We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Safety wowsers and health wowsers. Fight! Fight! Fight!

No libertarian purist is going to love London’s new public bike hire scheme but it is nearer to harmless than many other state schemes. Apparently it looks to be quite popular. The same cannot be said for Melbourne’s scheme, launched two months ago with high hopes and high rhetoric about the benefits of cycling for people’s health and the environment. The reason for these “ranks of unused blue bikes” is that another bunch of health-promoting statists had queered the pitch.

Andrew Bolt in the Australian Herald Sun writes:

Most cities around the world with such a scheme – a network of docking stations of hire bikes – have found it works a treat. Take Montreal, a city Melbourne’s size, which in its first five months logged a million rides.

But Melbourne? Two months after parking 600 bikes in 50 docking stations in the city, the Government has sold just 70 rides a day.

The reason is as simple as it was predictable, and Melbourne Bike Share’s own surveys picked it up as the most cited disincentive: it’s having to wear a helmet.

A conversation about the Australian election

My native land of Australia is having a federal election on August 21, in which Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott will challenge Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who came to office in a party coup a mere five weeks ago. For those who are interested, I recently recorded a conversation with Patrick Crozier, in which he attempted to interview me about the issues at hand.

In this conversation, we cover issues such as how the Australian political system differs from the British system (and perhaps more crucially, how Australian political parties differ from British parties), just how and why Kevin Rudd managed to go from having some of the highest opinion poll ratings of any Australian Prime Minister to being tossed by his party in approximately nine months, the issues at hand in the electioin, and The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin.

Overhanging all this, though, is the recent party coup against Kevin Rudd. We spend quite a bit of time attempting to figure out the man’s downfall, and trying to figure out exactly how such a man became PM in the first place.

On the other hand, there are times when a music video is worth a thousand words. People without the time to listen to our conversation might instead consider simply watching this, which I think gets to the bottom of Kevin Rudd fairly quickly.

Unfortunately, although the conversation is timely and should be posted quickly, I have not had the opportunity to give it a great deal of editing. (I am presently in Romania, as part of having a life, and a touch short of editing facilities). As a consequence, the conversation still contains a few ums and ahs and pauses, and I think it is a little slow in starting. However, for those who want to give us a fair shake of the sauce bottle, I think it is pretty coherent once we get going. Enjoy.

Getting your priorities right

Things have been a little odd in Australian politics recently. In the last month, the governing Australian Labor Party has sacked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and appointed Julia Gillard as Australia’s first woman Prime Minister. While this has been going on, former Labor PM Paul Keating has been having a weird slanging match with former Labor PM Bob Hawke and his biographer/wife Blanche d’Alpuget. She was his biographer first. Long and somewhat tawdry story, which is some but not all that the slanging match (which has included a TV mini-series) has been about.

Obviously, the only thing that Ms Gillard could do in such circumstances was to call an early election, and thus Australians will be voting on August 21, even though the election may constitutionally be held as late as April 2011 . If this gamble does not pay off, Ms Gillard will be Australia’s fifth shortest serving Prime Minister. (Three of the shorter serving PMs held office very briefly during the period between when their predecessor either died or went mysteriously missing in the ocean and when their party elected a new leader, so she would be the second shortest Prime Minister ever placed in the job for reasons other than constitutional technicalities.

Australians, however, know what is important. Although televised leaders debates are a relatively new thing in the UK, they have been normal in Australian elections for over 25 years. The convention is that a debate will be held at 7.30pm on the first Sunday evening of the campaign. For this election, this would mean this coming Sunday.

Except, however, if it were held to that schedule this Sunday, the debate would clash with the season finale of the reality TV cooking show Masterchef Australia, and thus nobody would be watching. Therefore, the debate has been shortened from 90 minutes to 60, and has been moved from 7.30pm to 6.30pm. Really.

I am hoping to record a conversation about the personalities and issues behind this Australian election with fellow expatriate James Waterton at some point during this election campaign. Hopefully this should be up soon.

Update: The winner was Adam Liaw, the Japanese-Australian lawyer from Adelaide.

The joys of regulation

The Australian state of Western Australia has a population of 2.2 million people, and occupies an area of just over 2.6 million square kilometres. Just for reference, that is seven and a half times the size of Germany or alternatively ten times the size of Texas.

However, average house prices are amongst the highest in the world, as there is a shortage of land.

It rather boggles the mind.

Correction: Texas is actually slightly more than a quarter of the size of Western Australia. My apologies to Texans.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The fluffy stuff you put in your roof for rats to urinate on.”

Matthew Paris quotes Australian Shadow Finance Minister Barnaby Joyce‘s description of loft insulation. Paris says that politics throughout the West is moving towards the uncouth right. Mr Turnbull’s fate has made him, he says, “shudder”.

Australian deserter in Afghanistan gets a free pass?

A member of the Australian military went missing in the middle of a deadly clash with the Taliban then, fourteen months later, she just wanders back into camp. Is a court martial convened to see if she is guilty of desertion? No, people just shrug their shoulders and start playing tennis with her. What madness is this?

What is the world coming to when a valued member of the armed services takes off under fire and leaves their comrades chasing their tails wondering what happened to her? And it should be noted there were persistent rumours that far from being held captive by the Taliban, she was sniffing around an area of Afghanistan notorious for opium production while her compatriots were risking their lives facing down the enemy. How can this not cause serious repercussions when she wanders back to base after being located by US soldiers (who reportedly said she was a real bitch)? Shocking.

Michael and Brian chat about the Ashes

Tomorrow morning, the third test in the current five match Ashes series begins in Birmingham, weather permitting. Ashes as in cricket, between England and Australia, which is as big as test cricket (i.e. the long-drawn-out goes-on-for-days-and-days variety) in England ever gets. Both Michael Jennings and I have had a break from blogging in recent weeks, but earlier this evening we got together to record a conversation about it all, and here it is. We rambled on for just under forty minutes.

However, two blemishes should be noted. First, for some reason, there are occasional little bursts of crackly sound, of the sort that used mysteriously to afflict gramophone records and which caused all classical fans other than vinylphiliacs to switch to CDs. These noises are not that obtrusive, given that this is a mere chat between mates, but they are a mild irritation. Apparently something weird happened every now and again in Michael’s laptop, which was what we recorded into. Sorry about that.

Second, I (Brian) referred to the current England player Stuart Broad as “Chris” Broad, which is a quite common error because Chris Broad, Stuart Broad’s father, was also a test match cricketer. Nevertheless, apologies again.

Apart from that, and if you think you might like this, do what we did. Enjoy.

Good clean internet censorship

Aussie style, from ‘GetUp!’.

It is a pity that ‘GetUp!’ are a profoundly statist bunch who just love state coercion just as long as it is democratically popular and ‘progressive’… but one has to make short term tactical alliances where one finds them (such as on the issue of censorship). The enemy of my enemy is my friend, at least for a (very short) while.

Samizdata pub of the day

It won’t last, but while it does

An Australian pub offering free drinks to women who remove their underwear and display it to patrons and staff will be investigated by alcohol licencing regulators, authorities said on Thursday.

The Saint Hotel in Melbourne has promised a “No Undie Sundie” event over the coming weekend, where woman who remove their underwear and hang it above the bar will receive A$50 ($39) worth of free drinks.

I wouldn’t like this. It’s not the female anatomy qua female anatomy. It’s more the other men who’d be there, yelling and drinking, and slapping me on my frail back. But me not liking something is not the same as me thinking something should be illegal. Sadly, it seems that “Liquor Licensing Victoria director Sue Maclellan” is not in the habit of making such subtle distinctions.

Good that Guido, to whom thanks, and who currently has this report in his Seen Elsewhere section, doesn’t just babble on about party politics, but from time to time at least notices more fundamental issues.

The dying of the light

Earth Lights src="http://www.samizdata.net/blog/~pdeh/earthlights_med.jpg"
width="450" height="225" />

I never get tired of looking at this photograph. It never fails to fill me with wonder and awe at the ingenuity of my species who, against all the odds, have carved these glorious man-made islands of light out of the primordial blackness. Whenever I am heavy of heart, I open up this photograph and stare at it to remind me that, somewhere, there is light and life.

And there is. For now.

Towns and cities around the world are turning out the lights for an hour to highlight the threat of climate change.

Sydney was the first major city to begin “Earth Hour”, when at 2000 (0900 GMT), lights went out on landmarks like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Bangkok, Toronto, Chicago and Dublin are among 27 other cities officially due to follow suit at 2000 local time.

With each passing day I become more convinced that the ‘green’ movement is actually a millenarian psychosis; a mental and spiritual sickness borne, perhaps, from some degree of civilisational exhaustion. Not just a belief that the end of the world is nigh, but an active desire to bring it about. And soon. Ours is not the first age to witness such pandemics of madness but, in the Middle Ages at least, there was the excuse of a near-universal poverty. In such a state of interminable plight, despair may not be the wisest response but it is at least an understandable one.

But now we live in an age of near-universal prosperity and progress. Never before has our species enjoyed such security and such freedom from want. Yet this is clearly no defence against a recurrance of this psychological plague.

Some pubs are spending the evening without the lights on while many Australians are marking the occasion quietly in the darkness at home.

Life, laughter, love, food, drink, warmth, travel, communication, progress, a world full of unprecedented wonders and it’s all too much for them. Better to sit in the darkness and curse the lighting of even a single candle.

‘Stop the world, I want to get off’ was the plaintive refrain of some Broadway comedy show I think. It could also be the motto for the greens, except that they want everybody off. Is that what they aspire to as they sit at home quietly in that seductive, undemanding cloak of blackness? To switch off civilisation and shuffle away into the perpetual tenebrosity dragging everyone else behind them?

The conditions are ripe for the spread of this insanity. Indeed, it is spreading now. How long will it be, I wonder, before some official body somewhere floats the idea of mandatory blackouts and curfews? “The voluntary approach” they will proclaim, “has not worked”.

And what do we do in response? Laugh at them? Ignore them? Rage against them? What would work to inoculate the rest of our species? What combination or words or phrases could we use to dissipate and lay low a viral madness? I am, of course, familiar with the customary rebuttals. “We will win because we have MTV and Coca-Cola”. But without the light there is no MTV, there is no Coca-Cola. What do we have then?

The lights are not yet going out all over the world. But I fear that I will see them do so in our lifetime.

A mystery is solved, at least in part

On November 19, 1941, the light cruiser HMAS Sydney of the Royal Australian Navy was returning to the port of Fremantle after escorting the troopship Zealandia to Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. The Sydney spotted what appeared to be a merchant vessel about 150km off Shark Bay on the coast of Western Australia. As it happened, the vessel in question was the quite heavily armed German merchant raider HSK Kormoran, painted black and disguised as the Dutch vessel Straat Malakka. The Kormoran had been responsible for sinking ten merchant ships in the previous year in the South Atlantic and Indian oceans, but it was not initially identified by the Sydney.

Whilst attempting to identify the unknown vessel, which was sending out deliberately unclear and ambiguous flag signals, the Sydney chased and overhauled the Kormoran, approaching to a distance of approximately 1000 metres from the Kormoran. At this point, the Kormoran opened fire. Sydney was hit approximately 50 times, causing severe casualties on her bridge and open decks, damage to her gun turrets, and apparently damage to both sides of her superstructure that caused complete destruction of her lifeboats and rafts, and setting the ship on fire. Sydney retaliated, and caused severe damage to the funnel and engine room of the Kormoran. Sydney then left the scene, heading south. Kormoran was so badly damaged that the ship had to be abandoned. Sydney was last seen listing and on fire, and flames were seen and explosions heard from the crew who had abandoned the Kormoran as the evening progressed.

The bulk of the crew of the Kormoran (over 300 people) were either rescued by Australian ships, or managed to sail their lifeboats to the Australian mainland. They were imprisoned in Prisoner of War camps, where they remained until 1947. The crew of the Sydney were not so lucky, however. Neither the ship or anyone on it were ever seen again. Apparently the destruction of the lifeboats and rafts meant that when the ship sank it went down with its entire crew of 645 people.

For people in Australia who lived through the Second World War, the loss of the Sydney is a moment that is always remembered and recalled. Losing one of the largest vessels in the Australian Navy did terrible things to Australian morale, and the mystery of where the ship went down and exactly how it was lost is something that has led to controversy, disagreement, and even the odd conspiracy theory involving the Japanese. The Sydney went down two weeks before Pearl Harbor. The fact that the only knowledge of the battle and how the Sydney was lost came from the enemy has heightened this sense.

The next six months were very bleak ones for Australia in the war. Eight ships (including the Zealandia) were sunk and there was much loss of life and property when a massive Japanese air raid attacked the Australian city of Darwin on 19 February 1942. More bombs were dropped in this raid than had been dropped on Pearl Harbor two months ealier. This was the first of over 100 air raids on Northern Australia in 1942 and 1943. The 8th Division, which the Zealandia had transported to various parts of tropical Asia as the Japanese threat loomed (but which had been trained for desert warfare against Nazi Germany) suffered a series of terrible defeats, and was essentially destroyed as a fighting unit by the middle of 1942. The Japanese Navy made serious incursions into the water off the east coast of Australia, culminating in the midget submarine raid on Sydney Harbour and shelling of Sydney and Newcastle by Japanese submarines in May and June of 1942. At the time if was feared by many that a Japanese invasion of Australia was imminent.

Of course, this did not happen, but it was a terrible moment in Australia’s history, and one that largely took Australia by surprise. In my mind that six month period from the sinking of the Sydney is when Australia ceased to be British. That Australia was in a different part of the world, and had different interests and different priorities and potentially different allies from Britain was something that could no longer be denied by anyone. While for most practical purposes Australia had been an independent country for decades by this time, a law was passed (The Statute of Westminster Adoption Act of 1942) that made this unambiguously clear. Those symbols of nationhood that Australia had not adopted for itself prior to this time were adopted soon after the war. Australia’s foreign policy ever since this moment, including Australia’s very close alliance with the United States and Australia’s decision to keep relatively small but extremely modern and well trained armed forces are really a consequence of what happened in this six month period of the Second World War. The loss of the Sydney was in a way an atypical part of this terrible six months. It was sunk by a German vessel, and the war was ultimately with Japan. However, the loss of the Sydney was a landmark event in Australian minds.

Which is why the mystery of what had happened to Sydney has been a long-standing and long-running one in the Australian psyche. It was one of two mysteries from the Second World War, the other being what happened to the third midget submarine that entered Sydney Harbour on May 31, 1942. That submarine was eventually found just north of Sydney, but not until November 2006.

And people kept looking for the Sydney, despite the fact that it was lost a long way to sea, and at that the sea off Australia’s very inhospitable north-western coast. $3.9 million of government money was directed towards a search for the wreck of the vessel that commenced at the beginning of this month, headed by American shipwreck hunter David Mearns. On the 16th of March it was announced that the wreck of the Kormoran had been found on 12 March. On the 17th March, it was announced that Sydney had been found at 26°05”²49.4”³S 111°04”²27.5”³E, and the wreck was still largely intact. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that both wrecks would officially be designated as war graves, and thus protected under Australian law. Presumably it will be possible to examine the wreck of the Sydney further and learn a little more about how she was damaged and sank. Still, though, the question of what happened in her final few hours will always remain supposition.

A great New Zealander

One of London’s top City financiers is lobbying to get a statue of Keith Park, one of the top RAF commanders during the Battle of Britain, put in Trafalgar Square. Park, a New Zealander, seems an excellent choice.

Park had the sort of qualities, according to reports, that I have come to associate with New Zealanders today: unassuming, sharp sense of humour and frequently tough as nails.