August 8, 2015

That'll show 'em: Kim Jong-un turns back time

“With the new time zone, Kim Jong-un is reasserting his code words of self-reliance and national dignity to his people,” Mr. Chang said. “Whatever difficulties and inconveniences the new time zone may cause are nothing to his government, compared with its propaganda value at home.”

The Japanese government offered no response to the North’s announcement, but the Japanese news media pounced on the news, including Pyongyang’s accusation that Japan “stole Korea’s time.” Some Internet users offered amused criticism. “Why did they wait 70 years?” several asked on Twitter.


August 7, 2015

Backlash against equal pay raise for workers!

So this is what happens when a US business owner gives everyone a huge pay rise:  collective outrage. 

Yep, giving people a livable wage will do that.
"Two of Mr. Price’s most valued employees quit, spurred in part by their view that it was unfair to double the pay of some new hires while the longest-serving staff members got small or no raises. Some friends and associates in Seattle’s close-knit entrepreneurial network were also piqued that Mr. Price’s action made them look stingy in front of their own employees."

July 15, 2015

June 1, 2015

May 31, 2015

Ending homelessness: give them homes

In eight years, Utah has quietly reduced homelessness by 78 percent, and is on track to end homelessness by 2015.

 Home Free?

May 23, 2015

Our leaders should go eat worms

Everyone hates Abbott and Shorten, equally.

No worming their way out of it: voters hate Abbott and Shorten

Illicit drugs could be the safer alternative afterall

Pharmacy expert at the University of Sydney Dr Niall Wheate said there was already evidence marijuana could have a role in pain relief.

"It's definitely a potential alternative. There have been several studies in the US already that have shown that in states that have legalised cannabis that overdose deaths from opioids have actually dropped significantly, up to 30 per cent," he said.

Pot kills crippling pain

April 28, 2015

Salman Rushdie slams ‘coward’ Peter Carey over Charlie Hebdo

Rushdie keeps his backbone, while far too many writers are still in search of theirs.
Sir Salman Rushdie has labelled a pair of novelist friends as cowards after they boycotted a freedom of speech award for the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. 
The Booker Prize-winning author described Peter Carey and Michael Ondaatje as “pussies” for pulling out of a gala event in the US.

The pair were among a group of six writers who questioned whether a publication that brazenly offended Muslims should be awarded the annual Freedom of Expression Courage award by PEN, an association that promotes free speech, on May 5 in New York.
“The big mistake that these writers make is that they are essentially withdrawing their support from the principle of freedom of expression. If freedom of expression means anything, then it’s supporting work that you don’t like. It’s very disappointing because we need that solidarity.”

She said that the award was for the courage shown by Charlie Hebdo’s staff not only for publishing material that some would find offensive but also for “deciding to continue to publish when they must have been on their knees”.
Salman Rushdie slams ‘coward’ Peter Carey over Charlie Hebdo

April 25, 2015

JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay

So, a main character in the Harry Potter series of books (and films) was gay, but no one knew.

Isn't this like a tree falling in a forest and no one's there to hear it? 

Or one hand clapping?

That JK Rowling has been much praised for outing Dumbledore, long after the children's books and films were done and dusted - from a safe and retrospective distance, in other words - and that some people are still tweeting or commenting on this fictitious gay person, continues to baffle me. Utterly, utterly baffled. 

JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay

The real Billy Hayes (of Midnight Express fame)

Are you suggesting this as a career path, then?

"Sure," he says. "I suggest you get busted, go to jail, escape and write a book. The rest is gravy."

It was, he says more seriously, the "best and worst thing that ever happened to me". The worst of it was that he felt as if he'd consigned his own family to five years in prison (though his brother has thanked him for setting such a low bar that "unless we kill someone on television, we're golden").
 Billy Hayes tells the true story behind Midnight Express 

February 27, 2015

The Government’s Bad Diet Advice

For two generations, Americans ate fewer eggs and other animal products because policy makers told them that fat and cholesterol were bad for their health. Now both dogmas have been debunked in quick succession.

First, last fall, experts on the committee that develops the country’s dietary guidelines acknowledged that they had ditched the low-fat diet. On Thursday, that committee’s report was released, with an even bigger change: It lifted the longstanding caps on dietary cholesterol, saying there was “no appreciable relationship” between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. Americans, it seems, had needlessly been avoiding egg yolks, liver and shellfish for decades. The new guidelines, the first to be issued in five years, will influence everything from school lunches to doctors’ dieting advice.
 The Government’s Bad Diet Advice

Super Massive Black Hole

Inexplicable black hole found, and it's not Australian politics.

The not so secret formula to making Coca-Cola

It's a drink loved by millions around the world, but have you ever wondered what actually goes into it?
You might be surprised to learn that nutmeg, coriander, vanilla and cinnamon go into making your favourite drink, according to UK newspaper The Mirror.

In 1993 author and scholar Mark Pendergrast published his history of the Coke company in his book, For God, Country & Coca-Cola, which lists the special ingredients which make up the drink in the appendix.
Pendergrast had stumbled across a formula book, originally owned by Doctor JS Pemberton who invented the drink, while searching through the Coca-Cola archives in Atlanta, Georgia.

See a full list of the ingredients here.

But while ingredients such as coriander, lime juice, and citric acid may be easy enough to come by, you may struggle to find citrate caffein.

There’s also another catch.
While the drink is bottled all over the world, the syrup is only made in the US.

The beverage giant employs the Stepan Company in Illinois which is the only one legally allowed to import cocaine containing coca leaves into America.

Yes that’s correct — a pharmaceutical processing company extract the cocaine and sell on the leaves to Coca-Cola, according to The Mirror.

The not so secret formula to making Coca-Cola

February 15, 2015

Counting Abbott

15 Feb 2015:  seven days since Tony Abbott, PM, announced the commencement of good government in Oz! 

Feeling the love yet?

February 14, 2015

What's in those supplements?

What's in those supplements?  Arh, not much at all, it turns out, at least if you live in America. 

Lesson:  spend your money on real food, cross your fingers all goes well.

What's in those supplements?

How to cook a fucking steak

Go to the goddamn grocery and get steak. Yes, the grocery. A little ammonia is not going to kill you, you pussy. You want to be all fancy and grass-fed and environmentally conscious, go ahead, I don’t give a shit, just get a fucking steak. Ribeye is good. And, yes, bone-in. Schmuck. Take the steak home. Get a bigass frying pan and put the shit on the stove, cranking the heat up as far as that fucker will go. Take a shitload of salt—rocksalt, you dumb motherfucker, none of that fine-grained crap here—and toss it around the bottom of the pan. When the pan is hot as all fuck—it should scorch the shit out of your finger if you’re stupid enough to touch it—put the fucking steak on there. You can crack some pepper on the top of the steak as the bottom is searing, but don’t even talk to me about garlic or onion powder or COMPOUND FUCKING BUTTER, asshole. This is steak, all you fucking need is salt and pepper. After a bit (3 minutes for pink, 5 for cooked good), flip that shit over and do the same fucking thing you just did with the other side, i.e. sit on your ass and wait for your motherfucking steak to be ready, you useless assbag. When you’re done, sling that shit on a plate. Beringer’s 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve makes an absolutely delightful accompaniment, particularly if you’ve taken care to let it breathe a bit before quaffing. Also, make some fucking potatoes, because that’s what you eat with a fucking steak. God, sometimes I just want to smack the shit out of you.

Alex Balk 

February 1, 2015

Miranda Devine: Desperate defence of Credlin is humiliating

Miranda Divine lays blame for everything that ails the Federal Government, and it ain't the Prime Minister and it ain't the Treasurer, and it ain't the never ending bungles, and it ain't the inability to convince anyone in the country to pass the first Liberal budget (you know, the one from 2014), and it ain't the harebrained policies (we use the word 'policies' loosely), which Abbott has jettisoned left and right.  No, it's the PMs EA.  Yep.  One woman has destroyed the Abbott government, and if only she goes (and she should), Abbott and Hockey will morph into world-beating leaders, with a bottom drawer chock-full of dazzling policies and twenty first century vision. 

I can't wait.
In a funny way, the media overreaction to the Prime Minister’s knighthood gaffe has given him breathing space. 

The real narrative of his ailing leadership gave way to the laughable hypothetical that a prime minister should lose his job for such a frippery.

No, Prince Philip’s gong is not the reason Abbott’s job is at risk.

It was simply the match that lit the bonfire of disappointment that had been building among his colleagues and supporters for almost a year, and on which he kept blithely throwing petrol.

The violent reaction that followed was a catharsis that has temporarily relieved pent-up tensions. Paradoxically, the famous tweet of my boss Rupert Murdoch on Wednesday, calling for Abbott to replace his chief of staff Peta Credlin, has been used as an excuse not to do what needs to be done.
I must be misunderstanding this somehow. The article's premise seems to be that Tony Abbott cannot lead his own office but should be relied upon to lead the nation. Don't get me wrong, I understand that leadership is much harder than it looks but this article is pointing out Tony Abbott's failings - not Peta Credlin's. Removing Peta Credlin won't suddenly make Tony Abbott into a good leader.
All of the stories in this article are alarming but if it is really true that Credlin has screaming matches with ministers and staff and Mr Abbott feels the solution is suggestions to buy flowers then I would conclude that he really doesn't understand his role at all.
The government's problems are of their own making and they will have to be the ones to fix them as well. Finding a scapegoat does not fix a problem.
Will Peta Credlin be getting equal column space to defend herself after this?
It is scurrilous to blame and scapegoat any staffer: the buck stops with the boss.
I do not recall Miranda criticising Peta before Abbott started making colossal mistakes. Until then, Peta was just fine so why the big change of heart now? To try to save Abbott's neck?
He is the cause of the problem and solely responsible for his decisions and actions.
If he cannot even run his office properly, how can he run the country?
You are talking about a rhodes scholar, a career politician making rookie mistakes because his PA is a tyrant? Dont make me laugh.

Miranda Devine: Desperate defence of Credlin is humiliating 

January 24, 2015

Call for Muslim army in Australia

"Eventually, we will bounce back and we will reclaim everything that they have taken from us,” Bilal Merhi told the crowd.
Err, and what was it we took from them?

This is going to be one sorry-arsed long war, with no worthy narrative.  But hey, we didn't start it, contrary to the claims of the sniveling appeasers.

Call for Muslim army in Australia 

January 23, 2015

As before, she does it again: Hanson's gravy train

Only has to work for a few weeks every three or four years, not a bad way to make a living off tax payers.
Ms Hanson, 60, is attempting to resurrect her political career by contesting the seat of Lockyer in rural southern Queensland.

Local farmer and businessman Ian Rickuss has held the electorate for the Liberal National Party the since 2004.

He currently enjoys a 18.8 per cent margin.
Hanson wants referendum on burqa

January 22, 2015

‘Angry summer’ alarmists all choked up

LAST week delivered for the global warming debate, the most anticipated data point of the decade. The year 2014 was declared the hottest of the past century, by a margin of 0.04 degC. The news has been greeted with enthusiasm by those who attribute all warming to man-made influences, (notably in the Fairfax press in Australia), but few commentators have qualified their comment with the observation that NASA put an error margin of +-0.05 C on their result. 

The figure below shows global surface temperature as compiled by NASA for the past 134 years. Single data points (years) are unimportant. The 5-year moving average in red is a more useful indicator of temperature trends, and its slope shows clearly the steady rising trend from 1980 to 2000, and the temperature pause from 2000 to present. Anyone with a high-school science education can look at such a graph and form their own conclusions, but four of the most important are that

• The slope of the rise from 1980 to 2000 is about 0.19 degC per decade (the rate consistent with current warming models for “business as usual” CO2 emissions)
• A closely similar rate of rise in global temperature occurred from 1910 to 1940, pre-dating current high CO2 emissions
• Pauses in the rate of rise occurred from 1880 to 1910, from 1940 to 1970, and from 2000 to present.
• The model trend as computed by the IPCC continues upwards from 2000, but the pause is a clear break of observed earth behaviour away from the models.

The pauses are regarded by the majority of scientists (both within and outside the conventional anthropogenic global warming camps) as being attributable to natural cycles in global climate, although the two groups favour different causative mechanisms.

What is surprising is that, instead of reading the multiple patterns in such a graph, enormous global publicity has followed on that single point of 2014 — even though we won’t know for a decade whether it represents a break from the current “pause” trend. Thus John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute, greeted the 2014 result with the comment “This data shows not only a series of alarming years but decades of warming to make an undisputable trend”, which suggests a lack of awareness on his part of the steep warming trend which occurred from 1910-1940 without significant man-made assistance, and the pause from 2000 which occurred despite current CO2 emissions. Will Steffen of the Climate Council also finds cause for alarm in the 2014 data point, using the occasion to release a document titled “Off the charts: 2014 was the world’s hottest year on record” in which objective graphical analysis as we teach in high schools is replaced with poetic subheadings personifying the climate as “Angry Summer”, Abnormal Autumn” and “Scorching Spring”.

We can also look back to 2007 for a fascinating morsel of history; the figure shows at that year there is a clear hint of the start of the pause, although not statistically significant at that time. When Bob Carter, a former head of the Department of Earth Sciences at James Cook University, called attention to the discrepancy between the change temperature trend versus the modelling predictions, Andrew Ash (then acting director of the CSIRO Climate Adaption Flagship), stated “Professor Bob Carter claims that ‘no ground-based warming has occurred since 1998’. This is an unethical misrepresentation of the facts”. I suggest this is an incredible accusation to make against a scientist who has read (correctly, as history shows) a trend in a global temperature data set. When comparing Carter’s observation with pronouncements prompted by the single 2014 warm temperature point, we see a disturbing double standard in how scientific commentary is received. (In defence of the management of CSIRO I note that CSIRO has not issued a media release related to the 2014 temperature data point).

Some climate scientists will counter my views with claims that 21st century temperatures are cause for great concern because they are “the hottest ever”. Multiple lines of geological and historical data show they are not. Observations of past surface temperatures constructed from chemical composition of clam shells as far apart as Iceland and the south China Sea point to global temperatures of medieval times (800-1300AD) being warmer than those of today, and those of Roman times even warmer. The message is, the Earth can and does cool and warm on time scales of decades to millennia, and CO2 emissions are not the dominant driver. Our grandchildren will be best served if we devote our Direct Action strategies towards robust protection of communities from effects of drought, fire and floods. All have been a part of our history. And history guarantees all will be a part of our future.

Michael Asten is a professor of geophysics at Monash University, Melbourne.

How many times must the alarmists be told of the Earth's climatic history?

(1) The Mediaeval Warm Period, the Roman Warm Period, the Minoan Warm Period were warmer than the current warming and occurred BEFORE the industrial revolution without high concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is natural variability at work.

(2) Vostok ice core data relating to deglaciations reveals that temperature increases occurred some 8 centuries or more BEFORE the corresponding increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Similarly, a recent study (by Zhiaou & Feng) of Antarctic ice core data covering the last 10,000 years ALSO showed that temperature increases occurred BEFORE the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide increased. The temporal relationship is presumably due to delayed outgassing from the oceans which contain some 50 times as much carbon dioxide as the atmosphere.

NOTE to the alarmists: causes do NOT occur after their effects.

(3) Other studies of temperature vs atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration on geological time scales show absolutely NO CORRELATION between temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. There are extended periods in the past in which these two variables head in opposite directions viz. temperature going down while CO2 is going up and vice versa. 

(4) Studies have shown that the Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has been as high as 30% (compared with the current 0.04%) and yet the 'runaway greenhouse effect' did NOT occur otherwise we would not be here to discuss it.

(5) the alarmists are fond of quoting Venus as the exemplar of the runaway greenhouse effect. The fact is that water vapour is the dominant greenhouse gas and when Venus had water the surface temperature and atmospheric pressure there were at least 3 times what they are currently. (See 'An Introduction to Astrophysics' by Carroll & Ostlie).

(6) None of the computer models of climate (so vaunted by the alarmists) have been validated by real world observations and they have consistently predicted/projected temperatures higher than subsequently observed.

(7) The alleged 'fingerprint' of greenhouse gas induced warming of our planet (according to the IPCC's models) was supposedly a 'hot spot', warming more rapidly, in the atmosphere 10km above the tropics. No such 'hot spot' was ever found by the satellite data.

(8) "The science is settled" claim is patently false - there are still so many uncertainties about the physics of clouds, aerosols, ocean circulation etc. that it is no wonder the IPCC computer models have no skill and have not been validated.

There is much more but a line must be drawn somewhere. 
‘Angry summer’ alarmists all choked up without reading fine print

January 19, 2015

The money shot: this is why Hockey is unfit to be Treasurer

Treasurer Joe Hockey has raised the prospect of people living until 150 to explain why Australians should accept cuts to government benefits and pay a greater share of their health costs.
He used to be hopeless, now it's just embarrassingly uncomfortable for everyone.

Hockey has no idea what he's doing and it's painfully obvious he has no basis for any of his economic ideas.  It would be too generous to call them policies.  All he's doing is making shit up to justify his random budget thoughts.

Hockey raises prospect of Australians living until 150 to justify budget cuts 

NYT: David Brooks - I am not Charlie

The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

I Am Not Charlie Hebdo

January 12, 2015

Waleed Aly's latest defense of Islamic terrorism: don't mention the dead or their stand for freedom

Waleed Aly is one in the latest crop of Australian media darling go-to guys, with his specialty being Islamic terrorism in need of appeasement and defense.  He's good at it too, being an Australian born Muslim, married to a local Muslim (he would not have considered marrying a non-Muslim, by his own admission), over educated, including a law degree, an academic working from the Monash University Global Terrorism Research Centre, new anchor for The Project, long term columnist for The Age, and he owns quite a number of good suits and a range of televisually non-threatening ties. 

A day after a group of elderly cartoonists were murdered in Paris, Aly, who is the happy beneficiary of freedom of his speech - in newspapers, on television, and in academia - kicked-off his column by noting the latest terrorist attack, didn't mention why or who or how many, then he seygway into missing planes and alcohol fueled violence, before concluding, self-righteously, from the safety of his free speech keyboard, that Australia is as safe as houses, and what the hell's all the fuss about, hey?  Last year was the safest year ever.  Fist bump!

Because that's how you defend terrorism and Islam and freedom of speech and democratic values:  by doing a cute little shrug of the shoulders, and accepting that global terrorism is now normal, so should we all get over it folks, and besides, we're safe in our little country, and oh look, there's a moral and mortal equivalence between Islamic terrorism and planes falling out of the sky and idiot drunks who become violent. 

Because one day after the cruel and brutal murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, that's how Waleed Aly saw the world:  one big normal, and let's not mention a bunch of old guys being murdered, let's not mention that they were the only guys left putting their lives on the line to protect Aly's assumption of freedom of thought, of religion, of speech, of the press, of academia.  

Any other time Aly would have rolled out his lone lunatic defense, and how a lone wolf isn't true Islam (he never tells us how many wolves it takes before we're allowed to call them a pack), and don't get terrorism and Muslims all mixed up, but not this time.  This time, Aly didn't even bother, telling us this is normal, and if it's normal, then we'll get used to it, and accept it, and we'll metaphorically shrug our shoulders in that cute and dismissive way that Aly did when he put digit to keyboard with his most disingenuous turning of a blind-eye to Islam being the root cause of Islamic terrorism. 

Most of us would have no trouble identifying the differences between the root cause of planes crashing, one punch to someone's head, and someone arming themselves and murdering people. 

Besides all of that, I'd weary of everyone pretending that Islam is all about religion.  It's not.  Islam is most strongly a political ideology, with laws of it's own, and it's the political and legal system that Islamic terrorists seek to impose on the rest of us; they're not really after our conversion to their religion of peace.

The past year may go down as one of shattered myths as the realities of global terrorism, the dangers of flying and random violence are brought home.

Is this just normal now? That's perhaps the most disturbing thought I had as news of another terrorist attack, this time in Paris, broke. Somehow this has begun to look familiar, like an episode in a show we've seen before. The feeling is familiar too: when you awake to something catastrophic, unprecedented and unthinkable – or so you thought.

This feeling, more than anything, seems to have defined the past year; a year that, by apparent consensus, was positively, gallingly crappy. It's not just terrorism – to which I'll return, soon – it's everything. It's the feeling I had as watching the debris and dead bodies from that AirAisa flight being retrieved, it was like witnessing a ghoulish symbolic performance of a year in review. Little symbolises the unique squalor of 2014 like the bizarrely tragic year in aviation. Surely the worst ever.

Except that it wasn't. Not by a long shot. "By numbers – the safest year in modern aviation history," trumpeted the Aviation Safety Network.  That might be hard to take as you contemplate the sorry fate of Malaysia Airlines and its passengers. But there it is: only eight planes crashed in 2014. That's three fewer than the previous best, a couple of years ago. And this in an age when there are more planes in the air than ever before. Really, it was a relative triumph. Do the statistics lie?

Well, yeah, a bit. But not shamelessly. Judged by numbers of deaths, rather than crashes, 2014 is the worst year since the late '90s. Even so 2014 was still better than almost every year before that going back to 1960. Plot them on a graph and last year doesn't disturb the general downward trend. Turns out it doesn't look as out of place as it felt.

That sort of thing happened quite bit last year. That's not to deny that it was objectively terrible in many ways, often in the ways we didn't feel so keenly. There is no silver lining I can find to 7000 Ebola deaths, for instance, even if this seemed to lack the emotional kick of Phillip Hughes'. But it's also true that the things that angered, depressed and panicked us were less than they appeared.

We began with Daniel Christie, whose brief 2014 was spent entirely in a coma until his family ended life support after a few days. One punch, a fractured skull, then death. The facts are so arresting precisely because they are so simple and so few. And so, in a flash came the media coverage, the political responses and the public awareness campaigns. The "king hit" became the "coward's punch", and whatever it was called it became the target of a new criminal offence. Sentencing became mandatory. Venues had lockouts and new, enforced closing times. We had been provoked by a new and growing scourge. Australia had a major drinking problem, and with it a marauding violence problem, and Christie was the face of it.
And yet. The statistical truth is that we're drinking less than we were around the time Kevin Rudd ousted John Howard, and massively less than we did in the '70s and '80s when, apparently, we were perpetually tanked. Violence on licensed premises is dropping, too, and so are alcohol-related assaults. We're even going to hospital less for alcohol-related reasons. And this with a growing population.

Of course, none of that helps the Christies. And – to be sure – none of it means there isn't a serious problem we've been ignoring for too long. But there is something to learn from the way a problem can suddenly become a panic.

So back to terrorism, that other definitive blight on last year, and given the tragic events in Paris, quite probably this one. The frightening emergence of ISIS abroad, then in a more symbolic form at home tell us this is no mere illusion. We witnessed the first domestic casualties of Islamist terrorism we've had. This all has a vaguely apocalyptic feel, and yet when more than 20 Australian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in 2010-11 it hardly gave us pause. That just felt normal. So we performed the customary ceremonies and moved on to worrying about the carbon tax which, by contrast, seemed to scare the pants of us.

Here's the thing: in our streets, in our bank accounts and in the air, we in Australia lead about the safest, most secure lives of any people. Ever. Our real income is up and the road toll is down (the lowest since 1945, by the way). We live without any genuine prospect of political strife. We're not about to be invaded or bombed with nuclear weapons – our most feared enemies have knives and guns, not armies in tanks. We're not likely to be decimated by some disease or virus – Ebola or otherwise. Yes we have problems, but they're the kind most of our species could only have dreamed of having. And yet that's so easy to forget because there's this continuous, churning fear.

Our mortal selves aren't under threat, here. But the myths we've built about ourselves very much are. The myth that our addiction to alcohol is innocently, endearingly larrikin, for example. Or that the problems of the world – like Russia's incursion into Ukraine or the disaster of Iraq and Syria – have no call on us and simply don't raise their heads in Sydney or Paris. Indeed the myth – that incidentally underscores how cheerfully we'll slash foreign aid – that we can set ourselves apart as (largely uninterested) onlookers: that the world is a sideshow to which we'll occasionally buy a ticket, but not our society.

Maybe we don't realise it yet, but 2014 might just be the year those myths died. That, I think, is why it hurts and shocks so much. This is as painful a process for a society as losing people. It's not just that people perished and dangers emerged. It's that those deaths and dangers weren't meant to happen. Not to us. And I can't find any statistics that can remove that feeling.
Plane crashes, terrorism, random violence - new realities amid our relative security

Bonus notes from Aly ... it's all just a misunderstanding and Al Qaeda has had no impact on Islam:

ANDREW DENTON: What has Al Qaeda done to Islam? 
WALEED ALY: to Islam probably nothing. I think in the long run organisations like Al Qaeda don’t have a long term impact because they don’t stand for much. And people will eventually find that out. I was having a conversation with a a friend of mine who is an expert in Middle East politics and radicalisation in the Middle East and he made the point, he said if Al Qaeda had a slogan it would basically be we blow stuff up. That’s pretty much it, and once you get beyond that, once you’ve blown stuff up what happens?

WALEED ALY: Well, I think where the world’s headed right now I don’t find particularly inspiring or hopeful and the book is kind of all about that. It’s about why the world’s stuffed basically, at the moment. but we can turn that around you know. I think it’s possible for human beings if really if they commit themselves to understanding each other, even if they don’t like each other, but just actually understanding each other, you know informed hatred is what I’m after Andrew. If no, but seriously…

ANDREW DENTON: It’s a noble ambition.
WALEED ALY: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. It’s a peace prize kind of ambition isn’t it? If we can actually commit make you know really try to understand each other then I think the trajectory will change.

January 11, 2015

How can anyone make sense of the Charlie Hebdo killings?

When I woke up in New York on Wednesday morning and heard about the horror in Paris earlier that same day, the cold-blooded murder of the staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine, I thought first of Wolinski, and then I thought of my friends Nisha and Saley. 

Wolinski, of course, was one of those murdered in that massacre of elderly cartoonists, and several others, by two brutal terrorists. Well, to call them terrorists is, of all strange things under the sun, to pay them a compliment. For they were not, like most terrorists, assailants of strangers whom they could not fully register as human - these were cold-blooded killers of people whose faces they were forced to see as they killed them, men so far gone in evil that they were willing to murder a roomful of helpless and unarmed old men.

We should, I know, not dwell on the mere tabloid details of this horror, and its dramatic conclusion, but seek to place it in context or proportion or… something. I find that hard. We under-rate, or don't talk sufficiently, of the sheer deliberate cruelty, the sadism of terrorism - in what was what I hope the worst video any of us will see, we saw these same killers cold-bloodedly murdering a fallen policeman as he pleaded for his life, and making a casual joke as they did. These men enjoy killing helpless people. If there is a worse thing to be said about anyone, I would not know what it is.
 But unemployed people don't typically - or indeed, ever - look 80-year old men in the eye and then blow their brains away. Excluded or invisible people always suffer from their sense of not quite belonging - as the Jewish immigrants of Wolinski's generation to France did, too. They write books, they protest, sometimes they even emigrate. They do not mock dying policemen and then complete their murder. To make the secular model, or anything except fanaticism itself, responsible for the horrors we have seen would be absurd, if it were not so obscene.

Fanaticism is the enemy, not faith. It always is. But only a fool would deny that faith has been the seedbed of fanaticism in mankind's long and sorry struggle for the light. That's why, when the non-religious commit acts of shocking cruelty and intolerance, as they often have and will again, it is normal for us to say that they have made a religion of their politics, or that they are in the grip of a blinding and inhumane dogma. 

France has that "stark secularism" not to de-fang faith, but exactly to keep faith from turning towards fanaticism - and it does this by compelling the faithful to look each other in the face and recognise that they must live together or die. Secularism is not a way of disarming religion. The basic social contract of the Enlightenment is that tolerance is there above all to guarantee the free exercise of faith. No one can try to forcibly convert a Muslim (or a Jewish, or a Catholic) child in France, or to prevent their worship. This comes at the low cost of accepting the right of all faiths to persist, including the faith of those who think that we should never have faith in anything. 

This is a very new thing in the history of the West. Five hundred years ago it would have been unimaginable for French Catholics to accept this co-existence with Islam. A mere hundred years ago, as we know, Jews were hounded and imprisoned, and worse was yet to come. Ours is the great era of tolerance, and we have no reason to apologize for it.

Sometimes tragedy provokes individual eloquence. Hassen Chalghoumi, the Muslim imam of Drancy, a Paris suburb, rushed to the scene of the killings and said: "I feel an immense sadness but above all anger. We can argue over liberty, but when we're in disagreement we respond to art with art, to wit with wit. We never respond to a drawing with blood. No! Never. These victims are martyrs, and I shall pray for them with all my heart." Courage, CS Lewis, that great Christian philosopher said, is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point. France is at a testing point this weekend - of truthfulness, decency, and solidarity - and also of what they call the ability to "desolidarise" - to put the people we know before the abstract categories we imagine. Come to think of it, making people, with all their flaws, fully visible while leaving ideal types alone, is exactly what the caricaturist has always done for us. It's their special form of bravery. 
How can anyone make sense of the Charlie Hebdo killings?