Lindsay Tanner always struck me as a decent and intelligent man. Not that I’ll be buying his new book or anything, but he seemed a cut above most of his Canberra colleagues. However if he has been accurately reported in today’s Sydney Morning Herald I might have to reconsider my opinion about his intelligence:
He has kept a low profile since the election but has re-emerged to promote his book, in which he laments the dumbing down of politics and what passes for news.
Mr Tanner said one possible solution would be to look at voluntary voting. While he opposes voluntary voting, a problem with making it compulsory is that it forces politicians to pander to the ignorant and uninterested with shrill messages in order to grab their attention.
Ah yes, all those shrill messages from the Gillards and Abbotts of this world … as opposed, presumably, to the sober rational political discourse one sees in countries with voluntary voting, such as our Great and Powerful Friend across the Pacific. Come on down, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump (and George W Bush), and show Lindsay what kind of politicians you get with voluntary voting.
The shrillness that might be useful to grab the attention of uninterested voters is nothing compared to the extremism, appeals to greed and sheer insanity required to whip up the interest of people who would otherwise not be willing to vote at all.
A while back I bought a tablet. It’s a nice 7″ unit that I can use to check email, and surf the net in bed, and read books, and play some games like Angry Birds. In the unlikely event that I ever get lost, it even has GPS. It runs Android 2.2 and cost me about $250. As far as I’m concerned it was a good investment, and I doubt I will ever buy another netbook computer running Windows. No point.
The thing is, it was quite difficult getting any useful information about this gadget before I bought it (off eBay, natch). No matter what search terms I used, I quickly found myself in the middle of one snarling fight after another between people who obviously had a pathological devotion to either Apple products, or to Android, or to some obscure tablet manufacturer, or (once, I think, remarkably) even to Windows. Trying to ferret out worthwhile information about reliability, or performance, or after-sales service etc was a real challenge amongst these arguments that depended on nothing so much as an ideological or religious obsession. All the participants in these flame wars wanted to do was score points off the other side, which they obviously thought was a piece of cake given the only scorekeeper was the imaginary voice inside their heads.
The thing that struck me most about these arguments was how much they resembled threads on political blogs. Commenters obviously approached the fight with flaring nostrils and clenched fists, ready to defend their cause to the death by making endless juvenile snarky comments about their opponents. Nobody was remotely interested in considering evidence, or treating other views with respect. Indeed the apparent aim of half the comments was to demonstrate how deeply and irreversibly the commenter loathed and despised the people who were supporting Apple/Android/Microsoft/whoever else. It was as if hundreds of clones of Nelson from ‘The Simpsons’ had been given a keyboard and told to go and make themselves obnoxious.
Now I can understand this depth of antagonism when it’s applied to certain political issues. I bow to nobody in the depth of my utter contempt for John Howard, but that’s because he was prepared to collaborate in killing hundreds of thousands of real actual people and immiserating millions of others, just to stroke his own petty little ego. I make no apology for despising people who place their own preening vanity above the very lives of others. But to feel the same depth of hostility to unknown fellow human beings because they favour a different operating system for their electronic gadgets is beyond bizarre.
I have owned one Apple product in my life: an iPod. It stopped working less than two years after I bought it and when I took it to an authorised Apple shop in Manila, they said they could not repair it. However the sales guy obligingly took me down the street to a cell phone repair shop where a friend of his removed the back of the iPod with a Stanley knife (I’m not making this up) and replaced the battery, apologising for having to charge me $20 for the job. Colour me unimpressed about Apple and all its over-priced gadgets with cynically built-in obsolescence, let alone the staggeringly imbecilic joke that is iTunes.
However … I also own an expensive Motorola cell phone using a Windows Mobile operating system that is possibly the most infuriating device ever made. Moreover any fair-minded person who has ever owned a computer running any Microsoft software would concede that the applications usually seem to have been released about two years before they got them to work properly. And don’t even get me started on Mozille Firefox, or how to turn a nice efficient web browser into a dysfunctional mess.
In short, we live in an era when being first to market with new products is more important than them actually working very well, which is more than a bit annoying at times but which also serves to keep us slightly entertained in our monochrome, deeply uninteresting 21st century lives. However it is remarkable and not a little worrying that some people feel such a depth of emotional commitment to a bit of technology developed to make profits from them. It suggests that the need to engage in aggressive tribal behaviour as a member of an in-group threatened by sub-humans lurking in the shadows might be hard-wired into the mentality of at least a good chunk of the human race.
It makes me wonder whether we might not after all be better off back in the Dark Ages, where we could direct our hatreds at people of other faiths instead of at people with different mobile phones. At least hatred associated with matters of salvation and eternal damnation of the human soul has a certain dignity which is missing from juvenile rants about cell phones.
What is it about England that still breeds such a lot of condescending, ignorant upper class twits who believe they occupy a superior moral and intellectual platform from which they can patronisingly lecture the rest of the world? I mean if there is one country whose 20th century history ought to induce a little humility in its citizens it is surely the United Kingdom in general and England in particular, but somehow the lessons of the Dardanelles and Flanders and Dunkirk and Greece and Singapore and Suez and the untidy collapse of the British Empire and the decline and fall of the pound sterling seem not to have affected Victorian attitudes at all, at least amongst a certain class of Eton’n'Oxbridge graduates.
One such is Paul Johnson, fervent Thatcher apologist and one of those cranky old pricks that the Brits seem to love for some weird reason. In a recent piece for Forbes, Johnson indulged himself in the kind of mendacious revisionism that makes one despair of ever getting public policy grounded in some approximation of reality.
Johnson makes the following deus ex machina observation:
But if a great nation such as the U.S. believes in freedom, practices democracy, accepts a Judeo-Christian sense of morality as an ideal, honors human rights, and deplores and denounces all the evils of the totalitarian state–imprisonment without trial, torture, suppression of all freedoms and the slaughter of opponents, their womenfolk and children with artillery, tanks and bombers–then that nation cannot allow a dictator, before the eyes of the world, to violate all the principles of justice and humanity if said nation has the means to prevent it.
It is hard to know where to start in pointing out the utter absurdity of this pack of lies. I suppose one could note that far from ‘deploring’ imprisonment without trial and torture, the US has embraced them enthusiastically as legitimate tools of the state in the endless Global War on Terror. Moreover the US has been doing a fair to good job for the last 10 years, in the same cause, of ‘slaughtering opponents including their women and children’. Presumably Johnson has either not noticed these things, or has somehow banished them from his consciousness as trivial points that can’t be allowed to interrupt the grand sweep of his exercise in fantasy. But these ridiculous misrepresentations are are nothing compared to the central argument that Good Countries ‘cannot allow‘ dictators to be beastly if they have ‘the means to prevent it’.
Note this isn’t an enabling proposition, it’s cast as a moral imperative. It’s also meaningless self-indulgent bullshit. Margaret Thatcher would blush to mouth such tripe. Would Johnson like to pause for about 10 seconds to ponder all the totalitarian states that have been allowed to survive and prosper – and still are, to this day – without any effective intervention or even objection by Good Countries such as the US and his own (presumably he includes the UK amongst the ‘great nations’ he praises so fulsomely, although perhaps not and he is prostrate before the self-proclaimed exceptionalism of the USA)? He doesn’t explain where this moral obligation to rid the world of totalitarian regimes came from, or how long it has existed, but let’s assume it’s comparatively modern. Does he really believe that the US and its satellites should have spent the last 100 years actively trying to get rid of governments that they didn’t approve of? I mean I know neo-conservatives get hard-ons at the prospect of endless war but even for them, Johnson’s proposal is absurd.
He doesn’t stop there. In an even greater piece of moral irrationality he refers to the massive military machine at the disposal of the USA and writes:
These forces are provided at huge expense by the American taxpayer and are staffed by thousands of dedicated young American men and women whose express purpose is to protect civilization from barbarism. That, as they see it and have been taught to see it, is precisely what America stands for; it is the principal moral justification for their nation’s immense power and riches.
Words fail me in trying to condemn how completely silly and ahistorical this is. The American military’s purpose is ‘to protect civilization from barbarism’? Aaw come off it Paul, you’ve been at the single malt again. But that’s not as stupid as the second sentence. Since when did a nation need a ‘moral justification’ for being powerful and rich? What does such a ridiculous notion even mean? It’s Old Testament Chosen People superstition recast as a moral parable for the 21st century, laid down in florid didactic language as if it was revealed to Johnson by Higher Authority.
The whole piece is full of lies and flawed assumptions. Examples include that the US ‘pioneer[ed] the construction of international agencies such as the League of Nations to defend [civilisation] permanently’ (ummm Paul the US never joined the League of Nations). He claims ‘[t]he current long period of peace without a general war–more than 65 years–is the longest such period in recorded world history’. Ummm, WTF? There have only been two general wars in recorded world history – or one, if you adopt the view of many historians that the 1939-45 conflict in Europe was really a continuation of the conflict that began in 1914. General wars are the product of global imperialism, which is a comparatively recent development. Maybe his conception of ‘recorded world history’ coincides with the emergence of the American Empire, and nothing before then counts; or his notion of a ‘general war’ is one which includes proper places like Europe and the USA and overlooks nonentities like Asia and Africa. Moreover appalling failures of US policy, such as the disastrous Korean situation that has endured since 1953, are lauded by Johnson as ‘necessary, just, lawful and, in retrospect, successful’. Jeez Louise … maybe he should ask the North Korean people, whose interests never seem to be taken into account, how they feel about that one.
Johnson’s rousing peroration is that ‘America is not obliged to right every wrong committed or respond to every scream of pain from six continents. However, some atrocities are beyond the power of civilized endurance to tolerate.’ Great, except that this is a bit hard to reconcile with his earlier statement that nations had a moral obligation to topple totalitarian regimes if they had the means. But it doesn’t matter I guess as long as we have moral philosphers and ‘eminent British historians’ like Johnson (oh FFS Forbes he’s no such things, he’s a journalist) to explain where our duty lies.
None of this would matter if it was just the ranting of a bitter old man (which Johnson clearly is, if one is at all familiar with his writing … he’s a kind of upper class pommie Paddy McGuinness). Unfortunately however his work is typical of the kind of bombastic rhetoric that has come to replace evidence-based reality in conservative discourse. When so many people engage in this kind of mass delusion and misrepresentation, led by acknowledged public so-called intellectuals, there is no prospect whatsoever of arriving at sound, realistic public policy.
Daniel Pipes is a very Serious neo-conservative expert on the Middle East (he has a PhD in medieval Islamic history, so obviously he is the go-to guy to understand Osama bin Laden). He’s all in favour of taking out Iran, given the stunning success of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan which he championed so loudly (he was a favourite of George W Bush). Dr Pipes displays his deeply Serious approach to international relations in his latest piece of drivel for Nation Review Online. He manages to dredge up an interview with Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi from more than 30 years ago (!) in which Gaddafi said:
“I can survive the attacks of the whole world. And because my Green Book has resolved man’s problems, society’s problems. America can wage war against us, the West can torment us, it doesn’t matter: the world has my Green Book. All we need to defend ourselves is the Green Book.”
Pipes very Serious and Mature observation:
Comment: How satisfying, even three-plus decades later, to watch as a dictator’s pomposity, bluster, and narcissism are punctured for the whole world to see.
It’s a revealing demonstration of the trivial, moralistic, irrational discourse that underpins neo-conservative foreign policy ‘analysis’ in Washington. “Haha, see we got ya back for giving us cheek in 1979.” That a grown man and would-be scholar would wallow in such petty, childish vindictiveness is bad enough; that he glories in trumpeting his juvenile mentality for the whole world to read suggests conservatives no longer care how they are perceived by the rest of the world. They’re totally immersed in an alternative reality of their own creation … one where they fail to realise that the Libyan farce is just the latest incident in which the ‘pomposity, bluster, and narcissism’ of the United States of America and its satellite states are exposed to much harsher examination than anyone else’s.
Another day, another random interruption to the Telstra ADSL2 connection that costs me $90 a month. It makes me quite nostalgic for the third world country where I have my other computer, except in the Philippines I only have to pay $25.
I have a draft letter telling Telstra what to do with their service. I’ll send it the day I can connect to the NBN. Days like today I open it and polish it up. It gives me something to do until the connection comes back. Childish I know, but therapeutic.
The idiocy over Libya gets worse by the day. We know US foreign policy comes from some alternative reality, but why have so many European governments taken leave of their senses?
The ‘no fly’ zone, which was supposed to stop Gaddafi using his airforce to crush a rebellion, has morphed into an air attack on the military in Libya. The ostensible objective is to prevent civilians being killed. But WTF is a civilian? The rebels all look like civilians to me. And in any event wise heads aka cynics have been opining that the concern for civilians is all just a ruse and really it’s an air war against troops loyal to Gaddafi, aimed at regime change.
Now just to add a truly Kafkaesque dimension to the NATO bombardment, they are threatening to blow up the rebels too. Good one guys! Let’s keep this civil war going for years by making them fight in dark alleys with knives and baseball bats! Have they engaged Our ABC as a consultant, with Mark Scott telling them how important it is to bomb both sides to preserve ‘balance’?
To be fair, NATO is only going to bomb the rebels if they ‘threaten civilians’. Or as one of those nameless ‘officials’ put it (no doubt speaking on condition of anonymity because he doesn’t actually know WTF is going on):
“We’ve been conveying a message to the rebels that we will be compelled to defend civilians, whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition,” said a senior Obama administration official. “We are working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels so we don’t confront a situation where we face a decision to strike the rebels to defend civilians.”
Now the Exceptional United States of America™, of all countries, knows how impossible it is to fight a war without killing civilians. They’ve been doing it for almost 10 years in Afghanistan. So if their words are to be taken at face value, they intend basically to shoot the shit out of anyone in Libya who looks like they might stage an effective military operation.
I really really hope they have rolled gold intelligence that Gaddafi and company are on the verge of giving the game away. Otherwise, their behaviour seems designed to condemn Libya to years of low-level conflict and political chaos, while NATO planes patrol the skies launching rockets and bombs at anything that resembles a gun on the ground. But I’m sure the Libyans will welcome us with open arms and it will be the dawn of a new era of peace and democracy in the Middle East.