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


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.