Poor People Forced to Steal . . . ?

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There were two articles in the Advertiser this morning that made me especially stroppy. Here the headlines and opening paragraphs:

  • Families driven to steal fuel
    Desperate householders are resorting to drive-off fuel rip-offs [taking fuel at a self-service station and driving off without paying] to survive, the state’s peak welfare body says.
  • Parents tell fibs to save cash on family holidays
    Cash-strapped parents are lying about the age of their children and even sneaking them into their accommodation in a desperate bid to bring school holiday costs down. New analysis by travel website Wotif has examined the hacks parents confessed to.

I both cases the thieves and liars are said to be ‘desperate’. In the first, their very survival is said to depend on their dishonesty, and their poverty is evidenced by the relative prevalence of drive-offs in low-income suburbs.

Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but in my world theft is theft, lying is lying and fraud is fraud. One’s financial circumstances are irrelevant. If you can’t afford to buy petrol, get a bike. If you can’t afford to go on a family holiday, stay at home.

Mistakes Were Made

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Ah yes, the ultimate confession that you make when you’re not making a confession: “Mistakes were made.” This usually means either:

  • “I broke the law;”
  • “I behaved immorally, unethically and disgracefully, but nobody can prove that what I did was actually illegal;” or, if a corporate spokesperson is speaking,
  • “We could have screwed our customers, our employees and/or the government almost as efficiently, and without all this hassle from the media, if we’d been a tad less greedy.”

The latest “mistake” to hit the Australian headlines has been ball-tampering. That’s cricket ball-tampering, by roughing up one side with sandpaper to make it swing more. Shining up the other side by rubbing it on your thigh is OK – it’s “cricket” in the old-fashioned sense of being fair and sportsmanlike – but roughing up by artificial means is definitely “not cricket.”

The roughing up took place in South Africa, where the Australian team were playing the home team and doing very badly. Ball-tampering was a desperate response to a dire situation. Losing a test match by a wide margin angers Australian fans, and even people who aren’t very interested in cricket but recognise the national cricket team as their personal representatives – gladiators, one might say, in the global arena. It’s also likely to reduce the number of zeroes on sponsors’ cheques.

Three players, including the Captain, confessed and were shipped home in disgrace. They fronted the cameras, broke down in tears, and admitted to … having made a mistake.

Martyrs

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Causes thrive on martyrs. Suicide bombers are described as ‘martyrs’ by their puppet masters. Interestingly, people who gain moral strength from their own martyrs rarely recognise that their enemies may gain equal moral strength from theirs.

The opponents of fanatical Islamism, which is fuelled by the blood of ‘martyrs’, have gained a new martyr of their own: Colonel Arnaud Beltrame (pictured). He was the police officer who exchanged himself for a hostage at the Super U supermarket in Trèbes.

Not only did he expose himself to the most extreme danger. He kept his mobile ’phone with him and connected to fellow police officers, allowing them to hear what was going on inside.

Arnaud Beltrame died a hero’s death. His heroism and his name will be remembered when the ‘martyrs’ of Daesh, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and their like are at the bottom of the rubbish heap of history.

Sex, Politics and Ethics

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No, I’m not slipping in a sly plug for The Eeks Trilogy – although if you find the title intriguing you’ll probably enjoy The Eeks Trilogy, now available in a single volume titled Goldiloxians.

But right now I’m having my say about the story that’s been hogging the front pages of Australian newspapers for a week or so (it seems longer) and shows no sign of abating. It’s about Barnaby Joyce, who is

  • Leader of the right-of-centre National Party, which represents the interests of the rural sector and is in government in coalition with the Liberal Party;
  • Deputy Prime Minister (a requirement of the coalition agreement);
  • Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources (to the dismay of environmentalists who see this as a conflict of interest);
  • Minister of Infrastructure and Transport (since December);
  • The centre of a storm surrounding an affair with a member of his staff who is now pregnant with his unborn child;
  • Consequently separated from his wife; and
  • In open verbal warfare with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The story is a gift that keeps on giving to the newsmongers because it irritates so many people for so many reasons.

First, there is a sexual morality issue. Barnaby has been an advocate of family values, invoking them in the recent debate about redefining ‘marriage’ to include same-sex couples. Barnaby was on the losing ‘No’ side of that debate.

Then there is the MeToo aspect. As Deputy PM, Barnaby was in a position of power over Vikki Campion, the humble Media Advisor who became his mistress. To some people this looks uncomfortably like a Harvey Weinstein situation.

Third, in a vain attempt to keep the affair quiet the mistress was transferred to the office of another National Party minister, in a high-paying job that was allegedly created especially for her.

There is Ministerial Code of Conduct that prohibits having one’s partner on the payroll. Barnaby is claiming that at the time of Vikki’s employment in his department she was not his ‘partner’. She was having sex with him, but was not actually and legally his partner as such. The PM has now made clear that the Code of Conduct will henceforth forbid sexual relations between ministers and their staff. This was immediately labelled the Bonk Ban.

To cap it all, it has emerged that Barnaby was staying rent-free in premises provided by a prominent National Party donor and commercial supplier of services to the Party.

In Australia we have a thing called ‘the pub test’. This sweeps away legal niceties that allow obvious rogues to hold up their hands in a gesture of supplication and say, “But I did nothing wrong!” Needless to say, Barnaby Joyce has failed the pub test on a Biblical scale in the eyes of all but his most one-eyed supporters.

One final comment from me… The story runs and runs because it gives sub-editors such wonderful opportunities for punny headlines. A photo of an obviously pregnant Vikki Campion was headlined ‘Bundle of Joyce’. Another headline over the Bonk Ban story referenced a campaign to ban poker (gambling) machines: ‘No Pokies’.

Life Imitates Monty Python

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We’re used to life imitating art, but sometimes this goes right off any reasonable scale. In the past week I’ve seen four glorious examples, all reported in the good old Adelaide Advertiser.

First, there is the story about a sit-in by Saudi princes to protest against having to pay their own utility bills. The princesses were showing more decorum, it seems. Or perhaps they were otherwise occupied at the motor show for women, soon to be allowed to drive.

The second story to catch my eye was that Oprah Winfrey is being touted as a potential presidential candidate, on the basis of a speech she made about sexual abuse and harassment in the entertainment industry. Germaine Greer was asked what she thought about it on ABC Radio National, and said that if Ronald Reagan could be President, why not?

Next comes the appalling news that “Struggling families are being deterred from travelling overseas because of the high cost of leaving the country. … Australian passports are the second most expensive in the world, behind those of Turkey.” Has overseas travel really become a necessity of life, in the same category as a flat-screen TV or a smart ‘phone?

Finally, I read about a 50-year-old Australian man called Craig Whitall. He is/was a drug addict with a history of 10 driving disqualifications, 50+ other traffic offences, 9 convictions for unlicensed driving and a 9-year driving ban. While driving home from a methadone clinic he caused an accident that killed 3 people – all members of the Falkholt family. “At what point,” I wondered, “does a sane law enforcement system give up on somebody, lock them up and throw away the key in order to protect everyone else?”

Sexual Harassment

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A week ago I was in Kyiv watching CNN, and the big news story was Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misbehaviour. Now I’m in the UK, and the big news story is male parliamentarians’ sexual misbehaviour. Brexit gets a mention too, but as a news story it’s not as sexy as… well, sexual misbehaviour.

There are some kinds of misbehaviour that have always been unacceptable, but there is merit in the claim that the boundary between unacceptable and acceptable has shifted a long way in a short time. For example, when I was a lad:

  • Men were expected to be the active initiators of any romantic/sexual activity. Failure to live up to that expectation signalled either lack of interest or homosexual inclination.
  • A woman’s first “No” was generally taken to mean “Try harder.”
  • Stolen kisses were thought to be romantic.
  • A slapped face was the standard punishment for a man who went too far.

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  • On the silver screen (chief source of moral guidance in those days) a woman’s initial resistance always gave way to eager melting into the aggressor’s arms.
  • Almost every American TV sitcom included the occasional episode where a wife was turned over her husband’s knee for a spanking – well-deserved and for her own good.
  • While not condoned, wife-beating (as domestic violence was called) was considered a fact of life that some women just had to live with. I’m not sure if it was technically a crime, but in the popular mind it wasn’t.

Against that backdrop it’s not surprising that many people – women as well as men – cannot take seriously the recent redefinition of ‘sexual harassment’ to include the accidental overhearing of off-colour jokes.

According to pollsters YouGov (as reported in The Week) there are big generational differences in how women perceive ‘sexual harassment’. When they polled women in the age groups 18-24 (A) and 55+ (B) they found:

  • 64% in group A and 15% in group B think wolf-whistling is sexual harassment.
  • 28% in group A and 11% in group B think commenting on a woman’s attractiveness is sexual harassment.

“But,” you may say, “what about a rich, powerful old man taking advantage of a powerless young woman who aspires to a career (such as politics or show business) to which she thinks the man can help her get access? Surely that’s sexual harassment pure and simple!”

I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but when a woman allows a man to have his way with her in the hope of pecuniary advantage it looks more like prostitution than victimhood. But I’m willing to hear contrary opinions.

Hate Speech

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Yesterday I was paddling a kayak on the Dnieper River. I was in the back seat, Tamara was in the front. Out of the blue she asked me about my religion. I replied that I was an atheist. After a moment’s thought she said, “So what do you love?” She gestured upward, as much as one can while paddling a kayak, so clearly “My wife” or “My family” would not do as an answer.

Not really us – our kayak was red.

“Truth and justice,” I said eventually. That seemed too short a list and I searched for more things that I could express in Russian. But even in English I decided those two were enough.

Ashore, I pondered my answer. Does loving truth and justice necessarily mean hating untruth and injustice? After all, untruth and injustice encompass ignorance, superstition, indoctrination, exploitation, tyranny, cruelty… all things to be hated, surely.

Then today I was listening to a podcast: Phillip Adams interviewing US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who when practising as a lawyer had defended extremists’ first amendment right to express views that most people found abhorrent.

“What about hate speech?” asked Phillip. I found myself agreeing with Glenn when he said that freedom of speech cannot be qualified. Who defines ‘hate speech’ – the Government? Facebook? Google? He cited German cases where criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has resulted in prosecution as anti-Semitic hate speech.

But is there a distinction to be drawn between hatred of abstract ideas and hatred of the people who subscribe to those ideas? We all (I hope) hate what is done in Daesh’s name: murder, kidnapping, rape, slavery and the rest. But is it alright to hate the perpetrators? And is it alright to express that hatred publicly?

From kayaking to cognition. From paddling to pontification. What do you think?

 

Are They Terrorists?

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Communists are devoted to the ideology of Communism. Capitalists snuffle at the trough of Capitalism. Platonists follow the philosophical teachings of Plato.

But what about arsonists, cyclists and saxophonists? They are –ists without –isms. So it is with terrorists. ‘Terrorism’ is not an ideology or a philosophy. Terrorists are simply bad people employing a tactic of war, designed to demoralise an enemy and sap his will to fight. When good people employ this tactic they call it ‘shock and awe’.

So are the Muslims who drive vans at unsuspecting people or set off suicide vests in crowded places terrorists? I don’t think they are, not in the literal sense of the word. They do not seek to create terror, but hatred – hatred of Muslims.

This is not my own original thought. It is the published strategy of Daesh, which recognises three kinds of Muslim. There are the fanatical fundamentalists who support, fund and fight for Daesh’s cause. At the other end of the spectrum are the morally corrupt people who call themselves Muslims but are no better than Infidels: men who drink beer and women who wear makeup, and most of the royals who run the Middle East.

In the middle are the silent majority of Muslims who sort-of believe the dogma and sort-of observe the rituals, much as most people who were brought up Christian sing Christmas carols and eat hot cross buns, but are more interested in giving their children a good education, paying off the mortgage and going somewhere nice on holiday. This is the target. The silent majority. Daesh’s aim is to create hatred of them, causing them to feel alienated and eventually withdraw from the secular societies they have happily inhabited.

If all goes according to plan they will withdraw into the welcoming arms of the True Believers, who will take their children into their madrassas, veil their adolescent daughters, and teach their adolescent sons the take revenge on the societies that rejected them.

So the way to thwart them is to refuse to hate.

There is a terrible battle going on within Islam – or rather several terrible battles, very like the battles that raged in Christendom 500 years ago. They may take as long to be resolved. They may never be resolved. But if there is a way for the rest of us to hasten a happy outcome, it will involve engaging with and supporting the people whose values most closely resemble our own.

Selfies – No, not that kind

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We’d all agree that self-discipline is the best kind of discipline; self-control is the best kind of control; and a degree of self-respect is necessary to win the respect of others.

But self-regard, self-importance, self-satisfaction and self-aggrandisement are to be treated with suspicion. So too, in the world of business anyway, are self-regulation and self-assessment.

This brings me to today’s stroppy-maker: a story in the Sydney Morning Herald about alleged rorting of an Australian tax-break for research and development – a tax-break that involves paying ‘tax offsets’ totalling A$3 billion per year. There is a list of R&D activities that qualify for these offsets.

The picture alongside is taken from that article. It shows Jamie McIntyre, one of the people against whom the allegation of rorting is made, a sum in excess of A$500,000 being mentioned.

“And how,” I hear you ask, “does the Australian Tax Office assess the validity of claims for these offsets?” Ah, well, there’s the rub. It seems the ATO relies on taxpayers to self-assess and, amazingly, some people are motivated by greed rather than an urge to add to the sum of useful human knowledge.

I’m sure you are amazed as I am – and as the ATO and the lawmakers who passed this piece of legislation must be. Who would have guessed that some people are prepared to tell lies in order to swipe an undeserved share from the public purse?

Let’s hope that this revelation – or allegation as I suppose I must call it – provides a valuable lesson in human nature to those who are responsible for managing honest taxpayers’ money.

The word ‘rort’ is an Australian colloquialism for a swindle; or, as a verb, to swindle.

White Australia Policy

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We’ve had a rash of news stories about employees being paid less than the legal minimum wage. In the most extreme cases it has not been an oversight or a one-off try-on, but a business model that works like this:

  • A small-time businessperson buys a franchise from a big company, such as Seven-Eleven.
  • The cost and conditions of the franchise make it impossible to pay legal wages and make a profit.
  • So the franchisee employs foreign students and pays them a fraction of the legal wage. The big company (the franchisor) may give a nod and a wink, or even informally explain how to do it.
  • People on a student visa are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week to help finance their studies, but they are induced to work 40 or more hours per week for 20 hours’ pay. How are they able to do this and study effectively as well? The likely answer is, “They can’t.”.
  • Timesheets are falsified to make the books look right, and the students don’t complain because they are as culpable as their employers: they are breaking the terms of their visas and could be deported.

In revelations of this law-breaking on TV most of the students and most of the franchisees appear to be of South Asian origin. None (that I have seen) appear to be of Anglo-Celtic origin. This observation sent me to my bookshelves to find an old publication called ‘Australia: Official Handbook’. It is dated January 1945 and it was sent by the Repatriation Commission to a new immigrant. The following passage is interesting:

“At the outset it may clear away misconceptions to give a brief outline of the immigration policy that is generally known as the “White Australia” policy.

“To the principle of “White Australia” all political parties in the Commonwealth subscribe, for the economic reason that the white man’s standard of living would be endangered by the introduction of coloured labourers who would be prepared to accept wages and to work and live under conditions that are not acceptable to a white workman.”

I share this without editorial comment.