Friday, February 26, 2010
The merits of Bligh(t)'s claim may be under dispute—she is a person that evidences few personal qualities, but then again, neither did John Howard—but let's suppose that her claim has merit. It is true that resistance from all sides to Howard's gun-control response to the massacre was significant. It is also true that he saw it through nonetheless.
That could be construed as an act of political courage, and maybe it had some aspects of it. But, being suspicious of anything 'beneficial' rolled out by politicians, it occurred to me that his real motive was much more self-serving—and 'state'-serving—than the naive observer tends to perceive. And, of course, in the wake of this, and with suitable irony, Bligh(t)'s comparison suddenly, quite without her intending it, assumes completely new significance. Not a matter of fortitude, but of some twisted selfish motive that still has to become evident. As it will, in due course, but by then it'll be too late; and yet more of Australia will have been sold to foreign interests, who give even less of a damn about 'ordinary people' than do the home-grown large corporations.
To understand what Howard was doing—well, basically he was fulfilling your average politician's wet-dream—we need to go to the US, where currently there's a frenzy of states loosening gun legislation, in anticipation of what the avowedly anti-gun federal administration might do to curb gun possession.
Now, I need to emphasize that I do not support free-for-all gun ownership as it exists in many US states, and I certainly have big issues with the uncontrolled possession of machine guns, serious assault rifles, and the like. But I do believe that 'self defense' is a valid reason for someone to apply for a firearms license, and that it is also a valid reason for buying a gun, and that includes 'concealable' handguns.
Right now, that particular right has been taken away from all Australians. This means—and it does mean it, and this is not some gun-nut's ranting—that anybody disposed toward invading someone else's home uninvited and for the purpose of doing the occupants direct harm, can do so without needing to fear that said occupants can defend themselves in any significant way. He might be wrong in assuming this, of course: if someone came into our place I'd club him with a bokken at the very least; and a bokken, together with the requisite skills on the part of its wielder, is a fearsome weapon that is quite a match for a handgun or shotgun.
But people by and large do not possess these skills, and therefore my argument stands. Most families, small or large, are utterly helpless when it comes to the growing army of home invaders, which is my general term for anything ranging from burglars to sickos, who abduct girls from their bedrooms and leave their corpses in municipal stormwater drains. Bundaberg, Queensland, last week.
In the case I'm referring to, the capability of the home owners to defend themselves wouldn't have made a difference, because they didn't even know it had happened. Or maybe it would have? Would the 19-year old perp have reconsidered his decision if he had been aware that the parents could have caught him and, instead of chasing him away, might have shot him in the ass? Or, to look at it another way, would a family in whose house there is a loaded gun, not be much more aware of the issues involved in securing a home? Because why else would anyone buy a gun, unless they had some awareness that there are secutity issues? It may be a stretch to say that Howard's decisions had led to this girl's death, but it's possible. It surely wasn't an intended consequence, but in the vast scheme of unintended consequences, this may well have been one of them.
The debate about what are legitimate reasons to own a gun is nowhere more vociferous and out in the open than in the US. One of the issues the debate focuses on is whether an individual ought to have the right to do whatever is reasonably required to ensure that said individual and those who are in his or her care can protect themselves against assaults on their welfare. In the US, based on an old tradition reaching back to the days of the nations foundation, the agencies who might commit such assaults need not be other individuals or in general 'criminals', but may include 'authorities'.
And here lies the crux of the issue—and, I suspect—the true motivation of John Howard, as a agent of the 'state'; next to his wanting to look like he was a man of principle, rather than just another opportunist and power-seeker.† For even those opposed to gun ownership—in general or inparticular for the 'self-defense' reason, which would instantly result in an increase in the distribution of guns—must admit that a 'state', no matter whether it is openly totalitarian or nanny-totalitarian and 'democratic', and especially as it begins to make ever greather inroads into people's lives, really doesn't like the idea that it has to deal with an armed populace.
All the reasons why this is so boil down to the state's desire to control the plebs—said 'plebs' being anybody not 'in authority' or 'authorized'. Any 'defense' is to be handled by the police, and never mind if they come too late to help anybody, which is invariably the case when it actually matters. And of course, there's the possibility of some nuts—US examples abound—thinking seriously about using their weapons to practice anti-state activities, which nowadays is lumped under 'terrorism' and we all know there's a 'war on terror' going on. All the excuses the state needs to increase surveillance and control of the population's behavior, and most definitely to even clamp down further on what pathetic remains there are of 'legitimate' gun owners.
My own view is that properly licensed and properly trained people—that would mean a compulsory training course, with exams at the end and a certain minimum of rounds fired at a certified training range, so they end up being better shots than your dangerously under-trained police officer—with no criminal background and subject to a few other criteria, should be perfectly entitled to own guns, concealable or not. In fact, inside a house handguns are far more practical than anything larger and far less dangerous to boot, especially when used wimpy ammo, which has less recoil and penetration power.
I can see that succeeding. NOT! Just think of crack-shot civilians, in contrast to couldn't-hit-a-barn cops. Yeah, like that's ever going to happen.
Instead, anybody owning an illegal gun and being caught using it—even it it's to defend the lives of their family—will be slammed with a compulsory jail sentence and a criminal record.
Makes no sense? It does to someone!
† It needs to be noted that Howard's position had great popular support. He was therefore being very politically savvy. And the public got exactly what it deserves: armed criminals and unarmed citizens.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Yes, I know—and I have said so on many occasions to those idiots who think they can 'perfect' humanity—societies, all of them, are inherently imperfect, seriously flawed; and most have aspects to them that are outright disgusting. That's par for the course. Even the 'great civilizations' of history—and the present, insofar as there is anything qualifying for that appellation extant right now—exhibit(ed) dark nooks and crannies. Very dark ones. Nasty, mean, disgusting stuff that people do and which the society as a whole tolerates, for whatever reason.
In many ways, the situation and characters depicted in LoTR—the movie, if not so much the much-less-interesting novels—seem to map pretty much onto the world of the living.
Most people, I've come to conclude are like Hobbits, only that nowadays it's becoming socially respectable, and even I think expected, to have a far lesser proportion of individuals who rise above the level of those who exhibit the Hobbits' 'lesser' qualities. Frodos are probably impossible to find, and the likes of Pippin and Merry are being bred and educated out of existence slowly but inexorably.
Politicians—our lowest life-forms, who are rapidly establishing new standards of intellectual, ethical and moral devolution into decrapitude—come either in the Hobbit-variety, or in something slightly different that approximates less-powerful versions of Saruman. Every single one of them, without exceptions, would take the Ring, do their worst with it and have their dislikeable aspects magnified to Gollumesque proportions.
Imagine a whole horde of Gollums crawling over the buildings of the parliaments of the Western Democracies! Well, actually, I'm not sure that, apart from appearances, they're not already there...most of them. Our current crop here in Australia, at state and federal level, are a pretty horrific and pathetic sight to behold.
Our heroes a questionable lot. Not per se and as individuals, because at so many levels those—well, some of them—that are being elevated to 'hero'-status, like sports people, do actually achieve something of note. In personal terms, for them, it may even be something that they can rightly be proud of. And then, since they, in international contests, represent the nation of their origin, they'll make said nation proud by proxy.
But that's hardly 'heroic', is it? It's a personal or tribal validation exercise, but hardly anything more.
Other types of—far less adulated—heroes, like scientists, also hardly qualify as such. They may be people of achievement; but 'heroism' surely has to be more than a label for 'achievement', if the term has to have any significance that hasn't been reduced to the level of currently fashionable blandness.
Other terms whose very use tends to make a lot of people either cringe with embarrassment of just having someone say it, or whose utterance will invoke the indifference of those whose life-fire has been dimmed to a terminal and soon-to-be extinguished glimmer, include those listed in the title of this blog. The consequences of trying to follow them are, after all, likely to bring those attempting to do so into situations sufficiently complicated, confrontational or even dangerous, that surely the legislature would be instantly prompted to consider measures to outlaw them. That's because honor will always be challenged by, and be constantly confronted with, the dishonorable; truthfulness will offend the self-serving liars who have slithered into positions of power and influence; courage will only be tested under fire; and valor will usually result in social castigation, because society as a whole runs on non-valor, which is its lowest common denominator.
LotR is, of course, a tale of heroes. Meaning that there are also those by comparison with whom the heroes are accentuated. But heroes are at the focus. Frodo and his buddies; Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli; plus those with lesser impact on the tale, but who exhibit the qualities outlined above, like Boromir and Faramir, who, though flawed and initially misguided, do come through and grow to be heroes.
They all have in common a quality that's missing from so many of the heroes of other movies. I'm not quite sure what that quality is, but it's of the kind that you know when it's there. The kind of quality one would wish—futilely, to be sure—that people would know how to detect when it stares them in the face. That way they might have something worthwhile to work toward.
But people are, by and large, like Hobbits. Mostly, they don't even see the real heroes. And, though occasionally, usually briefly, adulated, those real heroes soon fade from the radar or interest of the dull populace; to be replaced by the common, base and vapid.
Was it always this way? Maybe. Quite possibly so. But the sad thing is that it hasn't changed; that we haven't become any better at seeing it. Which tells us a lot about the evolution of our societies, which measured on any scale, is probably indistinguishable close to zero—and which might, is some ways, be a negative quantity.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
There ought to be Darwin Awards for retarded public servants and/or politicians who would be outwitted by your average 3-inch roach—of which there are aplenty in Qld. You know the saying "Give a man a hammer and every problem gets to look like a nail"? Well, I think for public servants or politicians it's "Give a moron legislative capability and he'll start making rules to handle every problem".
I want to rant and rave about so many things that currently 'irk' me that I continue being paralyzed from too much choice. My response to this is to basically ignore these things. I might go back to the halcyon days where I was 'news free' for almost two years. I seem to recall that I seldom felt better. That would mean turning off every news bulletin, never listen to radio talk shows—even if they are on the non-commercial ABC, where the listeners and hosts often appear only marginally more intelligent than those on the commercial stations, and refuse to talk politics to anybody. That may be the most difficult thing, because it creeps into virtually every conversation you have with people.
A A A R G H H H !
Saturday, February 13, 2010
A foul-mouthed New Zealand surgeon has been reprimanded after swearing at a severely obese patient.
A 44-year-old mother filed a complaint about the doctor after a tense consultation with him last year, The New Zealand Herald reports.
The doctor said f--- at least three times to the Maori woman after she told him she didn't like the word "diet" and preferred the term "lifestyle".
He told her she was, "going on a f---ing diet".
In the letter of complaint, the woman wrote: "[The doctor] said if I couldn't handle the word diet then he challenged my motivation and stated that I would never survive surgery because I was still bullshitting myself and therefore my thinking was still f---ed".
In response to the woman's concerns, the doctor said they no longer had a "therapeutic relationship" and scratched her from the gastric bypass waiting list.
New Zealand's Health and Disability Commissioner, Ron Paterson, said the doctor, who admitted using bad language, had been unprofessional and insulting.Whatever the doctor may have thought when he uttered the 'f---'s—or he may just have had a real shitty day—this kind of approach is at the very least unprofessional.
What the article doesn't say is that, as was reported on TV, the doctor was told to attend 'sensitivity' classes as a result of this. Whatever the merits of the case, does that not have echoes of A Clockwork Orange? Seems to me like having to attend such classes could constitute disproportionate punishment.
Oh, and by the way and for those who haven't spotted it, you can't "go on a lifestyle". You may change a lifestyle; just like you can change a diet, of course. But a lifestyle is much more than a diet, which may be a part of a lifestyle. So, apart from the invectives and the, potentially damaging, act of scratching her from his gastric bypass list, the doctor may not be that much of a total pillock. It could also be argued that maybe scratching someone, whom he considered to be a lost cause, made space for others more likely to show positive results from the procedure. The issue is fraught with a number of very big ethical pitfalls. The same goes for such issues as how to assess whether to give liver transplants to alcoholics that show no sign of changing their ways.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Well, I finally took advantage of it today, and WHAT A RUSH!
Problem: Now I finally have not just looked at blood but tasted it.
So, I ask myself. WTF do I do now??
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Comments on the NT, or 'Territory'—on radio, TV or in the context of just people talking to each other—are almost always laced with mockery and contempt, most of it undisguised. Pretty much the same thing one hears in urbania about 'rednecks' in general, only this time it's amplified, because there's this notion that not only and the Territorians rednecks, but that the place is also a gathering place from dumbwit rejects and losers from all over the country. 'Race relations' are often dragged in to illustrate the Territorians' cultural, ethical, moral, racial etc degeneracy. After all, one just has to look at the pathetic state of aboriginal life in the NT, and that just about tells the story, right? Right?
I hear this crap mostly from the Queensland point of view, and especially the 'Brisbane' angle. Brisbane is, of course, pretty much of a hicktown itself, despite its size, which has by now swelled to over 2 million people. Meaning that Brisbane has a vested interest in depicting itself as superior to the remainder of 'regional' Queensland, and even more so the great Australian bashing-child, the NT—often by the mean-spirited expedient of running down other places, which by implication appears to elevate it.
But things aren't confined to Brisbane, though their acrid mockery of Territorians surely ranks among the worst Australian urbania has to offer. The ABC as well as the commercial stations, when reviewing the day's 'papers, invariably have something caustic to say about the NTN—which the paper deserves—with, equally invariably, something snide following that implicates the people living there.
By way of disclosure, I need to admit that I love the NT, and that the people there don't seem to me to be any different to the people anywhere else; though, of course, there are less intellectuals and metrosexuals about than in urbania. Darwin, where would-be-urbanites are working hard, pathetically and futilely so, to make it into a form of urbania, may have a somewhat greater proportion of typical urbanites, but overall, of the less than 250,000 people in this vast land, there are hardly any. Which to me makes it a very attractive place indeed.
I mean, my wife and I live in Queensland, and we managed to get a place that's as far out of urbania as is practical, given that I have to work for a living and that my usual occupation requires a certain proximity to 'city'. But the vast spaces of the NT and its people hold a strange attraction for me.
Admittedly, in most places the likelihood of intellectual or highly 'stimulating' conversation is very small—but then again, I have noticed that it's no different in most places; especially since I find discussions of politics anything but stimulating, and that seems to be pretty much all the 'intellectual' stuff urbanites seem to be able to come up with. So, the most stimulating conversations I have are with members of my immediate family, friends on the other sides of Skype connections; and an old friend, who, like me, has 'ruralized' himself and lives not too far away from us.
Then there's the lack of general 'culture', as some would point out. The NT isn't exactly riddled with great art galleries and theaters, or with cinema multiplexes that show the latest flicks as they come out. And, yes, I would have missed seeing Avatar in 3D, which would have been a pity. But I'd see them eventually, and most flicks present very well on a nice big LCD TV, especially now that we have BluRay.
What else have we really got in urbania that's so attractive? Shopping malls? Not exactly my natural habitat. Coffee shops? Well, there are some really good ones in Darwin and Alice Springs, and I think in Katherine, too. And I remember a really good one out in the bush on the road to King's Canyon. (Not that I drink coffee, but I appreciate a good hot chocolate.) Better hospitals? Not any better than those in Darwin, Alice Springs and even Tennant Creek. Traffic jams? Yes. Lower grocery prices? Yes, true. Better 'racial relations'? Yeah, right; mainly because there are hardly any indigenous Australians in sight around here. And I can assure you, from my days as a cabbie in Brisbane, that those who do live here are no better off than many in 'regional' Qld or the NT.
What the NT does have, is something that needs to be experienced to be understood. And it isn't just the wide open spaces and the low population density. That's a part of it, but there's more to it. As far as the favorite NT-bashin item is concerned, race relations, the Territory does have serious problems, but they are no worse than they are anywhere indigenous Australians are found. It's just that in the NT there are comparatively many, and that the problems involved with helping them are too great and the whole thing's just too 'hard' for the self-serving politicians in Canberra; who'd rather go and 'help' the 'poor' and 'disadvantaged' overseas than attend to their own citizens. But the NT itself has some admirable initiatives going that might provide a real hope for the future. And this is not something found anywhere else. So stop knocking the NT!
But such considerations aren't going to trouble the dull-witted mockers from urbania.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
One of my friends pointed out that we'd 'evolve' to have all this work out. Give it a few generations, or maybe more than a few, and it'll all work out. It's the kind of conjecture you might have heard in a different form once upon a time when applied to the human-car interaction, which was supposed to eventually presumably produce humans optimally designed to operate cars, with those body parts not required for car operation degenerating over the course of time.
Thing is, it just doesn't work that way. Evolution is a process that works through death, and through killing of certain members of a population before they can reproduce; while others go on reproducing happily along and eventually outbreeding those who are, in that context, less 'fit'.
Without death there is no evolution. Without preventing people with certain characteristics from reproducing, their characteristics cannot be eliminated from the gene pool. Not yet anyway. We may, of course, in due course be able to modify genes in other ways, and even change those that will end up in the offsprings' gene pool. But that's a different story. It not 'evolution'. It's something completely new, for which there is, as yet, no definite term.
Evolution is pretty much dead, given the current level of technology and health-care available in many places. Of course, should we suddenly take ourselves back to some pre-technological time, that would be different, but we're assuming that our health-maintenance capabilities are, if anything, only going to increase. Since evolution, under those circumstances anyway, is dead, so is the argument made by those who oppose extended human longevity (>200 years, say), at least as far as the "Oh, but you'll stop evolution!" nonsense is concerned. It's already stopped, folks!
What my friend was talking about when he said that we'd 'evolve' to be better adapted to a world with ubiquitous computers and the internet and maybe even more influential and cognition-impacting cyber-things, was really just 'adaptation', which is a completely different animal.
Adaptation is an adjustment of an organism's behavior, physiology or anatomy in response to encountering a particular set of environmental circumstances that require such adaptation, in order for the organism in question to function optimally. But while the ability to adapt may be bestowed on the organism through an evolutionary process, that doesn't mean that the adaptation itself will be transmitted to offspring. Only the ability to adapt will—this is the best one can hope for.
This means that, with evolution being out of the picture, that the next generation will be no better adapted, at birth, to, say, being exposed extensively to computers and the internet, than the current one. And if—as is highly probable given the evidence—our brains really are not really suited to extensive human-computer interaction of the 'intensive' kind, then that means that the next generation's brains also aren't adapted 'naturally' to it either. Meaning that what can be shown to damage the brains of this generation (whatever 'this' generations happens to be), will also damage the brains of any generation following.
I'd go further than just confining the applicability of my jaundiced view to individuals and the way computers completely screw up their cognitive systems. I think that our societies are at a stage which actually constitutes a form of reversion to a more primitive state. The thought and emotion control being imposed on people through computer-enhanced state/government/media/education systems are taking us back to pre-intellectual days, into the dark ages of humankind, when the notion of individual liberty, choice and 'free thought' was, if it existed at all, confined to very few.
The grim irony is that we actually think we're 'progressing', when in truth we are falling back into mindless, uncritical conformity. And, yes, I know, many will argue that this is patently wrong, because isn't there so much more critical discussion now than ever before?
Well, no. There isn't. I admit that the world of human thought is divided into a number of camps—and there really aren't all that many, though each have factions of sorts—this I admit. Some think this and other think that. But are they 'critical'? Hardly. The only 'criticism' you get is that of those from one camp criticizing those from other camps. In other words, virtually all so-called 'criticism' is camp-oriented. And that, in my book, isn't criticism, but pretty much the same as a bunch of Christians berating a bunch of Muslims. Republicans bitching about Democrats. Liberals berating Conservatives. Religionists slamming Atheists. Objectivists deriding Collectivists. You get the idea, yes?
It's all pretty stupid and silly. Intellect doesn't come into this, except as the slave of already-existing convictions. And while reason tends to be a tool, as it should be, for dealing with the world, our cowardice in applying it to uncover things that may be uncomfortable to us or endanger our world-view is truly pathetic. The computerization of our societies and the use of information technology to exert social and mind control is going to hasten our decline into more of the same of this.
It need not be that way, of course. But, like always, what can be used for great good invariably can also be used for a similarly great evil. IT is one of those things. It has allowed us to discover things that previously were hidden; solved problems and created machines that perform feats once only dreamed of by SF writers. It has been used to save millions of lives. In the final analysis, it will result in a decrease of environmental damage, even though its development caused and is causing quite a lot. It has brought us breathtaking, revealing images of the universe. I could go on and on about the benefits of computer technology—and about its evils, which people, in their apparently infinite stupidity and venality, insist on bringing into the world.
None of this will help, of course. Like the dumbwits we are, we may muddle through by sheer good luck. Maybe enough of us will get through this without being integrated into the mindless hordes of opinion camps littering the world today. Maybe some of us, and maybe some of our children also, will continue to be able to think for our- and themselves; as individuals, and not as parts of group-thinks.
Maybe a few piggies will continue to be able to fly.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
There's a lot of sex and violence, with occasionally graphic depictions of gore and body parts flying here and there. Where there are vampires, werewolves aren't far off. There are also people with unexpected talents here, such as telepaths and shapechangers, plus a host of half-people-half-creature things, like a sorceress who is a cross between the Odyssey's 'Circe'...
...and some bad-ass were-monster, which likes to rip people's hearts out.
True Blood is good, unclean fun, if you like that kind of thing. It's set in a fictional small town in Louisiana and makes excellent use of the ambience of that region. The characters are sharply drawn, and in particular Anna Paquin, not hyperventilating anymore like she did when she got an Oscar for her role in The Piano. Her affair with the vampire Bill Compton, whose manners, way of thinking and social etiquette date back to over a century back, is the pivot around which much of the story and its other characters revolve. Definitely worth seeing, though I understand why this really wouldn't be everybody's cup of tea.
One thing that occurred to me—and it's something the series, with its many 'talented' humans popping up all over the place—is that it kind of clarifies why those denying the existence of anything that isn't 'scientifically provable', though few actually have a decent notion of what that actually means, are so rabid and...well, 'fanatical'...about their assertions.
It is this: if only one, just one—and it could just be a tiny 'one'—of those things beyond the reach of the scientifically-accepted fabric of reality were actually shown to exist, that would open the floodgates for just about everything else as well. If vampires, those 'undead' creatures who can walk and talk and suck the blood out of unwary humans, exist, then werewolves probably do, too. If just one shard, one fragment, can be found, made of a material unknown to our technology and demonstrably from some kind of 'craft' or machine, then the whole UFO thing follows immediately behind. Find a single telepath who can communicate across vast distances—say, from Australia to the UK—at will and with precision, and you'll open the doors for telekinesis, clairvoyance and even talking to the dead; which would, of course, overturn the current paradigms of the likes of Richard Dawkins for good and forever. If just one object or person suddenly disappears in mid air, and it can be demonstrated that this wasn't a hoax, we've got the whole 'other universes' thing staring us in the face and waving hello. We find a single person of reasonably youthful appearance and in good health who can demonstrate that s/he is, say 400 years old, and that's the end of the you've-got-to-get-old-and-die paradigm, which holds us all in thrall. And so on.
This is the problem with, and the promise of, such matters entering our lives beyond the point of reasonable doubt. It is a problem for those who don't want it to happen. It is a promise for those who believe, or at least strongly suspect, that things aren't what they appear, no matter how comforting the status quo is to those believing fervently in the method and body-of-knowledge of science.
While some will, no doubt, be certain that the current body of science will continue to reign supreme, I am watching this space with interest—mainly because... well, just because... and also because it would be be good, though possibly also scary, fun if there was more to 'reality' than we give credit for.