Corruption can be forgiven, but not greed

It’s not corruption which gets people but greed:

It was a state investment fund set up by the now former Prime Minister Najib Razak ostensibly to develop parts of Kuala Lumpur into a financial centre and boost the economy.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the fund’s debt ballooned and there were massive allegations of fraud and misconduct, including by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) which alleges $3.5bn (£2.6bn) was misappropriated from 1MDB.

“The Malaysian people were defrauded on an enormous scale,” said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at the time.

Mr Najib was accused of receiving $700m dollars of that money, but has strongly denied all wrongdoing, despite being all but named in the DOJ suit.

If Najib had skimmed off a few million nobody would have cared, but if sums in the order of $700m turn up in your personal bank account, the knives will come out. I noticed this in Nigeria: whenever some government minister was accused of corruption it wasn’t merely theft of a few million to keep his or her family in a London flat, but hundreds of millions or even billions. And my question was always: what the hell are you going to do with that?

If you’re living the lifestyle of a Malaysian Prime Minister, swiping $10m on top of the salary, kickbacks, and unofficial payments is probably sufficient to keep you rolling in gravy for life. Even if you’re caught, you’d probably find people will cover for you because they’re also on the make, and the public will likely shrug it off as an acceptable loss. So why go an order of magnitude higher and risk everything? Greed is an odd vice, and very much a part of human nature. For some, no amount of money is ever enough and you have to wonder whether it’s about the money at all.

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History and Character

A reasonably common reaction to my book which has come mainly from women in their early thirties is:

“None of Katya’s past should matter; it’s in the past!”

At least two women have said they believe the past has no bearing on the present, and a line should be drawn whereby a person’s entire history is consigned to a vault and not considered in the relationship going forward. In this post I’m going to unpack that idea.

Let’s start with the premise that somebody’s character – an aggregate of a person’s behaviours, values, opinions, and attitudes – is important to a functional relationship (of any kind). I’m not at this stage going to comment on whether someone’s character is good or bad, but let’s assume that character is important in determining whether two people are compatible. If you happen to believe character and compatibility have no role to play in a relationship, then you’re probably going to disagree with the rest of this post.

So having established that character is important, how do we go about determining a person’s character having just met them? The best way is to look at their history, specifically how they have behaved, what decisions they’ve made, and – crucially – what they think of those decisions now. A review of someone’s history will carry far more weight than someone telling you who they are. This is why, at the start of any relationship, each party is expected to give a summary of their life to date (the term curriculum vitae loosely translates to “the course of my life”). Now it is up to the individual to decide which parts of his or her life are necessary to include, but there are some things which are not optional. A common follow-up to the remark to the one at the top of the post is:

“But it’s none of his business, it’s the woman’s private life; she’s not obliged to tell him anything.”

So let’s suppose a man beats the shit out of his ex-wife so badly she’s left in a coma. Is this private too? What about jail sentences, or other criminal convictions? Does a man have the right to withhold such information from any future partner on the grounds that it’s in the past and his private business? Okay, that’s a bit extreme, so let’s suppose a man has been married before, or fathered illegitimate children with whom he has no relationship. Is this private information he’s not obliged to disclose to a new partner? No, and the reason is because history is a reliable guide to character, and character is important.

When you’re young, your history doesn’t matter much because you don’t have one. Nobody will judge a 20-year old on their past decisions because they usually amount to dumb teenage stuff which everyone does. But when you pass 30 you have a decade of adult life behind you, and the decisions you made in that period are what define you as a person. I once met a guy who, at age 27, had been married for 6 months and it looked as though he was heading for divorce. He was working like hell to keep it together (he succeeded) and he confessed his biggest fear was having to explain why his first marriage failed for the rest of his life. This is not something you can just brush off; people will ask questions and – in many cases – you’ll be obliged to answer them. Now being over forty and divorced isn’t such a big deal, because any new partner will likely be quite understanding. But divorced at 27? You’re going to be carrying that history around solo for several years at least.

Marriage and divorce are not things you can leave out of your life history, nor are kids and jail sentences. Part of being a mature, functioning adult is knowing what to include and what to leave out. Only a fool would blurt out everything because, as my lady friends said, some things are private and nobody else’s business. The example I like to use is that if a woman goes on holiday to Mexico and fucks a waiter, she’s best off not blurting that out to any future partner. It might reveal something about her character and it might not, but it’s unlikely to be defining if it was a one-off. It’s up to the individual to decide, but some things you are obliged to disclose in a relationship, earlier rather than later. Anyone who waits until a relationship is firmly established before revealing they have children from a former marriage can be reasonably accused of lying by omission.

The other remark people then make is:

“Okay, so they did some stuff, but they don’t have to justify it to anyone!”

Which is true, they don’t. But if they want to portray their character in the best possible light, they’ve got some explaining to do. Anyone who has been married and divorced is obliged to explain to any future partner what went wrong. They don’t have a right to an explanation per se, but if they are weighing you up as a future partner they do. One of the biggest challenges fathers of young men have is to get them to think long-term at an age when they have poor impulse control. If you get a criminal record aged 18 you will have to explain and justify that for your entire life. The same applies if your 16 year old son gets a classmate pregnant and she keeps the baby. If a woman who at age 21 marries a foreign guy twice her age and divorces him the minute her new passport comes through, she’s obliged to explain her decisions to any potential partner if she wants a future relationship.

Now I made an important comment earlier in this post:

The best way is to look at their history, specifically how they have behaved, what decisions they’ve made, and – crucially – what they think of those decisions now.

A person’s past decisions and behaviours are not the only indicators of their character; equally important is how they reflect on their past. Someone released from a 2-year prison sentence for burglary aged 20 who never got arrested again, settled down, raised a family, and is deeply repentant and ashamed of his criminal conviction is of a very different character from someone who spent the next decade in and out of jail for similar crimes. Someone who got divorced, admits they made mistakes, maintained polite relations throughout the process and bears no ill-will to their former spouse is of a different character from someone who flies into an apoplectic rage at the mere mention of their name ten years later. Someone who brags about whoring in Thailand or slutting it up in New York is revealing something about their character; another who looks back on the same episode with deep embarrassment is revealing something else.

How people have changed is crucial to understanding somebody’s character, which is why alcoholics stress the number of days they’ve been dry. It’s a demonstration of their reformed character, usually for the benefit of those who learned the words from the person’s mouth were nothing but lies. If an alcoholic has been dry for 10 years, it’s a fair assumption that he’s a changed man; if he was on the piss last night, he probably isn’t. Words are important, but sometimes they’re not enough.

The idea that life is a slate which you can keep wiping clean is nonsense, as is the idea that one’s character is separate from the life you’ve led to date. Now it is understandable that some people want to leave everything in the past, but what they’re really trying to do is present themselves as a different character than the one they are. Now why would they want to do that? If they don’t like who they are, then they should change, not try to hide who they are. Similarly, while they are under no obligation to justify themselves to anybody, nobody with whom they want a relationship is obliged to judge their character favourably either. When people wail Don’t judge me!” what they mean is “Don’t base my character on what you see!” Again, a judgement need not be good or bad, simply that it is incompatible with what the other person believes is necessary for a lasting, functional relationship. Perhaps some women don’t mind if their new boyfriend is a career criminal who spends half his time in jail. Perhaps some men don’t mind their latest love stars in porn films.

Everyone is different, and each must make their own character assessment of any potential partner. But to do that, they must be provided a history in one form or another, along with an accompanying narrative. Like it or not, our past is who we are; you can no more pretend it doesn’t matter than what you say and do in the present.

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Professionals at Work

From the BBC:

A woman who was partially sucked out of a window of a US passenger plane after an engine exploded in mid-air has died.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after a window, wings and fuselage were damaged. Seven passengers were injured.

Initial findings say an engine fan blade was missing. In a recording, one of the pilots can be heard saying “there is a hole and someone went out”.

That’s the background. Now listen to this conversation between the female pilot and an air traffic controller at Philadelphia airport:

You can hear the pilot struggling to contain the emotion in her voice, but she does a tremendous job of keeping calm. The guy in the tower is as cool as ice, and that’s due to professionalism and training rather than the fact he’s safe on the ground and not up there in a crippled plane. That the pilot, Tammy Jo Shults, managed to handle this situation brilliantly perhaps ought not to surprise:

Shults applied for the Air Force after she graduated. She wasn’t allowed to test to become a pilot, but the Navy welcomed her. She was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy’s history, and the first woman to fly F-18s. She later became an instructor.

She’s now an American hero, and deservedly so. I suspect Trump will shortly be hanging a medal around her neck and saying something well-meaning but cack-handed as he does it.

I find the calmness with which Shults and her interlocutor handle the situation almost mesmerising, but I often find that when watching a real professional go about their job. Oddly, the scene I most enjoyed from the the film Captain Phillips is when the corpsman aboard the US Navy ship examines Tom Hanks for the first time. The way she went about giving him direct, clear, and repeated instructions with completely calm, professional body-language made me think this was a very good actress. Or:

Tom Hanks claimed that the scene of Captain Richard Phillips’ medical examination was improvised on the spot with real-life Navy Corpsman Danielle Albert, who was told to simply follow her usual procedure.

Which explained it. A friend later told me he’d also been struck by the same scene. Calmness is vital to thinking clearly, and the best way to remain calm is to follow an established procedure and practice as much as possible. If you panic you’ll make mistakes and, panic being highly infectious, you’ll cause other people to make mistakes too.

A Russian friend was flying from Paris to Lagos with Air France once, and a Nigerian lady started having some sort of seizure in her seat. The passengers alerted the stewardess who, frankly, had no idea what to do and her body language let the entire aircraft know it. The passengers began to get agitated, and the stewardess (who was not joined by a couple of others) go the lady to lie down in the aisle. Then she started going into convulsions, and the stewardesses started to panic. They called the head steward, a Frenchman, who arrived and immediately panicked himself. The passengers lost control of themselves and started screaming and shouting. Somehow the air crew regained control of the situation, the woman stopped flapping around, and she got back to her seat. My Russian friend was very unimpressed, and said he had little confidence the pilots would do much better under duress. Given Air France’s safety record, nor have I.

By contrast, I was once flying Aeroflot from Moscow to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk when my companion ate the wrong thing in the in-flight meal and had an allergic reaction. Her throat began to swell and her breathing got difficult. Normally she carries medicine with her, but either didn’t have it with her or forgot where it was. I alerted the stewardess – the usual slim woman with bleached-blonde hair and painted nails – who took one look and asked my companion firmly what she’d eaten. She asked a few more questions, never raising her voice, then calmly told her colleague to fetch the medicine chest. My companion’s face was swelling up and she was breaking out in spots. A helpful chap in the seat behind thought she was simply airsick and offered her a tumbler of cheap cognac, which I still laugh about today. The stewardess returned with the medicine chest, they confirmed with my companion that it was the correct one, and gave her the tablets. Within a few minutes everything was back to normal, and only those sat nearby had any idea anything had happened. Aeroflot might be the butt of a lot of jokes, but the air crew knew their stuff and didn’t panic, and you can be damned sure the pilots wouldn’t either even if they plane had lost a wing, was upside down, and on fire.

I’ve noticed in my professional life that Frenchmen are prone to panicking under pressure, and letting their emotions get the better of them. By contrast, I don’t think I ever saw a Russian man panic, and there are numerous videos of Russians walking nonchalantly away from horrific car crashes and this legendary one of a pilot lighting up a cigarette after ejecting from his MiG-29. That’s not to say Russians never panic and Frenchmen always do, but propensity to panic is probably cultural in part, and training is needed to overcome it.

Whoever they may be, I find something awesome about a professional calmly going about his or her business, especially in a situation which would render most people unable to function at all. That might be because absolute professionalism is something I don’t see as much as I should. Clearly, the Americans flying planes and manning control towers still have it in spades. Good for them.

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Anything but English

You see a lot of this in America and Australia, especially around St. Patrick’s day:

It’s supposed to be the result of a DNA test showing someone’s ancestry, but I suspect it has all the authenticity of a fortune teller’s output. For a start, Scotland and Wales are part of Great Britain. Do people’s DNA differ between Wales and England? Not likely. The same is probably true for Scotland and England. If it isn’t, then Ireland, Scotland, and Wales shouldn’t be lumped in together.

What this is about is giving colonials the impression they have some Gaelic or Celtic blood, which conjours up romantic images of Mel Gibson and twee cottages on the cliffs of Ireland. What they really don’t want to hear is that they’re English because, as everyone knows, they spent centuries riding around on horseback in spotless finery oppressing anyone who didn’t use received pronunciation. That’s why England doesn’t get mentioned in the chart above.

So desperate are the colonials to not appear English, they fail to understand how percentages work. “I’m a quarter Irish on my father’s side,” they declare. “That’s why we called our son Liam.” So what are the other three-quarters? English, of course, but they don’t boast that Grandpa was from Essex and call their kid Kev.

On a similar subject, it’s interesting to note how St. Patrick’s day has become a meaningless excuse to get hammered while displaying just about every ignorant stereotype about Irish people you can imagine. If you were to do this with any other group, you’d have Plod arresting people for hate crimes en masse, but the Irish seem to endorse this farce. Or at least, they don’t complain about it. I do wonder what they think, though: of all the people I saw on social media over the weekend dressed as leprechauns and dyeing everything green, none of them were actually Irish. Back when I was in university my Irish mate used to celebrate St. Patrick’s day by going to the nearest Irish pub and drinking a few pints of Guinness and I used to join him, but it was nothing like the circus it is now. I don’t think he’s bothered with it in years, and nor have I.

Then again, perhaps it’s a fitting metaphor for the country itself, which is looking increasingly like a tacky tourist attraction run by people who sold themselves out years ago and support a version of history and culture which is largely imagined.

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Helicopter Underwater Escape Training

From the BBC:

Five people were killed when a helicopter crashed into the East River of New York City on Sunday evening, police say.

Divers worked desperately to pull the five passengers from the helicopter but two of them died at the scene while the other three died in hospital.

The pilot managed to free himself and was rescued by a passing tugboat.

At a press conference, New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro called it a “great tragedy”.

“We are told the five people were all tied tightly in harnesses that had to be cut and removed,” he said.

There’s a reason why people who fly over water in helicopters for work take the training I describe here:

They do train us to escape from a helicopter that has ditched in the sea and turned turtle, and I wrote about when I did this course shortly after I arrived in Nigeria.  They rig up a simulated helicopter fuselage complete with seats and pop-out windows, you all climb in and take your seats, and then they dunk you in the water.  They do this 6 times, and for the last 3 times they spin the whole apparatus upside down, and you’re expected to unbuckle yourself and get out.  It’s a lot easier than it sounds, once you remember that the window on your right-hand side is still on your right-hand side even when you’ve been tipped upside down.

The training only makes a difference if the helicopter goes into the water in a reasonably controlled manner – if the rotors shear off and it drops like an anvil, forget it – but in this crash in New York the pilot managed to get out. This is almost certainly because he had the training and experience to know what to do, whereas the passengers had none. If they’d been trained, chances are they’d have got out. You’d still not fancy your chances, but there are numerous accounts of people escaping from a ditched helicopter thanks to their training and the statistics show the training is worthwhile. If I were a businessman who regularly flew helicopters around New York, I’d splash out the few hundred bucks for the course and make sure I sat beside the window.

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Stating the Obvious

Once again the BBC is running a story on Trump as headline news. Are those protests still going on in Iran? Do we know yet why some dude in Las Vegas shot around 600 people? Has Germany formed a government? Secondary concerns, apparently, to:

US President Donald Trump has reportedly lashed out at immigrants in a foul-mouthed Oval Office outburst.

Oh. But now we’re here, let’s take a closer look.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Mr Trump told lawmakers on Thursday, according to the Washington Post.

Frankly, I ask this question on a daily basis using precisely that terminology. The only difference is I ask it rhetorically because I already know the answer: it’s contained in the question.

But first let’s note the BBC’s use of the term “foul-mouthed” because Trump said “shithole”. All of a sudden this ultra-modern organisation, which cheers each act of destruction visited on aspects of our culture it deems “outdated” and signs up to every virtue-signalling progressive fad, is clutching its pearls because Trump said “shithole”. This in an age when the words “fuck” and “cunt” are the staple of seemingly every scriptwriter.

Secondly, this meeting was closed and Trump’s remarks leaked. It’s not as if he said this during a press conference, and personally I’d prefer presidents to speak freely and frankly in such discussions using terminology which is wholly appropriate than couch their language in ever-shifting politically correct terms because the permanently offended might get upset.

But what’s most amusing is the reaction on social media. Not from the left, they’re a lost cause; I mean from so-called conservatives. They’re busy wringing their hands, denouncing Trump for his blatant racism, looking absolutely no different from the Democrats and still wondering why Trump got elected in the first place. Trump’s comments are pretty innocuous to anyone who is not a deranged anti-Trumper or a fully paid-up member of the media or political establishments. He’s asked the question millions of people across America and Europe have been asking for years, waiting in vain for their leaders to do so. And now he has, and the reason his opponents have gone apoplectic is because they know how much this will resonate with ordinary people they wish didn’t exist. That, and they wish to virtue-signal in order to keep their places in what they think is polite society.

The fact is some countries are shitholes, and calling them such is not racist. Hell, I’d even go further and say the reason they are shitholes is precisely because of the people living in them. The root cause of a country being a shithole is the prevailing culture, and what else is culture but the aggregate behaviour, attitude, and customs of a population? This doesn’t mean any individual from a shithole is to blame, or you should judge them according to the place they’re from. As I said here, you should take individuals as you find them, but that ought not to stop you labeling a place a shithole and placing the blame squarely on the population as a whole. People say the reason East Germany was a shithole was because of communism, but that only prevailed because the Stasi had 100,000 workers and approximately 400,000 informants. If you have half a million people willing to absolutely fuck-over their fellow countryman for personal gain or ideological gratification then yes, that place will be a shithole. Blaming it on abstract political arrangements such as communism, as if it were imposed from a clear blue sky with no involvement from the people themselves, is comforting but it fails to address the root cause of the problem. And as I said in my infamous post on Nigeria:

The problem these decent people have is that they are vastly outnumbered by those who are not.  For every Nigerian who is honest, well-mannered, and diligent you’ll find a hundred whose only goal is to get some money whilst expending the minimum amount of effort possible.  If they can use personal connections, lies, or trickery in lieu of learning a useful skill and applying it, they’ll take that option every time.  It’s a numbers thing: if 50% of Nigerians were more like 10% of them, the country would be okay.  And that’s the fundamental problem of Nigeria summed up in one sentence: way too many dickheads.

This idea that every culture is equal and basket cases that have been that way for centuries without the slightest homegrown improvement are somehow unlucky, and to hold them to any kind of standard is racist, has pervaded every nook and cranny of western culture. Only people aren’t buying it any more, and those people vote. Trump is merely recognising that, while his establishment opponents prefer to banish any such thoughts from the political discourse. Which is why they lost, of course.

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Natural Limits

To kick this post off, here’s a photo of the world’s largest dump truck, the BelAz 75710 made in Belarus.

I once read that a rubber tyre with a diameter larger than about 18 feet (5.4m) quickly becomes impractical. Similarly, even though an Airbus A380 is considerably larger than the Wright brothers’ flyer, nobody has built an aeroplane a mile long capable of carrying several thousand passengers. We’re probably approaching the limit on ship size, and although skyscrapers are getting ever-taller they’ll top-out eventually. My point is that there is a limit to things, and in these examples they are governed by the laws of physics and the physical properties of materials, air, and water.

Some things don’t scale, and even when they do, it’s not necessarily in a linear manner. I first went to Singapore when I was 23 and couldn’t believe how well-run the place was. My first thought was that everywhere should be run as well as Singapore, using the same methods. Now I’m a bit older I realise that running a city state of 5.6m people condensed into an island of 278 square miles isn’t the same as running a country of 70m people spread across 93,600 square miles. As societies grow from families to tribes to towns to cities to nation states, different methods of maintaining cohesion and control are needed at each step. In short, human societies don’t scale.

In my previous post I wrote about the behaviour of Pope Francis. Now if the Pope can’t be bothered defending the Catholic church and prefers to pander to people who will, once they have the numbers, kill his followers and burn his palace to the ground, it’s a sign that things have gone badly wrong somewhere. I cite this because it exemplifies what is going on in the western world today: every single major institution I can think of seems to be in the final throes of self-destruction, abject surrender to its enemies, or suicide. Many of these institutions have for centuries formed the foundation of western societies and have contributed substantially to their success, yet they are being destroyed by the very people who have been charged with their guardianship.

I’ve spent a while thinking about this and I reckon it has something to do with what I described earlier. Just as mechanical systems run into physical limitations beyond which they don’t work, there is probably a point beyond which human societies simply fail to hold themselves together and self-destruct. Human’s are odd creatures, and thrive when faced with hardship. The capacity of humans to overcome the most appalling conditions and adapt in order to survive is incredible, matched only by our ability to constantly seek to improve our lives. There is an optimum level of stress for humans: too much and we can’t function beyond the basics to stay alive, but too little and we become equally useless.

Insofar as western, Christian societies have gone most societal and technological advances appear to have come about as a result of people wanting to ensure Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are not only met, but permanently assured – particularly those at the bottom of the pyramid. These societies have become so wealthy that Maslow’s needs are now met by default for tens of millions of people. Furthermore, this has been going on so long that anyone born in western society who ever worried about these things is well over seventy. Anyone younger than that, generally speaking, has had the easiest ride in the entire history of mankind.

It is probably no coincidence that it’s these younger people who now seem so determined to destroy the foundations of the society they’ve been raised in. I found when I lived in under-developed countries that people there are completely unconcerned about the minutiae of politics; they are only interested in the important matters that directly affect them and their families. As an example, the only people in the entire world interested in transgender rights are white, western liberals. For everyone else, it is simply a non-issue. Russians were mainly interested in their salaries, their mothers’ pensions, and the price of a decent car. Nigerians were chiefly concerned about their salaries, job security, and the levels of violence and corruption in their country. People who come from places where the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are not assured tend to focus on important issues and ignore the rest.

So I have a theory. Just as a you can’t use a rubber tyre beyond 18 feet in diameter due to natural limitations, there is a limit to which human societies can grow in terms of wealth and comfort. Beyond a certain point, the bonds which hold the society together, which have been painstakingly constructed over centuries, get cut because people no longer realise what they’re for and the whole thing collapses. It might be that this societal limit is relative – either in terms of other societies around it, or perhaps the rate of change from earlier generations – but I am reasonably sure that such a limit nonetheless exists.

One thing I notice in the language of progressives is a hubristic certainty that their version of society, once shaped, will last forever because there is nothing left to discuss, as if their vision is inevitable. Personally, I don’t think we’ll see a whole lot of advancement from this point on; I don’t think we’re going to be looking at a future of interstellar travel and permanent luxury, but a world where everyone now needs to remember how much hard work, cooperation, and violence is required to get the bottom of that pyramid of needs met. Perhaps in time humankind will recover from the setback and rebuild, just as Europeans eventually managed to meet and then surpass the levels of sophistication the Romans achieved, but it may take centuries if not longer.

I might be wrong, but there is one thing I am absolutely sure of. Historians will look back on this era and prevailing opinions regarding matters such as immigration, religion, political violence, war, economics, taxation, redistribution, procreation, welfare, race, law and order, and politics and marvel at how we blindly assumed western civilisation would survive. I’d also make a tidy bet they too will talk about how the collapse was inevitable once we’d reached a certain level of wealth and comfort. I concede they might not use a dump truck to illustrate the point, though.

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The Bigotry of Low Expectations

Via the comments at Tim Worstall’s I found this article which, if it had been written as a parody, would have made the author a genius:

I’m a young Indigenous man from the south coast of New South Wales.

While growing up, I was faced with a different kind of racism.

I have always been proud of being Aboriginal, but people have always told me that I’m not.

They would say that I’m too white and I have red hair — and that these features mean I can’t be Indigenous.

Adam Piggott did a good post back in July on the Australian Aboriginal industry which allows pasty folk with dubious claims to Aboriginal ancestry to access monies, privileges, and programmes intended to assist genuine Aboriginal communities out in the bush. US Senator Elizabeth Warren did much the same, claiming Cherokee ancestry in order to land an affirmative action place at Harvard Law School, so it’s not just an Australian thing. Is this kid in the article Aborigine? Well, if Linda Sarsour can call herself black I guess he can be anything he likes. He’s not easily dissuaded, anyway:

But luckily, I’m not very good at listening to people who tell me things that I don’t want to hear.

The options in front of this boy are wide indeed, ranging from politician to corporate manager to divorced woman. But this is the passage that really stood out:

So, straight away I think of a way to show my Aboriginal background either through art, didgeridoo playing, language, stories, culture, and Aboriginal songs and dances.

I’ve created artworks for my friends and family and I’ve taught other students how to circular breathe while playing a didgeridoo.

When I was in Melbourne some government body or other put on a display of “Aboriginal culture” in Federation Square and advertised it all over town. I guessed in advance that it would consist of a bunch of primitives sat around bashing drums while metropolitan white folk looked on as if they were visiting a zoo. Child-like art would be on display wrapped in copious quantities of mumbo-jumbo. I passed by one Saturday afternoon and sure enough, that’s exactly what it was. A more patronising exhibition I couldn’t imagine, and it must have been soul-destroying for any Aborigine who aspires to be something more than a museum piece for liberal whites. Any who did would find ginger palefaces have crowded them out and, to rub salt in the wound, are now boasting about how they’ve learned the didgeridoo and circular breathing. What is absolutely certain is the urban elites don’t want these Aborigines getting off their knees any time soon or – horror! – turning up to live next door. Which is why they keep reminding them that their place in Australian society is as little more than curios, and an excuse to keep the guilt-industry motoring along on taxpayer cash.

I mentioned drums earlier for a reason. One thing supposedly right-on palefaces like to do is marvel at dark people’s “sense of rhythm”. Nobody would be interested in an Aborigine – or an African – who’d learned the violin, clarinet, or piano (none of which require rhythm, of course); all they want to do is see them whack drums in an ethnically-authentic fashion while marvelling at their supposed natural talent. South Park covered this brilliantly here:

I had occasion to stumble into some anecdotal evidence on this topic. A friend and colleague is from Jamaica but her daughter – whose father is also Jamaican – grew up in Scotland. My friend can dance as all good Jamaicans can; alas, her daughter is absolutely hopeless and has no sense of rhythm whatsoever. It seems dancing in a Caribbean manner is dependent on growing up in the Caribbean rather than genes or skin-colour. Fortunately my friend, who holds a Masters in Engineering and a PhD in something similar, grew up in an environment where education, self-sufficiency, and genuine achievement were considered more important than “keeping it real” as defined by wealthy, privileged whites; she also believes her daughter’s education is more important than her lack of dancing ability.

Maybe one day Australia’s Aborigines will enjoy such an environment, too?

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Poor Man’s Goose

I found this tweet interesting:

When I was growing up my mother, whose recipes dated from 1920-60, would cook a dish called Poor Man’s Goose. Given it was made from pork I always thought this was rather odd; now I’m an adult I can see the dish derives its name from the disparity in price between pork and goose.

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A Fear of Heights

From the BBC:

An Australian diplomat has died after falling from a New York City balcony while socialising with friends.

Julian Simpson, 30, accidentally slipped from a seventh-floor ledge of his Manhattan building to a landing on the second floor, the NYPD said.

US media reported he was playing a “trust game” with a friend when he fell.

This is tragic for his family and friends, and 30 seems a bit old to be pulling stunts like this. Then again, I’ve found a lot of Australian men shed the reckless bravado of youth rather later than most, if at all.

One thing’s for sure, you’d not catch me playing “trust games” seven stories up. I have a very mixed relationship with heights: I am fine in a tall building, I don’t mind being hoiked in the air by a crane while sat in a frog, helicopters and planes are okay, and working on the outside of tall structures while clipped on doesn’t bother me (but takes a little getting used to). But put me on a balcony with a low railing, or near a ledge, and I go weak at the knees and start to feel sick. The fear is twofold: I am petrified of someone pushing me over the edge either on purpose or by accident, but also I have a burning desire to jump off which I am never convinced I can overcome. This means I can abseil without much fear, but if I were to visit somewhere like the Trolltunga in Norway you’d not see me taking selfies at the edge, or sat with my legs dangling into the void. You’re more likely to find me a mile away, looking at it through binoculars. There’s something about being up high and unsecured that terrifies me, which is why I’d not be hanging out of windows seven floors up in New York.

Sometimes just for fun I lie in bed and watch videos of those Russian or Ukrainan nutters who climb buildings and cranes with GoPros on their heads. There are two in particular that I like, both in China:

Even in bed these videos make my stomach churn, which makes them fun to watch in a masochist kind of way. This one of a couple of Romanians climbing a chimney in Slovenia is good too:

Frankly, I think the people who do this sort of thing are complete idiots but at the same time astonishingly brave. It’s a shame this Australian lad didn’t stick to watching videos of other people doing stupid things rather than having a go himself.

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