Monthly Archives: February 2011
The judgment for the Assange extradition case has been posted online and it makes for interesting reading.
It is shocking and — to be perfectly frank — more than slightly embarrassing that there has not been more analysis of the judgement in the media. Instead, there is quite a lot from the defence. The verdict is ‘unfair’, says his mother. Boohoo, says Robertson.
This is ‘infotainment’ as its worst. Holy shit: my spellcheck thinks that ‘infotainment’ is a word but not ‘spellcheck’. What the shit is this shit?
The judgment is a brilliant piece of legal reasoning. It carefully and — in my biased opinion — magnificently deconstructs the defence case against extradition. Having read through some absolute dogs of judgements, it’s nice to get one that’s straightforward and clear. Basically, everything that the defence put up as an argument was bunkum.
This is one of my favourite passages of the judgment:
The lawyer also complained that it is now difficult for his client to receive a fair trial as he had not been provided with all the evidence against him, including important exculpatory evidence. He gives as an example the witness Goran Rudling, from whom the court had heard the previous day. He only knows this evidence because Mr Rudling has contacted the defence. [Source: Sweden v Assange (2011)]
There are two problems with the defence — in the broadest, non-technical sense. The first is the utter disregard for the alleged rape victims. This will, no doubt, be played out in greater detail in the media. B-list celebrities and journalists have been jumping over themselves to denounce the case as a conspiracy against Assange. This is despite a crapload of evidence suggesting that Assange might not be entirely kosher when it comes to respecting women. Hell, one might go so far as to suspect that he has some downright obnoxious views regarding women, based on several of his statements and actions. Does that prove that he raped the women? No. But should it cause us to have second thoughts regarding his (and his representatives’) claims that he should be exonerated without trial? Damn straight it does.
The second is more interesting and it regards Geoffrey Robertson. Fun fact: when I was, like, twelve, I wanted to be Geoffrey Robertson. The guy was a hero. Lately, I’m left wondering if the guy has completely lost his cracker. He’s writing specious arguments against the Pope and, now, he’s attention-seeking with extremely sub-par arguments in high profile cases. When your best witnesses outright admit that they received the facts of the case from the defence lawyers, things have gone very, very wrong for your case. When one of them also goes on to admit that a lot of their opinions come from the media and that their opinions are considered controversial, what was the point of going to court? Robertson trying this case was like David knocking out Goliath, reaching old age, and then punching 16-year olds just to show that he still has what it takes to be king. What the hell has happened to Robertson? Is he that starved of attention?
But don’t expect the media to analyse any of this. No, no. Heterodoxy is still saying that Assange is a media hero, revealing the hidden secrets of the bureaucracy and dressing up as a woman to avoid unseen and unprovable government spies. Cough. Cough…
Fun story. Bearnard Keane writes for Crikey, right? It can hardly be considered the zenith of journalism in Australia but even he takes the cake when he writes several lengthy uncritical articles about the glory and brilliance of 4Chan while, simultaneously, a large number of 4Chan’s netizens harass a 12-year old girl with sexually explicit messages. But, no. Anonymous (/4Chan) supports Assange, so 4Chan must be ‘good guys’ while the governments trying to stop their bullshit are the ‘bad guys’. It’s so obvious now.
Oh, wait. It isn’t. The media is still too keen to write ‘good guy/bad guy’ pieces in order to make their articles more accessible to readers. For shame.
While I’m not terribly keen on providing links to his hate material, Pat Condell has had a crack at explaining what he thinks is wrong with multiculturalism: Muslims.
It’s no secret that Condell hates Islam. He is incapable of seeing Islam as anything but a monolithic structure of barbarism. Mind! He doesn’t put it in those terms. Instead, he white knights women’s lib (every Muslim is misogynistic), democracy (every Muslim is a tyrant), and — in this latest foaming fury — animal rights (because Halal is code for cruelty to animals).
Back to that last point in a second. First, I think it’s important to note how passionate many outspoken atheists become when Islam is discussed. When Christianity is discussed, most of these atheists will make condescendingly dismissive comments. Dawkins, for example, dismissed Aquinas’ arguments in a quick paragraph as not intellectually credible (or, rather, dismissed his bizarro version of Aquinas’ arguments).
When Islam is discussed, the discussion is framed in terms of response to a threat. Most of the articles and books written by atheists about Islam have always characterised Islam as something foreign to fear. Christianity is something to defeat; Islam is something to exclude. This trend was demonstrated uncritically throughout that rag The Australian Book of Atheism (which I should definitely get back to reviewing). The essays asserted that Christianity did what it could to retain power and that Islam was attacking secular society by stealth. So long as atheists continue to milk intuitive notions of ‘secular’ without distinguishing them from ‘non-believing Christianity’, this framework will continue.
Back to cruelty of animals. Says Condell:
Halal is a guarantee that the animal you’re eating died slowly, in pain and in terror.
There are a few easy ways to not eat halal meat: try more pork. If you’re that worried about Muslim meat appearing on your dinner plate, eat pork wrapped in bacon. Hell, it could even be an advertising slogan for the pork industry. ’Pork: Guaranteed not to be kosher or halal.’
Less flippantly, people like Condell only care about the cruelty towards animals if other cultures (particularly Islam) are doing it. Most Anglophones get their meat from factory farms. Says PETA:
On today’s factory farms, animals are crammed by the thousands into filthy, windowless sheds and confined to wire cages, gestation crates, barren dirt lots, and other cruel confinement systems. These animals will never raise their families, root around in the soil, build nests, or do anything that is natural and important to them. Most won’t even feel the sun on their backs or breathe fresh air until the day they are loaded onto trucks bound for slaughter. The green pastures and idyllic barnyard scenes of years past are now distant memories.
The factory farming industry strives to maximize output while minimizing costs—always at the animals’ expense. The giant corporations that run most factory farms have found that they can make more money by cramming animals into tiny spaces, even though many of the animals get sick and some die. [Source: PETA 'Factory Farming: Cruelty to Animals']
In the universe next door where Pat Condell is ranting about the insidious spread of multinational corporations, I’m sure he’s saying:
Supermarket-purchased meat is a guarantee that the animal you’re eating died slowly, in pain and in terror.
It is — quite frankly — ludicrous that Condell should pick up the mantle of animal rights in order to attack Islam. There are legitimate questions about whether there are more humane ways to procure halal meat — they’re the same legitimate questions as those which ask if there are more humane questions to procure non-halal meat.
Similarly, there are legitimate questions about Islam which we in a multicultural society should ask (a classic one, for example, is ‘Why is there a growing trend for Muslim community leaders to describe Islam in opposition to mainstream society?’ The answer concerns both the individual Muslim communities and the societies in which they are trying to integrate). But Condell is not asking those legitimate questions when he pretends to champion the rights of the minorities he wantonly and casually disregards every other minute of the day.
The problem with holidays is that every day feels like a weekend. This lack of structure and urgency is further compounded by my insomnia.
In one sense, these are not good things. I’m one of those people who needs structure and regularity, if for nothing else but messing with that structure and regularity. The structure and regularity gives me something to which I can respond.
In another sense, it is quite liberating. I’ve enjoyed the beach, caught up on a vast amount of reading, played a frighteningly large number of gaming hours, and watched a few films. I’ve resisted the urge to blog about everything I read/watch/do/play because it becomes tedious and isn’t interesting for other people. On the other hand, this blog isn’t terribly interesting so it might be forgiven.
I Am Number Four (a.k.a. ‘You space kids stay off my lawn’)
TVTropes.org explains Chekhov’s Gun fairly well. When you’re creating a science fiction world with aliens and alien technology and alien intergalactic politics, this sort of thing is important. First, it cuts down on clutter (if the alien death ray isn’t going to shoot somebody, it doesn’t need to exist in the story) and it prevents deus ex machina endings.
I Am Number Four is a slave to Chekhov’s Gun. The first twenty minutes of the film is nothing but running through all of the guns which will resolve the ‘plot’ crisis. Oh, the lizard shape-shifted into a dog and the bad guys have massive dragons? Oh, there’s a girl hunting down the ‘protagonist’ who isn’t ugly and is invulnerable to fire? And so on and so forth until the film ham-fistedly gets to the angsty teenage rebellion of modern school life (bullies and girls and nerds, oh my). At this point, the film pretty much forgets about the dog and the fire girl until they reappear at the conclusion of the film.
There’s nothing exciting about the film. The lead character couldn’t act. The interesting character dies Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, leaving the protagonist the opportunity to find his destiny. Blah, blah, blah.
But why were the bad guys are bad? The film suggests it’s because they’re ugly. When I finally got bored with the narrative, I imagined that they were retaliating for some terrible war crime committed by the main character’s race. Fueled by revenge, they were wiping all trace of their former oppressors from the universe. For all I know, the bad guys were the last five guys from their race because Number Four’s dad used the Force to swallow their home planet, or something.
That’s what I want to see: a film where I understand why the villains are so evil. This would also help me to understand why the protagonists feel that the only suitable response is murder. There have been far too many films lately which tell the audience ‘This is the bad guy and trust us that he’s bad and needs to die.’ I’m sure there’s some political statement to be made here about Americans.
The King’s Speech (a.k.a. ‘When supporting characters wanted a bigger role’)
Historical fiction is the oldest kind of fiction. You would think that we would be better at it. Perfected by Herodotus and Livy, the point is to explore some great question about the human condition through real people and events. The King’s Speech gives absolutely no exploration of anything worth exploring, and somehow manages to make interesting characters into wallpaper. Helena Bonham-Carter has neither the presence nor the ability to convey the strength of the Queen Mum. Timothy Spall trots out a weak caricature of Churchill. And Derek Jacobi — probably the most adept actor in the film — barely gets to say boo.
There’s nothing terribly inspiring about the film. As a person with a very slight stammer, I felt stammerers were exploited by the film (stammers are just caused by maladjusted childhood! A bit of music and rolling around on the ground will fix it). Lacking clear direction and a sense of purpose, the film bounces rapidly off the abdication and the rise of Nazism (both quickly noted as Bad Things) before the yawnfest of the climax (OMG, he delivers the very famous speech. Who would have known?). No time is allocated for character development (montages get rid of the worst of the stammer) and any tension created is resolved within three minutes, lest the audience becomes too excited. Not a word of a lie, there is one major conflict between the two main characters (which is the protagonist?) which lasts all of about thirty seconds. I began to write an SMS ‘An hour in and we finally get some tension’ but didn’t get to the word ‘finally’ before it was resolved.
Are there any good films coming out soon?
It’s difficult to associate anything good with conservatism.
It’s a massive problem for me as I associate myself with conservatism and yet consider myself not to be an entirely horrid and morally dubious person. It’s a conflict that I can only resolve by distinguishing between conservatism as it is practiced and identified and conservatism as an abstract, intellectual pursuit.
The result is probably unsatisfactory. It’s no doubt the reason why I’m a swinging voter…
But back to the start. I conceive of there basically being two kinds of ways to engage with political thought: the first is to argue that all things need to be justified moment to moment; the second is to argue that the status quo has a privileged position. The difference is whether or not you think that the society we have gets a bit of a free kick when it comes to justifying itself (or, more strictly, that ‘It is currently so’ is a bonus point on the evaluation scale). This links conservatism to an older, more noble tradition than merely the French and English conservatism commonly identified: the mos maiorum has an intrinsic value and should — at least as a starting point — deserve some respect.
Politics is increasingly becoming a domain of economics (the part of economics which believes that it can make normative claims): arguments about politics are being reduced to which brand of voodoo economic witchcraft is most popular, common, and vulgar at the time. Despite conservatism being increasingly linked to a particular economic theory (**cough, cough** libertarianism **cough, cough**), ‘liberating’ the market seems to devalue our current social system and demand that State expenditure (such as welfare) be justified on its own merits. I’m not that kind of conservative.
At the same time, it rejects quite a lot of the nihilism of modernity. For example, the ‘progressive’ response to the elitism of education was to remove barriers to entry. Instead of providing a first rate education to everybody, the ‘progressives’ devalued the importance of education to economic considerations: now we try to get as many people as possible to hold tertiary degrees. And so on and so forth. A better response would have been to reduce the ‘elite’ control of education without devaluing it: some obscure conservative thinkers have shown ways this could be possible.
I guess this strikes at the heart of the problem. Imagine my counterpart from the universe next door arrives in this universe. Universe Next Door Mark is a progressive. We can both agree that the likely economic position of a person when they’re 35 should not be easily predicted at their birth. We can both agree that it shouldn’t be the case that a white male child is more likely to end up in a better position than a minority. What we can disagree upon is the method in which we achieve the outcomes. Universe Next Door Mark believes that the current system needs to be destroyed and rebuilt. This Universe Mark believes that radical changes are unnecessary.
There’s a smaller problem: the term ‘progressive’. The term implies that there’s some utopian future towards which the ‘progressives’ are trying to drag the world kicking and screaming, and that they’d succeed if it weren’t for the cabal of conservatives who block their progress.
On the other hand, I don’t live in a fairy land. Conservatism today is populist gutter politics. Appealing to the worst aspects of society — fear and indignation, mostly — has become the calling card of ‘Conservatism’. Society is short-changed by a conservatism which doesn’t pull its weight.
So there you have it: a loose and vague explanation of my conservatism and why it doesn’t make me a horrible, dreadful person.
Telephones are the appendix of electronic gizmos.
Why do we continue to invest time, money, and resources into this cul-de-sac of technology? It makes no sense. It’s almost as if nobody has looked at a telephone and asked themselves: ‘What is this? Why do I continue to mangle otherwise useful technology into conforming with past designs? Why would I want to push this computer up against my face?’
For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to work out what modifications would need to be done to a touch screen telephone in order to turn it into a touch screen watch capable of communicating with other people’s telephones. In time, other people would realise the folly of telephones and convert to touch screen watches.
It’s damn hard. The puzzling part is the position of the camera lens. Most ‘smart phones’ have a camera which is on the ‘back’ of the phone. When strapped to a wrist, the camera can take nothing but pictures of the wrist.
And that’s lame.
The other part is to allow airflow beneath the device. Smart phones produce a surprising amount of heat.
But while fiddling around with all of this (to no great output), it’s becoming more shocking that we care at all about telephone signals. Three years ago, I bought a phone thinking that I would use it most for making calls and sending text messages. Now, I spend most of my time on my phone accessing the internet. From my rather non-representative sample of friends, it seems the same thing is happening with them as well. Hell, I even use Facesbook to find out where somebody is before messaging them (yay for compulsive updaters).
So why do we put increasing effort into using radio signals for telephony when we could be diverting those resources into improving data services?
Also — and this is a really, really petty gripe — but why can’t my glorious touch screen watch communicate with other ‘smart’ devices in the area without bouncing off a relay tower first? Device-to-device communication is the other thing we should improve.