The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

GBAV – Genesis 7

In which God makes it rain, but not in a strip club kind of way.

Gn 7:1And the Lord said to Noah, “Bring yourself and your family into your ridiculously implausible oceanic zoo, because you are a really nice guy, and I want to kill everyone on the planet in the most convoluted way possible.

Gn 7:2-3Then grab yourself seven of every clean beast, and two of every unclean beast, and seven of every bird, and put them in your ridiculously implausible oceanic zoo.” And Noah said, “I wish you’d told me that earlier, because in the last chapter you said to just grab two of everything, but now I have to collect an extra five of every clean beast on the planet, and I don’t have enough room, you muppet. Also, do we really need seven of every bird? It’s hard enough catching two.” And God said, “Stop being a whinger.” And Noah asked, “How do I know which beast is clean and which is unclean?” And God said, “I’ll tell you in Leviticus.” And Noah said, “Will the rules be hard to follow?” And God said, “No it will be really easy, and not at all ambiguous, and I will declare all your favourite foods clean.” And this made Noah happy, for he really loved bacon and lobster.

Gn 7:4And the Lord said, “Next week, I will make it rain like Lil’ Wayne, and I will kill every living thing that I have made. Except you and your family and the animals on the ark and whales and fish and seagulls and herpes.”

Gn 7:5And so Noah went all over planet collecting seven of everything clean and two of everything unclean and seven of every bird to put in his ridiculously implausible oceanic zoo so that God could destroy every living thing that he had created except for Noah and his family and the animals on the ark and whales and fish and seagulls and herpes.

Gn 7:6And Noah was 600 years old when it started raining. Gn 7:7And Noah and his family boarded the ark. Gn 7:8-9And then all the clean and unclean animals and birds boarded the ark, except now there only seemed to be two of everything. Gn 7:10And seven days later it started raining.

Gn 7:11-12And Noah was (still) 600 years old when it started raining. Gn 7:13And Noah and his family boarded the ark (again). Gn 7:14-15And then all the clean and unclean animals and birds boarded the ark (again), except now there (still) seemed to be two of everything.

Gn 7:16And then God shut the door of the ark, because he hadn’t contributed at all so far, and, verily, it was the least he could do.

Gn 7:17And then it started raining (again), and the earth started flooding. Gn 7:18And the waters prevailed, and the earth continued flooding. Gn 7:19And the waters prevailed again, and the earth continued flooding. Gn 7:20And the waters prevailed some more, and the earth continued flooding until the water rose 6.8m above Mt Everest, because God wanted to kill everyone, and Ishmael Cohen was reeeeally tall, and a pretty good climber.

Gn 7:21-22And then everything on the earth died, except for Noah and his family and the animals on the ark and whales and fish and seagulls and herpes. Gn 7:23And then everything on the earth died (again), except for Noah and his family and the animals on the ark and whales and fish and seagulls and herpes.

Gn 7:24And the waters prevailed again, for the last time, I promise.

De-Radicalisation Case Study No 2

Recently, the de-radicalisation handbook went out to the nation’s schools. In order to provide teachers with a better understanding of the warning signs of radicalisation, the book contained a single case study involving Karen, who becomes an alternative music fan and treehugger. It occured to me that more might be required to help this important work along, so I have provided another case study, thus doubling the effectiveness of the booklet.

Tony (half his real name)

Tony Abbott

Tony grew up in a loving family on Sydney’s affluent Northern Beaches. Then, upon leaving school, he went to uni at a well-known centre for establishment indoctrination. He got involved in violent sports and student politics, and began hanging around with right wing conservatives. At the foreign training camp he was attending, some alumni were known to have mocked poor people for fun and committed sex acts on dead pigs.

Eventually, Tony became fully immersed in the world of right wing politics and entrenched himself in a safe Liberal seat where he took his religious jihad out on the hapless Australian people. Tony eventually became Prime Minister and during his time in office spent every waking hour attempting to strike terror into the hearts of the people. He said at the time that he felt like a soldier for the righteous, and that he was trying to do the right thing for society. Tony became completely cut off from reality and, just after he left office, some de-radicalisation brochures that he had inspired were published.

We Don’t Seem To Know A Damn Thing About Defence

gun_dog

I have a bit of a reputation as a party animal, and last week I confirmed it by spending an evening combing through the public submissions for the 2015 Defence White Paper.

This can be quite an informative exercise as industry groups, town corporations and academics across a range of disciplines tend to chime in on what they think should constitute our defence priorities over the next five years. But I don’t just do it for the education  – the vast majority of those sorts of submissions are written by the same people who contribute to the various policy and defence think tanks that I follow (like I said – party animal). No, what I read the submissions for is the pure comedy gold that happens when you ask a bunch of ordinary people to describe what they see as a coherent and future-proof defence policy.

While I applaud the participation of these people as a positive step towards increasing community participation in the business of government, I applaud it even more as a way to break up some rather dry reading with moments of hilarity, incredulity and downright insanity. Here’s a list of a few of my favourites.

  1. An infantry division should be deployed to defend the Hume Highway near some town in Queensland. One paragraph of this submission is dedicated to the strategic importance of the Hume at this particular point, and the rest of the dozen or so pages are an outline of the local businesses that would be ‘willing to support’ an influx of 10,000 new customers in uniform. The submission makes no comment as to where we are going to get enough soldiers to form multiple divisions.
  2. New Zealand isn’t pulling its weight, so we should pull their weight for them. Possibly by invading them.
  3. Something about nuclear missiles and ‘tracking satellites’ replacing all conventional forces. It was hard to spot a thesis in this one, possibly because a tinfoil hat may have been worn while this particular submission was being written.
  4. A complement of beachable concrete submarines filled with petrol should be built in order to guarantee our fuel supply in the event of an invasion. It’s unclear where the fuel to fill them is to come from, but on the plus side, it’s pointed out that a concrete tube full of petrol would make a useful seaborne battering ram.
  5. The Marrickville Peace Group suggests that we void our treaties with the USA because they keep getting us into wars. No comment is made on how we are to organise the defence of our trade routes all by ourselves, but much detail is provided about joint Australian and US military exercises, presumably on the assumption that the authors of the Defence White Paper are unlikely to be aware of them.

Now, this isn’t just an exercise in being snide ignorance. I don’t need the internet for that – I mainly do my snideness in the real world. Which might explain why neither one of my two friends is currently speaking to me. The thing is, these people aren’t especially ignorant. From what I can tell, they’re fairly representative of the average level of defence knowledge of all kinds of intelligent and well-educated citizens of Australia. Time and time again I find myself confronted with exactly the same misapprehensions. Like the mistaken belief that the ability to indefinitely hold off a massive amphibious invasion of Australia is at all relevant to our defence structure. Or the belief that the threat to our North means a threat of invasion, rather than a threat of regional instability. Or the idea that our degree of interoperability with the USA is undertaken for any reason other than sheer, absolute necessity.

It seems odd to me that a country so rightly willing to celebrate its military is, on the whole, so woefully ignorant about it. The recent debates on submarine and surface combatants are a good example. What debate, you say? Exactly. Outside of think tanks and specialist forums, hardly any strategic discussions have appeared in the public discourse. There’s been a lot of politicking, but next to no discussion of the issue on its merits. Which is worrying.

There seems to be a perception in this country that defence doesn’t matter, either because we’d be screwed instantly or because the Yanks will save us or both. This is ridiculous. We have a highly trained, highly skilled, well-equipped defence force that needs to be carefully steered in order to maximise its effectiveness. On top of this, the idea that defence policy is measured solely on the basis of some hypothetical invasion is sheer foolishness. Defence is a layered and complex issue, with far reaching ramifications that touch on everything from climate change to humanitarian relief to the regional balance of power.

Which leads me to conclude that there are two potential alternatives moving forward if we want to be better pleased with our defence policy.

  1. The Australian people finds some way to educate itself to the point where it can discuss defence without proposing the invasion of New Zealand or concrete submarines.
  2. The Australian people just give up on the idea and leave it all to the experts.

I, personally, would be very sad to see option two come into effect.

GBAV – Genesis 6 Part 2

In which Noah was just asked to build a ridiculously implausible oceanic zoo so God could kill everything on the planet except for Noah and his family and all the animals on the ark and whales and fish and seagulls and herpes. Understandably, he had some questions.

“Understandably, I have some questions,” said Noah.

“Fire away,” said God.

“Why don’t you just kill everyone by clicking your fingers?”

“Oh if I do it this way it will be heaps more believable.”

“Hmmm,” said Noah. “Do you realise this will take about 200 years? Can you give me an engineering degree? And can you teach me carpentry? And shipbuilding? And navigation? And fluid dynamics? Can you make me a chainsaw? And a crane? And a logging truck? And a timber mill? And a circular saw? And some safety goggles?

“Do I really have to collect two of everything? Emperor penguins are cool I guess, but Antarctica is ages away. And what about kangaroos, and fire ants, and king cobras, and benobos? Do I have to collect all 1,000 species of bat? Do I have to collect animals that won’t be killed by the flood, like salt-water crocodiles and seagulls? How do you expect me to catch not one but two lions? How do I build a water-filled enclosure for the hippos? How will the giraffes get through the front door? Where on earth, literally, will I get all the food to feed these things? How am I supposed to feed the anteaters if I only have two ants to work with? What will I do with all the animal shït? Can I get a plastic container for the termites?

“How are you going to stop all the water from flowing over the edge of the earth? How will you kill all the other people who have boats? What will happen to the polar ice caps? What if we hit an iceberg? How will I maintain a safe weight distribution as we use up all the food? Can you make me some boat shoes? And a shuffle board set? Do we all have to say aye-aye? And what if someone doesn’t say aye-aye back? Does there have to be an aye-aye for an aye-aye? Can you lift the ban on masturbation? Can we have some toilet paper? Will you be providing linen?

“What happens when all the water recedes? What are the cows going to eat given all the grass will be dead? And what are we going to eat, given there will only be two cows, and you killed all the vegetables? What if the lions eat the zebras? Will I have to bury all the dead people? How will you restore the ocean’s salinity? How will the kangaroos get back to Australia?”

“Enough, Noah!” yelled God. “I get it! It’s a stupid idea. But we’re doing it anyway.”

“Well, in that case,” said Noah, “Can I also get some tweezers? Splinters are gonna be a bïtch.”
_____

<< Genesis 6 Part 1

Bless me reader, for I have sinned…

..it’s been two years since my last GBAV post.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, a few years ago I decided to re-write the Bible. Book by book, chapter by chapter, and verse by verse, I would create the Good Bad Asinine Version (GBAV), just for you. However, being lazy, and having a short attention span – OMG that dog has a puffy tail! – and the Bible being as tediously repetitive as it is contradictory, I only made it as far as Genesis 6.

My fellow blogger Chris, however, is not lazy, has an annoyingly long attention span, and has been bugging me to get my ärse in gear for quite some time. So that’s what I’m going to do. Until I get distracted, of course, in which case Chris will probably just take over. Which, let’s face it, would be better for us all anyway.

In case you missed it, here is the story so far:

  1. Genesis 1, in which god makes everything, in the most boring way he could imagine.
  2. Genesis 2, in which god makes almost everything all over again but in a different order, and pretty much invents sexism.
  3. Genesis 3, in which Adam is embarrassed to be naked, even though he has the biggest penis in the world, and Eve fücks it all up for the rest of us.
  4. Genesis 4, in which humankind quickly gets over their fear of being naked, and decides to give incest and fratricide a try.
  5. Genesis 5, in which God makes his first spreadsheet.
  6. Genesis 6 Part 1, in which God shows that he can be a colossal prick, by deciding to kill everyone and everything on the planet. Except Noah and his family and the animals on the ark and whales and fish and seagulls and herpes.

Genesis 6 Part 2 will follow shortly.

Enjoy!

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory

ISIS

In about a month’s time, it will be the 156th anniversary of John Brown’s fateful raid on Harper’s Ferry. Now, for most Australians, John Brown is a  vague figure chiefly known for getting a two year jump start on the American Civil War and featuring in a morbid army song. Americans, however, have a much sharper and clearer view of the man, either as a lunatic terrorist, an heroic abolitionist, or both.

Brown and his band of 21 men took over the government arsenal and armoury at Harper’s Ferry in the early hours of the morning of the 17th of October, 1859. His plan was as breathtaking in its scope as it was implausible. His idea was to empty the arsenal and armoury, wait for slaves in the area to rise up and rally to him, and then literally take to the mountains fighting a guerilla war against slavery in the state of Virginia and beyond.

His plans, always more visionary than practical, involved the building of a network of forts in the surrounding mountain ranges, connected by communications tunnels which would presumably be dug by hand by the hundreds or thousands of slaves that he mistakenly believed would rally to his cause. As it was, he didn’t liberate a single slave. He also refused to surrender, in the face of repeated and desperate entreaties for him to save his own life and the lives of his band. On October the 18th, US Marines stormed the engine house that Brown had taken refuge in, killed most of his band and captured Brown.

Immediately after his capture, Brown, who had been bayoneted through the kidneys and severely cut about the head with a cavalry sword, gave an hours long press conference in which he stated in clear, rational terms the reasoning behind his suicidal act of treason. He repeated the performance soon afterwards at his trial and then six weeks later at his execution. It is these clear, ringing phrases, many of which were foreshadowed in his earlier writings and conversations, that have come down to us today.

“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

“I have only a short time to live, only one death to die, and I will die fighting for this cause. There will be no peace in this land until slavery is done for.”

“If it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments – I submit: so let it be done.”

The first thing we notice about this rhetoric is its purity. There’s no maundering self pity in these lines despite the aspirations to martyrhood; no manufactured outrage, no writing to the SEO – they’re just pure and clean statements of a position that is simple and powerful in a way that only absolutism can be. And therein lies their very dangerous appeal. In the modern West, rhetoric of this kind has largely disappeared from the mouths of the sane or the intelligent. Most things are qualified, nuanced, considered. We don’t see this kind of rhetoric applied to many topics these days – poverty, maybe, or feminism or domestic violence, but even in these cases, nobody is advocating killing anyone or dying as a solution.

Which means that a young person in the West, looking for a pure and noble cause full of blood and thunder to get behind (as young people frequently do), has our mealy-mouthed, prevaricating slacktivism on the one hand… and on the other? They have the blood and thunder of the Islamists.

“We fear not the swarms of planes, nor ballistic missiles, nor drones, nor satellites, nor battleships, nor weapons of mass destruction. How could we fear them, while Allah the Exalted has said, “If Allah should aid you, no one can overcome you.”

“The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.”

“…kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they follow the same false ruling.”

We see a surprising amount of commentary from people who claim to be mystified as to the appeal of ISIS. Serious, thoughtful people who simply cannot understand what possible appeal there might be in travelling thousands of miles to be raped or used as cannon fodder or propaganda material. This confuses me. Surely, it can’t be that hard to see that these people are not joining jihadi groups with any real conception of what they’re about? Surely, it doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to understand the impulse, especially the adolescent impulse, to throw oneself wholeheartedly into a cause that claims to be pure and powerful enough to warrant death, fire and glorious struggle?

I wonder if perhaps our general inefficacy in counter and de-radicalisation stems from this inability to understand the siren call of radicalisation in the first place? Sure, it’s about poverty and disenfranchisement, but only to a certain extent. Poverty, disadvantage and divisiveness open the door, but what steps through it is the kind of zealotry that resembles, in form if not in spirit or intention, the same power that invests some of our culture’s greatest figures. Perhaps, then, as well as tea, biscuits and welfare after the fact of radicalisation, we should also be looking at tapping that same spirit in our counter-radicalisation efforts.

One does not counter fanaticism with reason, nor passion with equivocation. Perhaps what we need is to create a counter-narrative that is just as appealing as the Islamist one. And why should we not be as vehement, or as absolute in the defence of our freedoms, and our hard-won, liberated way of life? Have not people just like John Brown and thousands – no, millions – of others shed oceans of blood to get it for us? Why shouldn’t we be at least as excited about our civilisation, and as ready to defend it, as a bunch of grubby sex criminals tearing around the Middle East in technicals? Well, there is the risk of sounding rather like the idiots of the United Patriots Front, or Tony Abbott, but surely this can be avoided. Surely, we can point to the monumental achievements of our own shared culture and be at least as inspired and excited about it as anyone else.

 

Stop the plebiscites!

It was a crisp winter’s morning in Canberra, much like any other. A thin layer of frost was doing its best to hide the lovely brown grass, no one was visiting the Mint, there were weird, circular bus shelters everywhere, and most of the city was on their way to Fyshwick to buy some porn. But this particular morning was different, for one very special reason. Tony Abbott had an idea.

Needless to say, no one was more surprised than Tony himself. There he was, getting ready for his reasonably important job, in the same way he always did. “Stop the sleep!” he said to himself as he woke up. “Stop the shower!” he said to the shower, which never seemed to listen to him. “Stop the toast!” he said to his wife, who was thinking about the price of carbon while ironing his toast. “Stop the boats!” he said randomly because he couldn’t help it. And then, it happened.

“Margy, my brain hurts,” he said as he rubbed his head.

“Now Tony, I told you not to overdo your morning slogans. Save some energy for later.”

“I don’t think it’s that, Margy. I think… wait… OMG… Margy! I have an idea!”

Margy looked stunned, and had a sudden urge to request permission to gently remove her husband’s blue tie in an uncontrollable act of Catholic passion. “What is it, my captain? Tell me!”

Tony then started nodding his head in silence for several minutes, before his wife reminded him that he wasn’t saying anything.

“Well, ah, Margy, I, ah… I have a new, ah, slogan,” he said finally, trying to control his excitement. “We’ve stopped the boats, let’s have a vote… on marriage equality… sometime after the next election!”

“Oh that’s brilliant, Tony,” said Margy. “And so catchy. You will definitely be able to implement that idea when you’re still Prime Minister sometime after the next election.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Or, at least, it should have been. For, unbeknownst to Tony, he wasn’t the only one who had an idea that morning.
_____

Sadly for Tony, Malcolm’s idea was to get rid of Tony, which he did earlier this week. And sadly for Tony’s idea, Malcolm was on the record as saying that holding a plebiscite was stupid, given that the issue could “be resolved in this Parliament one way or another in a couple of weeks”.

On the plus side, however, Malcolm is a politician, and politicians are nothing if not masters at manipulating their own words to suit someone else’s agenda. Thus, a plebiscite was suddenly a perfectly fine idea, and free from the apparent intellectual burden of being Communications Minister, Malcolm could now communicate that “each approach has its advantages”:

One, I suppose, is faster and costs less. The other one gives every Australian a say and it has a cost; democracy has a price. Giving everybody a say on an important issue is surely a very legitimate and reasonable approach.

I would like to thank the honourable member for his comment, because it perfectly encapsulates why a marriage equality plebiscite is the worst idea a leader of this country has had since Harold Holt went swimming with a sore shoulder in rough surf with no lifeguards.

On the face of it, it seems like a reasonable approach to take. Countless polls have shown that the Australian public is largely in favour of marriage equality, so if our parliamentarians can’t get their Marriage Act together, why not legitimise the will of the people with an official national vote?

Well, there are a number of reasons, which Malcolm very helpfully raised while explaining his recent about-face.

1
There is, of course, the cost. The Australian Electoral Commission has estimated that holding a plebiscite after the next federal election, which was Tony’s preferred method, would cost upwards of $150 million. Let that sink in for a minute. We are so short of funds that we apparently need to charge people $7 to go the doctor, cut foreign aid to Africa by 70%, and make Bronwyn Bishop travel along the ground, but we have $150 million to spend finding out something that polling companies have already found out for free.

Malcolm is right – democracy does have a cost. Breakfast has a cost, too. But it doesn’t mean you should spend $150 million on a bowl of Weet Bix.

2
At this point, same sex marriage opponents will probably say that we have to have a plebiscite, because those pesky poll results aren’t reliable. You can get a poll to say whatever you like, so the argument goes, depending how you word the question. This, apparently, is the reason that groups like the Australian Christian Lobby are actually in favour of the plebiscite idea, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they will lose.

Now let that sink in for a minute.

A group that is staunchly against marriage equality and believes poll results can be manipulated wants to hold the biggest poll possible on an issue where they are almost certain to lose.

No, not suspicious at all.

3
“I’m just giving everyone a say,” says Malcolm. Isn’t that nice? It’s what we’ve wanted all along, isn’t it?

No, it’s not.

For starters, we didn’t get a say when the government wanted to introduce the Medicare co-payment, or slash foreign-aid to Africa. We didn’t get to choose our Governor General, or our Treasurer, or the Speaker. And that’s fine, because that’s why we elect a government. So stop stalling and govern.

Secondly, I think it’s incredibly condescending and, actually, downright insulting to have the majority decide on whether a minority should have a fundamental right. Especially when that right will not affect the majority at all. Sure, if the plebiscite goes ahead, equality will probably win, but it wasn’t that long ago that a vote would have gone the other way. And I don’t think the legitimacy of a plebiscite should be based on which way the vote will go.
_____

There is no doubt that marriage equality is coming – it’s only a matter of when, and how. And while our elected representatives dither, it can be tempting to see a plebiscite as an acceptable middle ground. It’s not. The arguments for marriage equality are irrefutable. But “we’ll win if it goes to a really expensive non-binding public vote sometime this decade” isn’t one of them. Right is right, and it’s time our politicians acted like it.

And if you’re still not convinced, you just need to remember one thing.

It was Tony’s idea.

I Stand With Ahmed Or I’m With Stupid

Earlier this week, the suspiciously named Ahmed Mohamed brought a digital alarm clock to school, in clear violation of Texas State Law regarding the use of ‘hoax bombs’. He was very properly pulled out of class and sent to the principal’s office to be arrested. A storm of protest erupted when the story broke, with the Irving School Board and Irving’s heroic mayor, Beth Van Duyne, coming under quite unjustified attack for “following protocol” and ensuring the safety of their little town.

Because obviously, in the world we live in, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that any Moslem, Moslem-looking or Moslem-sounding activity is, by definition, deeply suspicious. We all know that Moslem women only wear Burkhas to conceal the fact that they are all AK toting re-incarnations of Osama Bin Laden and that every one of the 1.6 billion Moslems in the world seek the downfall of the West and the death of all Westerners, even and especially those sneaky, sneaky Moslems who have moved to Western countries and become citizens of them.

It makes absolute sense, if you just think about it for a moment. A population that has moved to the West in order to benefit from Western prosperity is clearly hell-bent on attacking and destroying that very prosperity. It’s not at all possible that the tiny number of attacks on US soil that have been carried out by Moslems (less than 10%) can be a function of anything other than the vigilance of fearless heroes like Mayor Van Duyne. The alternative, that there isn’t actually any threat from Moslems on home soil that warrants any kind of hysteria whatsoever, is plainly laughable. Van Duyne can tell you – she recently proposed a bill attempting to outlaw an imaginary outbreak of Sharia law in her community, and was stunned when the local Moslem population perfidiously refused to support it. Some of them even had the gall to be offended. Imagine!

This kind of stupidity has to stop. If people are really that concerned about the Islamist threat, then they should probably attempt to find out something about it. In so doing, they will discover that the ratio of violent extremists to practising faithful is statistically negligible. They will further discover that violent extremism in the cause of Islam is pretty well non-existent because Islamist terrorists, like all terrorists, primarily pursue political goals. They will further be able to distinguish between the kind of violent rhetoric we get on tape from lovelies like Zawahiri and Al-Baghdadi, and the frustrated yelling of perfectly ordinary people that the Telegraph so dearly loves to inflate upon. And most importantly of all, they will be able to tell the difference between the kind of raving lunatic who thinks they can turn the clock back 500 years using bombs and RPGs, and a Moslem.

And if all this seems like too much effort, then it’s obvious that these people can’t actually care that much about the Islamist threat after all. How bothered can a person really be about something if they can’t be arsed to learn the first thing about it? We have to conclude that they couldn’t give a tinker’s damn and are just using the most current anxiety as a vehicle for their perennial xenophobia, bigotry and A-grade, 100% pure and unadulterated stupidity.

So yes, I stand with Ahmed. Not because I’m some kind of liberal leftard or a traitor to my race or an apologist for Moslem ninja face-covering suicide-bombing crazies. No, I stand with Ahmed because the alternative is standing with stupid.

Tony’s Gone, And All Is Well… Or Is It?

So, the age of the Tones is over and there is much rejoicing in the land of Oz. We now have the smooth smoothie Malcolm Turnbull sworn in as Prime Minister and, from the jubilation on the internet, it would seem that some kind of golden age is in prospect for the long-suffering people of Australia. But while I hate to be the ghost at the feast, I really don’t see how this can happen.

Sure, there are a bunch of immediate and significant benefits to the ousting of the Tones. There’s the fact that now we have a leader who is capable of expressing himself in recognisable English, which is always helpful both for our own political discourse and our reputation worldwide. There is also the fact that Mr Turnbull’s appeal is much more amongst the centre right. No longer do we need to endure a PM whose broad base appeal rests so firmly with the pointy-headed, protectionist, racist and homophobic sections of our population. Mind you, I don’t accuse Mr Abbott of having been any of these things, but his disconnected mumblings over the past couple of years have mobilised these subhumans to an extent that we haven’t seen since Howard tried to tap into the “Australia for Australians” line to garner popularity.

Further to all this, Mr Turnbull has a surprising range of progressive ideas. He wants Australia to be a republic, cares deeply about climate change and is also in favour of gay marriage. Which is good, right?

Well, it depends on your definition of ‘good’. If by ‘good’, we mean having a PM whose ideas we can once again be proud of, that’s probably right. I personally don’t see the point of becoming a republic, but it’s a question that deserves a much better airing than our last farcical (and wasteful) attempt at a referendum. As for the other two, they’re no-brainers.

Except, of course, in the party that our new PM happens to be a leader of. And this means the opposite of good if, by ‘good’, we mean a return to effective and focussed government.

After a breach like this, all rhetoric aside, a frantic reshuffle needs to take place. People who had been elevated in the wake of Tony cannot all be cast aside – such a decimation would permanently, and possibly fatally, split the party. So what we’re looking at here is a significant portion of the same old people with the same old ideas. These exact same people who previously ousted Mr Turnbull for being too progressive, among other things. Which means that the Liberal Party is going to have to take some time to heal itself, smooth ruffled feathers and work out some kind of compromise between Turnbull’s ideas and what have now become the party’s core ideologies. And by the time they’ve done this, it’ll be time for an election.

And even if, as seems likely right now, Mr Turnbull can win out against the uninspiring Mr Shorten or, as I like to call him, “Mr Luckiest Opposition Leader Ever”, there’s still the small matter of every significant position he has being directly at odds with at least half his party room. So we’re looking either at a significant watering down of this promising agenda, or its paralysis in hostile home territory.

We can see the ousting of Tony Abbott as a good thing, I suppose, because in many ways it is. But there’s a few discouraging aspects to it. We shouldn’t expect an era of golden government, for a start. Our new PM is going to be far too busy with politics to even worry about government until after the next election. This leadership ballot was about one thing and one thing only – ensuring that this government can survive that election. We would be foolish if we did not see everything this administration does in the light of that single, solitary priority from now on in. Expect a Liberal Party in survival mode, attempting to win back popularity with a long-neglected section of the population and far too pre-occupied with this and with its own internal wranglings to do much else.

Basically, business as usual, only with smoother soundbites and more syllables per sentence.

Why We Can’t Beat ISIS, And Other Imponderables

Last night a plane flew over my home. It didn’t drop any bombs, so I guess I’m safe from Cory Bernardi’s criticism for a while, but what I did notice  was that it had headlights. I’m sure there are excellent reasons for this, but just at that moment I couldn’t think of any. I therefore decided to not think about it any more. Except, of course, at dinner parties, when I fully intend to bring it up as a sardonic comment on the irrationality of the world.

ME: “You know planes have headlights? What the hell for? Isn’t everyone but us so completely stupid!” polite laughter

It occurs to me that this kind of thinking, if you can call it that, is very similar to the way we think about ISIS. What we as the general public really know about ISIS is next to nothing. We have a vague idea that there’s a pretty complex situation on the ground, what with tribes and different kinds of Moslems and a whole bunch of rape and beheading going on. We’re aware that ISIS holds some towns, and may even know the names of those towns, but there is where it usually stops. We accept commentary from the media and from various defence and government officials that say that it’s all just too complicated and all we can do is to make desultory stabs at ISIS cells and leaders with drones and FGA.

But this just isn’t true. When we talk about what can be done, we’re generally not talking about what’s possible, but about what is politically acceptable. The fact of the matter is that ISIS’ territory is loosely held at best. Their military tactics are shambolic, being made up of equal parts of social media based psy-ops campaigns and a focus on keeping recruitment at a higher level than attrition. 130,000 troops, an armoured division and the air assets already on station could probably take the entire territory in question in a matter of months. If we were so minded, we could structure the invasion in such a way that it would drive the enemy through Syria, into the waiting arms of neighbouring allies, thus putting paid to the Assad regime in the process. It should be remembered that a much better defended, similar sized territory was taken with breathtaking speed in the second Gulf War. It’s possible – it’s eminently possible, but what’s unthinkable right now is once again committing to the long, grinding process of military-driven nation-building that has taken so much in time, treasure and lives over the past decade and a half.

The problem is not that we can’t do this, it’s that we don’t want to. This speaks to a shift in public thinking that many see as the end true end of Imperialist thinking in the West. Over the past century we’ve rejected hard, territorial based empires in favour of de facto empires based on influence and hegemony and, now, we seem to be rejecting them in favour of something called ‘soft power’. We think that this represents some kind of advancement or moral improvement in the way that the West deals with the rest of the world, but it really doesn’t. This is apparent through the fact that almost all Western commentary on the current situation still rests on the assumption that the Middle East is a region in which we can and should intervene, which points to the idea that we still feel that we have some kind of ownership over the region. Compare, for example, our deafening silence on the conflict between the two Sudans, or the civil war raging in the Yemen. No, the fact is that deep in the Western mind lie the very same attitudes that informed the British and the Americans back in the immediate post war years. We still see it as our very own territory, we’re just unwilling to go back. It’s a case of forty times bitten, just now becoming shy.

And now is the worst possible moment to become shy. An evil conglomerate of extremists is carving out a new shape for the Middle East that cannot possibly mean anything but bad news for all our interests in the region. In the process of so doing, they are causing one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the last hundred years, one which is threatening to destabilise the EU and playing havoc with the balance of power in the Middle East and North Africa. We could not have picked a worse time to suddenly go ‘hands off’ on the land between the two rivers. And the greater tragedy is yet to come. No sane or informed analysis of the situation can possibly see this situation sorting itself out in a way that is acceptable to us. There are three alternatives, really.

  1. ISIS fizzles itself out, leaving a huge and chaotic power vacuum in the region, ripe for someone even crazier to fulfil. Again.
  2. ISIS firms up its territory, acquires heavier military capabilities and becomes a nation that we have to deal with as a player in the region.
  3. ISIS continues as is and, after an indeterminate period of time, hits the threshold of the amount of human displacement and atrocity that the West is willing to tolerate, and we once again invade the territory.

My big fear is that option three is by far the most likely. Given another decade, as our military commitment is incrementally increased on the back of continuing atrocities and immigration pressures, we are going to reach a tipping point where the public will eventually see that full-scale invasion is the only possible solution. The problem is that, by then, it may very well be exponentially more difficult to effect what could probably be done quite easily today.

Waiting for ‘the people’ to realise what’s at stake and what should be done could be fatal. Our governments need to act decisively now. The opinion of the public, while important, is predicated mainly on ignorance and, most importantly, ignorance of what is actually at stake if the current order in the Middle East is allowed to implode. It’s not just morality that’s at stake here – we in the West are all heavily invested in the fate of the region surrounding the ISIS anomaly – we always have been and always will be. We can’t just give up on the idea of ‘going back in’ just because it’s too difficult to explain why we should. The results of losing out to these lunatics are potentially catastrophic to us.

Sure, it’d be nice to pat ourselves on the back for creating a true post-imperial world, but the reality is that, whether we like it or not, this is going to have to wait. The replacement for the West’s soft, hard or any other kind of power in the Middle East cannot be allowed to be an Islamic State of this kind. The only real choice here is whether we intervene decisively now, or wait until thousands more lives and billions more in treasure have been spent pretending that a limited air campaign and proxy fighters are ever going to be enough to resolve the situation.

Why are defence officials predicting a 20 year conflict? It’s because they know that this covers them for failing to present a real solution in the face of governments that don’t want to hear about the only effective one.