Victims or Criminals?

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I heard a talk on ABC Radio National this morning. I missed the start and didn’t hear her name, but she lost both her legs – in an accident or an attack, I don’t know which – and I think she said she’d once been voted Australian of the Year. Anyway, whoever she was, I particularly liked something she said: “I decided to be a survivor, not a victim.”

I liked that because victimhood is very popular these days, to the extent that there are hardly enough ordinary people left to provide succour and subsidies to all the victims. This was in my mind when I opened the online version of the today’s Adelaide Advertiser (Rupert Murdoch’s people having failed to deliver the paper version yet again!) and saw this:

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How can someone who buys and consumes ‘ice’, an illegal substance known to be harmful both to the individual consumer and to society at large, be a victim?! For crying out loud, that person is a criminal, a reprobate and an enemy of the people!

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Interest Rates

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Monetarism was in the early stages of its ascendancy when I was studying economics. I remember one of my lecturers describing Milton Friedman, doyen of the Chicago School, as “that amiable fascist.” Now we are living with the fall-out of Governments’ delegating economic management to their central banks and using fiscal policy as a means of appeasing noisy interest groups and winning elections.

I came across this graph yesterday and felt I should share it:

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If this is how interest rates have to behave – even dipping into negative territory currently in Denmark, Japan, Sweden and Switzerland – to balance inflation and economic growth, we should all be on the lookout for flying pigs and white rabbits with pocket watches.

Australian of the Year . . . ?

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It’s a dilemma, I know. We are at war, de jure or de facto, with Daesh and sundry other Islamist organisations in the Middle East and Africa. (For the purposes of this article ‘we’ applies to the people of Australia, but it could apply to the citizens of any militarily active Western democracy.) We are also allied with the USA, other nations and other organisations whose interests align with our own.

So what should be our attitude if a citizen, a civilian, decides to go overseas to fight with one of those organisations? It’s illegal to fight overseas except as a member of the Australian armed forces, and I can see why such a law should exist. How can one be sure that the person concerned has not in fact been fighting on behalf of our enemies – either directly or as a spy or saboteur operating within an allied organisation? What moral responsibility would we be forced to accept it the person were killed or injured or captured or accused of a war crime?

Let’s consider the actual case of Ashley Dyball (pictured below), a Queenslander who has returned from Syria where he fought bravely and effectively alongside Kurdish forces against Daesh.

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On his return he was questioned by police and still lives under the threat of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment. But to most Australians he’s a hero, on a par with foreigners who went to Spain to oppose Franco in the 1930s. I would even suggest that he should be nominated for Australian of the Year.

There are thousands of people of warrior age who while away their time playing shoot-em-up video games, or who flee the fighting for lack of means to defend their communities. We should be encouraging those people to take up real arms and kill real enemies – enemies who are the closest thing to embodied evil that we are likely to see in our lifetimes.

Behind the 8 Ball

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The English language is embellished by many sporting metaphors. I have charm in spades but I still can’t turn a trick. I can’t even get to first base. It’s just not cricket. I’m not even in the ballpark. Someone should get a yellow card or else I’ll kick it into the long grass…

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These metaphors are precious and should not be abused or misused. For example, I’ve noticed an increase in the incorrect use of the phrase ‘behind the 8 ball’. It means the same as ‘snookered’. If the cue ball is behind the 8 ball (the black ball in pool) you are prevented from making a legal shot at any other ball. If you’re behind the 8 ball your opponent has put you there and you are unable to achieve your goal. It does not mean that you’re performing poorly or behind schedule. Let’s get our ducks in a row, people!

Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize for Literature

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Well, the dust has settled and there are other stories to occupy the minds of the newsmongers. Am I bitter? A little, I suppose. But I have to concede that Bob Dylan is a significant poet and, if it’s lifetime achievements we’re talking about, his lifetime as a writer trumps mine. So I’m happy to say, “Well done, Bob!” and wait my turn. I just hope the Nobel Committee appreciates that my lifetime is finite so they’d better get a move on.

Suicide

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People in rich and peaceful countries don’t have enough to worry about, so they look around for irritations and talk them up into Big Issues. This is happening now in Australia with male suicides.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I know there are people who kill themselves during fits if depression or in response to tragic events, from which they could have recovered to lead happy lives, and I wish they’d had second thoughts. But there are also people who rationally consider their prospects and their options and decide that they’d rather be somewhere else. They’re not enjoying the party so they want to leave. For those people, suicide is rational and even admirable. Their leaving the party means that the net sum of happiness in the world is increased.

But what makes me stroppy is that the people who are promoting this as a Big Issue in Australia speak as though suicide among Australian men has suddenly become a crisis that has to be moved up the political agenda. Notice my italics. The implication is that Australia is the suicide capital of the world and men are disproportionately affected.

Now consider the following facts, drawn from Wikipedia with a WHO citation and with age standardisation:

  • In a ranking of 171 countries, Guyana is ranked No.1 with 44.2 suicides per 100,000 people in 2012. Australia is at No.63 with 10.6.
  • In every country except two (Pakistan and Iraq) the male suicide rate exceeds the female, typically by a factor of about 3.
  • If we compare Australia with the other countries of the developed Anglosphere (our usual benchmark) it falls pretty much in the middle – see the extracted table below, which includes countries that are tied with those of the Anglosphere for a bit of extra colour.
  • The 17 countries at the bottom of the ranking – ie with the lowest suicide rates – are all located in or around the Caribbean Sea or have predominantly Muslim populations. This has nothing to do with the main theme of my post, but I think it’s a fascinating fact and someone should be doing a PhD thesis on it.

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Where it says ‘more info’ you can click and see more if you go to the referenced Wikipedia page.

So how the hell did the UK manage to tie with Swaziland at No.105?! Perhaps most of the unhappy Poms have emigrated.

 

The Pope in Georgia

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The Pope just left Georgia, where Mrs SG and I have been for the past 5 weeks. It’s a friendly, interesting place that has, after a bit of a false start, been the most successful of the former Soviet Republics in making the transition to liberal democratic capitalism. It has an Association Agreement with the EU and is very open to Western ideas, trade and investment. Corruption was almost eliminated under President Mikheil Saakashvili, but is creeping back now, we hear.

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But back to the Pope. As he does everywhere, he performed a mass at a venue that would accommodate the expected crowds – in this case a sports stadium. But only a few thousand turned up. It has been reported that the leadership of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which rejects ecumenism and has 83% of the population as followers, advised those followers not to attend.

Apparently ill-feeling engendered by the Great Schism that split Western and Eastern Christianity nearly 1,000 years ago is still strong in Georgia. The Pope was even greeted by demonstrators carrying insulting placards, written in English. According to eurasianet.org they were members of the Union of Orthodox Parents. The same source cites examples of discrimination against Roman Catholicism and other minority religions.

I feel stroppy about this because Georgia seldom gets mentioned in global news reports, and when it does it’s a pity if the news makes the country appear mean-spirited or downright stupid. I am here to tell you that a handful of religiously-inspired hate-mongers are not representative of the Georgians I have met.