The political economy of our census fiasco

The root cause for the dramatic failure of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) first online census is bipartisan Australian economic vandalism. What I mean is the pursuit by the major parties of economic policies that work to the detriment of the nation by serving foreign interests.

How that explains the cascade of technical failures which shut down the ABS census website requires taking a more strategic view of the fiasco than that offered by technology commentators.

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Nietzsche: prophet of the sociopaths

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In the past three decades I have read some – not all – of Friedrich Nietzsche’s works, finding him often obscure, dense, opaque, and less meaningful than I had expected from so famous a name. Scottish academic Lee Spinks has managed to change my mind with his undergraduate primer on the controversial 19th century German thinker.

Spinks’s Friedrich Nietzsche (Routledge, 2003) is part of the ‘Routledge Critical Thinkers’ series, designed to make complex ideas accessible without assuming the reader has absorbed the entire body of work produced by the subject of the primer. That’s an admirable service to interested readers.

One of the most powerful impressions on me after reading Spinks was just how pervasive Nietzsche’s ideas have become, woven into the most unlikely commonplaces, like television drama, art critique, literature, political debate, and even advertising, but mostly without explicitly acknowledging that parentage. This pervasiveness makes it easy to respond to direct contact with his unadulterated ideas with an indifferent shoulder shrug. Until it is recalled he originated these now normalised concepts when they might have been seen as revolutionary, and that his ideas have become enormously influential despite a common, naïve condemnation of his work as ideological justification for fascist excesses. Or was it because of that association? He was, in fact, rather contemptuous of any ideological justification for terror, and would have been disgusted by the Nazis as examples of weak, slavish, ressentiment-driven malefactors.

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Shorten cannot win against Turnbull

How lack of political talent and the rise of hand-held online chatter levelled Australian politics, and exposes the Labor fraud under Shorten of presenting itself as a desirable alternative to the Coalition.

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Vertigo and nausea in Canberra

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Whether Malcolm Turnbull will be a better Prime Minister for Australia than the outgoing Tony Abbott is highly questionable, given the constraints of Byzantine Coalition infighting and allegiances tied to murky patronage. But he is the worst sort of news for Bill Shorten’s Australian Labor Party.

Right now there is no one who more closely resembles Abbott in style and popularity than Shorten. The latter is secure only because he’s irrelevant; the Australian public is not focused on a potentially better leader of an opposition that is little more than a cut-rate Liberal party these days.

Why and how did Abbott become arguably Australia’s most despised and unpopular PM?

Within his own party he had long been known as an ‘attack dog’, apparently savouring his reputation as a rabid beast, and ruling his party like it was a street gang in which the most psychotic streetfighter is always the leader.

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Wrath of Trumpenstein

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Freakshow carnival barker Donald Trump has no intention of running for the presidency, and has no chance of gaining the Republican nomination.

This far out, even seasoned commentators are loath to pick the pony, but when I try to filter out spectacle from some constants, I think Clinton probably has the best chance. Much though I would welcome a Sanders presidency, I doubt the Democrat party machine would allow that to happen. The Republican clowns opposing Clinton seem less likely than Mitt Romney to stand a chance against an experienced Machiavellian, particularly if she can avoid damaging revelations, and maintain tight discipline in her team of political operatives.

I like spectacle as much as the next guy. Some of the finest journalistic writing flows from big tent campaigns, which are in themselves creative of odd circumstances and revealing moments. However, these can only really occur if the candidates believe in something more than winning.

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Luminous realm of values

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Christopher Hitchens used to tell a story. A good natured but stupid ‘nature’ class teacher, Mrs Jean Watts, had one day ventured to explain that grass and leaves were green as god’s gift to mankind. He paraphrased her: ‘This is an excellent thing and proof of the glory of god, because he could have made vegetation orange or red, something that would clash with our eyes, whereas green is the most restful colour for our eyes!’ Nine-year-old Hitchens concluded: ‘That’s bullshit!’ Bang. Done. The Eureka moment from which he extrapolated all the other idiocies that flow from humans presuming to speak for god.

For me the matter was less certain and more complex, but no less fundamental. And it applies much more widely than just to matters of religious authority proper. The purview is all human reasoning.

Let’s take a detour via Jean Paul Sartre’s 1946 lecture, ‘Existentialism and Humanism’, which some have argued should have been translated as ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’. The distinction is not as inconsequential as it may seem. The translation of this lecture from the French by Philip Mairet contains the sentence: ‘Thus we have neither behind us, nor before us in a luminous realm of values, any means of justification or excuse.’ A sentence that, when considered carefully, is not just profound, but one of the most elegant literary renditions of any idea in the modern era. In fact, it was such a perfect phrasing that I wondered whether there had been a mistranslation of ‘numinous’ for ‘luminous’. I had to check various sources, but in those I can lay my hands on it is at least a universal mistake, if it is a mistake at all.

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The original sin doctrine

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Proudly sponsored by Koch Industries

A recent revival in the innate-bad-guy-white-male-privilege argument makes me roll my eyes and shake my head. The way you’d expect a middle aged white man to react. And yet my reasons are not those outlined in the naïve and under-educated essay that may have started all of this fatuous petulance: Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 essay ‘White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies’.

The project proposed in that paper couldn’t have been better organised if the Koch brothers had spent a billion dollars funding it: keeping the natural allies against a self-destructive plutocracy forever divided against themselves, thus maintaining exactly what McIntosh decried: white male privilege. But even then only as an élite white male privilege, with most of the people who identify with this broad-brush description gaining not much of the privilege, but plenty of motivation to stand with those who do when the alternative is being crudely dismissed as ‘sinful’ solely by dint of penis and pink skin. This is is no more complex an argument than the the ridiculous Christian original sin doctrine, re-packaged by some shallow thinkers as an intellectually void but inexplicably fashionably coprophilia: throwing shit at people to see how much of it sticks.

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Demand Schäublexit, not Grexit

Former Greek Finance Minister, Dr Yanis Varoufakis, deserves to be read as a counterpoint to largely trivialised reporting of the Euro-Greek crisis.

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Central to Varoufakis’s contention is the charge that German Finance Minister, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, has always desired the exit of Greece from the Eurozone, and no amount of negotiations would have satisfied him or his coterie of Washington Consensus (my phrasing, not Varoufakis’) hardliners.

Underlying the economic arguments from technocrats impervious to human consequences of policy, however, is the real danger to Greece, and all of Europe.

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NBN voodoo economics … again

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Sane people can be forgiven for once more wondering what it will take before the Voodoo economics of Australian telecommunications is exorcised by state regulation to prohibit monstrous price gouging and unrestrained cartel behaviours.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, iiNet CEO David Buckingham speaks about the need for the NBN to reconfigure its pricing as a result of streaming TV demand as if it were a mystery that Australians have been subjected to extortionate internet data rates since that racket was sanctioned by the idiots in the federal parliament.

The proof of the pudding? Why else would iiNet and Optus be offering unlimited Netflix streaming as part of their ‘deals’. The entire argument about bandwidth-based charges collapses into the lie it has always been. Kudos for Netflix and other streaming services for being able to exert this kind of pressure after regulators have simply turned a blind eye.
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