Monday, August 11, 2014

In which, it being Monday, the pond spends another day on the commentariat front line ...

(Above: more Petty here, and more Wilcox here)

This is how it works.

It reminds the pond of those old-fashioned war comics.

Crazed, fanatical bands of Japanese warriors would hurl themselves against the battlements of decent, average, ordinary folk, and wear them down with their crazed fanaticism. The result was combat fatigue, a kind of shell shock.

The pond saw them in the newsagents, but never read them. Just the covers were enough:

There's a similar sort of process at work in Murdoch la la land.

Waves of cultural warriors are carefully organised to roll out their thoughts on a daily basis.

So who is up today? Who's going over the top for the gipper et al?

Yes, there he is, on the left of the banner, and in the rotating digital fickle finger of display:

Yes, it's not the road to Stasiland, it's just a miniscule share of data, four legs bad, two Abbott legs wonderful, it's all been a terrible mistake, let's get on board with the national agenda, and so on, and so tediously forth.

You can, if you like, read Henry "drier than desiccated coconut" Ergas if you like, but the header says it all, Data retention laws the lesser evil, happily inside the paywall so people will prefer to save their money and their minds.

But it reminds the pond of a deep, profound conundrum at the heart of the kool aid drinkers in Murdoch la la land.

You see on the one hand they're always blathering about the right to freedom of speech, and to say what you think. And on the other, the right of government to snoop and pry and eavesdrop and gather information just in case it comes in handy in persecuting the citizenry ... the ones who naively exercised their right to speak ...

For all that he's such a desiccated coconut, Henry is a determined drinker of the kool aid, which is why he rolls out the government line and comes to this triumphant conclusion:

The truest liberalism, the political philosopher Judith Shklar wrote decades ago, is that born of fear. This “liberalism of fear”, which “regards abuses of public powers in all regimes with equal trepidation”, is rightly ever anxious about “extralegal, secret and unauthorised acts by public agents”. But the worst threat our ‘‘liberalism of fear’’ must now confront is that of a 9/11 on Australian soil, not solely for its toll in human suffering but because the political response could reach to biometric ID cards, drones over our streets and preventive incarceration, with all the ugliness of ethnic and religious hatred to boot. 
Data retention laws can’t eliminate that risk. But even the government’s modest requirements will make it less likely. And by so doing, they help protect against far greater intrusions on the freedoms that we value and that the terrorists abhor.

WTF? Talk about kool aid with a twist of lemon and paranoia.

Yes, Henry runs the very best routine doing the rounds. If hapless citizens don't allow a low grade fascist government to censor the citizenry, why they'll end up with a fascist government in the flesh:

Concerns about risks to individual freedoms are potentially more sensible. But were metadata collection undermined, the alternative would be even greater use of lower-tech methods, such as interception, physical surveillance and property searches. 
More pervasive reliance on those methods, which replace the statistical probabilities of meta­data analysis with direct invasions on persons, should hardly give supporters of individual freedom cause to cheer. 

Uh huh. But the last the pond heard, the count had reached 150 barking mad Islamic fundamentalists, who might return, and who might, or might not, pose a clear and present danger.

Yet suddenly old Henry is all concern and tut tutting about their individual freedoms and personal rights, and somehow thinks that the statistical probabilities of metadata analysis will provide solutions and offer comforts.

Where's Dirty Henry when we need him? Throw that badge in the lake Dirty Henry ...

You see, it's just a smidgin, a gnat, let's not make a mountain out of a molehill:

The metadata the rules would cover is a minuscule share of that a communications network generates. Along with the standard telephony information, it includes the IP addresses the network assigns users in the course of an online session, matched to the account details of the user to whom those addresses have been assigned. Although this is barely the tip of the metadata iceberg, it is vital in tracking traffic patterns and identifying the users that traffic involves. Retaining that data will, no doubt, force providers to incur some costs, but with data storage becoming ever cheaper, their extent is controversial. Unpopular as it may be, placing those costs on network operators gives operators strong incentives to use smart technologies to manage them efficiently. Yes, like any other regulation, the costs can be likened to a tax; but as virtually all Australians use communications networks, this tax would be levied on a broad and relatively efficient base, and one that largely matches the beneficiaries of better law enforcement.

Another bloody tax from a government which alleged it was going to get rid of useless taxes? And old Henry is presenting this as a virtue?

And what's the best that can be hoped for?

The completeness of the data sets is crucial to that capacity to find needles in haystacks. Indeed, when an event is a one-off, such as a terrorist instructing an accomplice to detonate a device, no amount of other data can replace a missing record of the event itself. And because terrorists and other criminals actively seek to evade detection, for instance by masking their internet addresses, completeness also helps to defeat the countermeasures they deploy. 

As a result, the greater the extent to which metadata records are and are known to be complete, the greater the danger terrorists will face in relying on the internet. That throws sand in their gears as they are forced to turn to less effective ways of communicating. Conversely, allowing metadata collection to be compromised lowers the risks and costs terrorists incur, entrenching the internet as the terrorists’ infrastructure of choice.

It'll throw a little sand in their gears? They're forced to resort to carrier pigeons and sempahore flags?

And so on and so forth.

Old Henry really is a tiresome man, and the pond was wondering why, until it came across this CV at Catallaxy Files:

Henry Ergas is a columnist for The Australian newspaper and the inaugural Professor of Infrastructure Economics at the SMART Infrastructure Facility at the University of Wollongong. The SMART Infrastructure Facility is a $61.8 million world-class research and training centre concerned with integrated infrastructure solutions for the future. Henry is also Senior Economic Adviser to Deloitte Australia. Prior to these concurrent roles Henry worked as a consultant economist at NECG, CRA International and Concept Economics. Henry's previous career was as an economist at the OECD in Paris, where amongst other roles he headed the Secretary-General’s Task Force on Structural Adjustment and was Counsellor for Structural Policy in the Economics Department.

Eek, he's one of those boffins who, the reptiles at the lizard Oz assure us on a daily basis, have ruined Europe in the past, and are right at this moment, ruining Europe in the present ...

Meanwhile, for those without any sand in their internet gears, it takes only a nanosecond to be reminded of the analysis of the methods deployed in the United States:

Click to enlarge, and you can find the original here.

But let's not get too technical.

Let's just recycle the New Scientist, which printed a summary under the header NSA's snooping dragnet has little impact on terrorism:

The US government, through its National Security Agency, keeps records of every single phone call made by every single phone in the country – and probably almost anything that travels over the internet. The oft-repeated rationale is that this kind of bulk data collection has the power to prevent terrorist attacks and keep the US safe. But an analysis from the non-profit policy group New America Foundation, released today, shows that NSA surveillance programmes have been used to apprehend only 17 of the 225 people charged with an act of terrorism in the US since 9/11. The report also argues that the NSA's mass surveillance, which began after the Al-Qaida attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, would not even have helped to prevent those attacks. 
The key issue in the failure to prevent 9/11 was not a lack of information, the report claims, but poor sharing of existing intelligence between the CIA and other government departments. One of the plane hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar, was already known to the CIA after he attended an Al-Qaida summit in Malaysia in 2000. Despite this, his name was not added to any watch lists, and the FBI was never told about Mihdhar so they could pursue him in the US. 
In 2001, Mihdhar was allowed to land in Los Angeles, rent an apartment, get a driver's license, open a bank account, buy a car, and take flight lessons all under his real name. He eventually went on to aid in the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 77, which was flown into the Pentagon, killing 189 people. "The United States government could and should have been alerted to Mihdhar's phone calls even without the expanded authority to collect the telephone metadata of all Americans under Section 215," the report says, referring to the provision of the Patriot Act that allows for the mass collection of telephone metadata. 
The NSA's dragnet may even be detrimental to the task of catching terrorists. In September last year, former NSA official William Binney said that the vast piles of new data gathered from mass surveillance can act as a distraction from the task at hand – which is finding and stopping people who pose a threat to the US. "What they are doing is making themselves dysfunctional by taking all this data," Binney told the Congress on Privacy and Surveillance, in Lausanne, Switzerland, according to The Wall Street Journal. (here for the links to that story)

Not much sand in those bloody gears ... and you can read about the actual sand in the gears in George Williams' Anti-terrorism reforms put democracy at risk...

But not to worry, tomorrow there will be yet another wave of cultural warriors going over the top to assure us all that, sure, it's a brand new tax, but it won't cost much, and yes, it'll be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but this government is wonderfully adept at finding needles in ginormous haystacks, and yes, it would be shocking to knock on the door of a suspected returning jihadist, but wonderfully efficacious to spend squillions tracking the online behaviour of twenty two million ... because all will be revealed in the metadata ...

And each day the pond reels away, stuck dumb with awe at the wondrous stupidity of the former European bureaucrats who've now found a home in the lizard Oz ...

Speaking of wondrous stupidity, Paul "magic water man" Sheehan - the man who, almost single-handedly, has alienated the western suburbs from Fairfax - comes up with a doozy today in New budget would be a second chance for the PM.

The Fairfax kool aid slurper knows its his duty to save the government, keep it out of harm's way, stop it from inflicting self-harm, but he hasn't been able to access the metadata needed to do the job.

Needless to say, the magic water hasn't been much help either, and so Sheehan is in a state of high alarm.

Babies, bathwater, deck chairs, Titanic, all must go.

The $7 surcharge has to go, the yadda yadda about medical research has to stop - after all we all know, thanks to 1950s research that abortions cause breast cancer and who needs to know more? - the PPL scheme has to go, and the impositions on the unemployed and university fees need to be softened.

No thought about what this might do to the bottom line. It just has to go, everything must go:

There are other issues, but these are broad-brush, perception-heavy, addressable issues for the government. In politics, the broad-brush is what matters. It is the silent majority, not the noisy partisan tribes, which decides the fate of governments. 

Uh huh. Perception heavy, addressable. Broad-brush. The overall picture:

Do go on - the pond can never get enough half-arsed, PR spin and advertising jargon:

The government has yet to make serious inroads in clawing back the adverse polling numbers but there are some fair winds that could lift its sails. 

Yes, the pond likes the cut of that jib. Set the mains'l to keelhaul Captain Hornblower, aye me hearties.

First, a new budget. The Prime Minister has a perfectly reasonable excuse for introducing a remodelled budget: reality. He can tell the public that is reality, this is politics, this is compromise. It will be up to Palmer to show that he is not an agent of chaos but can support functional politics, given that the people elected a new government with a clear mandate to attack the structural budget deficit.

A new budget? They fucked up the first one comprehensively and trotting out a new budget will fix everything?

If it's that simple, the pond has a few additional suggestions which Sheehan might like to think about, instead of alienating Fairfax even more from western suburbs readers.

A new treasurer. Seeing as how the current one fucked up so badly a new budget is needed. Fresh eyes, wot wot.

A new finance minister. Ditto.

A new minister for education. And a new one for the environment. A new Attorney-General. A new minister for persecuting the poor and the unemployed. Ditto, ditto heads.

Oh dammit, just a new cabinet and a new PM, to add to the new budget.

And there you have it. Old chicken little magic water man Sheehan somehow thinks he's helping by running around in circles pointing out how comprehensively the Abbott government has made a mess of things ... and now how it will all be set right by undoing a few talking points.

Some help that old landlubber is ...

But it's a good way to start the week. Pity about the Fairfax readership, but you can't have everything ...

Meanwhile, over in Bolter la la land, the week is off to a cracking start.

It turns out the country is being governed by a bunch of warmist leftist lurching welfarists:

If the pond may be so bold as to answer that question, absolutely bloody nothing. Nothing at all.

What we need is a climate-denying, science-denying, barking mad fundamentalist right wing government, preserving liberty and freedom by spying on everyone.

One that accepts it's gone too far, and needs to introduce a soft cuddly new budget ,and so will be loved by everyone.

Sack 'em, sack 'em all. The commentariat that is.

There's too much sand in the gears ...

(Below: oh that old meme)


  1. Shhh, don't tell Andrew.

  2. One way to handle "extralegal, secret and unauthorised acts by public agents" would be, surely, to make them intralegal?

  3. I must say I'd thought of Henry Ergas somewhat like Dame Groan, designed primarily to put an economic figleaf on otherwise unsustainable arguments. But handing him the poisoned chalice of selling the metadata tracking casts him in a new light. He is the last person I'd consider for comedy, but some of your quotes of what he wrote had me bursting out laughing. The "internet as the terrorists infrastructure of choice" is pure gold.

    The whole episode had me searching for a parallel. The best I could come up with was "Dr Strangelove:How I learned to love the Bomb." Not exact, but the mentality is close. Henry is clearly one to watch, and a slight change in direction from the more predictable Sheehan and Bolt.

    1. Another reason I'm not enthralled by the prospect of giving the spooks more power: there is such an inanity of useless information they collect and convey. The technology has changed enormously since the 1950s, as Soapy is discovering, but not what they do or fail to do.

      Walt Kelly in his famous Pogo comic strip summed it up well in the 50s at the height of the Cold War. The local spooks had intercepted two messages from a Foreign Power and read them out.
      First Message: " Second Message follows."
      Second Message: "Disregard First Message."

    2. Was that the "we have met the enemy and he is us" strip?

    3. That's the one, Glen. Just rediscovered some very old paperbacks I had on Pogo which had been in storage until my relocation. They still read well.

    4. Dr Strangelove should in fact be the bible and there should be readings and viewings from it each Sunday

  4. Those comics the pond saw in newsagents, they'd be around the time of the Korean War? Anyway, while TAbbott is beating up a moral storm over a severed head, a Google search on "nanking beheading contest" is a minor impediment to the elevation of our best friend in Asia. Now I'm stuck with images of Crusader Abbott wielding flame-throwers to cleanse the world of rampant Evil. Not that I subscribe to Yazidi devil-worshipper beliefs, just that a regular dose of ranting, drooling religious fundamentalism goes a long way. And keeps my arms-makers investments in fine fettle.

    1. Whoa, seriously weird shit DD!

    2. And yes those war comics were big in the 1950s. Most of them seemed to be exorcising demons and generating redemptive fantasies about the second world war. The pond was more into Fleetway publications like Jack and Jill and the Robin family in the English Women's Weekly but always had a secret fascination for pulp in all its forms ... seriously weird shit DD!

    3. A 2007 doco Nanking has Woody Harrelson doing one of the speaking parts. Harrowing.

  5. Kool-Aid with lemon and paranoia? I love it!

  6. Is that Benny Hill

    1. I should explain the photo


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