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Friday, 22 November 2013

Dear Edward Snowden

Dear Edward Snowden,
                                       Sorry for the rather formal honorific, but I’m not sure what name you prefer.
Do your friends, if you have any left, call you Ed? Ted? Snowy?
If you were Australian you probably would have been given the moniker of ‘Snowy’ or ‘Snodes’ quite early in life.
We usually bestow nicknames on people as a mark of regard or affection. That means, unfortunately, that you won’t be getting an Australian-style name anytime soon, so would it be ok if I just called you Ed?
Perhaps, Ed, your new best friends in the KGB or FSB or whatever they call themselves these days, have given you a nickname. Tedovich, or something.
Not that you would be overly concerned about what Australians think of you, of course. From my limited personal acquaintance with Americans, most of them don’t even know where Australia is, though I assume that you, being in the intelligence business so to speak, will know a little bit more about us than the average American.
I hope you have at least heard of us because it would be a bit depressing to know that you sold a country that you didn’t even know existed down the river.
I dunno, Ed. If I was your President I’d be pretty pissed off at being dropped in the shit. That is just me, though. Watching from all the way down here, it seems that your man Obama gets off on apologising to people – he’s been doing it from the day he was elected – so maybe he is really grateful that you have given him another opportunity to throw the USA under a bus.
The thing is, though, while you and your President may enjoy trashing your country, we actually like ours.
That is why I’m writing Ed. I just wanted to say ‘thanks’. Thanks for fucking up our diplomatic relations with our closest regional neighbour just so you can feel a bit more self-righteous. (I’m using sarcasm here Ed.)
You see Ed, it isn’t just our diplomatic relationship that has been given the deep six, thanks to your weird definition of patriotism.
It is very likely that more than a few men, women and children will be deep sixed as well.
We have a bit of a problem with illegal immigrants here. You, with your heightened sense of human dignity, would probably call them asylum seekers, but whatever we call them it amounts to the same thing: they travel to Indonesia (a country in south-east Asia, just to our north, in case you didn’t know) then pay a people smuggler to put them on a boat for the journey to Australia.
Sometimes the boats aren’t always that seaworthy. At other times, the smugglers call our navy, give their position and then deliberately scuttle the boat so our navy has no choice but to rescue them and bring them to Australia.
The problem is that sometimes the unseaworthy boats just sink without trace. Sometimes the smugglers are a little too enthusiastic with the scuttling and the boats sink long before anybody can get there.
That’s when people die. Men, women and children drown.
The people smuggler trade from Indonesia flourished under our Labor ie Democrat Government, which is one of the reasons we got rid of them recently.
Our new Federal Government was making a determined effort to stop the people trade and was working very hard to convince the Indonesians to help them to do this.
Stopping the trade means that no people drown. Do you see that Ed?
It was going pretty well until a whole bunch of documents, stolen by you, detailing electronic eavesdropping on senior Indonesian political figures by our spy agencies were published by The Guardian and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Result: probably more drowned men, women and kids, but hey, what’s a few dead people and wrecked diplomatic relationships in exchange for you being able to live out your Freedom Fighter for The Rights of the Citizen daydream?
There are a few things I’m having just a little bit of trouble with though Ed.
One of those is trusting your claim that you didn’t give any information to the Chinese or the Russians.
(Just as an aside, that was pretty funny by the way. ‘There’s no way I’d ever give stuff to the Chinese or the Russians. I’m a patriot! Ha ha. Good one Ed.)
The first reason I have a bit of trouble trusting you is that, well, to be honest, you’re a thief.
I’m assuming that you would have signed some sort of document promising not to disclose any of the information you had access to through your job.
I’m also assuming that you didn’t actually tell your friends, family and colleagues that you were only working there so you could steal lots of Top Secret documents and stuff.
If I’ve got those assumptions right you betrayed your friends, family, colleagues, employer and country, stole lots of stuff and did a midnight flit.
If you can stab everybody you know and the country that raised you in the back, I’d be pretty stupid to take you at your word wouldn’t I?
Apart from the fact you’ve pretty much proved that your word isn’t worth jack shit, what did you think would happen after you handed over the information to a journalist?
Do you think that the Chinese and the Russians don’t bother reading the newspaper, trawling the internet or watching Western TV?
See Ed, by giving it to a journalist you have given it to the Chinese and the Russians haven’t you? On a plate.
Also, just out of interest, how did you know that you could trust the journalist you gave the stuff to?
Or did you use your security service contacts or techniques to discreetly background check the journalist to make sure he could be trusted to handle stolen gear?
(That would be pretty funny if you did that, Ed. You know, used the very things you claim to be against, to help screw them up.)
So, I hope you don't mind me asking, Ed, but what did you do with your head?
You know, all that information stored in your head. The same head you took to Hong Kong. The same restricted information-filled head that is now resident in Russia, thanks to whatever deal you have done with KGB or the FSB or whatever it is called.
Oh that’s right. Sorry Ed. Mr Putin is just a really nice guy who wanted to help and you would never do anything to help the Russians because you are a patriot, aren’t you Ed?
Anyhow, I suppose my questions don’t really matter. Like I said, if you can deliberately betray your family, friends, colleagues, employer, country and countrymen and still sleep at night, you aren’t going to care about a nobody from Australia are you?
Still, it’s a shame about the men, women and children who will almost certainly drown thanks to you.
Cheers Ed. Appreciate it. No, really.

You sleep well now, Ed.

PS: If you really, really believed that what you did was right, you wouldn't have run away like a scurvy dog. You would have stayed and fought for what you believed in and accepted the consequences. But that is the Australian way. I suppose self-righteous Americans with a finely honed social conscience such as yours do things differently.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Next Stop: Melbourne

Ever since I first visited Melbourne more than 30 years ago, it has steadfastly remained my favourite Australian city.
Though it would have been so anyway, the fact that my journey 30 years ago started in Perth and was via Adelaide certainly helped put Melbourne at the top of my list. 
I grew up in Perth, so I have a sentimental attachment to it. Unfortunately the city fathers over the years haven’t felt the same way.
In the 1960s and ‘70s they decreed that the capital of the West would never claim its place as a mature, modern metropolis while it had a lot of old buildings cluttering up the place.
Accordingly, they instituted a carefully considered programme of wiping virtually every last building which dared to even hint at architectural or historical value off the face of the earth.
About the only bit left is the Barrack’s Arch. Having bulldozed the Barracks built for the then colony’s garrison, somebody at city hall finally had a change of heart and decided the Arch should stay. So it stands there, out of place and proportion, looking like a Victorian folly.
At least it survived, I suppose. It wouldn't have been so bad if all of the historical buildings had been replaced with something no worse than blandly functional, but Perth couldn't even manage that. Nothing encapsulates the crimes perpetrated on the Perth landscape better than the city council headquarters, a building of such ugliness, there were demands to knock it down before it had finished going up.
The last time I was there, the general meme seemed to be that it was significant building because it was so ugly and therefore one of the best examples of 1970’s architectural hideousness and should thus be preserved.
Perth has nice beaches, but the best I can say about it is that it is a city. If you are an obsessive compulsive with an irresistible desire to hang around churches then Adelaide is the place for you. Apart from that, it too is a city. Meh.
On my first visit to Melbourne, everybody looked like their cat, their dog or their grandmother had just died. The sour-faced sod look was in, and I assumed there was a council by-law requiring anybody entering the city limits to wear black or grey. Everywhere you looked you saw morose faces buried in The Age.
Mind you, given the tripe masquerading as news served up by The Age, the thought of wasting another couple of bucks buying it would be enough to make anybody morose.
Mind you, even if the people looked like extras from Depressed Zombies From Outer Space, the city itself had an air of resolute charm about it.
Melbournians seem to have cheered up a lot since then, possibly because they appear to have abandoned The Age. In eight hours, including time spent on morning rush-hour trams, I saw three people reading it. Actually, I couldn’t really see two of those people because they had it draped over their faces. It is possible they were just sleeping.
Whatever the reason, the black and grey gloom has given way to a kaleidoscope of colour and movement against a backdrop of staid solidity.
It has retained the Victorian charm inherent in its rambling ranges of sandstone hills, but has managed to imbue them with the dynamism and vibrancy of a 21st-century city.
It’s a neat trick: for an example of a city that has failed dismally to pull it off, go to Sydney.
That isn’t to say that Melbourne has got everything right, of course. One only has to look at the Melbourne Museum and the old Exhibition Building to see that. I suppose the idea was to contrast the old and the new. If that was the idea, it worked. The old is a towering pile of stately grandeur while the new looks like an airport terminal, complete with a free standing take-off ramp, possibly salvaged from HMAS Melbourne, in case the Council wants to scramble a couple of fighter jets.
The military theme is maintained with the thoughtfully provided crushed gravel parade ground between the two buildings. You can imagine companies of private school children being asked to form up and stand to attention, then passing out from heat exhaustion while the teachers try to work out why the headcount doesn’t tally.
There are a couple of free-standing concrete blocks to one side. These are either the finished article representing mans inhumanity to living space, or somebody started to build something, got called out on another job and hasn’t come back yet.
You have to wonder whether the Museum architect was told what the building was going to be used for, given that his/her grasp on the need to establish a relationship between a building and its contents seems a bit tenuous.
It is easy to imagine him/her, upon being told to design a building to house a collection of Egyptian artefacts, to reach for the ‘How To Build Mock Spanish Adobe’ manual.
One theme that seamlessly knits the two buildings together is the stupidity of their security guards.
Let the record show that the plain-clothes security person on duty at the main entrance of the Exhibition building at 12.15pm on Monday, November 18 was – probably still is – a crass, offensive, pig ignorant arsehole.
The Museum operative was just an idiot. I was waiting for my companion outside the ladies’ toilet when this gentleman approached me. This was our conversation:

“What do you think you are doing?”
“Waiting for someone.”
“Oh yes. Name?”
“Sorry, what?”
”What’s your name?”

“None of your business.”
“What’s the name of this person you a supposedly waiting for.”
“Ethel”, (It was the first thing that popped into my head).
 At that point, my companion emerged from the toilet and walked toward us. The cretin grabbed her arm and said:
“This person claims your name is Ethel. Is that right?”
Seeing me nodding vigorously behind him she smiled and said “yes”, which fairly well collapsed the imaginary case he had been building against me.

After that, whole streets-full of 20-something upper middle-class university students driving daddy's Renault to the socialist alliance protest march and middle-class hippies pretending to be urban guerrillas in the hope they would get to sleep with a middle-class, Renault-driving university student would have seemed like a return to reality. So, we went to Brunswick. The heartland of Melbourne’s ‘progressive’ community, Brunswick is disorienting at first, but that only lasts until you get your head around the fact that it is the women sporting the crew cuts and army boots and the men who favour pony tails and sandals.
We had a pleasant few hours looking at posters that said rude things about Tony Abbott, browsing through shops selling a bewildering variety of teas, mung beans, fair trade goods and vegan lollies and not signing petitions calling for gay marriage, the release of the Arctic 30 and armed insurrection against “Abbott’s jackbooted storm-troopers”.
It was all fairly harmless, we had a great pizza for lunch and any number of excellent cafes to choose for afternoon coffee. We wandered around the city, relaxing in the bustle. 
The traffic is truly horrendous - of which more another time, perhaps - but Melbourne is no orphan there and the islands between the rivers of cars are as interesting as ever. Its Melbourne.