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Friday, 15 April 2011

Thought for the Day

It is better to have loved and lost than to have never have loved at all - unless your lover gave you herpes

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Strange Assange

Julian Assange, eh?
What a guy! The Wikileaks founder has become a hero to millions – millions of ‘I’ll-protest-against-injustice-as-long-I-don’t-have-to-test-a-principle-and-can-be-home-in-time-for-Neighbours’ types, that is.
Like pretty much everybody else who doesn’t work for The Age and isn’t Kevin Rudd, I haven’t bothered to log on to Wikileaks.
I’ve read and listened to the headlines and filed it away in that little vault in the memory bank where I store stunning revelations such as a 20-something-year-old football player earning a zillion dollars a week (Wayne Rooney) being caught out sleeping with prostitutes and anything to do with Lara Bingle.
Really, who cares? The only three Australian voters who didn’t need Wikileaks to tell that Kevin Rudd was a complete tool seem to be the editor, deputy-editor and leader-writer for The Age newspaper, which was all over the ‘stunning revelations’ like a Labor Minister on a focus group.
Rudd was front and centre and a few others got a mention, but without doubt the most fascinating man in the Wikileaks/diplomatic cables affair is the exotically named Assange.
Equally without doubt, this is exactly the result that Assange was aiming for when he agreed to be the front man for the whole shebang.
Most amateur psychologists would call a Walter Mitty-type personality.
(Professional psychologists would call him often, given that he is a guaranteed ticket to the up-graded Merc, the new boat and the house with the view of the bridge and the opera house.)
As far as I can work out, Assange is a hi-tech version of Uri Geller; a magician-cum snake oil salesman who sucked in a lot of people into thinking he was some sort of messiah.
And boy, doesn’t Wally lap it up.
Lying low with a few trusted members of the resistance, he instructs his lawyer to tell the world that if anything should happen to him, he will unleash the full fury of the Wikileaks cables.
No longer is he Julian Assange, knockabout nobody from Dullsville, no, he is Fidel Castro armed with a full battery of missiles should Kennedy leave Marylin’s embrace long enough to try to give him grief.
Arrested and held for a few days, he emerges from court to blather on about his interminable internment in the basement of a Victorian prison and all of a sudden he is Edmund Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo!
Blathering a bit more about the long hours (about 27, by my count) of isolation, he solemnly informs us that he used his time in the box to reflect on life and discovered a desire to help all prisoners of conscience; thus he is no longer the erstwhile Count, no, he is Nelson Mandela.
A few days later, while trapped in the unrelenting misery of the English country mansion, of a squillionaire supporter, to which he has been condemned, Assange rails against the release of information concerning the sex charges which a few legal types in Sweden would like to ask him about.
The details, apparently, have been LEAKED by Swedish authorities. The bastards! To leak official information is just, well, beyond the pail. No longer is he Wally-Fidel-Edmund-Nelson Assange, he is now Wally-Fidel-Edmund-Nelson-Richard Nixon Assange.
But wait! Wally is not finished yet! Oh no, he decides to fight back. He releases details of the Swedish sexual encounters himself to prove his innocence – not to mention his prowess in the sack!
Behold, he is no longer ne’er do well Julian from Townsville, he is Wally-Fidel-Edmund-Nelson-Richard-Casanova Assange!
Now it becomes clear. Wally-Fidel-Edmund-Nelson-Richard-Casanova is not out to destroy the free world at all, he’s just this geek who likes to shag Swedish women at conferences and release secret diplomatic cables fed to him by somebody else.
And he is going to tell the whole world about in a book. A book for which he will be paid a zillion dollars, though it is a book he doesn’t want to write, he just needs the money to fund his defence.
No longer is he Wally-Fidel-Edmund-Nelson-Richard-Casanova Assange. No, he is Wally-Fidel-Edmund-Nelson-Richard-Casanova-Earnest Hemingway-Assange.
He is also, like Rudd, a complete tool.
While Wally laps it up, the poor bastard who nicked all of the official gear which gives Wikileaks its reason for existence and feeds Wally’s lust for fame, is sitting in a US military prison facing 10,000 years in jail.
I might be wrong, but I haven’t heard Wally mention this fact – a fact that may be pertinent when you realise that Wikileaks has, so far, released nothing but secret US documents.
Clearly, the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians and the Abyssinians have no secret documents to leak. Either that or Wally is just a cowardly nobody with an eye for the main chance.
Which would make Wally just like an old acquaintance of mine, who we shall call Doug.
Doug, bless him, would rail for hours on end about the injustice of the US-led invasions of Iraq.
To do him credit, when I put it to him that the real human rights violations were being perpetrated by Saddam Hussein, Doug was happy to admit that Saddam was a bad person.
When I told him I would respect his principles more if he flew to Baghdad and marched down the main street holding a banner that said: ‘Saddam is a criminal and should resign’ he got a bit antsy and said no because it was a "stupid idea".
It was stupid, of course, because it would most likely have led to Doug having to a stand up for his principles to the point of being dragged off to one of Saddam’s prisons and being fed his own testicles, instead of sitting safe and sound at home taking pot shots at the bad, mad Yanks.
Piously kicking the metaphorical crap out of the US is easy, because by and large the US respects the right of people to kick the crap out of it and doesn’t feel the need to string said people up by the testicles if they do so.
When Assange takes on the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians and the Abyssinians I’ll believe his rhetoric.
Until then, he is just another Wally-Fidel-Edmund-Nelson-Richard-Casanova-Earnest Hemingway-Doug-Assange-Mitty with an eye for a bit of Swedish crumpet, some free cash and television cameras.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


March 15.

It is difficult to write this because I, like everybody else, am on tenterhooks.
Here I sit, breath bated – whatever that means – waiting to find out if the Japanese engineers can convince a couple of nuclear reactors to cool down.
I, along with 99 per cent of the population, am on the set of tenterhooks holding the hope that the whole thing just blows over, if you’ll pardon the expression.
The other one per cent, seemingly comprised of Sky News, the ABC and our commercial television stations ­- along with a motley crew of rabid greens, climate change activists and Gaia disciples - are on the other tenterhooks.
This set holds the fervent hope that the Japanese fail miserably and that there is a really apocalyptic ‘nuculer’ (as one of our local radio announcers insists on calling it) conflagration.
I can understand the assorted anti-nuclear groups rooting for the fuel rods, after all, it would be sort of free publicity their ‘end of the world is nigh’ cause could only dream of.
The media’s motivation is a little more difficult to understand.
Perhaps it has just collectively decided that disasters related to water and earthquakes just aren’t the ratings grabbers they once were after the saturation coverage given to the Queensland floods and Christchurch earthquake.
This could be true for Sky, which literally gave us weeks of endless reels of stock footage of water slowly spreading across Queensland while panic stricken reporters told us that the “towns being inundated by water” was “unprecedented”.
This removed any nagging doubt that Queensland towns were being inundated by strawberry jam, but raised further doubts about whether Sky reporters know what unprecedented means.
The culmination of that marathon coverage was Sky commentators and reporters relentlessly informing us that Brisbane was about to suffer a flood of “Biblical” proportions.
It didn’t.
There was less scope for Sky to build the tension with Christchurch, given the event had already happened, but we still got a channel dedicated to round-the-clock re-runs of the same 10 minutes of footage.
One would have hoped that they might have learned a lesson in temperance, but sadly, they seem to be following the same guidebook with Japan.
“Frantic engineers” battle to “avert nuclear catastrophe” scream the Sky talking heads. Occasionally, to relieve the boredom, they used “brink of nuclear catastrophe”.
It all sounded eerily like a re-run of Brisbane with the added element of farce in their effort to paint a picture of a group of Japanese – probably the most stoically phlegmatic people on the planet - nuclear technicians running around, tearing their hair and screaming Banzai at each other.
Meanwhile, over on Al Jazeera and the BBC, interviewed nuclear scientists were patiently pointing out that yes, explosions were bad but, no, a nuclear catastrophe was not in the offing.
By late afternoon Sky had filched a nifty little graphic used earlier on the day and plonked one of its own reporters in front of it to mouth the words, also mostly filched from the BBC.
Shortly after that, a reporter from a rival network, on the ground in Japan, inadvertently belled Sky’s alarmist cat.
“You must be very concerned,” asked David Speers, “about the radiation from the damaged nuclear plant?”
“No, not really. I’m here to cover the real story, which is the human devastation caused by the tsunami.”
Battered, but unbowed, David rolled out Greens deputy leader Christine Milne to restore balance to the force.
Milne’s opening serve brilliantly wrong-footed everybody expecting her to launch an anti-nuclear barrage: “What we are seeing is a terrible humanitarian catastrophe unravelling before our very eyes … “
Ah, we all thought, she’s at least going to acknowledge the real tragedy and not the hoped for one, but: “It was bad enough with the earthquake and tsunami, but watching the Japanese have to cope with this nuclear disaster is just terrible …”
It was too much for David, who never really recovered his poise, leaving the court wide open for Milne.
“Particularly for a country that lived through Hiroshima and Nagasaki … The whole world is worried sick for the Japanese people, I just hope those containers hold … nuclear power is not a safe technology and now we see the consequences.”
Milne confidently asserted that “communities are feeling quite unnerved by the thought of living near a nuclear reactor”, but conveniently forgot to mention that people are worried mostly because of rabid ‘nuclear power equals three-headed children’ campaigns run by political parties like hers.
David tried to fight back - “pro-nuclear groups point out that over the last 10 years there have been seven deaths associated with nuclear power, but 44 deaths related to wind farms” – but Milne brushed him aside and went through in straight sets.
“I’m not going to confirm or deny those figures … nuclear is not safe and it is costly … we have fantastic renewable resources around the world and technologies ready to go.”
These technologies are news to most of us, who are fairly certain that wind and solar power generators can’t provide base load power and are currently only surviving in infant form because of massive Government subsidies.
Then, in a neat reversal of what I assumed was fairly standard market forces, we are told that a carbon tax is needed to make coal-fired power more expensive, so that the already subsidised renewable sector can compete – after it unveils these hitherto hidden new technologies.
I always assumed that businesses prospered by making a product better and/or cheaper than its rivals, thus forcing more expensive producers to find ways of either cutting costs to compete or finding a different product to make.
So, a Government that refuses to put import tariffs on products from countries that don’t have a carbon tax, thereby allowing Australian companies who do have to pay a carbon tax a slightly more level playing field, because it would be unfair is going to put a tariff on cheaper power producers to enable more expensive producers – which still don’t have a product – to compete.
I’m confused as, no doubt, are the legion of Australian businesses sent to the wall after being undercut by Chinese competitors.
Meanwhile, there are enough pictures and reports coming out of Japan about the true catastrophe that has already happened, rather than an unfolding story that may or may not get worse, to leave you shaking your head in disbelief.
You would have thought that this would be a story that called out for a dedicated channel bringing us 24-hour coverage, and you would be wrong.
At least 500,000 people homeless, tens of thousands of people literally wiped off the face of the earth, entire towns obliterated in minutes.
All of this in a country which has been a major trading partner and close regional ally for 50 years, now facing a repair bill estimated at $10 trillion dollars (the tsunami levy is going to be a doozy).
Nobody argues that Queenslanders and the Kiwis of Christchurch have suffered – little tragedies are writ large to those who suffer them, but I’d be prepared to bet that if you asked a Queenslander or a Kiwi what they felt after watching coverage of what the Japanese have suffered they would be human enough to admit that they got off lightly in comparison.
If they get it, how come our news media don’t?


Jan, 2011. Nature has been visiting Queensland in a big way this past month.
Thousands of people who built or bought houses in historically flood-prone areas have suddenly discovered that all of those big white horizontal rulers dotted about roadways, bridges and rivers do have a purpose after all.
After years of baking drought, people across country Queensland turned out to dance in the streets as the first rain drops fell. Unfortunately the first raindrops where followed by several million others and the dancing stopped as everyone began to realise that nature had no intention of stopping chucking it down until the cows floated home.
Eventually rivers became lakes, lakes became inland seas and insurance companies quietly started double-checking the policy fine print to ensure they could weasel their way out of coughing up cash.
After a bit longer the inland seas, augmented by a few million tons of muddy sludge, became rivers again and – yearning for the sea – mowed down any number of country towns in their path.
At first there was plenty of, ironically, dry humour about as laconic Queenslanders, resigned to the fact that a long and probably fruitless argument with an insurance assessor was a certainty, sat on verandas, knocked back slabs of XXXX and joked about the water views sending house values through the roof.
Rockhampton slowly sinking beneath the waves and Toowoomba being bowled over by a torrent that disappeared as quickly as it arrived changed everything for the worse in every sense.
People started dying. Unless you were there you can’t imagine it, but if you had a shred of humanity you would have given thanks that the poor bastards going through it didn’t have to sit through the spectacle of television stations wringing, if you’ll excuse the expression, every last drop of ratings out of the disaster.
Before Rockhampton the tv stations carried on pretty much as per normal. Talking heads reeled off the names of a few towns they had never heard of before and wouldn’t be visiting unless it was by boat then moved on to big news items such as a new study which revealed, at great expense, that when women burst into tears men suddenly stop thinking about having sex with them.
After Rockhampton, news mentions became Flood Specials. After Toowoomba and its images of cars being bowled along the main street like, well, toy cars, the cable news services went into overdrive.
While the commercial channels restricted themselves mostly to morning, midday and evening one hour updates, Sky News went round-the-clock.
Inevitably, the coverage took on the same character as the event itself. Like a giant river of sludge, the coverage wended its inexorable way through the hours.
Pairs of presenters fronted up in shifts, gravely intoning the same drivel hour after hour; “this unfolding crisis …this tragedy …the horror …unprecedented crisis … devastation …crisis of devastation …this human tragedy … this crisis.”
Interviews with the same officials were repeated ad nauseum, with each new presenter, fresh from a croissant, a latte, a change of outfit and a few minutes practising the pronunciation of town names, breathlessly asking the same questions of said officials as his/her predecessor two hours earlier.
While the interviews were proceeding, the same bits of coverage were spliced together and shown over and over again to the point when you began to wonder if everyone in Queensland owned a white Toyota Landcruiser and lived in beige house with a red roof.
The radio coverage was a bit more sparse, but no less irritating in its efforts to cast the floods as the worst disaster to face mankind since Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck blasted off, determined to drill a hole in a asteroid  
Thankfully, the ABC got its come-uppance early in the piece when a water management expert got tired of an interviewer repeatedly referring to the Toowoomba flooding as an event “of biblical proportions”.
No, said the expert, it was far from an event of biblical proportions; it was a perfectly predictable event which could be expected to happen every 50 years or so.
The radio man seemed a bit peeved at being put back in his box, but the expert no doubt saved the ABC from having to respond to a complaint to the effect that it was a racist organisation for not referring to it as a disaster of koranic proportions.
A previous disaster of truly biblical proportions resulted in Noah A. Christian and Sons, Master Shipwrights winning the contract to build the bulk carrier, so it is probably fortunate for all of us that this disaster is a trifle less epic, since Noah would have buckleys of getting the boat built these days.
The job would be put out to tender with a closing date of January, 2012. It would then be subject to a three-month public submission period after which, if a Labor Government is in power, the tender process would be suspended and a preferred bidder, who has nominated a price six times the actual cost of the job (to cover the cost of appointing 300 union delegates as assistant project managers) will be appointed by ministerial decree.
If Noah has enough shekels to shove into the brown goat-skin bag he might be in with a shot, but winning/buying the tender would be just the start of his problems.
Building will be delayed because the unsuccessful tenderers will lodge protests until government/union heavies can either lean on them hard enough to get them to shut up or the Government raids the health budget to come up with enough cash to make going away worthwhile.
Even if all of that happens, Noah will still be buggered because he won’t be able to get the timber required because every tree in the country is either protected or has been sold to agents acting for a Brazilian lumber firm in a carbon offset scam.
If he can scrounge the timber he won’t be able to build the thing in his backyard because he doesn’t have council planning permission.
If he abandons his backyard, he won’t be able to build it on the waterfront because an environmental impact assessment will conclude that the building process may affect the habitat of the hairy-nosed purple carp and several neighbours – who happen to be councillors and/or councillors relatives will lodge complaints that the Ark will obstruct their view.
If has enough shekels and brown goat-skin bags to get council planning permission, Worksafe will be all over him like a rash unless he agrees to an all-union workforce.
If he agrees to an all-union workforce, work will come to a halt after 4.2 minutes on day one because a; the temperature is above 31 degrees b; the temperature is below 30 degrees c; the local union secretary’s favourite ice-cream has not been provided or d; there is a race meeting on in the next town.
If he overcomes all of that and builds the thing he won’t be able to collect any animals because Greenpeace and the Conservation Foundation will erect a blockade and the EPA will refuse to issue permits without a six-month consultation period.
If he gets through that, he won’t be able to leave because the Maritime Workers Union will instigate an Ark blockade because it is ideologically opposed to the transportation of animals unless Israel stops the construction of settlements on the West Bank and hands Jerusalem to the peaceful peoples of Hamas.
If we ever were to experience a flood of biblical proportions, you fancy God will just do what everybody else does these days; get the thing made in China.
But back to the television coverage. When Rockhampton and Toowoomba copped it Sky went into overdrive. When Brisbane itself was threatened it engaged the turbo.
Every Sky News reporter in the country was despatched to Queensland with instructions to hunt down crying people and get them on television, by force if necessary.
Having found said victims, the Sky crew, after several minutes of “this crisis …this human tragedy …this tragic human crisis …” asked penetrating questions such as “how do you feel seeing your home and all of your belongings swept away” or “you have lost your life’s work, you must be devastated?”
Even chief political reporter Kieran Gilbert was despatched. He stood, bravely, on the fifth floor balcony of his five star hotel room and told us it was a crisis.
While he was saying this, the dinky little river level monitor in the corner of the screen was heading the wrong way ie; downwards.
If it topped 5.something metres Kevin Costner would be sailing through the streets of the Brisbane CBD. When it hit 4.5-something Kieran was geared up for a real crisis, but suddenly it started to go down.
You could almost hear the producer in the background shouting “shit, shit, shit, it’s going the wrong way”.
Many Brisbane suburbs were affected, but the ratings-giving apocalypse was nowhere to be seen so Kieran was left with nothing to do but stand on his balcony and ensure us we were seeing a human crisis unfolding.
He would have been better off sticking to his job description and following the politics.
Anna Bligh cried at a press conference, which the experts will tell us meant that nobody wanted to have sex with her at that point, but which the ordinary dumb person sitting in his/her lounge room could relate to as the reaction of a person who wants to make bad things go away but can’t.
Tony Abbot said two eminently sensible things ie: he was going to stay out of the way while the emergency services people did their job and perhaps it would have been a good idea to build a few more dams.
Julia Gillard was strangely absent from Queensland while the little towns were being swallowed up but couldn’t be shut up after Rockhampton.
Ironically, it was her speeches that provided listeners/viewers with a real insight into what it must have been like to be in the flood zone.
Droning on about “flood warders” in that ever – so – slow – monotone – dirge that some Labor Party marketing guru must have recommended she utilise, Gillard gave you a real insight into what it must be like to facing, helpless, an inexorable, impenetrable tide of verbal sludge.
I can hardly remember a single thing she said, but I remember the blessed relief at finding I was safe and dry when she finally finished.
Ersatz prime minister Bob Brown was the one Kieran really should have been after. While every pollie in the country was talking floods, Brown was talking whales, to whit the Rudd Government’s ridiculous threat to take Japan to every court on the planet – a sham exposed by Julian ‘Walter Mitty’ Assange’s Wikileaks website.
It was no surprise that Brown didn’t want to talk about floods, because asking Brown about floods would inevitably lead any journalist with an IQ above 50 to ask him about the consequences of the Green’s ‘no dams anywhere, ever’ policy on dams.
Dams are very large concrete structures which are very handy when it comes to stopping large bodies of water from engulfing – or, as most journalists seem to have it “inundating with water” – small towns.
Brown, almost single-handedly responsible for raising electricity prices for all Tasmanians when he led the protests against the damming of the Franklyn River to provide electricity for the Tasmanian grid, understandably didn’t want to talk about his party’s policy while the Queensland floods were serving as a stark reminder as to why dams may not be such bad things.
Kieran should have been all over him like a rash, which he might have been if he hadn’t spent so much time practicing his ‘crisis’ face on the hotel balcony while the Brisbane River receded.
Having left his hotel room when Sky finally conceded that it wasn’t going to secure file footage of Brisbane CBD office towers disappearing beneath the waves, Kieran had ample opportunity to ask Brown why he felt the need to plumb new depths (sorry) in cynical political opportunism.
When asked about the whole dams thing, Brown’s cohort – the ghastly escapee from a Hammer vamp horror, Sarah Hanson-Young – almost chided the reporter for being so crass as to ask such a question when people were suffering.
Days later, Brown had no such compunction when he went on national radio and declared that the Queensland coal industry should foot the flood damage bill because burning coal caused global warming, which warmed the oceans, which caused the floods.
Brown told his interlocutor that only the brave could apportion blame in a time of tragedy.
A pox on him and all those who deify his party of principle-free opportunists.
Finally tiring of grim-faced presenters gravely telling us we were in the midst of a crisis involving many places “inundated by water”, I switched to the BBC news.
There, I discovered that massive floods and mudslides in Brazil had wiped out entire towns, killing more than 600 people with many hundreds still missing, and 350,000 Sri Lankans from their homes and seen more than 20 per cent of that country’s rice crop destroyed.
There was no inkling of these disasters on Sky News, nor indeed on any other news channel. Newspapers were equally oblivious to this fact.
An old newspaper rule of thumb used to have it that, in terms of newsworthiness, one dead Australian was worth 10 dead Americans, 20 dead Frenchmen and 1,000 dead Bangladeshis.
The rule didn’t say where Brazilians or Sri Lankans fitted in, but the obviously conscious decision of the Australian media to ignore these stories in favour of beating the hell out of an Australian story was worrying, if not downright depressing.