Archive | January, 2021

How many lies are too many lies?

15 Jan

by Dr Stewart Hase

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
― George Orwell

The storming of America’s Bastille, the Capitol Building has, finally, forced the debate that we needed to have had years ago. Propaganda, lies, and misinformation have been with us for thousands of years – they are part of the human condition. Print media has long traded on the propensity for humans to need simple solutions to complex issues, to accept whatever reinforces their biases, to be influenced by the influential, to respond to emotions rather than facts or science. Murdoch and others have made the trade in misinformation and artform. The communication tech giants just did what they thought was their job, being vehicles, platforms, for people to communicate. They never gave the consequences a thought.

January the 6th and the threat of major protests across the USA up to the inauguration have created the perfect storm for a sudden gnashing of teeth. Finally, the lines are being drawn, pretty well in accord with the right and left of politics, about what constitutes freedom of speech. Are their conditions in which it is fine to lie, to spread misinformation, distort or ignore the facts, quote questionable ‘science’, to spread hate, and slur others? To create the conditions to overthrow democracy?

Well, Scott Morrison seems to think so by refusing to censor Craig Kelly over his Trumpian behaviour, using the ‘freedom of speech’ argument. Not a whisper from anyone on the right about his mate, George Christianson who, among other things and blind to the irony of it, wants to censor the tech giants for fact checking. Freedom of speech, then, means anything goes-say what you want. The real tragedy is that Facebook have let Kelly and Christianson get away with campaign of disinformation for so long. 

Kelly has now used the platform to discredit the wearing of masks by children, calling it child abuse, has prompted the use of hydroxychloroquine in the past and now thinks that Betadine (a topical antiseptic) is the miracle cure. All based on unsubstantiated and even spurious research. What they fully realise is that they are coming from a position of power, and, wanting hope and miracle cures to reduce their anxiety, many will believe what they say. And even act on it. 

No doubt that such power massages the politicians’ fragile egos.

The best that even the health Minister, Greg Hunt, can manage is to say that we should listen to the health experts. No censorship of his compatriots or recognition of the misinformation. Just a beige response.

Now we have the acting PM, Michael McCormack legitimising MPs who want to spread lies and disinformation, claiming that facts are contentious, and gracing us with the profound logic that the sky can be grey and blue at the same time because facts are subjective. Presumably he’s a fan of Kellyanne Conway’s thesis on alternate facts.

Not content with that, McCormack has now fuelled a storm by making an astounding comparison between the riots in Washington and the BLM protests.

We have seen the result of the ‘say what you want’ version of free speech in America and how democracy is being tragically undermined. The question is, when will we follow suit? We already saw an inkling of this with Tony Abbot’s unconscionable dismantling of Julia Gillard that went unchecked, and was fuelled by the media of the print and the social kind.

Australia is good at lying to itself. It’s done it for years over racism and misogyny. Are we going to kid ourselves that we are a fair, progressive, intelligent nation while allowing the manipulation of truth, as identified by George Orwell, to run rampant? 

How far are we willing to go? Perhaps fostering hate to the point that people feel that it is OK to kill? Allowing the entitled to destroy our democracy, as nearly happened in America over recent weeks?

How far Australia, how far?

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase

My Story from the Great Plague Isles

14 Jan

by Msunderstood

As far as COVID is concerned, Australia is one of the safest places in the world to be. Msunderstood is an Australian vet living in Scotland, where the situation is very different. Here is her powerful account of life in the UK right now.

After graduating from UQ Vet School and spending two years working in the Snowy Mountains, it was time to explore the world.  Following several months wearing out my Eurail pass, I found myself in Edinburgh staying with a school friend on a teacher exchange.  I instantly fell in love with Edinburgh and decided to seek work in Scotland.  A series of locum jobs, some for a week, some for months and others for years, then came marriage, kids, a farm and lots of debt!  Many years later, I am divorced, with two teenagers and juggling two jobs.  Then fate intervened, and I met my Someone….only one problem….he lives in Australia.  So about two years ago I decided once the kids had finished secondary school it would be time to return home and start a new life.

Pre Covid, my Someone and I had managed to see each other several times a year.  Then came  2020.  As I write this I am in the depths of a Scottish winter, the thermometer barely above freezing for the past week.  Again we are in lockdown.  For the third time, thanks to the utter mismanagement and corruption of the ‘WestMonster’ government. Official figures show well over 80 000 dead and we are now losing over 1000 daily due to Covid.

We initially went into lockdown in March-stay at home orders were issued and many (including me) were furloughed.  We were allowed out to exercise once a day and for essential shopping.  It wasn’t much fun, but being allowed to binge watch Netflix without feeling guilty about not working seemed ok for a while.  I was called back to work after about 6 weeks, as the surgery had been working on skeleton staff and the vets and nurses were starting to burn out under the strain.  Honestly, I was glad to be working again, as it kept the mind occupied and we seemed to be coming out of the first wave.  

The death toll was huge and many of us assumed that Boris’ close shave with the virus may have changed his approach.  Sadly, as we now know, this assumption proved false.  The lockdown was eased when the numbers in London showed the virus was in decline.  Unfortunately, the rest of the country was some weeks behind and this opening up too soon proved to be a disaster.

The ‘Great British Summer’ arrived (not summer as any Aussie would know it) and as everyone knows the Brits love their summer holidays abroad.  The government encouraged travel, so they went, in their hundreds of thousands.  Evidence now show that the main strain identified in Scotland after the summer was from Spain.  “The strain from Spain comes mainly on the plane”??

Then the government had a brain wave to aid the hospitality sector-‘Eat out to Help out’ where dining out was subsidised.   This was also a great success….at spreading the virus.

By the end of summer the virus in the north of England was out of control, and Manchester and many other areas were put into heightened restrictions.  By November, London was in a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to try to control the spread again.  The bright idea to allow households to mix for 5 days over Christmas was eventually reduced to one day, after pressure from the scientific community.  Numbers since then have rocketed and the NHS is at the point of crumbling under the stress.

Although each of the four nations of the UK have taken a slightly different approach and have slightly different fatality rates, the mismanagement of the whole saga has been one of too little, too late, not following the scientific evidence and corruption of the highest order.  From the purchasing of PPE, the awarding of contracts to Tory cronies, the billions thrown at a test and trace system that is not fit for purpose, and an app that does not work, the setting up of emergency hospitals with no-one to staff them-every step taken has been wrong footed.

So lockdown again.  Yet for the last 10 months there has been no border control.  You can still land at Heathrow airport and walk straight through onto a tube and into London.  Self quarantine is required if you fly in from non-exempt countries, but it is not policed. There is talk of pre flight testing being required now, but considering we now have the highest infection rate per capita in the world, it seems rather pointless.

But life goes on…for some.

To avoid the mental scars on the staff that followed the first lockdown, the surgery staff have been split into two teams working week about, so that contamination and contact is minimised.  Vets had to fight during the first lockdown to be considered ‘key workers’ and are restricted to essential and emergency work only.  Interesting that some clients consider clipping nails an essential service!

Children are again off school and I doubt will be back before the summer holidays. In the past 11 months they have had about 15 weeks at school. For my son, that will mean he may go to university having never sat a formal examination.

Since March 2020, I have been to work and to get the groceries.  The kids and I have had two day trips away, with a picnic, far from the madding crowds.  I have not been for a swim, shopping with my daughter, I have had only two haircuts in the last 11 months, I wear a mask all day, every day at work and will do for the foreseeable future. It feels like being half alive.  I realise that I am very fortunate to have a job and so far we have all been healthy, there are so many terribly sad stories to have come out of this crisis.

My plans to return home depend on all the other ‘stranded Aussies’ getting back first.  My Someone and I Skype at least twice a day, every day, sometimes for hours when our schedules allow.  It is not easy, and every day is a day closer but I am so scared that I will not live to enjoy the life we have planned together.

When your government thinks banning Trump from Twitter is the real injustice

12 Jan

The response of the Australian government to US President Donald Trump’s incitement of the January 6 attack on the US Congress was, shall we say, muted. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed his “distress” and his hope that order would soon be restored. However, he stopped far short of condemning the President, an extraordinary omission for the leader of a liberal democracy, considering Trump’s goal was to violently overthrow the results of a democratic election and retain his power. 

It seems reasonable to expect that the government of a country that regards the US as its closest ally would express considerable alarm at a violent anti-democratic insurrection in which five people died, and yet…

Members of the Morrison government have saved their loudest outrage for Twitter, the social media platform Trump used to incite his followers, and the platform that has finally banned Trump for life. This, it appears, is the great injustice, an affront to “free speech,” and, wait for it, censorship.

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, Nationals backbencher George Christensen, Member for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack are among government members who have condemned the “silencing” of Trump. (Trump has a pressroom in his house & can summon the world corps at any time, but that spoils the narrative so let’s not mention it).

Several MPs have called for the introduction of regulations that will ensure the state has control over the terms of service of private businesses such as social media, a most extraordinary demand from the party of small government, and one made with absolutely no sense of the irony inherent in the demand. 

Christensen has started a petition demanding legislation to rein in the big tech overlords. Sharma is calling for a “publicly accountable body” to control who social media companies can and cannot refuse to host on their platforms. Frydenberg says he is “uncomfortable” with Twitter’s decision to dump Donald, leaving this writer to wonder how “uncomfortable” Mr Frydenberg is with the spectacle of Trump’s anti-Semitic foot soldiers wearing shirts declaring that “6 million wasn’t enough.” Mr Frydenberg has remained silent on this outrage. 

Michael McCormack (some of you may know him better as the Elvis Impersonator) has this morning doubled down on his assertion that the insurrection at the Capitol last week was no different from Black Lives Matter protests, an assertion that has been strongly repudiated by Indigenous groups and Amnesty International as deeply offensive and flawed. 

McCormack went on to state that “violence is violence and we condemn it in all its forms,” except, apparently, when incited by President Trump, whom McCormack has conspicuously failed to condemn. 

What actually happened was that Twitter warned the President over several weeks that his content was violating their terms of service. Twitter then placed warning notices on many Trump tweets, while still permitting their visibility. They offered Trump the opportunity to delete his more troubling posts, and he declined. Finally, after weeks of what many perceived as irresponsible tolerance on the part of the social media platform, Twitter banished Trump. 

The President received far more warnings and chances than any other user in the history of Twitter. 

It is a manipulative leap to equate the breaching of a private company’s terms of service with “censorship.” 

As Garry Kasparov remarked on Twitter, 

Let’s not forget as well the enthusiasm with which an LNP government, under John Howard, took us along with the US into the invasion of Iraq, claiming as one of their justifications the delivery of democracy to that country. And yet, when democracy is under threat from domestic terrorism inside the US itself, there’s an orchestrated effort on the part of the LNP to distract attention from these momentous events and focus instead on Twitter allegedly “censoring” the leader of that insurrection. 

Big tech de-platforming Donald is what they want you to think about, not Donald trying to destroy the US democratic process. Ask yourself why this is. 

It is deeply troubling when your government decides the issue is a president being chucked off Twitter, and not a president attempting to violently interfere with the results of an election in an attempt to retain power. In its refusal to condemn Trump, the Australian government leaves us with little alternative but to assume its tacit support of the outgoing US President. 

If what you take from the events of the last week is that the outrageous injustice is Twitter banning Donald Trump, you are either complicit or incomprehensibly stupid. Which is the Morrison-led Australian government?

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