30 April, 2009

Beware of Panic Fatigue

The swine flu scare has already caused a pandemic of idiotic scaremongering masquerading as news. While the news networks have very little to say and an awful lot of time to say it in, I think the worst effort I've seen so far was tonight where A Current Affair had a live cross to a house in New Zealand where three people suspected of being infected were interviewed while leaning out a second storey window, with the sound man standing on the ground holding the boom mic up to them and the cameraman zooming in from a safe distance. It sounded like even Tracey Grimshaw had to stifle a few giggles at the stupidity of it all.

The biggest problem with all the media beat-ups is that it provokes a backlash not against those who are whipping up a frenzy for the sake of ratings, but against the issue itself and those trying to talk sense about it. Since the people endlessly speculating on whether it could be the new plague or bioterrorism are clearly idiots, that means there's nothing to worry about, right?
This kind of thinking is just as dangerous as the scaremongering.

Then there are those who will instantly cite the issue as proof of their own political hobby-horse. For instance, it can't just be a coincidence that this came in the same week that a 747 made a low, unannounced flight over New York, terrorising the locals and Dick Cheney has been on TV trying to scare the shit out of people, right? Right? No, it's all the fault of illegal immigrants. Ho-hum.

I've already read of the threat being compared to the Y2K bug in terms of it being a fizzer. It's almost as if people are disappointed when a threat doesn't eventuate. But the reason Y2K was a “fizzer” and didn't plunge us back into the dark ages is because we took the threat seriously and prepared for it so that when the clocks ticked over, the worst that happened was a few strange late fees at video libraries. People seem to take that good outcome to mean we were worried about nothing. We were not. We dealt with it.

It's these kind of attitudes that lead people to blow off new threats just because previous threats have been averted. In 2005, when hurricane Katrina threatened New Orleans, many people chose not to evacuate since it never turns out as bad as they say it will. Until it turns out worse. So last year, when Hurricane Gustav looked like it could hit New Orleans, the city became a ghost town. (In fairness, evacuating was easier that time since less than half the people who left in 2005 have returned) Mercifully this time, New Orleans was not hit badly. And that will give people the excuse to be a little more blasé next time and maybe even more so the time after that as they forget how bad things can be if they don't prepare for the worst. Some scoffed when John Brumby predicted that the 7th of February would be one of the worst days in Victorian history. The problem was that he was right.

So yes, the threat is probably, hopefully, overstated. And although the tabloid reporting of it is utterly irresponsible, there's something to be said for overstating a threat a bit so that people take it seriously but not so much as to be thrown into a mad panic. There's also the theory that what is being referred to as “swine flu” is in fact two separate strains since the only cases outside of Mexico have been quite mild, although there are other possible explanations for this too.

It's times like these that a few tired old clichés really ring true.
Be alert, not alarmed.
Better safe than sorry.

It was refreshing to read some common-sense perspective in this report:

Streiffer said it's important to keep the threat of swine flu in perspective. It's a new strain of influenza, so people haven't built up immunity and vaccines won't block it, but there is no indication that it is any more virulent or dangerous for normally healthy people than the more typcial strains of flu.

"What people don't seem to understand is it's not worse than the average flu, except there's no herd immunity -- which means there's no immunity in the general population -- therefore, everyone's at risk, but not necessarily for anything more virulent or dangerous than average influenza."

27 April, 2009

Respect Mah O-pin-i-on!

I respect your opinion, you ought to respect mine.

How many times have we heard this? In these days of hardcore partisanship and intransigence, it seems as close as anyone gets to agreeing to disagree. But wait a minute... I should respect your opinion? Why? We all have the right to our opinion. We all have the right to free expression. Who said we had the right to be respected?

It seems that we have confused, or perhaps conflated the right to express an opinion with respect for others' opinions. They are not the same thing, nor should they be. In fact, far from being an expression of freedom of thought, the idea that we should respect each other's opinions is sometimes being used as a way to gag free expression. Okay, I respect your opinion, you should respect mine. Conversation over. Not only is it a sidestep to free debate, but it is also a sign of intellectual laziness to just say, “Okay, I respect your opinion,” because it means you don't have the inclination to properly rebut it and defend your own position.

We have to get away from the idea that hearing every opinion means respecting every opinion. In a free society, it is imperative that even the most vile and repugnant views be heard. It's the only way we can know what real ugliness, or just plain lunacy, lurks in some people's minds. I respect their right to hold whatever opinions they may have. I respect, support and defend their right to express those opinions by any and all means available to them. But respect the opinions? Screw that! I do not respect the opinion of those who think all Muslims should be interred for the duration of the war on terror – or at least until we've worked out what the war on terror actually is. I do not respect the opinions of those who believe the Nazi holocaust never happened. I do not respect the opinion of those who claim that global warming is either a hoax, or at best a theory. Such points of view are not worthy of respect. It's vital that they be heard, but not respected.

None of this is to say that you cannot respect an opinion you disagree with. Just as free speech does not mean free respect, disagreement does not necessarily mean disrespect. For instance, there is the view that setting a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq will mean that the warring factions will just wait it out and all hell will break loose afterwards. I don't agree with that opinion because I believe that all hell will break loose after the withdrawal no matter when it comes. But I respect the opinion because I can appreciate the logic and reason behind it. We should always behave respectfully, but that does not mean respecting every viewpoint no matter how flawed, illogical, intellectually dishonest or just plain stupid it may be.

And while we're at it, let's not confuse or conflate respect for the opinion with respect for the individual. It's entirely possible to maintain respect for the person while having nothing but righteous contempt for their opinion. Experience teaches us that contemptible views are held by contemptible people, but it doesn't mean that such opinions can't be held in good faith by otherwise perfectly decent people, or that reasonable opinions can't sometimes be held by utter prats.

That, dear friends, is my opinion. You might agree with the opinion and respect it. You might agree with the opinion and not respect it because you consider it so obvious as to hardly be worth stating. You might disagree with the opinion, yet still respect where I'm coming from. Or, you might disagree and disrespect the opinion, in which case you should show no mercy as you tear it to shreds. That's what free speech is really all about.

Originally posted at Strawberry Fields 9/4/2007

25 April, 2009


Thank you!

23 April, 2009

The Rules: Second Careers

However multi-talented you are, or think you are, face the fact that you're only ever going to be famous for one thing. Most people would love to be well known and respected just for one thing. If you're going to get the huff because people want to talk about your movies instead of your music, it doesn't make you look like more of an artist, it makes you look like more of a jerk

You see, Joaquin, Keanu, Billy Bob.... the only reason you have a music career, is because you have a film career. No matter how good your music may be, the only reason anyone is interested is because they've heard of you as an actor. If you accept that fact with good grace, more people are likely to come and hear you play than if you act all spoilt and demand to be treated like a proper musician. Most proper musicians launch their careers in dive bars playing to a dozen or so people and coming a poor second to the pool game, not on national talk shows – so if you really want to keep it real, do it properly.

And it's not as if rock stars don't try to be actors either. But you don't often see David Bowie or Madonna or Sting refusing to talk about anything other than their latest movie. They know why they got the gig. And it's not like Tony Bennett will insist on speaking only about painting. That's probably because he's a far better painter Joaquin is a singer. You see, if you were really confident in your music, you wouldn't have to protest so much that you're a serious artist.

16 April, 2009

But don't they have jobs to go to?

I have thought of several possible angles from which I could write about the completely manufactured movement in America that they are calling teabag day.
From the misrepresentation and/or misunderstanding of US history to the misdirected anger, from the Fox News agitprop to all the other* meanings of "teabagging," from the Republican hijacking of a libertarian movement to the irony that these people who claim to be the backbone of the nation have nothing better to do on a workday, from the hypocrisy to the idiocy, there are so many ways to approach it.

But to assume that you need me to point any of that out would be insulting your intelligence.
So allow me to offer an international perspective,

In Scotland, they have the caber toss.
In England, they have cheese rolling.
In Spain, they have the running of the bulls and the tomato throwing festival.
In Australia, we play Aussie rules football.
In Taiwan, they have interesting ideas about parliamentary democracy.

And now, in America, it seems they have teabag parties. And it makes about as much sense as any of the other things. The Taiwanese legislature may have been engaged in a passionate debate about a really important issue, but all we outsiders see is adults behaving like children. Likewise, as seriously as the teabaggers may take themselves, to the rest of us it's just another episode of Those Ker-razy Yanks. It's the kind of thing they show on the news after the weather as a bit of light relief. But the world is watching - and perhaps wondering whether these are the people they should be doing business with.

* It's also a surfing term. A "teabagger" is one who sits out the back and never actually catches a wave.

12 April, 2009

The Rules: Busking

Play songs.

I can't make it any simpler - if you're going to busk, then play songs.
They can be your own or covers. Or they can be instrumental. But it's not enough to stand around noodling, singing the occasional, random line, and chuckling with your mates as you take it in turns with the guitar.
Make it musical or move along.

11 April, 2009

Saturday Night Rocktails

The Fleetwood Mac

You will need, Coconut Rum, Vodka, Brandy, Lemonade, soda water and lots and lots of icing sugar.
Combine the coconut rum with the lemonade and the vodka with the soda water. Add icing sugar. Combine the vodka with the lemonade and the rum with the soda water. Add icing sugar. Bring in the Brandy, and mix with the rum, add more icing sugar. Repeat.

08 April, 2009

Mass murder? All part of the liberal agenda

It was revealed pretty early on in the piece that the nutcase who killed three policemen in Pittsburgh was a paranoid right wing extremist. Is anyone surprised?

It's funny how the right wing media (yes kids, there is right wing media – go figure!) has taken such umbrage at the reporting of this piece of information. Just because the killer is known to have used a neo-nazi forum to link to a YouTube clip of Glenn Beck, so what? Well, it would be “so what?” if the right-wing media weren't trying so hard to portray themselves as the victims of left-wing misrepresentation. They're all claiming it's the left trying to make them look bad. Protesting too much? I think so!

This comes less than two months after the news that another right-wing fruitloop who killed two people and wounded six others in a Knoxville church, did so for want of being able to “kill every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book,” according to his own written words.

Look, no-one is suggesting that being a fan of Glenn Beck or Bernard Goldberg automatically makes someone a murderous psychopath (although it surely wouldn't hurt to run a psychological check anyway) but the fact remains that having an interest in paranoid right-wing commentary is becoming as common a part of the profiles of mass shooters as violent videos, recently lost jobs and a history of failed relationships. “Going postal,” is so 1990s. Perhaps in 2009 it should be called, “Going Fox.”

On one level, these right wing pundits are no more responsible for these shootings than JD Salinger is for the death of John Lennon. But at some point, the question has to be asked about what responsibility they do have. Okay, they're not saying, “Go out and shoot people!” but they are making a lot of noise about about revolution, so they are not entirely blameless when some of their simpler listeners take their attention-seeking paranoia to mean, “Who will rid me of these meddlesome liberals?”

None of the politicking from either side should be allowed to overshadow the fact that good people are dead because of these senseless attacks.

But here's my question:
Right-wing commentators are always going on about how “hateful” those on the “far left” are. And to be sure, there are violent extremists on both sides. So why do we never hear about left-wing extremists going on shooting rampages?

I guess it's because the liberal media don't report it. Or because the liberal police don't investigate it. Or because the liberal ambulance service doesn't attend, or the liberal doctors don't treat the victims, or the liberal witnesses don't see it. Yes, it's clear that this violence from right-wing extremists is all just another part of the liberal agenda.

The Rules: ’Blogging

This whole "pwned/owned" thing is really starting to get old.

Stop it!

06 April, 2009

If I wanted meat, I'd ask for it

What is it about trying to order a non-meat item from a fast-food outlet that throws people for a loop?

Firstly a disclosure: I am not a vegetarian. Not yet. I'm working on it, but I'm not all the way there yet.
And before anyone, on either side of the fence, tries to call me a hypocrite, just shut up. I am well aware of the contradictions in my choices – I don't need anyone to point them out for me. I bet if we talked for half an hour, I could probably point out five fundamental contradictions in your personal moral code too, but I wouldn't hound you over it, so don't bother trying to tell me that it's impossible to live life without harming other creatures.

Another thing about vegetarianism is that it always seems to turn people into fundamentalists after a lifetime of moral relativism. Most people accept that you shouldn't drink too much, but sometimes they do anyway, and that you shouldn't eat fatty, salty food, but sometimes they do anyway, and that you shouldn't break the speed limit, but sometimes they're in a hurry, and that you shouldn't steal music off the internet, but sometimes they have a good reason. But mention that you're vegetarian – or even an aspiring vegetarian as I am – and they'll immediately try to hit you with reductio ad absurdum. “Don't plants feel pain too? How about flies? Do you kill insects? How about all the ants you step on? How about bacteria?”

How about you shut up?

For anyone who must know, I do avoid killing flies whenever possible – my colleague has chided me on occasion for my catch-and-release policy. I'm sure I step on lots of ants and other insects, but the point is that I try not to. In fact, that's the real put-down to anyone who suddenly turns into a moral absolutist at the mention of vegetarianism: just because you can't do everything, doesn't mean you shouldn't do anything.

As for bacteria, show me a bacterium that is self-aware and can cry in pain, then we'll talk. Although speaking of bacteria, it's funny how you never hear of anyone getting salmonella poisoning from a salad roll. It's always delicatessens and kebab shops. Go figure!

So just to be clear on the issue, yes, I can see the log in my eye and it's not better or worse than yours.

Now that we've defined our moral ground (to misquote the classics), I'll get to the main point of this essay which actually has nothing to do with vegetarianism at all.

So, I was asking why people have such a hard time understanding that you do not want meat with your order.

Last week, I was getting a late lunch at a Mexican place in the food court of one of those awful mega-malls. The menu said that the tacos were filled with “ground beef (or bean)” so I ordered a bean taco. The assistant followed up by asking me if I wanted beef in it.

I repeated, “No, bean.”

- So you don't want beef in it?

“No, the menu says, 'beef or bean,'”

- So no beef.

At this point, I played her game and said, “No beef.”

I'm aware that I could be accused of being a difficult customer, when I could have just gone along with her from the start and spelt out, “No beef.” But you see, I resent having to do other people's thinking for them. I don't mind it if I'm being paid for it, but I shouldn't have to do it when they're the ones being paid to serve me. I don't blame her checking once, but how clear to I have to be while ordering something that is a clear menu option?

It wasn't even the first time it had happened that week. I am partial to McDonalds' breakfast menu. (Again, don't lay into me about McDonald's being the evil empire and being responsible for so much meat consumption. They're not going out of business any time soon and people will never do the right thing if you don't give them the opportunity to. In fact, as fast food chains go, McDonald's is a leader in being more nutritionally responsible) I like to get an egg muffin without the meat. When I first started asking for just an egg muffin, I would often be asked if I still wanted the cheese with it. That's fair enough. So now I always ask for an egg and cheese muffin, no meat. Three quarters of staff members will take this in their stride but every so often, I'll strike one who needs to have it made plain to them.

“So you want a Bacon and Egg McMuffin without the bacon?”

If they try this on me, I will have no qualms about messing with their head and say,
“Well, you can make is a sausage and egg muffin without the sausage if you like, I don't care.”
And nine times out of ten, they will do exactly that, missing the joke entirely.

Now I know I could just play their game and ask for a bacon and egg muffin without the bacon, but why should I? If I want a short black coffee, I don't ask for a latte without the milk, I ask for a short black. What I want is a muffin with an egg and some cheese inside. Since there's no price difference between bacon & egg and sausage & egg, how you choose to put it through the system is none of my concern. You can call it a Big Mac for all I care. Use your initiative!

It makes me wonder if franchise culture is destroying independent thought and initiative in its staff right at the time when they should be encouraging it. I mean, these kids can instantly figure out that I'll save a dollar if I bundle the three items I've asked for as a 'meal' (and I deserve to since I'm saving them a major ingredient), but if I ask for a muffin with neither sausage nor bacon, then I have to tell some of them which button to press as well? There's something not right about that.

I had another example of this corporate drone mentality at Subway a while ago. I was refused a breakfast order because it was literally thirty seconds after they stopped serving breakfast menu items. (Never mind that it was before time when I entered the store). I told the kid, “I won't tell anyone if you don't,” and he sheepishly muttered that they got into trouble if they sold anything off the breakfast menu after 11am. This immediately tells us that staff are trained to please management over pleasing the customer, even though they ought to be one and the same. It's not as if Subway has to change things around between the breakfast and regular menus the way McDonald's do. I see no reason why Subway can't serve things off the breakfast menu at any time. I wonder if he got into trouble for losing a sale, because that's what happened.

03 April, 2009

Strawberry Fields Radio Episode 74

Sorry it took so long!