does not negate a theory in it’s entirety; just because science doesn’t explain everything doesn’t mean it can’t explain anything.

3. Human eyes are terrible at many things.  They aren’t like camera at all, and only a small part near the centre of the retina, near the blind spot, can detect colour.  Even then it’s not very good.  If the eye were designed, then the designer did less than a half-arsed job.

4. This blog here does an excellent job of dissecting chaplains in school, and why the commissioned report (which I linked here) for Access Ministries should be viewed as propaganda, or the very least, extremely subjective and biased.  Not one acceptable metric was used.

>Why Universal Health Care is Vital to Any Civilised, Compassionate Society, and how it Benefits Everyone

>

There’s no big secret about me having rheumatoid arthritis, or a broken back.  I tweet about it, share my experiences and get some good advice from others who know about auto-immune diseases, as well as having a plethora of specialists, including a consultant rheumatologist, taking care of me.
Due to the damage in my spine, which is currently held together with titanium pins, rods, screws, a cage and will power, I also suffer chronic, intense back pain which needs it’s own management plan.  Lately the symptoms of the partial paraplegia, from the significant nerve damage, have been getting worse.  More pain, less mobility and some potentially embarrassing moments in public. (Other than my risqué conversations!)
Working out what’s going on isn’t that straight forward.  Physiotherapy have noticed the deterioration.  A muscular-skeletal exam confirmed what my physiotherapist suspected, an expensive custom made orthotic was made to assist me to walk further than a few metres without tripping over.  Meanwhile a pathologist investigates my blood and reports back to my rheumatologist and General Practitioner (GP, just a regular doctor).  My gastroenterologist orders Doppler ultrasound, and interprets the digital video remotely from the Imaging Services Department at the hospital.  My neurosurgeon is frequently updated with digital CT scans to look for change.
That’s where the “problem” lays.  The titanium that is fused into my lower spine scatters x-rays, so high resolution images near the suspect site are not possible, but there is enough change for it to be noticed.  So an MRI scan is ordered.
I don’t know if anyone knows what having an MRI is like.  I’ve become used to them, but still they aren’t pleasant for me.  The MRI scan process for me is fairly straight forward; change into “something more comfortable”, double check for any metal I might be wearing, get wedged onto a plank, then loaded like a shell into a cannon.  For the next thirty or so minutes the sounds of thumping, banging, buzzing, and harmonics of all these all but drown out any music I’m listening to through plastic tubing.  While all this is happening the electro magnets (which resonate causing the disturbing banging sounds) are so powerful, any loose metal within a few metres of the machine would be flicked through at a velocity enough to break bones or, worse, the machine.  They are so powerful that it makes me vibrate.  Indeed, I can tell when they are focusing on my lumbar region as the titanium moves with the vertebrae to cause pinching of some nerves which results in a combinations of unpleasant discomfort and sensations of having hot pokers rammed through my feet and into my spine.  Then I’m unloaded briefly, but not allowed to move, as a contrast agent is injected into my wrist.  Normally they try and find the less painful area, but it’s not always possible. The contrast agent makes my tongue feel like someone’s put a dirty teaspoon on it.  Then it’s reload and do it all over again.
Yesterday’s little outing in the tubular coffin took no less than 90 minutes.
Now I’m not saying this is, or should be, a typical experience for anyone.  It’s simply my own experience due to my unique circumstances.  Most people that have an MRI have nothing more than a little discomfort from being in a confined space for about 15 minutes.  MRI scanning is routine in an emergency hospital, such as Royal Perth Hospital, and all across Australia’s major public hospitals.
Now, here’s the fun part.  How much do you think all this testing costs?  How much did it cost me?  The MRI scan alone costs are about AU$10,000.  Cost to me? AU$0.  That’s right.  Nothing.  Same for physiotherapy, pathology, rheumatology.  Even when I had the neurosurgery to remove the spiny growths of bone, the ruptured discs, and to reconstruct and repair fractured vertebrae using expensive titanium didn’t cost me a cent.  The room with a view that I had to myself for 2 weeks during recovery cost me nothing.  The rehab, zilch.  The fitting, construction and refitting of my high-tech orthotic?  Absolutely nothing.
Every Resident and Citizen of Australia has access to free, that’s right, free medical care at a public hospital.  There are private hospitals, but the only difference between the two is that private hospitals have more expensive art in the foyer and don’t have emergency facilities.  In fact, most consultants from all disciplines, including my wonderful rheumatologist, work in both private and public hospitals.
So how can it be free, and why?  The answer is simple.  Taxation pays for it.  It even subsidises General Practitioners so that going to a doctor is cheap, and in some cases, free.  Yes, that’s right, for some people it costs nothing to see a doctor.  Going further, most prescriptions are also subsidised, to the point that once a certain number of prescriptions have been used by an individual or family, for the rest of the calendar year all listed medications are free.  Yes, free.
Every Australian is aware of this to some point.  Most wouldn’t even think about it.
Surely this is madness!  Isn’t this socialist nonsense and surely it will bankrupt the country?  Like Greece for example?
Well, no.  It’s a vital service, Universal Health Care.  For those in the Tea Party movement in the US (referred, unflattering as “teabaggers”!) who are fighting to stop the Obama administration to trend towards Universal Health Care, countries like Canada, Australia, Great Britain, France and so on are to be pilloried for having such a blatantly evil “socialist” policy.
But if they really thought about it, why don’t they complain that the police or firefighters are part of a socialist agenda?  Or government schools?  Why should doctors become wealthy at the expense of patients when the police also have arguably difficult jobs, or firefighters or teachers?  Why is it that prisoners get better health care than they could ever hope to get outside of jail?  Or members of the US armed forces and veterans?  Or indigenous Americans?  Isn’t that also an evil socialist engineering program?
The fundamental arguments against Universal Health Care start to look pretty weak in light of the evidence.  Especially since those who make the most money out of the health industry in the US are the insurance companies are the same collection of people that make the decisions on what treatment, if any, a US citizen is entitled to, or what medication they can have.  It doesn’t take much brain power to understand that these people are making decisions based on a bottom line, not in terms of health outcomes for policy holders.
At the same time, medical services and medications costs in the US are practically extortionate.  This in turn means the insurers have to charge higher premiums, which mean less people, despite the Obama Administration’s changes to stop the practice of denying policies to people with pre-existing conditions, can afford any quality medical care.  Essentially, the US is a duality; those with money and influence get the best medical care money can buy at the expense of those who work just as hard, if not harder, for far less reward.
A civilised nation would treat all citizens as equal before the law, and enable access to all services on an equal footing, be it electricity, a police force, justice through the courts if accused of a crime, or health care.  A compassionate society would treat those who, for a variety of reasons, aren’t able to fully take care of themselves or make decisions for themselves about their welfare; this is no different to how parents look after their young children or children look after their aged parents.
Using taxes to pay for these things is money well spent.  Instead of someone who becomes horribly ill and unable to work never contributing to society ever again, they are more likely to be rehabilitated where they can contribute once again.  That in itself is a powerful incentive for the patient to become well again because no one likes to be dependent on others.
I would have thought most of this is self evident or self explanatory.  Anyone with a grain of sense would know Universal Health Care isn’t about a slippery slope to some form of evil Stalinism.  At least I believe anyone with a grain of sense would know that.
Of course, if critics wish to point out how I’m some form of bleeding heart lefty socialist, then fine.  Maybe I am.  I was born in, raised in, and live in a liberal socialist democracy.  That doesn’t mean a Laissez-faire, Marxist democracy, It means a free thinking, progressive, open to new ideas, let’s give everyone a fair go democracy.  Usually it means that governments are more centralist or left of centre than governments of the USA, but nonetheless a liberal socialist democracy is a long way right of Stalinist North Korea.
Critics are welcome, if they wish to ask me any questions they like.  I can begin by stating that currently I am on a Disability Support Pension.  It’s not a lot of money, but it’s enough for most things; rent, power, and as you can see, the internet.  And independence.  Would I rather be working?  Of course, but it’s not practical nor beneficial for myself or – more importantly – an employer at this point in my life.
Would I be just as happy if I was the one paying the tax and somebody else was on a pension due to illness or injury?  Absolutely.  Been there, done that, didn’t complain.
I leave with one final question: if you’re a US citizen and a “teabagger”, how would you like to be treated if you unexpectedly became ill for a protracted period?  Would you like to worry each day about how long the insurance is going to pay and what treatment they will pay for instead of focusing on getting better?  Or would you resign yourself to becoming homeless, even imprisoned for being homeless, when every one around you pities you but says you ought to have known this is what was going to happen and paid some faceless company more money.

>Australia Day? Invasion Day? What a Load of Jingoistic Crap

>

A son of a German shoves a Union Jack on the shores of Botany Bay, proclaiming that a terra nullus is now the property of a King George III, whom is completely mad from the hereditary disease porphyria and is not English but German, during a time of malcontent by those the New World (American) colonies.  How is this a day for Australia, let alone representative of England’s expanding empire?
It reminds me of an Episode of Blackadder Goes Forth (General Hospital), where Capt. Blackadder is tasked to root out a German spy in a WWI field hospital: having tied Capt. Darling to a chair Blackadder interrogates, and Darling finally cracks under the pressure “I’m as British as Queen Victoria!” to which Blackadder attacks with “You mean your father’s German, you’re half German and you married a German?!”
I’m not anti-German or anti-British or even anti-Calathumpian.  The point is how ridiculous that Australia Day is about the establishment of the Botany Bay Colony (NSW), which has nothing to do with South Australia, Tasmania or Western Australia, and Australians in general.  Particularly immigrants (aren’t we all?) and indigenous peoples.  That doesn’t leave very many Australian Citizens left.
Surely this artificial date, linked to firing a few muskets to the strains of God Save The King, is not appropriate for now let alone pre-Federation.
Perhaps a better date is when the Premiers of each colony first sat together and, with the “mother country” (English or German?) agreed on the referendum that would put our nation on the path of a successful Federation, remembering that both Western Australia and South Australia both had universal suffrage – for non-indigenous peoples – for those aged 21 and over?  A second date could be set aside to celebrate the successful referendum in which indigenous peoples won the right to be recognised as people with the same rights as citizens and thus given the vote.
Perhaps the real “Australia Day”, then, should be 2nd March to reflect the first day of the meeting of all Colonies to push for Federalism.
In the same way, 26th August should mark “Vincent Lingiari Day”: the walk off by Aboriginal stockmen from Wave Hill, which precipitated the overwhelmingly successful 1967 referendum which removed the power of the Commonwealth government as to how indigenous people could be treated.  (Contrary to popular belief, in some states indigenous peoples did have citizenship and were allowed to vote in state elections.)
As for the current “Australia Day”, it’s time to let go.  Unless you are a New South Welsh man or woman, and even then it would be better to rename it as “Foundation Day, NSW”.

>Daylight Saving? Yawn

>

Don’t like missing out on Daylight Saving?  Disappointed WA voted for the 4th time “No”?  Then referendums are obviously not the way to go. May I suggest you go to New South Wales or Victoria or Tasmania or — the eternal purgatory – South Australia.

You see, I don’t really care if Perth has DLS or not; and let’s face it Perth/Mandurah/Bunbury is the socio-political critical mass of Western Australia.  Does DLS cause more car accidents?  Probably not.  Do more people sun themselves at the beach after getting home from a stressful day at the office with DLS?  I doubt it, except for the above average wage earners in the beach-side suburbs.  Do kids not sleep properly at night because the sun sets later?  Maybe not.

Whatever arguments that are put up, there are counter arguments.
But I’ll let you into a secret.  I voted no.  And I’ll tell you why.

If you’ve ever lived in the North of the state (and I don’t mean the suburbs of Joondalup and Wanneroo) then you’ll know you get roughly 12 hours of sunlight each day all year round.  It doesn’t vary as much as does in Tasmania.  Or even the Southern Coastal towns like, for example, Hopetoun.

I chose Hopetoun for a particular reason.  Hopetoun is less than 10km East of the 120°E Easting, which is where WA officially measures its time zone.  And Hopetoun is roughly on the same Northing as Sydney.  So if anywhere would need that extra bit of daylight at the end of the day it would be Hopetoun.  After all, with sunrise as early as 5am, they could do with the extra light at the end of the day rather than the beginning.

Well, it’s not that simple.  During the height of summer, the sun rises and sets in the ocean.  But in winter, is rises and sets over land.  In Hopetoun’s case having a bloody big hill the size of a mountain to the West reduces winter daylight by as much as an hour.
What’s this go to do with Perth?  We don’t have any mountains.  The sun always sets in the Indian Ocean for shore dwellers.  Being 5° West of the 120°E mark means Perth has less morning and more afternoon all year round.  A kind of built in DSL.  5° may not sound very much, but it means Perth can get over 20 minutes of DLS.  Plus not having the sun set over mountains, unlike Sydney, means more twilight.

But that’s not the real reason for voting no.  The Office of Energy did an audit of power consumption during the 3 year Day Light Savings Trial, and was supposed to release the data to the public before the last referendum.  I guess the idea being that because we were all at the beach being sand-blasted by the Fremantle Doctor, we weren’t using our electricity guzzling reverse cycle air-conditioners.  And so, the theory goes, we weren’t burning as much gas and coal in our power stations.

How could we be so naïve!  The Independent Market Regulator washed its hands of the issue, and no documents have been allowed under the Freedom of Information Act (WA) to say whether more or less power was consumed.  However, since the former Carpenter government thought it necessary to re-commission a coal fired power-plant, one becomes suspicious.

Yes, we know that Apache’s Varanus Island gas plant exploded, but Apache are still fighting NOPSA in the courts over the inspection, and anyway, even when the Carpenter government enacted a reserve of 25% of all gas produced to be for WA domestic and industrial use, no plans have been made to decommission the re-commissioned power station.  Even with the current Barnett government, even with more gas available and a plan to keep storing energy so that we urbanites won’t have to go without power again.
Conclusion: they are hiding something from us, and it isn’t the Office of Energy’s good news.

Yes, we may dream that we’ll go down to the beach after work.  With the kids.  Get some sunlight — but not too much because we don’t want any more skin cancers than we already have — and all the fun stuff that the warmer weather brings.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  At most we’ll only spend more time down at the pub or at a mate’s barbie.  Or as earlier this week proved, 3 consecutive days over 41.1°C (106°F) and 5 consecutive days over 37.8°C (100°F), it was no surprise as the grid again failed.  We had been warned about this before, and we are being warned it will happen in the future.

No matter if you prefer DLS, don’t grumble to me about how awful it is doing business with those over east.  Let’s face it, it’s awful doing business anyway and the money comes into this state from those in our timezone, eg Beijing, not outside it (Sydney, Melbourne).

>Shame Is The Only Weapon That Hurts Them

>

Humans are flawed.  We are prone to err.  We make observational errors.  We unwittingly make assumptions that have no foundations.  Sometimes we deliberately deceive ourselves as a protective (or coping) mechanism so that we don’t have to face facts: the lie is comforting and protective.
Perhaps the most interesting psychological and social phenomenon that demonstrates one of our psychological flaws is the Fundamental Attribution Error.  We all have it to a greater or lesser degree.
What is it?  Well, it would be easy to insert a few links to Wikipedia or a paper or text on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or even the person credited with the term Lee Ross. Instead, I will explain it in hypothetical examples of a cognitive error.
Let’s say someone has severe depression.  One of the behavioural problems this person exhibits is severe social isolationism and an irrational blame system.  The sufferer may attribute all “good luck” to simple good but undeserved fortune, and any “bad luck” to deserved punishment, be it by “God”, or any other source, even themselves.
The use of “good”, “bad” and “God” is deliberate: they are loaded words, with a value that is different for each individual.
The same phenomenon happens in perfectly functioning individuals too.  For example, “bad” things that happen are entirely due to things beyond the person’s control, and “good” things happen because the person is a “good” person or because they pray to “God”.
It should now be obvious what is really happening: the individual is attributing in error what is happening to them.  As individuals we all do it from time to time.  As a society we gravitate towards those with similar belief systems and reinforce any errors.  To claim otherwise is in itself a fundamental attribution error.
So why talk about a psychological theory, especially one that is still debated amongst psychiatrists and psychologists?  There is a battle going on, and an ugly one at that.  It’s religious fundamentalism verses human rights.  Normally sanity prevails and on accommodates the other, but this “war” is becoming ugly as issues become polarised.
On the religious fundamentalism side, a claim has been staked for theological absolutism over morality.  The principle being only religion can own morality, since what is “good” and what is “evil” is defined by “God”, be it Yahweh, God, Allah, or any defined deity, and any human morality is corrupted.  The flaw in absolutism is exposed when absolutists can’t agree on moral “laws”, or even be consistent on interpretation.
This isn’t the crux of the problem, as conflict amongst religious absolutists has ever been thus.  What the current vortex has done is draw in an ever growing number of seemingly normal people capable of making their own decisions based on evidence and experience and turning them into bigots.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the US.  There is a growing fear, often unfounded, of Islam because a few radical “Muslims” deviate from orthodoxy and have an irrational belief that Christians and Jews are deserving targets in a violent jihad.  Similarly a growing number of centralist, nominal Christians in the US, as well as here in Australia, believe that homosexuality is equivalent to a moral cancer.  To recruit the otherwise “I don’t give a hoot” to the cause, they actively, deliberately, use fundamental attribution error to scare those on the outside into believing that gay marriage is a danger to children.
There are two very important issues that those against gay marriage, or homosexuality in general, that those behind these bigoted attacks don’t want you to know;
a) many western governments already accept same-sex couples for the purpose of taxation, estates and family laws,
b) the organisers of bigoted attacks deliberately confuse being homosexual with having homosexual sex,
c) the organisers of bigoted attacks deliberately obfuscate any logical debate, and,
d) the organisers of bigoted attacks pander to fear by linking homosexuality, particularly male homosexuality, with paedophilia, when in fact evidence is to the contrary.  When any such activity is demonstrably shown to be from within a church then the cracks are papered over.  Nothing to see here, move on.
As a society we can arm ourselves the best we can with facts, and question every “fact” given to us.  As individual we can not give in to the moral absolutists.  Today is the rights of individuals to enter a civil arrangement and be equal before the spirit and the letter of the law and equals within society.  Tomorrow it may be your right to judge for yourself what is acceptable, how to raise your children, who you are allowed to associate with or something more sinister.
As an example how deep this self-belief (or delusion) goes, I’ve engaged with tweeters with different views to my own.  It’s important in my view not to devalue someone’s personal belief system for my own amusement.  However one tweeter came to my attention because the nature of the argument cementing into a “because”.  You know the type of argument. Master or Miss Four comes to you and asks a question, to which you answer.  But they are never satisfied, and eventually you give up and reply with a “because it just is” or “because I said so.”  That’s fine, since as the adult you set the rules and the boundaries.  However when it’s a debate with someone who is supposedly an adult, and the debate still reduces down to “because”, then you can bet that person is an absolutist, or worse a fundamentalist absolutist.  It may be tempting to dismiss such individuals as radical right-wing fundamentalists and not representative of others of their faith, but it’s a dangerous assumption.
I wish it could end with just religious belief, yet recent events both here in Australia (mainly in Melbourne and Sydney) and in India have brought up another societal ugliness: racism.
The murder of Nitin Garg, an Indian National, has brought out bloggers such as “Wendy” (I won’t give a link, as I don’t wish to promote her views.  If you wish, Google “culturedviews.com racism laugh” and take it from there).  The point is there is a growing resentment towards immigrants and asylum seekers in nearly all nations.  Racist classics like “we’re full” and “they take our jobs” abound.  Throw into the mix “no one’s forcing them to come here” and “they should count themselves lucky to be here”.  Yes, it’s very easy to be a racist without thinking about it.
I don’t know if the recent attacks on Indians living in Australia is racially motivated, however I have noted a increasing resentment towards Sub-Continent Asians by various people.  “They’ve fucked up the taxis single handedly” is one such comment I’ve heard.  Before this it was the Serbs or the Croatians  who were to blame.  Before them it was the Vietnamese.  You get the picture.
What I have noticed is India’s growing self assuredness as a nation.  The Indian media has certainly taken a more aggressive stance on the matter.  It doesn’t help when inadvertent comments made to the media further sour relations, forcing what should be a murder investigation into a diplomatic row.
Now let’s be utterly clear and frank.  We are all capable of expressing racism.  Racism isn’t solely the domain of “white” people.  And no-one is best served when generalisations are made about a person’s country or culture.  Finally, it does no harm to apologise for our failings of the past and current.  Not just “white culture” but all cultures.  Surely in this specific case, the interests of the victims it’s best to take a deep breath, both Australia and India, find, investigate and prosecute the offenders.
In the meantime, we should do our best to out the religious and racists bigots: shame is the only weapon that hurts them.

>Welcome to Eternal Digital Purgatory

>

It’s an unwritten law about politicians: it’s expected that they be hypocrites and be able to disguise (so they think) by using gobbledegook or nonsensical technocrat jargon.
Senator The Honourable Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is today’s subject.  Well, not so much a subject as a lesson.  In not how to be a minister.
What Conroy is trying to achieve is nothing short of total censorship of the internet within Australia.  Many commentators have already spoken about this, commentators far more qualified than I am.  However I will add something that no commentator to my knowledge have spoken about.
I wrote to the Senator about his plans for a compulsory internet filter for all Australian ISPs.  He finally replied with an nonsense letter (in PDF form), republished here;

(I apologise for the poor quality of the images.  One could say it represents the quality of the answers Conroy gave.)

There are some answers that amuse me.  For example Enex TestLab tested the filter, but no IT group, journalist or editor accept the findings, particularly at ADSL2+ speeds.  Mainly because the Minister reneged on his promise to publish the full results.  Instead we have to take the Minister’s word and Enex’s report as gospel.  No surprise, then, that Enex “found that a defined list of URLs can be delivered with 100 per cent accuracy.”  Of course it can, because that’s like saying parsing a text file for the word “the” will succeed 100% of the time if “the” is in the defined list.  What Senator Conroy or Enex don’t say is what the defined list is.  In other words it’s easy to pass with 100% any test when you know what the answers are beforehand.  If it were a statistical study or basic science at year 11/12 level, then quite rightly the examiners would fail the student.

Of course, this “one hundred per cent accuracy” is spin.  At least three websites were erroneously added to the the banned list, if this news article is to be believed.  And even though I don’t trust News Ltd or the Courier Mail 100%, I trust that report 100% more than Conroy’s statements.  Especially since Conroy threatened to have the Federal Police, which was never followed up, investigate the leaking of the list held by AMCA.

There are, at best, deliberately misleading errors, or at worst, lies, by Conroy.  The claim that Germany has already legislated ISP filtering only relates to child abuse.  Italy’s Ministerial Decree only relates to child abuse and illegal gambling sites.  Neither are close to the scope Conroy and the Government want to implement.  Misinformation, spin or lies.  You decided.
Much more amusing is the quote “Some opponents of the policy are trying to misrepresent the figures in the Enex Testlabs report by suggesting that a figure if of less than ten per cent is substantial.  To put that into context of real time, Australia’s largest ISP, Telstra, undertook its own testing that showed the impact on internet performance would be less than one seventeenth of the blink of an eye!”  Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty certain a “blink of an eye!” isn’t a standard measurement of time, let alone one seventeenth of a blink of an eye.  It’s a claim made more absurd when neither the government nor Telstra will release how they tested the filter to arrive at this ‘figure’.
Who are these opponents?  One is a influential body, Save the Children, an NGO that pushes for some radical rights for children.  But even they are against Conroy.  Why?  Adviser Holly Doel-Mackaway when interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald said:





The filter scheme [is] “fundamentally flawed” because it failed to tackle the problem at the source and would inadvertently block legitimate resources.  Furthermore there was no evidence to suggest that children were stumbling across child pornography when browsing the web.  Doel-Mackaway believes the millions of dollars earmarked to implement the filters would be far better spent on teaching children how to use the internet safely and on law enforcement.  “Children are exposed to the abusive behaviours of adults often and we need to be preventing the causes of violence against children in the community, rather than blocking it from people’s view.”

    Even Google Australia’s Head of Policy, Iarla Flynn, wrote in an official Google Blog:





    At Google we are concerned by the Government’s plans to introduce a mandatory filtering regime for Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Australia, the first of its kind amongst western democracies.* Our primary concern is that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide.





    We have a bias in favour of people’s right to free expression. While we recognise that protecting the free exchange of ideas and information cannot be without some limits, we believe that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.





    Some limits, like child pornography, are obvious. No Australian wants that to be available – and we agree. Google, like many other Internet companies, has a global, all-product ban against child sexual abuse material and we filter out this content from our search results. But moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information.”…

      This is not enough for Conroy and his cronies.  In justifying the filter, Conroy concedes that “it is possible that filtering may be circumvented by a technically competent user”.  That is a lie, Conroy.  A user need not be technically competent to circumvent the filter.  A user only needs to see what other users are doing to circumvent the the filter, and apply it to their own situation.  A user doesn’t need to know the hows and whys of various methods to work around the filter.  The user merely only needs access to the information.  Such as a WikiPedia page or a forum with the instructions.  A user doesn’t need to know how an OS like Windows 7 or Mac OS X work, so sure as eggs break when thrown at brick walls, the “technically competent” will be able to show even the most casual user how to circumvent the filter.
      The filter doesn’t address peer-to-peer connections or proxy servers or VPNs.  In short AUD$126 million and counting is being wasted to catch the 11 or 12 kiddy porn downloaders out of the 22 million Australians.  Wow that’s outstanding value, Conroy.  Pity it won’t catch the thousands using peer-to-peer networks or those grooming on chat channels and the like.  Police agencies will still have to work as hard as ever to catch these offenders, and the “smartest” of these offenders will escape being caught.
      It’s as stupid an idea to waste money to target the drug mules carrying illicit drugs in their hand luggage instead trying to nail the source.  Or ignoring illegal drug labs and targeting the one or two drug-fucked that sell a few grams of low-quality marijuana to undercover police officers.
      So why is Conroy equally obsessed with a mandatory filter and refusing to answer questions by the public or the media about it, except on his terms to spruik it?
      This will help answer that question.
      Conroy, despite being a Senator for the Australian Labor Party, is a conservative right-of-centre politician.  Since leaving university he has been working for, or understudy to some of the ALP’s biggest king-makers and head-kickers.  He has been implicated in the plot to removed former ALP leaders Mark Latham and Kim Beasley to stall current hypocrite, PM and master of double-speak Kevin Rudd.
      Conroy’s also religiously a conservative, fundamentalist Catholic, having voted against the “morning after pill” RU486 (the bill passed, and RU486 is legally available in Australia), and voted to overturn the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws.  Not so ironically, abortion and euthanasia will be banned subjects once the filter is imposed in full.  We’re not talking about pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia, the filter will block any site that discusses these issues.  Potentially sites that carry information about safer drug use, or safer sexual practices, will also fall foul of the filter.  It’s conceivable that people will die because information Conroy perceives as dangerous will be filtered, or if a domain within Australia, be given a “take down notice” by ACMA without AMCA having to explain why such an order is issued.

      Separation of church and state, anyone?

      Despite his conservative, fundamentalist Catholic views, and right wing conservative political views, he and his wife arranged to have a surrogate mother by egg donation, with the procedure performed in New South Wales.  Such surrogacy arrangements were illegal in his home state, and the state of his Senate Seat, Victoria.  Not to mention that such a procedure anywhere goes against the Papal decrees of John-Paul II and Benedict XVI.
      This man wants censorship based on an ill-informed won’t-someone-think-of-the-children mentality, justifying it on the thinest of premises.  The very same man who has, despite the deep conservative fundamentalist Catholic beliefs, evaded one set of laws by having the procedure done in another state and yet use his vote to overturn the wishes of the Northern Territory because euthanasia is a “dirty” word in fundamentalist Catholicism.
      For now, Conroy wants to protect children from seeing images that have been refused classification, and yet there is no transparency as who decides this or exactly how it is to be done.  Even the “list” of URLs which have been deemed to contain material which is Refused Classification is to be kept secret.  Despite what Conroy wants, the horrible truth is that children will continue to be abused – with the Catholic Church still being the biggest institution offending, and protecting offenders).  Internet content that is currently available with a classification will inadvertently be reclassified as RC mostly due to some fundamentalist viewpoint objecting for no other reason than their belief that it should be offensive, or because a site has been hacked and redirects to a site that sells sex toys or R18+ DVDs.




      How long is it before ideology or political or social commentary is deemed to be “Refused Classification”, with the author or authors none the wiser as to who complained and under which grounds the complainants believe the material is RC?  This has already been done.  The parody site StephenConroy.com.au has been removed by auDA and has the strong stench of political interference.
      We can only hope that the bill, and Conroy’s and the Government’s plans are scuttled.  And then hope Conroy doen’t introduce it as policy as a back-door method to get around the law.
      There is something you can do.  Write to your local MHR (you can find your member here), and cc Senator Conroy either by senator.conroy@aph.gov.au or minister@dbcde.gov.au
      Don’t restrict your questions to the filter.  Ask about the NBN, AustraliaPost, the ABC and SBS.  Anything and everything that is in his portfolio.  That way you won’t get an automatic, computerised letter that says nothing.  When you do get a response, question the answers, and ask again.  This is where asking your MHR is important.  You MHR is obliged to ask questions of the Minister on your behalf and the Minister is obliged to answer.
      As it currently stands, on-line petitions are being ignored.  Conroy doesn’t have to respond, and given the outrage and lack of intestinal fortitude, he won’t.
      It’s time Conroy had a decent kick in the balls, or his head kicked in instead of being the head-kicker.