The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Tony Abbott On Balance

Warringah’s fearless PM in exile, Tony Abbott, has been in the news again defending the rights and feelings of that beleaguered minority of Australians known as ‘The White Heterosexual Middle Class’, this time by pointing out that the invasion of Aboriginal territories, repeated attempts at both cultural and actual genocide, and continuing Darwinist paternalism towards indigenous Australians have been, on balance, a good thing – not just for the waves of settlers who benefited from the wholesale appropriation of land and rights, but also for those people who were dispossessed, marginalised, and murdered. He has said that the First Fleet brought the light of civilisation, scientific curiosity, and political equality to the benighted peoples of our great continent. He then went on to point out that this civilisation was a bit crude, wasn’t great at medical science, and didn’t really have all that much equality. You can read his totally not incoherent, rambling, or logically inconsistent argument in full here.

On that basis, I would like to call for Tony Abbott to join the rest of the nation in celebrating a holiday commemorating the day marriage equality legislation passed the house. Because, on balance, it was a good thing. Sure, he fled the house in order to abstain, and to show that what was being done was happening very much against his will. And sure, he has complained loudly and repeatedly that such a step would violate his own tribal taboos and destroy an important pillar of his traditional way of life. But the thing is, what that day really represents is the moment Australia was brought up to speed with the rest of Western civilisation. There he was, practising his parochial, primitive, and outdated way of life, when a political movement which started in the heartlands of the West landed in his native parliament house and changed his beloved nation forever. The bright light of pluralism and political and legal equality was wafted over the seas to land on our shores, dragging Tones and his ilk kicking and screaming into the ambit of the broad moral and legal consensus of the twenty first century.

Sure, this happened without his consent, but there’s three hundred and sixty four other days on which we can wear a conservative Catholic armband. What we should be celebrating is the modernisation and enlightenment of this our great nation. His minority group has certainly been marginalised and subjected to the horrors of name-calling and whatnot, but on balance, what happened that day was a good thing, not just for the millions of Australians who were in favour of marriage equality, but for him as well – now Tones is blessed with the benefits of living in a thoroughly modern and pluralist nation, whether he likes it or not.

Given all this, I call on the honourable Tones to turn out on December 7 next year draped in a rainbow flag in order to honour the day when our great nation moved forward into the modern world and destroyed forever his traditional way of life. Because it was really only his own personal religious prejudices which took a hit that day – so according to his own rationale, what’s good for the horribly, savagely mistreated goose should also be good for his really only slightly miffed gander.

Trump’s Stock Market Myth-Making

Donald Trump

The stock market, especially the Dow, has been performing very well under Trump. Various measurements do, in fact, indicate the “record-breaking” gains which have been repeatedly claimed, but whether or not we decide to quibble with the selected metrics, Trump’s first year stock market performance is definitely in the top five, alongside names like George H W Bush, Roosevelt, and Obama.

And this is where we hit our first snag: the phrase, “Trump’s first year performance”. Western governments in general, and US Presidents in particular, are consistently given far too much credit and/or blame for the state of the economy. It seems there are two kinds of cognitive dissonance at play. The first is the fact of most democratic elections being fought with complex economic policies as one of their major pillars. The vast majority of the populace simply does not understand even the most basic principles of economics, and yet they are generally unshakably convinced of the rightness of their chosen candidate’s economic policies. But by far the most germane dissonance is the tendency to praise the President for encouraging the growth of a Free Market Economy, while simultaneously crediting him as if he were in charge of a Command Economy. Trump is not unique in this regard. The tendency of all political discourse around economics is to fall prey to this serious logical fallacy. Western democratic governments do not control their economies. This is in accordance with one of the fundamental principles of Western democracy. This means that simplified, cause/effect views of economic policy and activity need to be taken with a grain of salt, and if they also come with a package of cheerleading for one or another form of ideology, then it is a cubic tonne of salt which is required. Looked at objectively, giving sole credit for economic performance to a POTUS is akin to crediting the umpire, and the umpire alone, for an Ashes win.

Of course, not everyone falls prey to this kind of thinking, regardless of how much politicians try to encourage it. There is, of course, a significant minority of the electorate, including commentators and analysts, who possess sufficient nous to understand the true nature of the nexus between government and economy. Discourse at this level tends centre much more sensibly and accurately around the role of governments as regulators and influencers of economic performance and activity. In these circles, the unusual degree of credit/blame assigned to POTUS makes more sense – the office has a peculiar and unique influence on both the global and national economies, for a whole complex of reasons far too tortuous to elucidate here. Let’s just say that military and diplomatic power, geography, and the interplay of various economic cartels, make the attitude and actions of a US President particularly significant. Where this all falls down, however, is in the areas of ideological partisanship and the very real fact that economics is almost purely theoretical.

It is no secret that the bulk of the US media is now, and always has been, openly partisan. There are clear and obvious identifiers, when looking at the US media, which allow us to label most outlets as either Democrat, Republican, or tinfoil hat crazy. If we take the very sensible decision to leave outlets like Alex Jones, Breitbart, and Raw Story out of the picture, a quick sampling of Democratic and Republican outlets helps us to see the extent of this problem when it comes to clear-sighted evaluation of Trump’s administration as positive or negative economic influencer. When we look at the Dow Jones Index in isolation, the gains under the current administration outstrip everyone but Roosevelt. When we look at absolute dollar value of the market, Trump comes in a distant second to Obama. But these rankings don’t really mean anything. Outlets like Bloomberg, for example, tread very lightly – almost imperceptibly – over the fact that Obama’s Keynesian response to the GFC means that the dollar value measurement is always going to exceed that of a president walking into a relatively strong economy. And what focus on the Dow alone ignores is the value of a measurement biased so heavily towards theoretically questionable assumptions on the effect and impact of equity market adjustments. But what can be said, without question, is that theoretical extrapolations of cause and effect can be constructed to favour Keynesian, monetarist, neo-conservative, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or (somewhat less convincingly) Illuminati based ideological positions, with breathtaking ease.

In terms of reporting, all sides of the political divide are more or less equally guilty of cherry-picking, bias, and selective memory. The facts are basically ineluctable, and apply to all presidents – all governments, in fact – claiming sole credit for economic performance. It is usual for stock market value to increase, and to increase sharply in the first year of a presidency. This is partly because it tends to dip around election time, but mostly because that first year is when most presidents increase and retrench spending in certain areas, and thus clarify their intentions, providing a degree of certainty. There is, however, a real Trump effect happening in this instance. Possibly the only thing Trump has been clear about is his intention to be business friendly. So the boost deriving from this certainty within the business community is, in fact, down to him. But a great deal of the economy’s strength has to do with both local and global factors which are not only outside his control, but of the control of any sitting government. And given Trump’s destabilising effect in other areas, it’s very important to be clear-sighted about the one positive claim of his which actually has some credence.

Syria – War Without End

This week has seen the culmination of a months long military buildup targeted, somewhat embarrassingly for us, at Kurdish strongholds near the Turko-Syriac border. Turkey’s intentions have long been known – this is not by any means a surprise attack – but they have been frustrated by both Russia and the USA in turn, the Russians because they did not like Turkey’s anti-Assad Free Syrian Army (FSA) proxies, and the USA because they have yet again armed and encouraged a marginalised ethnic paramilitary organisation for short term gain. The ground in Syria is confusing, even at the best of times, and this single, relatively new front, is no exception.

In order to understand Turkey’s actions, we have to remember a little bit of history. Turkey was invented at the conclusion of WWI. Previously the heartland of the once great Ottoman Empire, the scavenging rapacity of the Western, still very colonial powers left them in serious danger of becoming a rump state, i.e., a nation too small and too isolated to ever function properly within its region. Much of the credit for Turkey’s miraculous stability and prosperity through most of the twentieth century is given to Mustapha Kemal’s eager embrace of Western style modernisation, but it has to be remembered that the real basis for Turkey’s current power lies in the lightning series of aggressive military campaigns undertaken by Kemal while everyone else was busy dealing with the aftermath of Versaille. In a manner very similar to Israel in the sixties, the Turkish military carved its way to control of major access points and trade routes which would have been denied them according to the original lines on the map. What most of us vaguely remember from these short, sharp, and really quite nasty wars, is the dispossession of the Kurds and the Armenian genocide.

Insofar as the Kurds are concerned, their territories were carved up in various deals and tit for tats between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia. Being an indigenous mountain people, the Kurds simply fell off the priority list of the League of Nations through a combination of entrenched Western chauvinism and the dirty rough and tumble of post war bargain-making and diplomacy. Given that their dispossession and reduction to minority status was in direct violation of the first treaty for the region, and also that as a numerous mountain tribal complex they were already reasonably well armed and acclimatised to warfare, various Kurdish groups began insurgencies, guerrilla, and terror campaigns, many of which are still running to this day. And it is this background which helps to explain why the Turkish government is both implacably opposed to Kurdish sovereignty, and assured of broad popular support for a campaign of subjugation, or even extermination. The territory the Kurds are naturally asking for is, in many cases, the exact territory taken by Ataturk as vital to the power and function of the Turkish nation. And a significant portion of the populace have lived for decades with blitz attacks, bombings, kidnappings, murders, and some instances of full blown civil war, all inflicted on them in the cause of Kurdish independence.

Given that Turkey is a NATO member and nominal ally of the US, it’s natural to wonder why they armed and trained some of their ally’s bitterest regional enemies in the first place. It should be remembered that the US, along with the rest of the Western world, was extremely reluctant to intervene in the Syria crisis in any way. The rise of IS, and their unexpected success in re-drawing the Middle Eastern map were the main trigger for US intervention, and one of the first targets of IS were the strongholds of Kurdish militias just south of Turkey and in the north of Iraq. Add to this the FSA’s general incoherence and lack of success, the fact that many of the other rebel factions were more or less tied to Al Qaeda, and an Iraqi army which had lost most of its seasoned and effective leadership to IS and Al Qaeda affiliates, and the decision becomes easier to understand. At the time it was made, the FSA was either licking its wounds in camps on the Turkish border or being pounded by Russian air power intent on accidentally on purpose confusing them with IS and the Al Nusra Front, with the rest of the territory being a happy hunting ground for Sunni insurgents, Iranian proxies, and other unacceptable or otherwise utterly ineffective allies. The Kurds were basically the only option beyond a full scale, boots on the ground invasion.

This latest Turkish offensive could be seen as yet another worrying precursor to WWIII, but more rational reflection reveals that this is not, in fact, the main cause for concern. Turks fighting Kurds has been ops normal for decades, even if not to this scale. And while it’s very difficult to see the USA brokering any kind of deal while its government is in the hands of a petulant, incoherent child, or even to predict what they might do on any given day, if they stick to historical form they will simply abandon the Kurds to their fate. What’s worrying here is that there is every sign that a deal has been cut, and that Western interests have been frozen out. The trigger for the attack seems to have been the withdrawal of Russian observers, deployed to the region as a buffer against Turkish aggression. Given that the Turks are spearheading their assault with Turkish armed and flagged FSA fighters, it’s pretty apparent that they’ve cut a deal with Russia, which also means that they necessarily have an understanding with the Syrian regime, as Russia’s client. What also seems clear to me, however, is that Syria, Russia, and Turkey combined, are not by any means certain to eliminate or neutralise the Kurdish threat. Their attention is divided, their capability limited, and their scope for action seriously hampered by global, and especially US, attention. So what this front most probably indicates is an escalation in yet another interminable slowburn of bloodshed for an already beleaguered region.

Tim reviews… The Bachelor!

OK so I’ve started like 1,000 posts on reeeeeally smart topics, but I never seem to finish them because I’m not very smart, so I decided to just review an episode of the US Bachelor instead. We’re already up to Episode 3 though so I’ll have to catch you up.

The plot… Arie Luyendykzxyk is some kind of Camry racing car driver who has never won a race because he races in a Camry and who is famous for being rejected on national TV by a Disney princess named Heaps White and has now decided that he should be the one doing the rejecting on national TV so he jumped in his Camry and drove to California in a totally genuine attempt to find love with a group of normal fame-averse people who love Camry drivers.

The cast…

  • CamArie… the hero of our story, who is really cool cos he races CamAries and looks like John Travolta.
  • Bibiana… one of our villainous villains, whose parents created her name out of thin air by combining their favourite book (Bible) with their favourite state (Indiana). Apparently they almost named her Koranacheussets, but then they decided they didn’t really care for Boston.
  • KrystalMeth… another villainous villain, who is fun at first but ends up making your teeth fall out.
  • Androgynous extras… a group of 23 other people named Lauren who will generally not feature unless they get reeeeeally drunk or burn their boob on a waffle iron or get in a fight with Koranacheussets or KrystalMeth.

OK… Episode 3… let’s do this.

We begin with the entire cast sitting casually in the lounge room, because obviously it’s California and no one would dare go and sit outside or swim in the pool. The previous episode’s antagonists, Koranacheussets and KrystalMeth, have decided to sit next to each other because the producers made them. KrystalMeth says that it’s the Bachelor, so toes are going to get stepped on, which makes her choice of open-toed slippers somewhat silly.

Chris Harrison appears like magic looking exactly the same as he did 15 years ago. He reminds the cast that the first rule of Bachie is you talk about Bachie, or rather, to Bachie, at every possible opportunity, because #timeisprecious. This week there will be two “very fun” group dates, and one romantic one-on-one date. An audible gasp makes it way around the room, which was either due to surprise or a simultaneous and spontaneous tightening of sphincters.

“You know they say,” says Chris, “that behind every good man are a loving home, a good education, and a decent socio-economic background. And also a very strong woman.” The women agree wholeheartedly, blissfully unaware of the apparent corollary, that behind every very bad man is a weak woman who nags a lot and is crap at Instagram. “And we’re about to put that to the test today,” he concludes. Which I’m guessing means some kind of spelling bee or fight to the death. The date card is read out, and what do you know, the people attending are eight nobodies, Koranacheussets and KrystalMeth, which is a surprise to everyone.

They arrive at the venue to discover that the date is… WRESTLING. Because every woman wants to wrestle another woman in front of a huge crowd on date with a Camry driver. CamArie appears to much ovulation, as do the instructors, two women from GLOW, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and no, I am not making this up. The first move the GLOWs teach them is the extremely deadly and impossible to defend forward roll, which is of course how Conor MacGregor has won most of his fights.

Four amazing things then happen in quick succession. First CamArie tells us he’s looking for someone who is going to have fun with wrestling another woman in front of a huge crowd on date with a Camry driver. Then, amazingly, the women start having fun. Then the GLOWs tell the women they’re having too much fun. Then one of the GLOWs decides she wants to have fun herself, so she makes her own fun, out of Koranacheussets’ name, by saying it doesn’t even make sense. Koranacheussets could have of course explained that it makes complete sense because favourite books and favourite states are totally a thing, but she’s too upset so she doesn’t.

One of the women, who is probably named Lauren, then has her haired pulled by one of the GLOWs, and even I’m starting to think that this is getting a little weird. CamArie, being the totally good man that is looking for a strong woman to stand behind him, says nothing on these developments, and instead begins wondering whether he is actually a good man, given that it requires a strong woman standing behind him, and he is currently single and making women wrestle each other in front of a large crowd on a date with a Camry driver. All of this is just too much for Koranacheussets and WOPNAL (Woman Probably Named Lauren), who both exit the ring to have a long hard look at themselves, and think about why they are crap people and not having fun wrestling another woman in front of a huge crowd on date with a Camry driver.

But look, perhaps I’m being too hard on CamArie. In his defence, he does wait around until WOPNAL and Koranacheussets have spent 20 minutes composing themselves and re-entered the ring, before going over and telling them that hey, he feels uncomfortable too, because it’s really hard having 10 woman wrestle for your affections.

It’s then time for the women to go and choose their costumes, and as Guns ‘n’ Roses would say, get in the ring. The fights themselves are boring, in that no one was injured, and the producers somehow forgot to make KrystalMeth and Koranacheussets fight to the death.

As a reward for the enforced humiliation, CamArie takes all the ladies to an actual trailer park, which seems oddly appropriate. Within seconds of arriving, KrystalMeth has whisked CamArie away to a romantic trailer within earshot of everyone else, where CamArie tries to prevent her from talking with his patented Face-Grab Mouth-Trap (TM) kissing technique. Like so:

FACE GRAB!

This works for a while, until KrystalMeth asks him whether she needs to “Be… aggressive… Be, be aggressive” on group dates. She then says she wants to make sure she doesn’t get lost, which admittedly can happen when being followed by 20 cameras on a reality TV show.

Then of course it’s Koranacheussets’ turn, and she tells CamArie that group dates are intense. At this point CamArie should really have pointed out that they’re not in tents at all, they’re in trailers, but he is also apparently too stupid to know the difference.

CamArie then takes the WOPNAL that had her hair pulled into a very nice trailer indeed, where he lovingly tells her, “When I saw you were upset, I was like, oh that’s interesting.” That is a word for word quote, by the way, proving once again that he is indeed an already good man who needs a very strong woman behind him even though he can’t be a good man yet because he doesn’t have a strong woman behind him. “You know,” he continues, “I’d like you to tell me when you’re upset, because then I can make you feel better, and that makes me feel like a man.” Also an actual quote. Hmm.

At this point it’s painfully obvious that all CamArie wants to do is Face-Grab Mouth-Trap (TM) the crap out of her, which he does, because he made her feel better, so he’s a man, and that’s what men get to do when they make people feel better. So he does.

FACE GRAB!

Back at the mansion, someone named Lauren was just selected for the one-on-one date, with a card that says, “You had me at merlot.” Seriously.

CamArie is now in a trailer with someone who looks suspiciously like Rizzo from Grease, which, given his uncanny resemblance to John Travolta, makes for a fascinating sub-plot. In any event, CamArie’s hands are starting to feel weird, so he needs to do something with them, like grab yet another woman’s face.

FACE GRAB!

CamArie is quickly turning into Kisstopher Columbus, discoverer of the New World. And Lipstenstein. Rizzo then gets the rose, which will make both Kenickie and Sandy very upset.

It’s now time for the one-on-one… you know, the one where Lauren “had him at merlot”. Which means, as Lauren says in a sudden blaze of intuition, that it might have something to do with wine. Once they arrive at the winery, CamArie observes that “I could totally see myself here”, which is amazing, because he is there. I LOVE THIS SHOW. The rest of the date is equally amazing for two reasons. Firstly, Lauren is talking NON-STOP. Secondly, CamArie is actually eating his dinner, WHICH NEVER HAPPENS. The obvious conclusion is that he would rather grab his fork than Lauren’s constantly-talking face, which means that things are not looking good for Lauren. The nail in the coffin is when CamArie asks what was missing in her last relationship, and just as she replies that it was a lack of romance, CamArie shovels in a mouthful of beans. And we all know what beans means. And if you don’t know what beans means, you at least know that it doesn’t mean a rose. Lauren goes home, and her biggest regret is probably talking too much, because now she is hungry as well as single. Not CamArie though, he goes home full of beans. (see what I did there?) A mysterious man arrives at Bachie central to remove her bag in front of all her friends, and, just like that, she is gone forever, or at least until the next season of Bachelor in Paradise.

It’s time for the second group date now, and the good news is that this one just involves dogs. Sorry I mean competing with dogs on stage in front of a huge audience, which is totally chill. The bad news is that one of the Laurens, whose name is Annaliese, had a very traumatic experience with a dog when she was a baby. In an amazing coincidence, the Bachelor film crew were there to capture the moment:

100% actual footage of dog trauma

The actual date involves the women trying to get the dogs to do things on stage. Which is exactly as boring as it sounds, so we pretty much move straight to the cocktail party. Chelsea notes that “It was tough to be around dogs in a playground setting”, and that she “adores the person that she has become”. CamArie responds that “Sometimes, it really feels good to reflect”, which is either the world’s most scathing put-down, or a confession that he wants to be a mirror. Either way, she appears to not be worthy of having her face grabbed. I’ll tell you who is worthy though… the next woman he talks to, whose name is probably Lauren. And the next woman he talks to, whose name is also probably Lauren. But not the next one, who he tells “This whole thing is difficult, you know what I mean?”. To which she obviously replies, “No CamArie, I do not know what you mean. Is that even English?”. Another Lauren then arrives to ask if she can interrupt, and, honestly, I haven’t seen CamArie this happy since he grabbed Lauren’s face two minutes ago. He then makes himself feel better by grabbing the next Lauren’s face and eating it. And the next Lauren’s face. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I think he’s kissed like 8 people tonight, which is totally the whole point of this show. #kisstophercolumbus

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for… the rose ceremony. CamArie arrives in his Camry, which looks suspiciously like a Mercedes. AND OMG THERE IS SUDDENLY A GORGEOUS WOMAN THERE WHOSE NAME IS SIENNE AND NOT LAUREN. But there’s no time for that because Koranacheusettes has prepared a romantic nighttime day bed and telescope to woo CamArie into astronomy and a Face-Grab Mouth-Trap (TM). The Bachie Gods are geniuses, however, so of course at that precise moment, someone (actually) called Lauren drags CamArie outside, where they miraculously discover the nighttime day bed and telescope, which provides all the romance and astronomy needed to initiate a full-blown Face-Grab Mouth-Trap (TM). In a shocking twist that no one saw coming, Koranacheussets decides to head outside at that very moment to see what’s going on, and is told to come back in five minutes. She then says, and I am not joking, that “The struggle is real.” I LOVE THIS SHOW.

Needless to say, Rizzo gets a turn on the astronomy nighttime day bed too, where CamArie asks her, “Where do you come from?”. Rizzo replies that, when two people really love each other, they get drunk and go to their trailer and grab each other’s faeces. Oh sorry I meant faces. Typing is not my strong suite. (that one was on porpoise)

The Lauren who had her hair pulled, whose name is now Tia, is now eating CamArie’s face. Or he’s eating hers, it’s difficult to tell. What is NOT difficult to tell is that Koranacheussets has still not been on her own nighttime day bed and used her telescope. And OH CRAP Annaliesesese just basically asked for a kiss and was turned down, which I literally did not think was possible for CamArie. Aaaaaaand then two minutes later he’s grabbing face with someone else probably called Lauren. Poor Annaliesesese eventually asks for a kiss and is told to go home. Such is the power of strong men who race Camrys for a living.

The rose ceremony arrives and, mercifully, it’s Koranacheussets who is going home. This seems a little strange, in that she has not yet fought to the death with KrystalMeth, so I think the producers must be drunk. In any event, she finally retires to her nighttime daybed and uses her telescope to gaze into the endless abyss of space, and contemplate why she apparently wasn’t good enough to have her face grabbed by a guy who races Camrys.

The end.