Knee jerk responses. Much heat, little light.

I’m often amazed at how little thought goes into debating issues of public importance, so I wasn’t surprised to read the editorials and letters commenting on the recent shooting accident in Nevada involving a 9 year old girl.

Predictably, most people focus on the shooter’s age, arguing that no young child should be permitted to shoot an automatic military weapon. A few argue instead for restrictions based on height rather than age, or insist that it’s simply an issue of confining use to people who are “capable of controlling the weapon”. Many go further and say that automatic weapons should not be available to anyone.

They’re all missing the point. Not once have I seen anyone address the real issue. To get the right answer, you first have to ask the right question.

Do we really care how old or how tall the shooter is? If no one had been shot, would there have been global headlines exclaiming “9 year old girl shoots automatic weapon, and no one is hurt”? Of course not.

Would this accident have been prevented if the shooter had been 35 years old and 6 feet tall? Possibly, but not necessarily. A person who is “capable of controlling the weapon” could still have an accident, or could shoot someone intentionally.

Arguments for a complete ban on the public’s use of such weapons come closer to preventing such accidents, but only by involving practical and legal issues that would take ages to sort out, and even then they miss the point.

The issue is not age, nor height, nor one’s ability to control the weapon, however that may be defined. Nor is it the fact that these weapons are available at all.

The core issue is SAFETY, and the answer is to allow people to have their thrills without having the mishaps too. It really doesn’t matter whether the shooter was 9 years old or 99, or for that matter even if she was a psychopathic killer. If they want to go out in the desert and fire an army howitzer, let them. Just make sure that they can do it without hurting anyone.

The issue is not the gun or who’s behind it, but how to prevent its unsafe use.

The answer is obvious and simple. All that’s needed is to chain the weapon so that it can be pointed only in a safe direction. This would prevent the unsafe use of the gun under any circumstances and by any person. It could be achieved without restricting anyone’s freedoms and without any of the difficulties involved in establishing who is a suitable person. It would achieve complete safety, without the slightest difficulty or controversy. and could be done today – in half an hour – after a visit to the local hardware store.

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A sense of proportion

Former top US general calls on Obama to wipe out ISIS in wake of Foley killing

UK police warn sharing James Foley killing video is a crime

Hmmmm……

This is a classic illustration of how little our response to events – at both a personal and a global level – is guided by careful thought and how much it can be distorted by our emotions and gut reactions.

Judging by the prevailing response to this story, what IS did to James Foley is so far beyond the pale that it’s scarcely possible to imagine anything worse. The very thought of having your throat and neck sliced through evokes in all of us a visceral reaction that makes it seem one of the worst possible ways to die. Hence the call by General Allen and many others that President Obama must “wipe out” ISIS, and the unprecedented moves to eliminate the video from the internet, and the warning by the UK police that even watching it would be prosecuted as terrorism.

How bizarre – the idea that simply watching a video – without any further action – could constitute “terrorism”! That shows how little meaning now attaches to the word, other than “really bad thing”.

But apart from the fact that having your throat cut seems so creepy, why is decapitating someone so much more terrible than killing him by other means? It’s probably fair to say that Foley suffered no more than 10 seconds, perhaps less, before losing consciousness. How does that compare with being burned alive, or crushed under a ton of bricks, or blown to pieces by a bomb, or being shot and left on the ground to bleed to death? If you compare it with these things, then perhaps what happened to Foley really wasn’t such a bad way to die after all.

And yet those other acts have been repeated more than 2,000 times in Gaza without inspiring calls by General Allen and John Kerry to end it forthwith, and without having all signs of it being removed from the Internet, and without attracting threats of prosecution from Scotland Yard.

Why do you suppose that is? Is it because Foley was an American, and the method by which he was killed gives us goosebumps, while the other 2,000 victims were only Palestinians, and the burning/crushing/shooting is now so familiar that it fails to shock us anymore?

Is it also because Foley was killed by Those People, while the Palestinians are killed by “our” Israelis – who, after all, are only “defending themselves” against all those mothers and children who threaten Israel’s very existence from their living rooms and UN shelters?

I’ll tell you what: if I had my druthers, I’d go every time for the once-only loss of consciousness after 10 seconds in preference to being burnt alive or crushed under a pile of bricks, and not just once but over and over 2,000 times, accompanied by seeing the same done to your old parents and young children. Not to mention another 10,000 times when it fails to kill me or my family but only leaves us without eyes, arms or legs, or with permanent brain injury.

But that’s just me. I guess I just don’t have the right sense of proportion.

Making us all proud to be Aussies

In characteristic style, Tony Abbott has embarrassed us all again by opening his mouth on the subject of Scottish independence, which is being put to a referendum next month. Speaking in an interview with The Times, he began by saying:

What the Scots do is a matter for the Scots and not for a moment do I presume to tell Scottish voters which way they should vote.

He then proceeded to do just that.

I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom, and the countries that would cheer at the prospect… are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.

Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond responded by saying that Abbott’s comments were “foolish, hypocritical and offensive”, adding for good measure that the Australian prime minister was “notoriously gaffe-prone” and he had “put his foot right in it” with his comments.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond referred to Abbott’s “bewildering comments”, and added:

Many Australians…will look on in bafflement at these remarks.

Well, Mr Spokesman, I’m afraid that I have to take issue with you there. Australians won’t hear this news with bafflement at all. This is just what we’ve come to expect from Mister A. The only confusion we feel over Tony Abbott is whether he’s a moron, a dickhead, or both.

In a more insightful article, the New Matilda writes:

The world might just have found its new George W. Bush. Albeit without the muscle of the US. Or the nuclear weapons. Or the economy. Or the international recognition. Or anything like the power. But the swagger and the international derision… well, it’s there in spades. Of course, if Abbott’s influence on the Scottish population mirrors that of his influence in Australia, his opposition to secession is likely to strengthen the yes vote.

Comments to that article include the following undeniable truths:

Tony Abbot is soooo stupid its amazing. If George W.Bush and Sarah Palin where to either have a a kid who grew up or were to morph into one … you’d have Tony Abbott.”

“Wow! Makes George W look like an intellect to be feared. What a thorough douche bag.”

“Abbott really is an A-grade tool.

Thank goodness Sir Les has once again come to salvage our national reputation, in a spoof presented as an apology from the Australian High Commission in London. One can only hope that the real apology comes as quickly as this one.

 

 

Knowing who your real friends are

In a surprise statement today, Israeli police expressed their concern for the safety of those wanting to protest against the so-called “war” in Gaza.

Citing security concerns over continued rocket fire, Israeli police banned an antiwar protest in Tel Aviv, saying regulations prohibited large gatherings in areas at risk of attack.

It’s not often that we hear such concern expressed by the Israeli authorities, or by the population at large either, which supports the idea of bombing the Palestinians into dust and stains even more enthusiastically than Americans support the idea of Christmas.

I wonder if these regulations extend as far as Gaza, where there are even larger gatherings in areas at even greater risk of attack?

A cynic might think that the police were really more concerned with the idea getting out in public that mass murder is wrong no matter where it happens.

But that could hardly be true, because Israel has a strong tradition of supporting dissenting views on Palestine. Just ask the Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, who is well acquainted with the Israeli spirit of tolerance for his views opposing the continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinians.

In the article “Against the war: the movement that dare not speak its name in Israel”, he speaks of being weary of all the adulation he gets from his adoring public – or something of the sort.

Not only is he spat on and ostracised, but he can’t go about in public now without bodyguards to protect him. And even they don’t like him much, so if I were Levy I’d be thinking about loading their handguns with blanks instead of real bullets, because you can never be too sure who your friends are until they express their true feelings in a way that allows no room for discussion.

But beyond that, it has now been suggested that – for the crime of expressing an unpopular view in the region’s “only true democracy” – he be put on trial for treason, which carries the death penalty. And this call comes not from some isolated deranged radical crank, which exist in every society, but from Yariv Levin, who was the chairman of the recently-dissolved Likud-Beytenu partnership, which was the dominant faction in the Knesset. So maybe it was a deranged radical crank, but certainly not an isolated one.

Those trying to follow the vagaries of Israeli politics will know that Likud has been the dominant political party there ever since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, and that’s saying a lot in a country which has more political parties than a stray dog has fleas.

In a classic case of understatement, the Wikipedia article describing Israeli politics says that:

Compared to other countries, the number of parties contesting the Israeli general elections is relatively high considering the population size.

That’s a pretty fair statement, considering that the number of parties there is roughly equal to the size of the population plus 1.

Anyway, the point is that, as chairman of the parliamentary partnership which brought together in government the extreme right-wing PM Netanyahu and the even more extreme right-wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, it is fair to say that Yariv Lenin is anything but a fringe lunatic. He’s more a mainstream lunatic, and when you have someone like that baying for your blood, it’s hard to know where Gideon Levy should look for protection. He’d probably be safer in a UN shelter in Gaza, and that’s not saying a lot.

 

Saving our sympathy for those who really deserve it

Today we hear that America, Britain and France have all joined to send humanitarian relief supplies to the 40,000 Yazidis in Iraq who are stranded on a mountaintop besieged by forces of the Islamic State.

President Barack Obama … said strikes against Islamic militants who he called “barbaric terrorists” would continue if necessary, in order to protect Americans and “prevent an act of genocide”. Obama said he could not say how long military and humanitarian operations would continue, but said: “We feel confident that we can prevent [Isis] from going up a mountain and slaughtering the people who are there.” Obama called for an international effort to set up “some sort of mechanism or safe corridor so that these people can move”.

And lo and behold! It’s not only those three countries that are doing something about it but Australia too – that most reactionary of countries when it comes to helping those seeking refuge. Will wonders never cease?

But substitute the words “Palestinians” for “Yazidis”, and “Israel” for “Islamic terrorists”, and what do you have? Complete silence and inaction. And worse than that: active support for those on the attack. After weeks of Israeli merciless and indiscriminate attacks on a population under siege in their homes with no safe place to shelter and no way of escaping, what’s the American (and Australian) response? A big yawn, while we look the other way.

As long as the ones under threat are not Palestinians, President Obama and Australia’s Tony Abbott have no problem coming out in strong support for the victims, and in fact actually doing something about it, and pretty damn quick, too. Airdrops have already been dispatched to send urgently needed supplies of food, water and medical supplies to the Yazidis. But when it comes to the slaughter in Palestine, which has now been going on not for a few days but for 5 weeks, all Obama can do is wring his hands and say how “heartbreaking” it is, as though he’s referring to a flood or other natural disaster over which he has no control. Tony Abbott can’t even bring himself to do that much. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues unabated.

With power and water supplies shut off to most of Gaza, and medical supplies in critically short supply – not to mention the fact that hospitals, clinics, ambulances and even UN shelters have been targeted by the Israelis – who’s talking of airlifts and coordinating “an international effort to set up some sort of mechanism or safe corridor so that these people can move”? Not Obama. Not Cameron. Not Abbott. They reserve their sympathy for the 40,000 and have nothing whatever to say about the 1.8 million. Their heartfelt sympathy, after all, is precious, and reserved only for those who are truly deserving of it, by not being Palestinian. Quite understandable, too. We can’t just run around lavishing our sympathies willy nilly on just any old population which is surrounded by superior hostile forces bent on eradicating them. Who knows where that may lead?

So no pleas from the US for assistance to the Palestinians, and certainly not a peep from Australia, where only the lunatic fringe dare even to express sympathy for the Palestinians, since that would somehow suggest that Israel was doing something wrong, and that would never do.

This will settle the matter once and for all – part 4

OK, are we all back and seated?

Now, before anyone gets the idea from all this that I lean toward one side or the other, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. Obviously, both sides have their points of view, but you don’t want to get too tied up in it all because if you start listening too closely to them it begins to sound like one of those family discussions which go something like this:

“Mu-u-u-u-um, Johnny just pulled my hair!”

” I did not, you dirty liar!”

“Yes, you did!”

“But you hit me first.”

“No, you hit me first!”

…and so on and so on, until Mum calls Dad to settle the argument, and Dad tells them both to go to their rooms, and everyone ends up in tears, and even Mum and Dad are mad at each other, and Dad doesn’t get any sex that night. That’s what’s called the Law of Unintended Consequences, and it’s all down to Robert Merton for introducing the idea into modern social thought, as there was no such thing before he came along.

Anyway, just to demonstrate how fair-minded and balanced I am on the issue, I’m going to come right out and say upfront that Israel has quite a strong claim to the land they now call theirs. That claim comes about in two ways, mainly. The first is through the legal concept of adverse possession, which means that whoever has the biggest guns and keeps them there the longest, wins. The Israelis are putting a lot of hopes on this argument to carry the day.

The second, and even more compelling, argument is that the land, after all, was given to them by God Himself. You have to admit that it’s pretty hard to contest the point when the other side’s lawyer has a title signed personally by Jehovah. (Or more properly, “Yahweh”, or more properly still, the tetragrammaton “yhwh”…. STOP RIGHT THERE!!! If you’re a religious Jewish Person, don’t try to read that out loud, for God’s sake!

Because, if you are a religious Jewish Person, you don’t EVER read that name out loud. It’s known to bring bad luck. Which brings to mind Oscar Wilde and his “love that dare not speak its name”, and while we’re at it, Prince’s unpronounceable adopted name, which didn’t do his career much good either. Unfortunately for Oscar, someone did have a name for it and dared to speak it, and it earned him a holiday in Reading for his trouble. At least Prince eventually had the good sense to start using his real name again so that people could talk about him. Maybe yhwh (I warned you not to say it out loud!) will also one day come to realise that if you really want your brand to go viral, then you have to give your followers some way of referring to you that will not bring them seven years of drought and a plague of locusts.

Anyway, as I was saying: the Zionists have their legal title and the Palestinians haven’t yet come up with anything signed by Allah – not even a baseball card.

But of course I’m being a bit flippant here. We all know that whether you worship God or Jehovah or yhwh (shhhh!) or Allah or Krishna or The Magic Stinky Weed, they’re all simply different names for the same One and Universal Life Force. All of us know that, deep down, even though it has always been a bit of a giggle to put a skewer through someone and barbecue him for using the wrong name.

All of us know that, that is, except for Richard Dawkins and a few other cranks who like to think of themselves as scientific rationalists, and who hold that it’s crazy to think that just because there’s no evidence for God, it doesn’t mean she’s not there. As much as I’d like to side with them on the point, they’re on pretty thin ice with this claim, because in fact, the evidence is all around us. If there’s no God, how come there are so many churches everywhere, hey? And how did all those miracles happen in the Bible 2000 years and more ago? They didn’t happen all by themselves, you know. And how come Jonah was swallowed by a whale but didn’t die, hey?

Ha! Gotcha there, Richard D, don’t I?

But we’re straying off the point, so let’s leave a more thorough discussion of religion for another blog. There’s already so much to occupy us here just settling the Middle East problem.

So where was I? Yes, back to Jehovah and Allah being one and the same. Where does that leave us with our competing land claims?

Well, no contest there, because as we all know, the Jewish people are God’s Chosen Ones. And how do we know that? Because the Bible says so. (Sing to the tune “…Yes, Jesus loves me, cuz the Bible tells me so­­­…”)­­­­­

Yes, right there in Deuteronomy, it says: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

So there you have it in black and white. That settles the point, just as it settles how we know that “This Land Is My Land, This Land Is My Land…”. Sorry, I get carried away with these catchy tunes.

Yes, so that sort of leaves the Palos out in the cold, doesn’t it? I mean, if God (or whatever alias he’s using this week) has personally chosen you, and given you this land, and made it all official like, then that sort of settles the question, doesn’t it?

Now that we’re on the subject of the Chosen People, I should mention that there’s a dispute over rights to that, too. (Man, there’s nothing like That Old Time Religion to bring out the best in people, is there?) Mainstream Christians apparently believe that those who accept Jesus as their saviour are chosen too, and the Seventh Day Adventists have views on the subject, and the Rastafarians think that the blacks are the chosen race, and they can’t all be right except for black Seventh Day Adventists who convert to Judaism, and I’m not sure I’ve met many of them.

But that’s easy to sort out. They’re all Johnny Come Latelies when it comes to being the Chosen Ones, because the Jewish People thought of it first, or at least were evidently the first to write it down, and so the copyright is theirs and everyone else just has to suck it up, see? When you have both the legal property title and the copyright from God the Mother Almighty, that just has to trump the game, and no two ways about it.

So you Palestinians, you’ll just have to go out and live in the Arabian Empty Quarter, or the Phiilipines or somewhere. I’m sorry about that, but we have it on the very best authority that the land you’ve been calling home since, well, forever, really belongs to someone else. It’s a sort of trespass situation and you’ve been squatting there illegally since Day 1, it would seem, so you’ll just have to bloody well toodle off, and be quick about it. The Jewish People need it for artillery practice, and anyway you haven’t done anything with it except plant olive trees and let your donkeys shit all over the place, while you squat round in your funny clothes drinking sweet tea and smoking those hubbly bubblies which have who knows what in them, probably some of that Lebanese Black from the Bekaa Valley.

 

This will settle the matter once and for all – part 3

OK, I keep promising to put the whole matter to rest and be done with it once and for all, so let’s begin, for there’s no time to waste.

First, let’s consider the question of why the Palestinians don’t just leave the Israelis alone to live in peace, for clearly, without continued provocations from the Palestinians there would be no need for Israel to expend so much of its precious munitions to suppress them, and thereby get such a bad press.

Mind you, if I had taken over another man’s house and land and successfully retained large parts of it for 70 or 80 years, that’s exactly the position I would take on the issue, too: let’s just stop all the arguing and live together in peace.

Of course the Israelis want to maintain the status quo! They’ve grabbed their piece of land and want to hang on to it, and as it turns out, to another and another.

Of course the Palestinians are making trouble! So would you if someone had pushed his way into your neighbourhood and then by stealth and thuggery taken over part of your home and then another, pushing you finally into a corner of your backyard and resisting all attempts to enforce the law because his Pappy happened to be the big man in town.

Perhaps a potted history of the situation is in order here, just to get us started. I’ll try to keep it brief, because we have a lot to cover in this session.

A long, long time ago, the Palestinians and the Jews lived happily side-by-side in the Middle East and, generally speaking, everything was hunky dory. (As I start out, let’s first agree on some terminology, lest I be thought a bigot. Rather than calling them the Jews, which can be an emotive term, let me refer to them less controversially as “the Jewish People”, because while the Jewish People can refer to themselves as Jews, it can be dangerous for others to do so, just as a black person can refer to himself and his friends as “niggas”, while a white man doing so – no matter how affectionately – had better have his Nikes on and tied up tight.)

Among all this hunky-doryness, first the Babylonians and then the Romans came along and, to cut a long story short, they both sent the Jewish People packing, which is how they came to be living in squalid ghettos in Warsaw and London a millennium or so later. Then along came the late 1800s, in correct chronological order, and some of the Jewish People thought it would be nice to go home again, and started talking about it among themselves and even around the neighbourhood a bit. Fair enough, too. After a while along comes World War 1, right on schedule, and the Goodies are stuck in a mud wrestle with the Baddies. They can’t get at them from the front and they can’t get around them, because the Baddies have their backs covered by some other guys wearing tassled hats and slippers down in some nice beach country in the Eastern Med. Problem is, how do they shift those hookah-smokers out of the way so the Goodies can sneak in the back door? Well, they send this short white guy down there with his smooth-talking ways and socks full of cash and a whole lot of what he called tulips, but I don’t think they were flowers, and they promise the Arabs that if they cause a bit of a ruckus in the neighbourhood, they’ll get to keep the place all for themselves after the war. Good deal, hey? So that’s what happens – the first part, that is. The Arabs keep their end of the deal, but ……

Now, cut back to London, where some of the Jewish People have by now done very nicely for themselves in the banking business, thank you, and have a bit of spare cash lying around. So those dastardly, two-faced Brits in the FO make a deal with them on the side, saying if you help us out with the readies, we’ll push over to your side of the table that bit of real estate you’ve had your eye on. So another deal is cut, and once again the other party keeps its end of the bargain and starts packing their sun hats and beach towels. They’ve just struck the deal of a lifetime.

Well, you’ve probably guessed what happens next. Sure enough, the Brits win the war with a bit of help from a few late comers who arrive just in time to share the glory without actually having to do much in the way of real fighting. And when they all get together to divvie up the spoils by drawing red and blue lines on the map, who should show up but both the bankers’ boys and the camel drivers, bearing their IOUs. This leaves the Brits in rather a tight spot. The Froggies have helped themselves to Syria and Lebanon, where nothing much is scheduled to happen for another 60 years or so, while the Brits are left holding Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. This is where things start to get interesting, because the bankers’ boys start slipping more and more of their cousins into beachside villas, and the camel drivers start wondering where all this is heading. So there’s periodic squabbles, as you’d expect if both gangs are hanging out around the same ice cream parlour. Things start to get a bit heated, and the occasional unpleasantness occurs. It’s not all one-sided, by any means, but suffice it to say that the bankers’ boys are clever little rascals, and soon they’re patrolling the neighbourhood with a couple of private armies (whom I will call the Militant Representatives of the Jewish People).

By now, the International squad from the newly-formed UN is taking an interest in all this, and whaddya know, before you can say Bombs Away!, the Militant Representatives of the Jewish People have blown up a hotel with people inside it, and when the internationals try to settle things by sending into town a mediator (who, by the way, had negotiated the freedom of more than 30,000 prisoners from German concentration camps during the war), the Militant Representatives of the Jewish People showed their gratitude and respect by letting some light into him through a few holes that weren’t there in the morning.

Now of course, the Brits are never ones for any overt displays of emotion one way or the other, and would much prefer that everyone just try to get along with each other and not make a fuss. So, as you might imagine, they’re beginning to feel a tad awkward over all this, what with their house guests (as they see them) starting to get on each other’s nerves a bit, and presently they start thinking that it really would be jolly nice to be home playing cricket this time of year, wouldn’t it, dear?, and they announce to management their intention to vacate the premises and head home. But no sooner do they do this than the bankers’ boys – with the generous assistance of the Militant Representatives of the Jewish People – decide to take over the place for themselves, before anyone else makes a booking. Now, this reminds me that I forgot to mention that the internationals, desperately trying to find a way to accommodate all the new arrivals from the land of tasty sausages, had by now decided to give half the place to the bankers’ boys and half to the camel drivers, much like a latter day King Solomon offering to cut the baby in two so as to leave both parties happy with the compromise.

Oh, I also forgot to mention that in the Second Late Unpleasantness, the Baddies (OK, let’s be honest and call them the Krauts) had again been up to no good, and most regrettably (but without meaning to do any harm, and without anyone even knowing about it, really) had evidently caused the rolls of the bankers’ boys to be reduced more than somewhat, which caused a good deal of ill feeling toward the Krauts and also earned the bankers’ boys some measure of sympathy, to the extent that those people across the water, who once again had come into the fight when the best part was over, started to think what a grand idea it would be to give the bankers’ boys a place of their own to call home, and where better to do it than New Mexico. No, just kidding. Of course they wouldn’t give away part of their own back yard, so they scratched their heads and pondered until finally someone in the back row says “I’ve got an idea! Let’s give them a place that no one else wants.” And everyone said yes, yes, what a wonderful idea, that will solve everything.

OK, so now we’re all sort of caught up with the story up to 1948, and by now there are a good few future prime ministers of Israel who have already earned their Boy Scout badges for Murder and Mayhem, or are getting ready to do so. Now, that terrible scourge Terrorism hadn’t been invented yet – at least the word hadn’t – and so naturally it wasn’t called terrorism then, but freedom fighting, and the bankers’ boys were clever enough to do all theirs before electronic media came on the scene to transmit the realities of it in full technicolour to homes around the world. By the time the camel drivers thought of doing some freedom fighting of their own, it had a new name. But, as any marketing exec will tell you, timing is everything in establishing a successful brand, and the bankers’ boys had the deal all stitched up before the camel drivers got a look in.

So that sort of sets the scene, give or take a few wars between then and now, and any of you out there who would like to earn some extra credit can continue your research outside the classroom. Just make sure you use DuckDuckGo for your searches and not Google, because if Google gets wind of you reading up on the facts, you may be getting a night time visit from Seal Team 6.

Whew! Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground there in a short time, and I’m all out of breath, so let’s go to the little boy’s room for a break and on the way back stop by the fridge and pop a can…..