The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Sleaze On Our Beaches and Rocks in Our Heads

Today I want to talk about something quite big and complex. In order keep it light and easy, I plan to take a leaf out of the conservative playbook.

Basically, take any big idea and say it’s just like something else. So, when talking social policy, ethics and the law, I can say something like: “The nation: it’s like a family, right? We all just have to get along.”

This way I can not only complete two whole sentences (no mean feat for some of our public figures); I can also avoid having to discuss anything at all to do with social policy, ethics or the law. “The economy – it’s like chip-shop, yeah? And our relations with the rest of the world – well, they basically boil down to [insert sporting metaphor].”

Brilliant! It doesn’t matter that, say, a chip-shop bears about as much resemblance to the economy of a medium-sized Nation State as a cap pistol to a thermonuclear warhead, despite the fact that they can be said to do roughly the same thing. What’s important is that people know what a chip-shop is. That way, when I stop talking, they’ve understood all the words I’ve used, and therefore believe I’ve said something which sensible.

So today I want to talk about our relationship with mass media, its effect on our perception of what we know, and, more importantly, what we actually end up knowing as a result of engaging with it.

Right. Here goes.

The Entirety of the Mass Media can now be understood if we say: “It’s like the Manly Daily, isn’t it? That’s a newspaper, right?”

The People (all of them) of the Commonwealth of Australia are reducible to whoever it is that gets the Manly Daily on a regular basis. People are all the same, basically, right?

Happy? Okay, neither am I – but let’s go ahead anyway.

For those of you who ended up in the wrong parts of Sydney, The Manly Daily is the organ of communication for ‘the beaches’. Whilst it rarely goes so far as to run an actual news item, it does do an excellent job of keeping us all informed about various happenings within our community. Council meetings, house prices, art shows, gigs, locals who have done well – all of it prompt, accurate and cheerful. This is seasoned with a bare minimum of court news and the occasional opinion piece. As a means of staying connected with the wider community, it really is a publication of considerable merit (no, really – I mean it).

There are however, some things at which the Daily has always been utterly crap. Like news, for example. Or social commentary.

Case in point – yesterday’s paper carried the front page headline “Sleaze on our beaches (videos of sunbathers uploaded to social media website)”.*

What’s basically happened is that somebody’s been recording and posting videos of women on the beach. Just like those blokes in Cancun, Ibiza, Ipanema, Miami – you get the idea. The videos go up under the tag line “Sexy Girls”. Mr Kay, the man behind the copy (or at least with his name above it), is outraged. He states that it is unacceptable to ‘secretly’ film people in a state of undress and then publish that footage without their knowledge or consent. In support of this contention, he even went so far as to consult an academic specialist in the area of social ethics. Unfortunately, all that he seems to have got out of her was a quote containing the words ‘creepy’ and ‘pervy’. Equally unfortunate is this person’s apparent lack of authoritative knowledge in the areas of ICT, philosophy of technology, media law, copyright law or privacy law.

Which I guess is just as well as, for some reason, the decision was made to print three screenshots from the actual video right next to an article complaining loudly about the existence and publication of these images. Sure, the Daily has made some effort to hide faces but, considering how much else of them I can see, this makes no sense either. As far as I can tell, this journalist has ‘secretly’ surfed the net to find these images and then published them without the knowledge or consent of the people who are in them. Which is an outrage, right?

Now, Mr Kay knows his stuff. He’s put in legwork and done his diligence, researching Youtube and looking at women in bikinis in a spirit of outrage. He spoke to a lawyer, who informed him that taking pictures of people in a public space and then publishing them online is probably not illegal. He also spoke to the Department of Justice, who pointed out that there are laws against filming people’s private parts and private acts. He also pointed out that it’s difficult to call voluntarily stripping half naked in order to loll about in a public place a ‘private act’.

So the more we think about this issue, the less it seems to deserve the name. This, in fact, is exactly why asking me how I ‘feel’ about an issue will get you a five minute rant. Issues are too important – they should be thought about first.

In this instance, thinking and proper research would have raised the following three points.

  • Every famous beach in the world has similar videos associated with them (and their women) on Youtube. In a twisted way, we could perhaps see it as a positive that we have joined a club that includes Cancun, Ibiza and Ipanema.
  • The article suggests we should ‘demand’ the removal of the material in question. This would indicate a lack of awareness with regard to what Youtube actually is. They will generally remove content on the basis of a single, pro-forma complaint. If there is to be a fight with anyone, it won’t be with them.
  • Most critically, he seems to fail to understand that the Youtuber is doing, albeit more crudely, what he himself has presumably been doing for a significant portion of his life. Getting pictures of stuff people like to look at and putting some words next to them in the hope of generating some interest.

These failures in understanding lead me to my point.

We talk airily about having ‘discussions’ and ‘conversations’ based on issues that are highlighted in the media. I contend that this simply isn’t likely, or perhaps even possible. So often, issues that arise in the media are being written about by people who don’t actually understand any more about them than you or I. And then, in order to generate interest, the tendency is to frame the entire issue, whatever it may be, in the strongest emotion possible.

Think about it – how many of us are experts on Middle Eastern power politics and history? Very few. So think about the last conversation you had about Israel. I’m willing to bet it ended in a flurry of ad-hominem insults, some very dodgy history factlets and some even dodgier statistics. And, most importantly, lots of angry shouting. Every conversation seems to end up emulating, on a very small scale, the conflict. Why?

It’s simple – the data that is coming in to us is many things: brilliant, rubbish, insightful, idiotic, accurate and ludicrous. Which means we can’t really trust it. Problem is, though, that the sheer amount of it also means we’re generally disinclined to check it. So the end result of all this information input is that we are no longer certain very much at all. What we do know, however, is exactly how we felt about stuff. In the case of Israel, the emotion that sells is generally outrage, and that’s what we end up retaining.

Is this the media’s fault? Hell no. At no point in the history of the written word has a journalist’s role been to do our thinking for us. They record and interpret, and that’s that. Is it the government then? Once again, that would be an emphatic no. They’re supposed to speak for us – enact our will, so to speak. This doesn’t really work if they’re also telling us what that will actually is. So who, in fact, is responsible for keeping us informed? Whose job is it to ensure that we actually understand the world that we live in?

Or, to put it differently, who is ultimately responsible for the shape and contents of your mind? Obviously, it’s you. Mr Bryn Kay, fearless hack for the Cumberland group, is responsible for his own failure to view his story intelligently prior to publishing it and it is my responsibility – mine alone – if I decide to react as stupidly as he did.

* http://newslocal.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx

 

 

Atheism, Interwebs Style

So, I’ve decided to be an atheist. What should I do now?

I guess the best way to find out is to head on over to internetland.

I see. Hmmm…

It appears that now, having freed myself of the trappings and dogma of religion, I’m now expected to talk  constantly about God and religion, to the exclusion of almost everything else.

It would also appear that I have acquired a mission of sorts. It seems that, having received a revelation of the true nature of the universe, it is now my duty to attempt to convert the rest of the world to my way of thinking, presumably because I want to share the joy of no longer being told what to think. Sounds vaguely familiar, but okay – whatever’s clever.

And of course, having rejected the idea of ‘divine right’ and the implied heirarchies that go along with it, I am now free to look down on the faithful, dismissing them as emotionally crippled fantasists with defective minds.

You know what? I might just give all that stuff a miss. If you don’t mind, I shall content myself with not believing in God and applying research and evidence based reasoning in an attempt to understand the world around me. I get that a great many people appear to derive a great deal of satisfaction from separating into warring camps, shouting past their opponents and calling this a ‘discussion’. I sincerely hope that they are enjoying this as much as they seem to be – everyone, after all, deserves to find happiness in their own way.

I, however, have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in behaviour that makes me look as stupid and irrational as the people I am shouting at for being stupid and irrational.

Come on, atheists of the internet – we can do better than this. We are, after all, supposed to be the smart ones, aren’t we?

 

Let’s discuss Islam. Or Islamism. No, Sorry – Racism. No, Wait – Liberalism. Whatever. It’s a discussion, Right?

Ben Affleck had a spat with Bill Maher and Sam Harris and Reza Aslan have taken sides and meme, cat picture, outrage, racism. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but neither does paying any attention whatsoever to an argument about politics between an actor and a comedian.

The fact is, though, that most of us have, which means that an international humanitarian crisis has been reframed as a series of questions about ourselves. This being as embarrassing as it is pointless, I would like to dispose of some of these questions in order to clear the way for the discussion we should actually be having. And also to stop the constant stream of Ben Affleck memes inundating my social media feeds. Seriously, people – letting an actor frame a discussion on these issues makes about as much sense as letting a salmon fold napkins.

 

So, some of the questions we are currently asking include:

 

“How can we separate anti-Islamic bigotry  from opposition to Islamism?”

  • By understanding the difference between Islam and Islamism. One is a religion, practiced with varying degrees of liberalism around the world. The other is an ideology committed to using force to achieve political objectives.
  • By learning something about a culture other than our own.
  • By the spelling.

“Does Islamophobia exist?”

  • Yes
  • No
  • Who really gives a fuck?
  • Since when does the existence or non-existence of the inchoate concept behind a poorly defined buzzword actually matter?

“What kind of relationship should the religious have with a secular state?”

  • A normal one.
  • Like the one they all already have.
  • Which is, broadly speaking, the one they’ve always had.

“What moral grounds do we have for intervention against Radical Islamism?”

  • Our share of culpability in the creation of the current situation.
  • The threat to regional stability, life and freedom represented by IS.
  • Not, of course, to be confused with self defence against an existential threat to ourselves.
  • Isn’t that right, Mr Abbott?

 

Now, some of the questions we should be asking are:

 

Who are the key stakeholders in the conflict we are engaged in?

What are their aims and objectives?

What our ours? And how will we measure their achievement?

What role do we intend to play in the eventual reconstitution of the Area of Operations?

What factors drive radicalisation and how can they be eliminated?

Why is so much of the Moslem world in a constant state of outrage and to what extent is this our fault?

Why is our government wasting taxpayers’ money drafting legislation aimed at a tiny minority of a tiny minority group?

 

Please, by all means, feel free to answer these ones for yourelves.

Shorty Wanna be a Thug

Let’s say my name is Abder Mohammed Moussa. Let’s say that I was born in this country, in the fine city of Sydney, some time in the late seventies. Let’s say that my parents were refugees from Iran – my dad was an atheist and my mum a civil rights activist: two categories that guaranteed death in the homeland and refugee status in this land, the country of my birth. Let’s say that the government at the time persuaded my parents that a Moslem services hub existed in Lakemba, and that this was therefore the very best place for us to stay.

Let’s say that I went to school in my local neighbourhood, surrounded by local boys and girls, laughing, brassing, making a nuisance of myself in fast food outlets and shopping malls, all in the great Australian tradition of larrikinism.

So years pass by. I marry someone, have some children and start working on becoming a pillar of the community. I go to RSL raffles. I join Rotary and the Lion’s Club. My wheel alignment business becomes one of the major employment options in my neighbourhood. I spend about as much time as the average Christian does actually thinking about God – which is practically none at all.

Then all hell breaks loose.

9/11. Gulf 2. Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq. Bali, 7/7 and Boston. All of a sudden, my name produces difficult questions. The young lads I hung out with are inevitably contacts of interest from ASIO’s point of view. My faith – never something I thought all that much about – becomes a major concern. It seems that every hand is turned against me. People who I’ve known for years are suddenly forensically interested in every detail of my faith and upbringing. They ask me questions I’ve never actually known the answers to. The news is full of not-so-veiled inferences about crazy Moslems and people look at me suspiciously on public transport. Especially if I’m carrying a bag. The only people who seem to have anything nice to say to me are on Youtube wearing balaclavas and holding RPG launchers. Then, to cap it all off, one very early morning my front door gets kicked in and a bunch of officers who refuse to identify themselves are taking all my computers, asking me questions about my local Imam, the people I go to prayers with on Fridays. They seem to find it impossible to believe that my attendance is mainly about community – about making friends in my neighbourhood and keeping my devout wife happy.

After a fun-filled few days in a white room with no windows, I’m turned loose. Everyone on my street looks at me like I’m Osama himself. The busted door and remains of police tape don’t help. Nor the plain van parked across the road day and night.

Obviously, all this makes me feel like an accepted and valued part of a community. Not, however, the one I grew up in. My completely understandable reaction to this kind of thing is clearly going to be along the lines of knuckling down and loudly proclaiming that I’m part of ‘Team Australia’. Mainly because I don’t want to be dragged to a paddy wagon in my underpants again. And possibly booking a flight to Syria, where there are people who really understand me.

This hypothetical is not all that far fetched. Okay, so the name I made up is ridiculous, but the circumstances are drawn directly from the experiences of people I’ve met, drank with (yes, alcohol) and worked with. From the Morroccan I knew who disappeared off the face of the Earth after announcing his intention to join Hamas to the Indonesian family who appear to have been raided on the strength of a lone anonymous call to a hotline and membership of an iffy mosque. Ordinary, hard-working people who spoke with Aussie accents and tried desperately to take more than ten years of suspicion, marginalisation and abuse with a sense of humour.

If any or all of these people become a threat to Australia, I know exactly who and what I’ll be blaming. Here’s a clue – it won’t start with ‘Is’ and end with ‘lam’. The real culprit starts with an ‘H’ and ends in ‘ysteria’. For as long as we are unable and/or unwilling to distinguish between radicalised and non-radicalised Moslems, we will continue to largely create the threat that we are currently most afraid of. Just as grinding poverty and police brutality creates gang culture, marginalisation borne of hysterical ignorance creates radicalism.

Shorty wanna be a thug in Compton. In Sydney, Moussa wanna be a Jihadi – in much the same proportions and for much the same reasons.

 

 

 

 

The Moslem Problem in Australia and How to Solve it.

Our country is under siege. Insidious foreign fanatics, hiding amongst our neighbours, aided and abetted by a fiendish fifth column of intellectuals and anyone else who refuses to acknowledge that Islam is an evil, violent cult and that all Moslems are terrorists waiting to happen, are all conspiring to explode themselves in airports. Or something. I don’t really know anything about radical Islamism, Islam or the background to the various global Islamist insurgencies, but what I do know is that we’re facing some kind of terrible crisis. Thank God Tony Abbott and the Telegraph were there to tell me about it or I never would have known.

We face a terrible and frightening situation. Perhaps not on the same scale as having your country invaded by crazy fundamentalist mass-murderers, or living with the direct aftermath of nearly half a millenium of constant warfare, but it’s disturbing nonetheless. Just like our friends in the Middle East, we are threatened by the rising tide of radical Islam. We too, apparently, have come face to face with the fearsome spectre of militant radical Islamism at home. Just like the residents of Homs, Falluja and Basra, we walk streets haunted by sectarian hatred and violence. Sure, we generally don’t know the names of any of these sects, and most of the violence appears to be on the front page of the Telegraph, but still – it’s a serious problem. Especially since so few of us in this country are, in fact, Moslems. It just goes to show how virulent the problem is. Those other countries are chock full of Moslems, whilst we’re having this terrible crisis with nothing more than 2.2 percent of the population. It’s a constant source of wonder that so many of us are able to go safely about our daily business. The amazing courage with which we doggedly continue to watch television, drink beer and quaff lattes is a constant source of inspiration. Any other nation facing such a dire threat would probably spend all their time fortifying their houses and building panic rooms. Not us, however – we go on living our lives as if the clear and present existential threat represented by these demented killing machines simply doesn’t exist here.

In fact, one could be forgiven for believing this to actually be true. It’s very tempting to look at recent events and apply rational thought, evidence based reasoning and statistical analysis, but why would anyone do that? It’s bloody obvious – we have been completely swamped by these Islamic invaders – there’s even a McDonald’s somewhere that’s Halal. If that’s not enough proof of the crisis, I don’t know what is. Except perhaps all the kebab shops and Lebanese, Malay and Indonesian restaurants who have been quietly poisoning us with Halal foodstuffs for decades. No, never mind the numbers. Or the facts. Let’s just go with how we feel about the whole situation. That way, we can all enjoy holding strong opinions without the inconvenience of having to learn about the people we live with, or what exactly our issue with them is.

Besides, you only need to read the newspapers and look at Facebook to see that everything is changing radically for the worse. We never used to have all this violence, angst and conflict before we were flooded with Moslems. Okay, sure, there were numerous anti-Chinese race riots in the 1800s, and there was all the violence that accompanied the various waves of Greek and Italian immigrants in the early and middle twentieth century, and all that neo-nazi versus Asian crime gang business in the nineties, and the ongoing feuds, riots and racism involving the Lebanese, and, of course, the never-ending toxicity of our two hundred year relationship with Indigenous Australians, but none of these things really count. That all happened in the past and I have Greek friends and Asians are good at maths and cooking. This Moslem thing is totally different. Not the same thing at all.

Friends of mine are beginning to suggest that if Moslems are so fundamentally evil, we should get them out of our country. Except, of course, the really violent ones who want to go and fight overseas. Clearly, it’s our duty to keep those people here. Other people are wondering if a few tactical nukes might not solve the problem once and for all. Deportation and nuclear strikes are expensive, but how else are we going to protect ourselves from these crazy Moslems? Have you seen how they treat their women? And they’re always beheading people on the internet. Clearly, something has to be done and the government’s no use – all they have is a bunch of spy agencies, a military and a national budget. Clearly, it’s all down to us.

So what can we do? Don’t worry – I have a plan. All we have to do is regard all Moslems with deep and obvious suspicion. This can be helped along by constantly running offensively ignorant, inflammatory news stories every day, and generally letting the Moslem interlopers know that we are watching them and that we’ll be ready for them. And as an added bonus we can get some of our politicians to suggest that people who obey Sharia law should leave Australia while the Prime Minister declares on national television that domestic intelligence agencies are specifically targetting anyone and anything to do with Islam.

The brilliance of this plan is that it creates, albeit on a different scale, exactly the kind of circumstances in which radicalisation is achieved overseas. Marginalise, ostracise and alienate them enough, and very soon finding home-grown terrorists becomes much easier.

And most importantly – this part is crucial – it is hugely important that we, as concerned citizens, ensure that we learn absolutely nothing about Islam, Moslems, Middle Eastern Politics or anything that might actually inform the conversations we have about these issues. It would be a critical mistake, for example, to discover that Sharia law is not a single, unified body of law created by the evil Islamist conspiracy, but a myriad and varied, and often mutually exclusive and contradictory, collection of findings from various Ummahs around the world, mostly to do with ethical and doctrinal issues. This just needlessly complicates things and, more worryingly, makes it seem less frightening. And necessitates learning what the word ‘Ummah’ means. It also raises the problem of having to similarly deport anyone who obeys canon, ecclesiastical, Masonic, Buddhist and other secret, sinister, unofficial laws whilst pretending to be decent, hard-working Australian citizens. But we can’t let any of that rubbish stand in our way. We need to solve this problem once and for all, and no amount of being vague as to what the problem actually is, or who or what is actually being threatened, can be allowed to distract us from being completely outraged about it all.

So that’s it folks – our duty is clear. If we want to solve the Moslem problem, we first need to make certain that it exists, and this strategy is by far the best way to ensure that it does.

So, We Wrote a Book About a Robot Dolphin…

0730 Sunday morning is a time when I am usually thinking about crawling home to sleep off whatever bestial excesses I have committed the night before. Last Sunday, however, was different. I found myself standing outside an office block with a crazy biologist while waiting for a bunch of women to let me in. Okay, so it wasn’t all that different apart from the fact that I was sober and ready to work.

The work in question was the Write A Book In A Day (WABIAD) Challenge. The idea is that some foundation I’ve never heard of challenges teams of writers and illustrators from around the country to write, illustrate, print and bind a children’s book in 12 hours flat. Those participating in the challenge spend a few weeks whoring around for sponsorship, then show up on the appointed day where they are given a set of parameters. If the project is completed successfully, the book goes in for awards consideration. Whether we write a damn word or not, all the money we’ve collected goes to the Westmead Children’s Hospital Cancer Unit. At 0800 sharp, the email came through with our parameters. I can’t remember them exactly, but the basic idea was that the book had to be for 13 year olds and had to include a dolphin, parliament, a waiter, an entertainer and crossing the country. We also had to use five random words. Our fearless leader, the Ditmar Award winning author Zena Shapter, has a much better idea of what the hell we were supposed to be doing, and has written about it here.

As for me, I was still disoriented by unexpected sobriety, and much of the early part of the morning is a blur. Suffice it to say that we brainstormed and came up with a kickass, knife-throwing circus grandmother, a junior hacker protagonist, a race across country pursued by sinister mercenaries dressed as waiters and the fact that ‘dolphin’, in certain circles, means underwater surveillance robot. I’ll leave you to guess where that little chestnut came from.

It was an amazing day. I’d never written collaboritively before, and it was a joyous surprise to discover that a room full of writers – arbitrary, precious, moody, self-involved and supercilious as we often are – were able to suppress ego, frustration, pride and all our other wonderful character traits in order to co-operatively create a cracking good story. It was a refreshing reminder of just what exactly this writing palaver is all about – the central goal is to create, and everything else takes a back seat, including one’s self.

It was also interesting to see other writers’ working rituals. Zoya, who was sitting opposite me, had the same habit of putting in headphones in order to blank out the world. I doubt she was listening to the same Wu Tang Clan album I was, but it’s the principle that counts. Kris, on the other hand, just went into a trance. I could see her on the other side of the room, hunched over and furiously storming at her keyboard like a mad scientist playing the pipe organ in a subterranean basement. Kylie, professional as always, leaned back ergonomically and tapped away, looking for all the world like someone who had nothing on her mind but her hair, whilst clearly punching out an astonishing volume of high quality, professional narrative. Leah, sitting over behind me, spent her time frowning intensely at her screen, clearly and inexplicably unhappy with everything appearing on it – a state of dissatisfaction that became even more mysterious when I read her pages. And let’s not forget Madi, lumped with the hardest chapter of the book – exposition – a ball of cheerfully nervous energy, cranking out the spine on which all our work would have to rest. Our fearless leader, Zena, took on the difficult and thankless task of opening the literary show with chapters 1 and 2, and sat quitely in her corner, tapping away at her laptop and patiently answering the stupid questions we would all fire at her from time to time.

Except me, of course. I was too busy bopping along to Rage Against the Machine and frantically deleting repeated occurrences of the word ‘fuck’ from my manuscript.

In the midst of all this, Mijmark, the crazy biologist, scribbled away at astonishigly good character portraits on photoshop, uncomplainingly chopping and changing as our various verbal vagaries morphed the characters miles and miles away from their initial, agreed physical descriptions. And then there was Sue, eminent art historian and academic, sketching and painting breathtakingly perfect scenes and objects, pointing at her extraordinary creations and complaining that she’d really ‘mucked’ them up. Not in any way I could detect, Sue.

So basically, I got to watch a crack team of creatives at work, united in a good cause and inexplicably taking a foul-mouthed, dissipated idiot like me along for the ride.

At the end of the day, we wrote over 12000 words and created an impressive portfolio of beautiful illustrations. Leah’s heroic work on the design software meant that we were able to submit electronic copies of the book bang on the 2000 deadline, while an elite unit of scissor wielders put the paper copy together. I was outside having a smoke.

We called it ‘A Dolphin For Naia’. It’s got car-chases, gungfu fighting, knife throwing, angsty teen psychological drama and, of course, a robot dolphin. What more could anyone ask for?

I feel privileged to have worked with so many distinguished and talented creatives, and to have been able to make my own small contribution to making the world a slightly better place. I also feel slightly astonished that I was able to put down 3300 words without a single sex scene, fatality or occurrence of the word ‘fuck’. Even if it was a very near run thing…

I want to sincerely thank all those who sponsored us for the day, and I hope this little insight into our particular madness is some small return for your investment, over and above the very real assistance and (hopefully) enjoyment you have been able to give to all the kids fighting cancer in one of Australia’s, and the world’s, best hospitals.

Big ups go to Australian Doctors International for donating their office space, and to Leah for asking them to. Equally big ups to all our anonymous sponsors – you know who you are.

I’m aware that many of you will be kicking yourselves at having missed out on the chance to chuck money at our masterpiece… I mean, Westmead. For you I have stirring and beautiful news: Sponsorship is open until the end of the month, so please feel free to jump on board this excellent cause by going to WABIAD and sponsoring us. Our team name is the Northern Beaches Writer’s Group. Every cent goes to the foundation and every little bit helps.

And for those of you who want to read the book – watch this space!

 

Can We All Stop Screaming About Iraq and Think for a Second?

Recently, a friend pointed out that the left has been strangely silent on the subject of IS and its atrocities. He posited that this argued an unreasonable degree of Islamophobia-phobia: i.e., an unwillingness to criticise Islam in any way for fear of being branded an Islamophobe, presumably by hipsters who believe that vegan females should free range or something. I thought about this for  while and decided that, whilst correct, this is completely beside the point.

I’d like to illustrate the idea using a thought experiment of sorts. Imagine I have created a meme. Imagine that it’s like the unimpressed African child who points out the stupidity of first world problems and behaviour, only specifically appropriate to Iraq. Which is why I have called him ‘Headless Baby’. Which is also why you need to imagine it. I’m not trawling Google for images of a headless baby – I’m on enough watchlists already (probably).

So, we have the Headless Baby meme. What would it say? I don’t believe it would say anything. I reckon any meme that represented the Iraqi people under IS would scream. It would scream things like:

Headless Baby does not give a fuck about your ignorant, retardedly simplistic opinions of Islam.

Headless Baby does not give a fuck about your internal politics.

Headless Baby does not give a fuck about your paranoid fantasies about immigrants.

Headless Baby would like IS to stop murdering his remaining family, defiling his country and pissing all over the spirit and laws of his religion.

And you know what? I’m pretty sure that we can agree that point number four is the one that’s really of the essence. We can deal with the other stuff when it’s time to be mean and xenophobic to the displaced Iraqis and Kurds that we’ll get a tiny trickle of in the near future.

What we need to do now is to wrap our heads around how we can get this done. We need to stop shouting in the language of outrage and begin performing the calculus of force/resistance, victory/defeat. Because, for better or worse, we live in democratic countries where our governments require broad-based public support to make any policy decision viable in the longer term. This represents an opportunity to show the rest of the world that we deserve the power that we hold, by discovering the best solution and backing it. So what might that be?

If we are to believe what we hear, boots on the ground is out. Apart from military advisors, it seems unlikely that this will change unless and until Irbil and/or Baghdad is threatened. Or maybe not even then. So, having knowledge from recent history that airstrikes alone do not a total victory make, what are we left with? Proxies.

I hear a lot of talk about the Peshmerga. With generous and entirely proper feelings, people declare that we should arm the Peshmerga and give the Kurds their own state already. Five seconds of thinking will make people realise that doing this will cut the territory of three major Middle Eastern powers and cause geopolitical chaos. And I think we can all agree that now is probably not the best time to be causing additional ructions in the region. As for arming them, that’s been done (repeatedly in secret, before any of this mess ever started and once now in public). There are a couple of problems, however, with the Peshmerga as a solution, however brave and committed they might be.

Firstly, they’re small. Too small to counter the IS threat by themselves, much less eliminate it.

Secondly, their focus is split. They are currently fighting three insurgencies in various nations – they had their hands full before these murderous bastards ever came knocking.

Thirdly, for very excellent reasons, they view the West with profound distrust. They are much more comfortable acting as proxies for Iran, which they have been doing for quite some time. In fact, it is believed that Iran is ramping up support for the Peshmerga, deploying Al  Quds unit(s?) to fight alongside Peshmerga forces in Mosul.

Which leads us to Iran as ‘surprise helper’ in the Middle East. In the case of IS, the interests of Iran and the West co-incide. Iran is not an Arab nation and is also predominantly Shia and, crazy mullahs aside, generally practises religious tolerance. Which means that they are as afraid of and disgusted by groups like IS as we are. Co-operation against radical Islamists also has an historical basis – Iran were key allies in the invasion of Afghanistan. They helped locate and target Taliban, as well as capturing and holding approximately 2000 Al Qaeda fighters on our (the coalition’s) behalf. Granted, they let them go again, but only after Dubya publicly spat in their faces by calling them a part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ for no reason at all that I can conceive of other than the currying of domestic favour. Remember that, as we go on.

They’re ready to help us again. They have boots on the ground – eager, formidable boots. The Quds force is known throughout the region and is believed to have conducted audacious and successful operations all over the world, including on US and Israeli soil. Usually to our horror and chagrin, but not always.They’re not supermen by any means, and, by some Western standards, they’re not even proper soldiers, but what they are is willing, battle-hardened, committed and – above all – free. Free in the most important sense being that their deployment should not cost us a single drop of blood.

And there we sort of run to the end of the list of immediately viable options. The Iraqi armed forces are disheartened and overwhelmingly absent, riven by sectarian-driven mistreatment and antagonism, they simply cannot represent a coherent or responsive force for some time to come. The Peshmerga are an excellent piece, but they are by no means even close to constituting man materiel sufficient for an entire campaign. Turkey’s not talking to us because we armed them, and also because they have problems of their own. Syria, to whom we would have turned in the past, is… well… Syria. Our biggest ally within a thousand miles is unable to move outside its contested borders without the entire damn world screaming and is, in any event, locked in its own murderous and toxic struggle.

We’re down to Iranian help. Again. They have the militia, they have the will and they have a history of (secret) co-operation with the US. They have a long history of supporting beleagured religious minorities throughout the region, and not always for hard-nosed political reasons. A longer history than ours, probably because they know the names of these minorities and how to spell them. This could work – Iranian boots, NATO planes… But it must be remembered that if and when Iraq is resolved, there’s Syria to go. And on Syria, Iran and the West fundamentally disagree. Iran wants Assad, or at least a Shia-like bloc, to stay in power. This presents a future problem, against which I think we would be advised to store up some good will.

So, can we please stop shouting about Moslems for a bit and get this problem sorted? Because Iran does, in fact, give a fuck about our opinion of the Islamic world in general and of Iran in particular. They’re famous for it. So if we want to help, we can start by not poisoning any chance of co-operation with the big players in the region. We do this by shutting our stupid mouths about Islam. Not Islamism or Islamists – criticising those things is the right and duty of every right-thinking individual. Islam itself though? Just leave it alone. Especially if all you know about the difference is based on spelling.

In which Bill Muehlenberg writes a book that is the same as his other book but with a very different title so you have no idea it’s the same as his other book

Once upon a time, Bill wrote a book. Then one day, he wanted to write another book. But writing books is hard. So he came up with the brilliant plan of writing the same book all over again, and changing not one, but two words in the title, so everyone would think it was a new book. The result is [Insert bad word] Relations – The [Insert bad word] of Homosexuality. And it’s brilliant.

Now, let me say from the outset that I haven’t read this book. But I’m going to review it anyway. Why? Because I can. And why can I? Because that’s what Bill does. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Bill, it’s that I’ll turn gay if same-sex marriage is legalised. And that cardigans are awesome. Oh and that we can make judgements on books and movies without reading or watching them. Take his review of Dinesh DiSouza’s film, America, and the book that it’s based on:

I have not seen the film as yet, and my copy of the book is still coming in the mail. But we know enough about the volume to say this: it is a stirring defence of America and a powerful critique of our current POTUS who is doing all he can to destroy America.

Or his review of Noah:

Some misguided Christians claim I must experience this film, otherwise I cannot speak to it. But I haven’t had firsthand experience of a satanic church service either – so what? There are plenty of things I can rely on others about, and/or I don’t need to experience myself.

Or his review of Cory Bernardi’s book:

Now I don’t happen to have a copy of his book as yet. But I know Cory and I know what he stands for so I can imagine pretty well the sort of stuff he says in his book.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! Isn’t that handy? I can just review things without reading or watching them! Such a time saver.

Anyways, Bill’s book. It’s amazing. Kind of like carrotless-vomit, or a piece of poo shaped like a 1979 Corolla, which are both also amazing. I mean, it has footnotes. FOOTNOTES! And as everyone knows, footnotes are a sure sign that the author knows his stuff [1]. And the more footnotes an author uses [2], the better his argument [3].

The best part about the book, however, is the creative title. It’s very different to the title of his previous book, to indicate that the contents are also very different. Strained Relations – The Challenge of Homosexuality… it just has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Oh sorry that was his first book. Strained Bumholes – The Problem with Pooftas is what I meant to say. Oh no wait that was the working title. Dangerous Attractions – The Threat of My Own Personal Fear of Being Gay is an awesome title. Or it would be, if it ever made it out of Bill’s subconscious [4]. Thaaaaat’s right, now I remember the title of the book I haven’t read that I’m reviewing [5] – Dangerous Relations – The Threat of Homosexuality.

I wonder how long it took him to come up with that title. I mean, thesauruses can be tricky [6]. I can just imagine Bill, sitting there in his study in his cardigan and brown corduroy pants, saying “Pablo! Stop massaging me and fetch me that book that tells me what words mean the same as other words! And no, you cannot put your shirt back on”. And he flicks through to “strained”, and wonders aloud… “Hmm… Tight Relations? Stiff Relations? Hmm. Pablo! What do you think of Stiff Relations?” [7]

This method appears to have worked for the actual book, too. Take this passage from Laboured Relations [8]:

Gay people are bad. They make me sad. But being a bigot makes me glad.

And now compare it to this, from Nasty Relations [9]:

Gay people are crappy. They make me unhappy. But being a fanatical religious zealot makes me dance in the streets with joy [10].

See how easy that was? And how awesome? I mean, the book practically writes itself.

Anyway, the important thing to remember is that gays are bad, and Bill needs twelve dollars and seven cents to tell you that gays are bad. If that sounds like a lot of money, that’s because it is – he tells us gays are bad every day on his blog. FOR COMPLIMENTARY.

Sorry, I meant for free. These thesauruses are tricky.

P.S. I have posted this review to Amazon. I encourage anyone who hasn’t read this book to do the same here.
_____________________

EXTENSIVE FOOTNOTES TO SHOW THAT I AM SMART
[1] Like this one.
[2] Bill uses lots.
[3] Not really, I’m being sarcastic.
[4] Cough cough… Ted Haggard.
[5] Because I can.
[6] Not for normal people though, obviously.
[7] Yes these are actual synonyms.
[8] aka Strained Relations. Laboured is a synonym for strained, see.
[9] aka Dangerous Relations. Nasty is a synonym for dangerous, see.
[10] But not in a gay way.

I Don’t Care About the Great Barrier Reef

Scrolling through my social media feeds recently, an item entitled: “If you care about the Great Barrier Reef, read this article…” popped up. I scrolled past it. This made me realise something. This was that, basically, when you get right down to it, I don’t give a flying toss about the GBR or the environment in general.

If you were to press me for an opinion, I would say that I am in favour of measures (even drastic ones) to protect, conserve and preserve. But if you were to ask me how I felt on the issue, I would honestly have to say that it leaves me cold and indifferent. It simply isn’t one of the things about which I have any deep or visceral feelings. Poverty, injustice, greed, violence, oppression – stuff that involves doing bad stuff to humans – that all makes me gut-twistingly furious. Outrage pours out of me in great, profanity riddled waves on subjects like ignorance, bigotry, racism and conservatism, reliably and instantaneously.

But I’m only one person. And one person can only truly care about so many things. By extension, then, a small group of people may be able to care about a few more things, collectively, but it’s going to be far from comprehensive.

And this is why we all need each other. If we want to live in a world that is moving as fast as it possibly can toward a solution to its many and varied burning issues, then the best likelihood for achieving this is if we all – every single one of us – participates, acts or contributes in some way to the various causes that we as individuals care about.

It is simply unacceptable to subcontract caring and activism to a few organisations and individuals. From a global point of view, we all live in the same house and it is therefore the responsibility of each and every one of us to take a hand in cleaning it. If we leave it up to just a few, things are going to get missed. This kind of communal covering of the bases is one of the key components of the grand experiment of civilisation.

This is why I find the insidious growth of slacktivism, learned helplessness or just straight up selfish apathy to be so disturbing. We can’t expect to concern ourselves only with filling our faces and pimping our investment properties and expect everything to just come up roses. Communities, cities, nations and civilisations are all made of only one tangible working part – the part that gets up off its arses and actually tries to do something to leave the world a better place than they found it.

Oh, is Ian Thorpe gay?

So Ian Thorpe is gay, and everyone seems to have an opinion. Well I have an opinion, too.

Ian Thorpe can do whatever the hell he likes.

He can stay in, or he can come out, and he can do it whenever and wherever he wants to. No one has the right to tell him he did it in the wrong way, or at the wrong time, or to the wrong people. No one. My opinion, then, is that I have no opinion, because I don’t have a right to one.

I do, however, have an opinion on everyone else’s opinions.

To the people who say he shouldn’t have come out at all – I will just say, as politely as I can, fück you.

To the people who say he should have come out sooner (that means you, Kerryn Phelps) – no, he shouldn’t have. Being a supremely gifted athlete doesn’t mean you suddenly have to let the rest of us make your decisions for you. He came out when he wanted to. That’s it.

You might also like to consider if a guilt-trip is the best thing for someone suffering from depression.

To the people who sarcastically say they didn’t see it coming (take a bow, Joe Hildebrand) – your lack of empathy and ability to stereotype is noted.

To the people who say they are sick of all the media attention this sort of thing generates – media companies aren’t manufacturing the market for these stories, they’re exploiting it. If you don’t think it should be a big deal, stop making it a big deal. Because it really isn’t.

To the people who Ian has inspired, to those that are now remembering their own internal struggle, and to Ian Thorpe himself, I say this – I am sorry you live in a society that obsesses over whether someone is gay or not.

Because it’s nobody’s business but yours.

The Good Tweets

SamHarrisOrg

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SamHarrisOrg: RT @karl_altmann: Matt Miller on Snowden in the WashPost- "Edward Snowdenâ

SamHarrisOrg

SamHarrisOrg: RT @karl_altmann: Matt Miller on Snowden in the WashPost- "Edward Snowdenâ

SamHarrisOrg

SamHarrisOrg: RT @karl_altmann: Matt Miller on Snowden in the WashPost- "Edward Snowdenâ