Monthly Archives: August 2014

Amanda Fucking Palmer and The Art of Asking


Amanda Palmer is about to release a book called “The Art of Asking” which came out of her TED talk which in large part came from her experience of raising over a million dollars to make an album via a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. I follow Palmer on Twitter so I’ve seen her agonising over the process of making the book for many months so my first reaction to the “it’s done, here’s the cover” posts was “well, that must be a relief”.
Straight after that was the thought “here comes the hate”. Anyone in the public eye attracts hate. As soon as you have something someone else doesn’t (talent, success, money) you get jealousy and hate directed at you. Amanda Palmer is a personality type that can (and often does) polarise people and both the pro- and anti-Palmer crowds can be zealous to a degree that seems quite out of scale for what she does. She has said plenty of things I don’t agree with but I’m definitely in the “pro” camp.
I was aware of her band The Dresden Dolls and her solo work, I liked the music although I never bought any of it. Then a few years ago The Dresden Dolls did a reunion tour and when they were in Melbourne I helped video the show. It was one of the most amazing live experiences I’ve ever had and I definitely counted myself a fan after that.
A little later, Palmer decided to use the Kickstarter platform to crowdfund a new album. The project was insanely successful – she set a target of $100,000 and ended up raising nearly twelve times that amount. It’s still the most successful music-based Kickstarter and it attracted a huge amount of attention. While her fanbase was hugely excited by the project (made obvious when the target was reached within a couple of hours) the backlash came quickly with a lot of people seeming to think this was some sort of scam.
I didn’t support the Kickstarter (I ended up buying a physical copy of the album later) but the negativity made me quite angry because it combined two of my least favourite things – jealousy and ignorance. I’ll never get over people saying crowdfunding is some sort of a scam, when someone well known does it they are somehow tricking their fans into giving them money. The pure ignorance required to make this comment is staggering.
Palmer’s campaign had a diverse range of rewards at different levels, starting with a $1 pledge got you a digital download of the album. How the hell do you call something a scam when a supporter can get the album for $1? The thing with crowdfunding campaigns is contributors are told what they will get for their money AHEAD OF TIME! Nobody is forcing anyone to contribute. People see something they want and think the cost is acceptable. That’s it. The only way it could be a scam is if the campaign doesn’t deliver what they promised. And that certainly wasn’t the case with Palmer.
I saw some criticisms when she gave a breakdown of where the money would go from people saying her figures for costs were “extravagant”. My first response would be fuck you, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Trying to compare an arts-related project to a bog standard commercial CD release is ridiculous. The bitterness and jealousy fairly dripped from the writing of these people. I imagine they are very unpleasant to be around in general.
My second response is those assertions of extravagance are completely irrelevant. That way of looking at the project is completely backwards! Supporters didn’t pledge on the proviso “you will only make x % profit from this transaction”. They saw an offer, agreed with the price and went for it. It wouldn’t matter if Palmer was lying through her teeth and pocketed 90% of the money in pure profit. Supporters got what they paid for and were happy. End of story. Unless your story is that you’re a bitter “journalist” who has never created any original artistic work and is insanely jealous of people who can do things you can’t. That story will never end.
I’m not going to link to any criticism of Palmer’s campaign (I don’t feel like giving them the attention) but there were a lot of jealous nobodies and some particularly clueless well-known somebodies who piled on. The twin themes of (unacknowledged) jealousy and wilful ignorance ran through all of the criticisms. Seeing the backlash made me think of that saying beloved by mothers everywhere that has more recently become quite popular on the internet: “this is why we can’t have nice things”.  I’ll never stop being amazed at human capacity to see the negative in any good thing that happens.
I’ve never actually run a crowdfunding campaign myself although I’ve considered it and I might do it in the future if I think I have a compelling project. In short, I’ve never asked people online for money at all. In the early years of YouTube there was a rash of what was called “e-begging”. Essentially, this was YouTubers asking their viewers for money in a way that meant (in most cases) the contributors got nothing out of it apart from feeling they helped someone they liked.
While nobody forced anyone to give money in these cases either, there were definitely some scams pulled and e-begging was a pretty accurate term for what was happening. Amanda Palmer’s “Art of Asking” story goes right back to when she was a human statue street performer and carries right through her music career to the Kickstarter campaign and beyond. It isn’t as though she’s perfect or even handled the Kickstarter aftermath perfectly – probably her worst mistake was not realising how perceptions had changed about her standard practice of inviting local musicians to join in on shows without paying them. But when I think about the wave of hate that is almost inevitably coming with the release of the book, I feel more than a little sick.
A lot of people don’t seem to realise that I’m essentially an idealist. I like to see people do good/creative things and try to look for positives in successful ventures even if I don’t like them myself. I wish more people would look at someone else’s success and think “they proved it’s possible” rather than “why did that rubbish succeed when nobody supports what I want to do?” I hope I get proved wrong about this but I don’t think I will be. For those people who have a thing against Amanda Palmer, I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong in your grievances (she’s human and has human failings), but surely there’s a more deserving target for your hatred. I just wish people could be better.



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Cardinal George Pell is a trucking terrible person


A late entry and the outright winner for arsehole of the week is without doubt Cardinal George Pell. While appearing (via video link) at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse he said blaming the catholic church for the widespread child abuse committed by priests was like blaming a trucking company if one of their drivers did it.


Well George, let me make a few points. First, you truly are a disgusting pile of festering excrement. I mean it. You are absolutely disgusting.


Now to your trucking company analogy. It’s impossible to tell if you’re deliberately lying and distorting the truth or if you’re so deeply evil that you genuinely don’t recognise your own culpability and that of the wider church hierarchy. If you want your analogy to be a little more accurate it would have to be a trucking company that is specifically responsible for the well-being of the children abused by its drivers and when the company discovers the widespread abuse being perpetrated by many of their drivers they actively suppress the truth and instead of punishing the drivers they send them to drive trucks in a different city where nobody knows them but they’re still responsible for protecting children but they abuse children again and you repeat this cycle for decades without ever accepting responsibility for the abuse that wouldn’t have been possible without your direct actions.


And that is why so many people are utterly disgusted with you. You presided over this abuse for decades and have repeatedly shown more interest in protecting the reputation of the church over protecting children being abused by priests. And that continues right to this day. The clear refusal to accept responsibility is unacceptable and hopefully the royal commission will finally call Pell and his cohorts to account.


It’s obvious how deeply in denial Pell is, so much so that he went on to make statements that may well come back to haunt him. Many people are rightly outraged by the callous trucking company analogy but right after this his statements included “If in fact the authority figure has been remiss through bad preparation, bad procedures or been warned and done nothing or [done something] insufficient, then certainly the church official would be responsible.” I’m pretty sure that’s exactly the point a lot of people are making. That’s why there’s a royal commission – because of the appalling reaction of the catholic church and others to decades of abuse.


And when I look at Pell’s comments about a trucking company I can’t work out exactly how he would come to say something so terrible. Surely he would have prepared for something as serious as appearing before a Royal Commission? Surely the church takes it seriously enough to prepare? How awful would a group of people have to be to think making the trucker analogy was a good thing? How did that go? You as an organisation have been exposed for sheltering child abusers for decades, protecting them and your reputation over the children in your care, you’ve repeatedly attacked victims and their families instead of supporting them. And somehow you are so completely lacking in empathy you decide a completely ridiculous, insensitive and inaccurate analogy is the best way for you to refuse to accept responsibility for your appalling failings.


PELL: OK, what should I say to the Royal Commission?


ADVISOR: How about “It wasn’t us, it was some random truck driver that did all that kiddie fiddling”?


PELL: I don’t think anyone will go for that but you’ve given me an idea. I’ll use an analogy.


ADVISOR: Wow, that sounds insightful. How does an analogy work?


PELL: I don’t say truck drivers committed all the abuse that catholic priests are responsible for but I say blaming the church itself for the priests committing abuse is like holding a trucking company responsible for individual truck drivers who assault people.


ADVISOR: And the fact that any responsible trucking company that knew it had drivers committing that sort of abuse would sack the drivers, turn them over to the police and do everything in their power to support and compensate the victims doesn’t undermine your point at all?


PELL: I don’t think so. The public’s anger at rampant abuse within the church has be growing for years but I think all we’ve needed to do all this time is to use a gratuitously insulting and inaccurate analogy to say we refuse to accept any responsibility.


ADVISOR: Well I can’t see any flaw in that plan but then again I couldn’t see any flaw in the plan to protect priests who were known child abusers.


PELL: When you consider how ridiculous the whole magic man in the sky thing is, it should be a doddle to get the suckers to believe the church isn’t to blame for the abuse.


ADVISOR: I am so glad none of that stuff we tell them is true, otherwise we’d be going straight to hell.


PELL: Word.


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YouTube musings


It’s been a while since I did a video that’s just talking so I’m writing down some thoughts to use for such a video. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while but a few things have happened recently that I want to talk about. YouTube has always had a reputation for having the worst commenters and it seems like the most unhinged people on the internet are still thriving on YouTube.
So far the winners are Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) and people pushing the lie that cannabis cures cancer (let’s call them CCCs). I predicted Richard Dawkins fanboys would be as bad but it appears I owe an apology here because while there were a couple of idiots they pale in comparison to those other groups. In fact, one of the biggest idiots to respond to my Dawkins video was anti-Dawkins. It’s important to acknowledge when you’re wrong and I was largely wrong about the Dawkins supporters.
I feel like explaining why I’m so brutal with stupid commenters. YouTube is a brilliant medium for sharing your views, video is a really effective way to engage with people and make it feel like a conversation. Conversely, a comment thread is a terrible way to have an argument. If you want to make one point and get my response, that can work. But when people disagree with me that’s rarely the way they behave. They simply won’t shut up. And 9 times out of 10 what they comment is utter rubbish. Four categories in particular that I won’t waste time on: 


  • People who state the complete opposite of the truth as a “fact” (e.g. climate change deniers). There is absolutely no point in engaging with people like this. When someone can aggressively assert an easily provable lie as the “truth” there is no way forward. Conspiracy nutbags fall into this category as well.
  • Really hateful commenters (bigots of any stripe). I simply refuse to give these vermin a platform.
  • People bringing up something I have directly answered in the video as if I hadn’t answered it. Repeating the answer never gets through to them.
  • People who assert that I said something I clearly didn’t (or people who want to tell me what I think or what I am – reality be damned). I know what I said, what I think and who I am. I don’t need some random idiot who knows nothing about me spouting rubbish driven by their own prejudices.


In short, it’s a waste of my time and creative energy. Every minute that one of these emotional black holes sucks up is one more minute I don’t have to develop entertainment for everyone else. How tolerant/intolerant I am of idiot commenters tends to swing back and forth like a pendulum depending on my mood but my response is always about preserving my own sanity. Nobody else gets to dictate how I live my life and how I choose to protect my sanity. No amount of petulant (and incorrect) whining about “censorship” will change that.
In a different setting (say, face to face) I’m willing to engage in a conversation with someone who has radically different views to mine *if* they’re willing to treat it as a conversation. If all somebody is going to do is dig their heels in and keep shouting their opinion without taking in anything that’s said in response then it’s waste of time talking to them. And that’s the problem with comments threads – they lack the subtlety of an actual conversation and trying to develop an extended discourse this way is far too time consuming and all too often a complete waste of time.
My recent exposure to MRAs made me feel like it was the “old days” on YouTube again. I hadn’t attracted that much hate from worthless losers since I used to go after racists and self-proclaimed Nazis. I didn’t realise there was still that much troll activism on YouTube (hooray for sheltered hetero white guy experience). Then came the CCCs. They are so tied up with selling snake oil cures that they remind me more of a cult. MRAs might be losers but I really, really hate these vermin seeking to profit from the suffering of others with their totally bogus “cures”.
Seeing the cult like behaviour of CCCs reminded me I’ve always thought it would be really easy to start a cult on YouTube. The cult of personality definitely exists but I mean a full blown cult, with a leader and slavish followers. I remember a guy from the early days of YouTube who I thought was on course to do this (not going to name him). He was basically immature, self-absorbed, and had that annoying trait some drug users have of deluding themselves that they are deep and original thinkers while talking rubbish. Unfortunately he was good looking and could speak in a way that was quite compelling to some impressionable people. He started to get quite dangerous as he was talking people into not taking their medication (for everything from mental health to cancer).
He ultimately faded away but he was the first YouTuber I saw that made me consider how easy it would be to move from being popular to actually exerting control over people and starting your own cult. I’ve consciously shied away from this sort of behaviour (telling people what to do) but all it would take to start building a cult is to speak with a compelling voice and lure people in by saying things they want to hear. Oh, and a complete lack of human decency.
Of course I could push the conflict with people like MRAs and CCCs for my own gain. Now I’ve found how easily they take the bait I could rage on them regularly just for notoriety. Or maybe go for some old school YouTube Drama and start a beef with a well-known neckbeard who isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is. But honestly, I don’t think I can be bothered. That’s never been my motivation. When I’ve gone after particular groups of people it’s been to get something off my chest and provide a bit of entertainment while I do it.
The biggest challenge to me has always been to be internally consistent or to put it another way, to stay true to myself. I’m quite conscious that some people would have trouble seeing that and accuse me of being a hypocrite but I can’t bring myself to compromise my own ethics to make other people happy. I always think very carefully about what I say before I say it (even if some people would argue I don’t) and I’ve never regretted anything I’ve said in a blog or a video. Well, not much.
It can be quite a challenge to keep to that standard but I’ll keep trying.


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Even angrier about bogus cancer cures


I feel like yesterday’s post wasn’t angry enough or direct enough and I intend to remedy that right fucking now. Let’s ignore the utter charlatans whose only motivation in spreading the “cannabis cures cancer” lie is to exploit desperate and dying people and steal their money by selling them utterly bogus “cures”. These people are disgusting and if I think too much about them I’ll go into a murderous rage and start making actual plans to hunt them down. I mean it, people who see the suffering and misery of others as an opportunity for exploitation and money making deserve to be dragged into the street and kicked to death.
I just want to say to people who keep posting links online saying cannabis cures cancer: stop being so stupid! I posted a link for calm and reasoned explanations yesterday but right now is my time to say fuck this bullshit! Any sensible person who takes five seconds to think about it will realise that the concept that cannabis cures cancer, but the truth is being suppressed by “them” is fucking ridiculous. It simply doesn’t stand up to even the mildest scrutiny.
First and foremost, you know it’s dead easy to buy dope, right? There are a lot of desperate people dying from cancer and I’m pretty sure they’d be getting cured in droves if this ridiculous concept was true. This isn’t even an abstract concept as a lot of cancer patients use cannabis because it can help reduce nausea cause by chemo, it can help with pain relief when other drugs fail and it can help with appetite which is often taken away by chemo. But it isn’t curing their cancer. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.
If you have the urge to post a link to an article saying cannabis can kill cancer cells take a deep breath and wrap your head around the fact that doesn’t mean it cures cancer. It just doesn’t. Stop being so stupid. This is why cannabis is actually being researched, because it has interesting properties and it’s worth exploring whether it can boost existing treatments or become a treatment on its own. But right now, it is in  no way shape or form a cure for cancer.
And if the link you want to post leads to “and you too can buy this miracle cure” you’re pretty fucking lucky that I haven’t yet worked out how to electrocute people through the internet.
If you want to rush to “big pharma” is suppressing the truth please stop being so stupid. There is significant research into cannabis because if it turns out there’s any validity to using as a treatment big pharma will be all over that. They’ll release lab developed synthetic cannabinoids and make billions. That tired old line of “they make more money with a treatment than a cure” simply doesn’t hold up with cancer. The sad fact is there’s a pretty much never ending supply of cancer patients.
And you can give it a rest with any “legalise it” rhetoric as well.  I agree but it’s utterly irrelevant to my point. cannabis doesn’t cure cancer and people need to stop posting stupid articles that say it does.
So, in short, cannabis doesn’t cure cancer and posting links that says it does is really, really stupid. Shut the fuck up with any side issues, I’m not wasting time with side issues. Cannabis. Does. Not. Cure. Cancer. If you can’t accept that simple fact without babbling about meaningless side issues I can’t be bothered responding to you with any more than “get off the weed, hippy”. Perpetuating the idea cannabis cures cancer is perpetuating a lie and there’s no excuse for it.
Stop being so stupid.



Filed under General Angriness

Cannabis Cures Cancer? Stop being so stupid!


There’s an increasing number of people online pushing the idea that cannabis cures cancer. There isn’t one type of person who promotes the positive aspects of cannabis, they range from people who say smoking or ingesting cannabis helps offset the nausea caused by chemo, that it helps boost appetite in chemo patients, that it boosts the effectiveness of medical treatments, through to people who say cannabis alone is a complete cancer treatment on its own and extreme cases who say medical authorities know cannabis is a cure but there is a conspiracy to suppress “the truth”.


To address people who are on that extreme end of the spectrum: stop being so stupid! Conspiracy theories generally are stupid but this one includes a huge amount of offensiveness as well. It’s all well and good to point out “big pharma” is focused on profits but to suggest the millions of researchers around the world would deliberately suppress something that would cure cancer is simply disgusting. Only the worst, most self-indulgent and self-obsessed  sort of vermin would say this. To these people I’d go further than saying stop being so stupid – stop hiding behind your narcissism and paranoia while you attack people who are actually dedicating their lives to helping others. Better still, stop breathing. You’re a waste of nutrients.


A few key facts worth bearing in mind when discussing this: First there is no one thing that is “cancer”. When we talk about people having cancer and potential treatments and cures, we’re talking about a huge range of diseases that manifest in very different ways. There will never be a single cure for all cancers but hopefully we’ll continue to develop better treatments and even cures for particular types of cancer. Second, what research has actually shown is that cannabis and synthetic cannbinoids have the potential to help with cancer. This may ultimately come to nothing, they may form part of improved treatment or we may end up finding ways to successfully treat some cancers with cannabinoids alone.


But the reason cannabis is not being used to treat cancer now is there is no conclusive (or even reasonable) evidence it works. Research is ongoing because researchers have discovered many interesting properties of cannabinoids over the decades but we haven’t seen anywhere near enough clinical trials to draw any meaningful conclusions. Personally, I think large scale clinical trial of cannabinoids being conducted sooner rather than later is a good idea. The trouble is, politics come into it very quickly (drugs are bad, mkay?). I think that’s phenomenally stupid but it is reality. This politics affects far more than medicinal cannabis, there’s also a promising body of evidence that hallucinogens could be very useful in treating a range of mental illnesses but it’s very difficult to do clinical trials legally.


And I’d just like to deflate the ridiculous “Big Pharma” conspiracy. If you’re one of the people pushing this as the reason cannabis isn’t being recognised as a cure for cancer (“it’s natural and they can’t patent it so they suppress the truth”) stop being so stupid. If we ever have enough evidence to use cannabis as a cure for cancer you won’t be smoking or ingesting it – not in the form you do now. That’s an unreliable dosage system and it has all the “against the law” baggage. Big Pharma is spending a fortune on research in this area because any effective treatment  that gets endorsed by government will be a synthetic cannabinoid which can be patented and/or controlled by big companies because they’ll do some tweak to the chemical makeup of the cannabinoid in a lab and say it’s unique. 


Big Pharma isn’t trying to suppress any discovery of the effectiveness of cannabis as a cancer treatment – they want to exploit it. Saying they’re concealing “the truth” makes you look like a paranoid idiot. I wonder what causes that paranoia? And using the inane argument “natural is better” makes no sense. Stop being so stupid. Cowpats are natural. I’d like to force feed you a few of them and see if you continued to argue that everything natural was good.


So in short, cannabis helps some people with some of the symptoms of cancer and chemo treatments. For other people it has no effect and for some it has a negative effect. People are different and the same substance can affect them differently. Advanced research has shown cannabinoids having some interesting effects on cancer cells and they may be the source of good news in the future. But there’s no solid evidence yet that cannabis cures cancer. There’s no conspiracy to suppress the truth about this. Anecdotes from charlatans selling snake oil (or hemp oil in this case) are not evidence in any meaningful sense of the world. Everyone would like for there to be a cure for cancer but spreading this unmitigated bull just makes you look stupid.
For a very thorough overview of the evidence so far follow this link.



Filed under General Angriness, Hippies

Joe Hockey – out of touch and obnoxious

Looking at the constant flailing of Joe Hockey presents one of life’s big question: is he clueless or is he simply a total arsehole? Either he is inflicting his brutally cruel policies without realising the damage he’s doing or he truly despises the most disadvantaged people in Australia. Either he doesn’t realise how clueless and privileged his ridiculous comments make him seem or he actually hates the people they are directed at.
Let’s have a look at his efforts. First and foremost is his budget –brutal and needlessly cruel to those have least while giving bonuses to those who have most. He achieved the almost impossible – uniting disparate economists who all say the poor are hardest hit by this budget. Hockey starts by lying about there being a “budget emergency” in Australia then lies by saying his budget isn’t doing what it was obviously deliberately designed to do – hurt the poor and reward the rich.
The scary thing is he actually seems to believe his own lies. There’s an old propaganda trick that politicians and the media use – repeat a lie often enough and people start to think it’s the truth. It’s weird to see it work on the actual liar who has apparently forgotten that he’s lying. According to Hockey, the backlash against his budget isn’t because everyone sees how unfair it is, we simply don’t see what a good job he’s doing. Joe isn’t angry that we don’t see he’s doing what’s best for all of us, he’s just disappointed.
He’s followed up his budget brutality with a series of truly bizarre brain farts, each of which have made him seem more clueless and out of touch than the last. He’s really like a toddler who has had their toys taken away for misbehaving and can only respond with more tantrums. Out of the blue, one day he decides to take a swipe at renewable energy by saying the wind farm he drives past is ugly. Compared to what, Joe? An open cut mine? A coal-fired power plant? Your shrivelled and diseased soul? The combination of that comment being both stupid and unnecessary is truly mind boggling.
He then says rich people are hurt most by his budget because high earners pay half of their income in tax. This statement is wrong on so many levels it’s embarrassing. A full explanation of why he’s wrong is here but the short version is it simply isn’t true. It annoys me that pretty much everyone glossed over the fact that high earners don’t pay high tax because they use accountants to game the system. Trust me, I earn quite a lot as an IT contractor and through accounting jiggery-pokery I (legally) pay about the same rate of tax as someone who earns about $60K.
Also, unless he’s suffered a traumatic brain injury he knew he was lying when he said it because the wrongness of his statement is absolutely basic. Apparently he thought the deal was still like it was before the election when the media was repeating his lies verbatim without challenging him with anything inconvenient like the truth. Poor Joe. It isn’t his fault everyone’s stopped believing his lies – he still believes them.
Then this week he says his plan to increase taxes on petrol hurt the rich more because they have more cars and drive more. He actually said “the poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases”. The first mind-boggling thing is he’s so out of touch that he thinks it’s a reasonable thing to say. Even if it was true that poorer people weren’t disproportionately affected by his policies (it isn’t true) anyone who wasn’t completely insulated from reality would have known such and obnoxious comment would only make him look more like a cigar chomping elitist. It’s so bad even Murdoch owned media are going after him.
The actual truth is that while the rich spend more on petrol in pure dollar terms, as a percentage of income it’s poorer household who spend more of their limited income on petrol. So by any reasonable definition, those least well off to start with are being punished hardest by Hockey’s policies yet again. It’s worse when you add in that many poorer people have far less options available because they are forced to live in perimeter suburbs or rural areas where there are limited jobs and limited public transport options. This essentially means many people need a car if they want to work which highlights both the wrongness and the obnoxiousness of Hockey’s statement.
This is yet another example of why I am so opposed to this government. It isn’t simply a case of differing ideologies and values (although I do disagree with them), it’s this air of entitlement, arrogance and how completely out of touch they are. Plus their endless lies and needless cruelty. They talk about the unemployed having a sense of entitlement while they hand of billions of dollars in benefits to their rich mates who helped them into power. No matter how many people point out they are wrong and they are hurting the most vulnerable they refuse to listen. Plus they’re a pack of absolute idiots who seem to be trying to outdo each other in some sort of insane competition to say the worst thing possible.
This government will go down in history as an absolute disaster. The next election can’t come soon enough.

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Eric Abetz – stupid, ignorant and a liar


I wonder if Eric Abetz is psychic? Or maybe he watches my YouTube channel. Less than a week ago, I said I didn’t hate him like I do some other members of the government. Maybe he felt left out because since then he’s done some phenomenally stupid things that seem designed to make reasonable people take a disliking to him. Or maybe he’s just stupid.
There’s a bunch of horrible people in Melbourne at the moment calling themselves The World Congress of Families. These ultra-right wing Christians have a very narrow view of what constitutes a family (let alone family “values”) and are pretty hostile to things like science and evidence. Many conservative Australian politicians have eagerly embraced these wackos despite the fact their view reflect only a tiny lunatic fringe of religious conservatives.  During a TV interview, Abetz repeated the utterly absurd and totally discredited views of one of the speakers, namely, that there’s a link between breast cancer and abortion.
That would have been bad enough but the next day Abetz decides to sink into the depths of stupidity. First he straight up denies he said it. The interview was “heavily edited”. Later changed to “they cut me off”. Actual video of the interview makes all of his denials and excuses look ridiculous. Then he cops to the whole “abortion cause breast cancer” not being true. But in the most shit eating way you can imagine. Instead of making a simple, clear statement “abortion does not cause breast cancer” he vomits out an endless stream of weasel words.
He says because he isn’t a medical expert he isn’t qualified to judge personally but he accepts that the majority of medical opinion says this is rubbish. Then he goes on to talk in glowing terms about the speaker who is pushing this rubbish, American surgeon Dr Angela Lanfranchi. She’s a surgeon. She does breast cancer surgery. She’s awesome. The truth is, she is a liar. She is spreading blatant lies and abusing her position as a surgeon to give false credibility to her absolutely ridiculous, religiously motivated lies.
Abetz rounds off his weasel drivel by saying Lanfranchi has “the right to express her views” – yes, it’s all about free speech, people. If you want to stop someone from influencing public policy and actually endangering the health of others with LIES, you oppose free speech. Here’s the thing: believing abortion is wrong because your magical sky fairy says so (or for any other reason) is a point of view and I would never say people don’t have the right to that opinion. What is happening here fails the classic “shouting FIRE in a crowded theatre” test. This is the deliberate spreading of a lie that has the capacity to cause injury to people.
It’s inexcusable and Abetz isn’t just wrong, he’s also a liar and a coward.
I wrote this little rant thinking about TFU Friday and it made its way into the video here:


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Filed under Politics, religion

Metadata – how will the Australian Government use it to spy on you?


Metadata, what is it?
In Australia, most people are now specifically wondering what the government’s recently announced plans to retain metadata about the phone and internet usage of ALL Australians means. The simplest definition of metadata is it’s data about data. It doesn’t tell you all of the information that’s in a phone call, email or web browsing session but it gives you the parameters of these things.
For a phone call it can tell you the source of the call (the address of a fixed line or the nearest tower for a mobile call), the number that made the call, the same information about the recipient of the call along with the duration of the call. And some simple cross referencing will show you how often there are calls between those two numbers.
For an email it can show you the sender, the recipient, the size of the email (if not the actual word for word content), the format of the email (HTML etc.), the language used and the type of attachments if any. For web browsing it can include a list of the websites you visit, how long you stay on the sites and in all probability anything you download from the sites. The government seems to be trying to deny or downplay they will track the websites you visit but Attorney General George Brandis’ performance in his Sky News interview was so incompetent it’s hard to be sure.
So that’s the factual part of the post – metadata is a description of the data and give the parameters of the communication without providing all of the detail. It’s of obvious interest to law enforcement because it can help incriminate someone. If someone makes numerous calls to northern Iraq, regularly visits and downloads their instructions you might want to take a closer look at them.
Here’s the opinion part:
Malcolm Turnbull came out the day after Brandis’ car crash interview and said the plan wouldn’t track web usage and the head of ASIO made the same assertion. I call bullsh for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve worked in IT for years and any reasonable definition I’ve seen of metadata for internet use would include websites visited. Second, there’s no value in metadata that doesn’t include this identifying information – the idea that they simply want to know how long you’re on the internet (tracking the IP address allocated to you by your ISP) is ridiculous.
My one caveat to this would be if they were going to combine IP tracking with other surveillance they aren’t telling us about. This is exactly the sort of weasel talk I would expect from politicians – believing they can assert they haven’t said anything untrue when by any reasonable definition they are flat out lying. One technical way to do this is monitor traffic to specific websites then match the IP address of visitors with the IP addresses assigned to users by their ISPs. Hey presto, they know what websites you visit but they’ll continue to assert they aren’t harvesting this information from your metadata.
To borrow from the government’s “we’re looking at the address on the letter, not the content of the letter” propaganda, here’s one way they can spy on your internet activity with IP monitoring. In this analogy, the letter writer is a website, your street address on the letter is your IP address and you are you. This approach of monitoring IP addresses is the equivalent of monitoring and reading every letter a particular person writes before they send it. Then when the letter is addressed, the spies check the address and look up a separate database where they find you live at the address the letter is being sent to. In this way they argue they never opened your mail but they know the exact content of the letter you received.
The stated goal is to catch people doing bad things and they believe knowing more about peoples’ communications will help with this. The idea that they don’t want to know when people go on websites advocate radical and/or criminal activity is simply laughable.
On top of the fact they’re lying there’s the additional problem of it won’t help prevent any crime. This type of information can often help with a conviction after the fact but storing everyone’s metadata won’t help prevent crime. What prevents crime is good old fashioned police work – investigation and follow up. The mountains of metadata the government is talking about keeping is simply too much information to be useful. The police and spy services don’t have the resources, time or expertise required to make it useful. It will only be useful if they are already monitoring someone and looking for an excuse to arrest them.
Getting at least slightly glossed over with the focus on metadata is the other provisions around police being able to do much more without a warrant, right up to arresting people. Under these changes, if police don’t have enough evidence to convince a judge you should be under surveillance or a warrant should be issued for your arrest, they can monitor you or arrest you anyway. And if you’re one of those idiots who thinks you only have to worry if you’re a terrorist, Abbott has already specifically said these powers would be used for general policing.
If that’s what they’re prepared to admit at this early stage, how far will they actually go as time goes by?
Historically, police power has always been abused. This is not an argument for the elimination of police but it is an argument for oversight and limits to their power. Spying is worse than policing, by its very nature it is difficult to control. If people have the power to declare that something is in the national interest and top-secret, who is in a position to make sure they don’t abuse their power? Recent history with whistle-blowers revealing government surveillance that goes well beyond the law have shown that embarrassing a government invites massive retaliation. Manning in Military prison, Snowden hiding in Russia, Assange hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy. Exposing government malfeasance can pretty much put an end to any sort of ordinary life.
Even on a smaller scale, on top of the inherent wrongness of the American surveillance system, it’s been shown to have been abused repeatedly in trivial ways with operators regularly using it to invade the privacy of exes or even complete strangers they were interested in. And those are just the ones we know about. Are you going to tell me there aren’t some brogrammers out there using the systems to try and spy on celebrities just for giggles?
And for those delightfully naïve people who say “you have nothing to fear if you haven’t done anything wrong” you are living in a privileged delusion. You have nothing to fear up until someone in power wants to hurt you. And you don’t have to break the law for that to happen, you just have to represent something they don’t like. You might rightly think the current regime is your friend and they’d never do that to you. But nobody stays in power forever. Sooner or later someone who is fundamentally opposed to your views will be in power. And these laws will still be in place, but different people with different priorities and different standards will be wielding them.
You can’t get a clearer example of this than the number of conservative governments around Australia who have set up independent commissions to investigate corruption because they were (rightly) sure the opposing Labor party was guilty of all sorts of corruption. Then they get awfully surprised when the commission exercises its independence and investigates corruption among the conservatives. If you want to know if a law can be abused, imagine your worst enemy having the power to use it against you. Do you still feel safe?
If you’re still clinging to “I don’t break the law” just think “have I ever come into contact with a total douchebag in my life?” The police service, spy agencies and politicians have a disturbing tendency to contain a greater percentage of douchebags than the general population. If one of them has decided they don’t like you and want to damage your reputation they can trawl through your communications records until they find something to smear you with. And even if you think there’s nothing in your internet history that can hurt you (I think you’re lying BTW) they only need to create the impression of impropriety to do damage.
In these situations I’m always reminded of the words of Cardinal Richelieu – “…give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” If authorities want to convict you of something, they almost invariably will. Innocence is a matter of perception, not an objective truth. Sure, it’s brown people who have to worry most now but if you think this idea of government having unlimited warrantless access to your communications metadata is no big deal, you deserve what comes next.



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Tony Abbott: Making the unemployed less than human


In totally unsurprising news, the Australian government has open up a new front in the war against the poor. For those new to this game, this is not a war on poverty in the sense the government is trying to increase the affluence of everybody to get rid of poverty. This is the government actually targeting the poor and disadvantaged and trying to destroy them.
The latest salvo has taken the form of saying that people on welfare shouldn’t get money, they should get a card that controls what they can and can’t spend their welfare payments on. And when I say the government is waging this war, what they’ve actually done is roll out their proxy to present the case for what they want to do and what and see what the reaction is.
In this case their proxy was one of Australia’s biggest mining magnates, Twiggy Forest. Given that he had always seemed reasonable compared to the other billionaires telling the government what to do, this is more than a literally disheartening to hear him say “Listen povo, here’s how we’re going to humiliate you for your own good.”
And the Orwellian nature of his speech was creepy as well. When someone can repeatedly refer to taking away a disadvantaged person’s right to make their own decisions as “freedom” I wonder just how much freedom they want to impose on how much of the population. While this is being presented as Twiggy’s idea, not the government’s, Abbott and pals are barely bothering to conceal this lie. Abbott is standing right there next to Forrest as he spouts this plans and if that doesn’t tell you clearly enough this is where the Libs want to take the country, Abbott says lines like:
“…some of these challenges go beyond what government currently plans, but again, why shouldn’t we be challenged to think about what is currently doable?” And even more directly: “We are working urgently on this visionary report… to ensure as much of it as we can is implemented as quickly as we can.”
Hockey chimes in with: “The report is bold but it needs to win over community support and I fully expect that over the coming weeks and months”
In case you can’t decipher that barely concealed code, they’re saying “Hell yes we want to do this. We’re just scared it’s more electoral poison (on top of how we’ve screwed the pooch so far) so we’re having someone else throw it out there to give us plausible deniability. But if you morons lap it up it will be law before any of you can wake up to how evil it is.”
The danger here is it can sound so seductively reasonable when you’re not on the receiving end of it. When you tell hard working Australians is that all that’s happening is we’re stopping dole bludgers from blowing their welfare payments (which your tax dollars paid for) on gambling, ciggies and booze. Honestly, there are cases where it’s probably a good idea. If a family dependent on welfare is getting nothing because an irresponsible parent is blowing the money then a plan that stops this is good. But arbitrarily extending it to everyone is plain evil.
For those who still believe the dole bludger/job snob lie, statistics show that the unemployed outnumber job vacancies by 5 or 10 to 1 depending on your age, qualifications and where you live. So on any given day, it is literally impossible for 80-90% of the unemployed to get a job. That is the overwhelming reason people are unemployed, not that they are lazy. When you take someone who’s already in a tough situation and dish out punishment after punishment, what you are saying is “You are worthless. This is happening to you because you deserve it. You don’t deserve to survive because people who have always had what they wanted don’t like you and don’t care about you.”
I think I have worked out what the end game of all of this is. The one thing this government hasn’t taken the chainsaw to that they desperately want to is industrial relations. Abbott in particular wants to crush unions and give as many businesses as possible the right to take away any and all benefits from workers and sack people whenever they want. It seems clear that they are in the process of setting up unemployment to being close to a death sentence. Couple that with a world where a boss can make you unemployed on a whim and you have no protection, they can see their utopia where the ruling elite have everything they want and the grotty underclass will be grateful for any crumb their betters deign to allow them.


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Work for the dole is class warfare


So the Federal Government has decided to get tough on the unemployed. Rightly so because as everybody knows our system is perfect and the only reason for someone to not have a job is they are work-shy layabouts. You may detect some sarcasm there but given their policies pretty much the only thing that makes sense is the government genuinely believes the world is like that. Either that or they simply hate the unemployed and disadvantaged. Given the needless cruelty of many of their policies, the latter might be the more likely.
Rather than go into the morality of the politics involved, I want to go through the things that just don’t make logical sense to me. Let’s start with the obvious: “Work for the Dole”. Where does this work come from? What do people actually do when they’re working for the dole? If there is work that can forced on people on the dole, why aren’t these actual jobs? This makes very little sense to me.
If people were getting useful internships and/or training from places that couldn’t afford to actually employ someone that would clearly be a good thing. But the government is talking about forcing 700,000 people to do this. I’m extremely skeptical about the possibility of finding something meaningful for that many people to do. So in all likelihood, the majority of unemployed people are going to be forced to engage in utterly meaningless “work for the dole” which will achieve nothing but crushing their spirit. On top of this, repeated studies have shown work for the dole programs are the least effective method for getting people off welfare.
And then we come to the glory that is Employment Minister Eric Abetz. When presented with statistical evidence that the previous conservative government’s work for the dole scheme was the least effective way to get people off unemployment benefits he responded that there was “anecdotal evidence” it worked. Now, I don’t hate Abetz like I do some in the government but he doesn’t seem very bright. He has effectively said “You may well have your research and facts but a bloke in the pub told me it would work and that’s good enough for me.” It beggars belief that a government minister can say something so stupid.
Another thing that makes no logical sense to me is the requirement that job seekers have to send out 40 job applications a month. Abetz says this is one in the morning and one in the afternoon which isn’t too difficult. This sounds fine but it ignores some pretty serious reality. First, for most job seekers, particularly the younger ones there simply aren’t that many jobs available that they’re realistically qualified for which means they will be forced to apply for jobs they don’t have a hope of getting. While a lot of people might not have much sympathy for the unemployed, how about employers? Every major employer group in the country has come out and said the policy is wrong and will be awful for business.
700,000+ people sending 40 job applications a month? That’s between 25 and 30 million largely useless job applications flooding businesses around the country. And after virtually everyone told the government this was a moronic idea and the unemployed would be pushed to send off applications for jobs they had no hope of getting they came back with “we’ll punish anyone who meets the quota with random applications”. How exactly do they think they’re going to do that? Can you imagine the overhead when there are tens of millions of applications to check every month? This policy is stupidity piled on top of incompetence with a foundation of cruelty and spite.
To sum up: we have a policy that history shows won’t work. Employers groups say it’s a bad idea. Policing it would be close to impossible. So why is the government pushing it? The answer seem pretty clear. The policy is nothing but punishment. This government is so driven by ideology over fact that when they declare someone to be the enemy there is no limit to the cruelty that can be applied (see their asylum seeker policy for the most extreme example). This government is demonising the unemployed, calling them lazy and a burden on society. They want to blank out any concept of a “fair go” and any suggestion that a decent society supports the disadvantaged rather than crushing them.
Here’s the thing: there are definitely unemployed people who are “gaming the system” and going out of their way to avoid working for a living while receiving benefits. But it economic terms, the cost of this is so small it is meaningless. A tiny amount of welfare fraud disappears when placed next to the billions of dollars in corporate welfare dished out every year and the billions more in taxes big corporations dodge. There is no rational economic basis for this policy – it’s the politics of revenge and cruelty. It’s nothing short of class warfare. It seems this government won’t rest until the most vulnerable people have had all hope crushed and are painted as the perpetrators of ultimate evil rather than the victims of it.


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