Five Things Make A Post 04 OCT 2018
1) ( Potentially distressing content under the fold )
2) In my other class, we're studying Foucault (a quick introduction to Foucault, discourse, and so on), and one of our readings is bringing up examples of current events (current at the time of writing/publication for the reading ... which was published in 2000) in US politics. Things like the Anita Hill case, the Clinton impeachment and so on. I was reading this yesterday and thinking "damn it, Brett Kavanaugh can't stop getting into everything". I'm hoping the rest of my readings this week won't be so... inadvertently synchronisticly appropriate, damn it.
3) One of the things I was asked to listen to for a previous weeks readings for one of my classes was "Four Chord Song" by Axis of Awesome. Which means I'm now hearing the chord structures and bass line of a lot of what I'm listening to these days, and thinking about the ways that various chord patterns are used and re-used to create music. There's the standard four chord song, the twelve-bar blues, the Romanesca (aka "that one in Pachelbel's Canon") and so on. So that gives me a bit of something to think about when I'm busy listening to music to block out the extraneous noise while I'm doing my uni readings.
4) As a side effect of stress, I am currently dealing with a complete lack of spoons for actual sensible cooking stuff. Which means I'm eating a lot of stuff which can be cooked by throwing it into the oven and reheating it. (Yes, I know this isn't healthy in the long term, but unless someone else is volunteering to come and cook for me for free, I suspect I'm going to be sticking with this for a while). One thing I have worked out is that it is cheaper for me to buy a $2.90 box of Coles plain brand frozen chicken nuggets, and re-heat them at home, than it is to get one of those "24 nuggets for $10" deals from KFC or Maccas - for $10 I can get three boxes of Coles nuggets, for a total of 66 of the little bastards, and all I have to supply is the oven to reheat them. Plus I can have my choice of dipping sauces (at present, the winner is Fountain Hot Chilli sauce) rather than being stuck with the options of watered down Sweet Chilli Sauce, or watered down Sweet and Sour Sauce or whatever. So, that can stand in for my reviews of recipes. I'll do more of them when I have the time and spoons to cook again.
5) Latest book up for the Farewell Re-read treatment is "The Ultimate Dracula" - a collection of short stories on a rather predictable theme, edited by Byron Preiss.
 In the words of Neil Innes: "I've suffered for my art; now it's your turn."
PS: I was serious about the Twitter thing. If you see me on Twitter any time before this whole thing has simmered down, remind me to get the fsck off there for the good of my blood pressure.
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In Which Meg is Proven Correct (and takes smug satsfaction in the fact)
( Item the first )
( Item the Second )
So I'm having a nice quiet day of smug satisfaction at my own perspicacity. Given the rest of the day involves my jerk-brain telling me I'm useless, hopeless and won't achieve anything (to the point where I'm having to take photos of the housework as I'm doing it to prove the wretched thing wrong) it's nice for the external world to give me a bit of validation.
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In Response to Another Mass Shooting in the USA
1) Can I re-iterate a call for the name of the shooter to be buried in obscurity, while the names of his victims are memorialised? This would be a far more fitting treatment of these sorts of crimes than the current practice of focussing on the person who committed the crime to the exclusion of the persons who were harmed by it (and, let's be honest, to the exclusion of the persons this fool meant to be harmed by his actions: namely, all women who have ever turned down a self-professed "nice guy" for whatever reason). Why give this bloke the publicity and notice he so dearly wanted?
Instead, let's remember and commemorate Katherine Cooper, Veronika Weiss, Christopher Ross Michael-Martinez, and his other victims (as yet unnamed to the public).
2) Can we stop demonising the mentally ill for these sorts of crimes? I agree, the guy probably had issues. I agree, he had Aspergers Syndrome, which is one of the autism spectrum of disorders. However, he is not likely to have had a single diagnosed severe mental illness, he is highly unlikely to be provably compulsive or psychotic (i.e. he is NOT likely to have been in an altered mental state) at the time of the shooting, and he is more than likely to be found to be legally sane (that is, he was capable of perceiving the distinction between moral and immoral actions) at the time of the shooting.
The vast majority of people with diagnosed mental illnesses (including the vast majority of people with diagnosed psychotic schizophrenia, and diagnosed compulsive disorders, not to mention the vast majority of people who exist on the autism spectrum somewhere) manage to get through their lives pretty much without perpetrating acts of violence on other people. Indeed, the vast majority of persons with diagnosed mental illnesses are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.
The issues this bloke had were not to do with an altered mental state, with his reported autism spectrum disorder, with a compulsive or psychotic disorder, or with an emotional disorder. They stemmed far more from his attitudes of entitlement and misogyny. Which leads to my next point...
3) Can we label these sorts of crimes (mass shootings, performed by a single perpetrator, often from an ambush location, at a single point in time, generally without a particular target of preference) as being what they are: crimes of entitlement. I call them crimes of entitlement because the vast majority of the perpetrators for these crimes are white men. There have been a few such crimes perpetrated by black or Asian men. NONE have been perpetrated by women. They're crimes performed largely by people who have structural advantages in our society, and who feel they are hard done by because they don't get the "perfect" life they feel they're owed by the universe. They generally aren't high achievers, they blame other people for their own failings, and they generally "peak" into homicidal activity like this at two possible ages - there's one group who bombs out shortly after high school, usually by their early to mid twenties (and the shooter for this latest incident fit the mould perfectly; he was not even original in his dysfunction), and another group which tends to bomb out in their mid-to-late forties. In both cases, it's because they realise they aren't going to get the life Hollywood promised them they were due as straight white men, and in both cases, their actions are because they think their selfish anger at this "betrayal" is much more important than anything else.
In both cases, these people are more likely to either suicide themselves, or commit "suicide by cop" rather than face up to the consequences of their actions. Again, our shooter in this case fit the mould to a "T". He was not unique, he was not some special snowflake, and regardless of his stated "reasons" for his crime, the status of his family or any of the other things people will pull out in order to pretend this crime was somehow "different", he was no different to the last such insignificant wanker to commit such a crime, nor any different to the next one. Which leads to my final point:
4) Can we please have this discussion with and within the USA where we mention that maybe, just maybe, making guns harder to acquire on a national basis might knock the number of these crimes which occur there right the way down? Because this is a VERY AMERICAN CRIME. Everywhere else an incident of this sort occurs, there's immediate action to prevent it from recurring. Gun laws are imposed or tightened up; rules on who can obtain a gun are imposed or tightened; enforcement of existing laws is stepped up; all of these efforts are made to ensure the next time some thoughtless yahoo feels his insignificance is a massive burden, he hasn't got the easy recourse of taking a gun and shooting people randomly in order to get his name in the papers. Only in the USA is this kind of crime treated as something which is apparently unable to be prevented.
Quite frankly, as I've said before, I'm starting to lose sympathy. Yes, these individual events are terrible. But really, there is a solution to the problem, and it's one which has been proven to work quite successfully everywhere else.
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The whole Frances Abbott thing:
I've been following this as it surfaced in my feeds, and a couple of things which spring to mind:
1) Frances Abbott is as human as everyone else, which means when she sees what looks like a chance to get something for nothing, she'll grab it. Let's be honest - we'd all take the offer were it made to us. The problem is, as Frances is no doubt learning, there is no such thing as a genuine "something for nothing" offer. Everyone pays somehow. If you're getting "something for nothing" in terms of access to services, you're probably being asked to supply your information to the service provider in order for them to on-sell them to advertisers (as per Web 2.0 portals such as Facebook and Linkedin). In Frances' case, what she's paying with now is her self-respect - she's no doubt learning the stuff she got was basically aimed at getting her Dad on side, and not something she obtained through her own hard work and effort, and this apparently includes her job as well. I feel somewhat sorry for her, because through their political machinations, her father and his cronies have essentially reduced whatever level of talent she has for the work to nothing - a non-event, a sideshow. No matter how good her work is, she will always have this hanging over her head, and she will always be regarded as someone who got by on connections rather than ability.
That can't be easy for anyone.
2) Tony Abbott apparently has a deeply entitled attitude toward life, since he appears to have hit up this particular "donor" or "mate" on a regular basis for things like clothing (suits) and similar. I can't help but wonder how many people find a similar cost applied to their "friendship" toward him, and how many he's dropped like hot rocks along the way when they couldn't supply him with what he wanted.
3) Given this tale of an unprecedented scholarship being offered at this "no scholarships" institution to the child of a friend of a director, I find myself wondering whether this kind of thing won't become much more common for the children of politicians, company directors and similar in future, as our higher education becomes much more monetarized and cash-driven. It won't ever be named as "favours for friends", but instead we'll see the children of the Right People (self-defined) getting scholarships, intern-ships and similar through connections, while the rest of the group struggles along on effort.
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Alan Jones Goes To Journalism School
To be honest, I'm not surprised Alan Jones has had to go to Journalism school. What should be surprising people is that this man got a job as a broadcaster without having any journalism training in the first place. Mr Jones previous history (as per Wikipedia) is as an English teacher, a rugby coach, a parliamentary speech writer, and an unsuccessful conservative politician. There's indications he was very successful as a rugby coach (it's what he got his MAO for, after all) but aside from this, most of his paid employment since approximately 1974 has been as a result of his connections in the Liberal and National (formerly Country) parties.
He used to be a columnist for the Sun-Herald (but lost the job after publishing a column which was pretty much a straight lift from a Frederick Forsyth novel without bothering to attribute his sources - the other staff at the newspaper campaigned to have him removed as a result).
Alan Jones was never a journalist. He was never trained as a journalist. He should never have been taken seriously as a journalist. He's a demagogue. Simple as that.
Sources and Resources:
http://theconversation.edu.au/a-very-naughty-parrot-acma-sends-alan-jones-back-to-school-10212 - The Conversation
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-18/alan-jones-ordered-to-do-journalism-training/4320534 - ABC.Net.au
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Jones_%28radio_broadcaster%29 - Wikipedia page on Jones
http://www.independentaustralia.net/2012/business/media-2/alan-jones-greatest-hits/ - Independent Australian
http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_600069 - ACMA media release about the conditions they've put on 2GB.
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Julian Assagne Does It Again
Does it strike anyone else that in seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, Julian Assagne is doing just about everything known to (highly privileged) humankind in order to avoid the consequences of his own behaviour?
I would hate to be in the position of the two women who reported his actions to the police in Sweden, watching as the man who violated their trust twists and wriggles in every possible way he can to avoid having to answer for his actions. I would hate to be watching as he moves from one form of avoidance to the next, always trying to dodge the consequences of his behaviour. I would be as angry as all hell as one group of expensive friends after another comes to his rescue, offering monetary assistance, accommodation, legal aid, etcetera.
Oh, but he's lost so much, everyone says. He's effectively stateless, he's relying on the kindness of strangers, he's being persecuted by all these shadowy conspiracies, and besides, the charges aren't for anything serious so why should he have to answer them. To which I say: he chose to be where he is. He chose to start Wikileaks. He chose to poke sticks at a US government which had shown itself to be highly defensive, highly paranoid, and willing to go to extreme lengths in order to preserve what it saw as its rights. He chose to travel freely around the world (something not everyone can do) and to investigate any number of countries as potential new homes. He chose to rely on the hospitality of friends, and to abuse that hospitality.
Julian Assagne's current situation with regard to the US government is something he chose to get into of his own free will. He chose to poke a dragon with a long pointy stick. The dragon noticed.
His position with regard to the Swedish government is something he could have chosen to avoid as well. All he had to damn well do was keep his fucking dick in his fucking daks and not presume that all women exist in a permanent state of "yes, please!". He didn't do that. And he didn't do that in a country where the laws regarding sexual consent are different to the laws where he grew up - from what I can gather, the laws in Sweden presume that women (and men) don't exist in a permanent state of consent to sexual activity, but rather that consent is something which has to be explicitly granted each time.
Julian Assagne is not a martyred hero of the left. Julian Assagne is a highly privileged male who is trying everything he can think of in order to get out of accepting the responsibility for actions he chose to take. Julian Assagne's actions are not unique - there are countless other cases of privileged men fleeing justice in order to avoid being charged with and tried for rape. He's just one more highly privileged moral coward.
 I'm stating this as a definite because quite frankly, I doubt anyone would have gone to the same sorts of lengths Mr Assagne has gone to were they entirely innocent of the actions performed.
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Today in the News
Okay, clearly I don't understand Big Business. There's an article in today's ABC newsfeed which is basically another round of the mining companies and the Business Council of Australia howling "we'll all be rooned" because things aren't going 100% their way. They're busy saying that the Australian economy costs too much to do business in, that it's too damn risky and too damn costly, and we should be altering our business to remove our "low productivity and outdated work practices".
They basically argue that resources projects here cost about 40% more than those on the Gulf Coast of the USA - and I'd argue that yes, there's any number of reasons for that:
1) I don't know whether they've realised, but Australia has a smaller population than the USA - we're about 1/15th the size of the US population, and we're at about the carrying capacity of the continent as it stands.
2) We're a bit more geographically isolated than the Gulf Coast of the USA - and certainly a lot of the areas where the resource projects are happening here are a lot further removed from large centres of infrastructure too.
3) We have different legal frameworks to the USA, being a different fucking country and all. This includes things like insisting that all staff be paid a decent wage and that things like environmental regulations and OH&S requirements aren't just optional extras that have to be dealt with if (and only if) you can't afford to pay off the inspector. Oh, we also don't have the concept of "at will" employment enshrined in our social support systems - so we ask that if people are going to be sacked, they're sacked for a reason, given a decent notice period, and paid their redundancy money. We also insist that the indigenous peoples of the location be compensated for any damage done to their tribal lands - and if you're not sure whether a particular location is part of the tribal lands, you can just submit a request to the Native Title Tribunal to find out, can't you!
They point to our labour being "35 per cent less productive" than the labour in the US Gulf Coast for projects near cities (it's up to 60 per cent less productive in remote locations) - and I have to admit I'd like to know what the yardstick they're using is, when the measurements were taken, which projects they're comparing and to what, and how they're categorising "near cities" and "remote". Or in other words, show me the figures, show me the original research - don't just give me the conclusions stripped of all possible context.
But the thing which really stuns me is the following:
"We are in a global competition for capital and in things like iron ore or in coal, we've got growing competition from other countries in the world. And if we become more expensive, or too expensive, then those projects may not occur or may go elsewhere," Mr Shepherd said.
It's the last bit, the notion of "projects going elsewhere" which really stuns me - what, do they really think it's possible to dig up the iron ore in Australia's north-west from say, Somalia? Do they really think that this petty bit of blackmail is going to succeed in basically turning around our entire culture and economic system, just in case one or two big companies decide they don't want to spend their money here? (Well, yes, probably they do. And what's more they're probably right in expecting it given the past track records of various Australian governments, which is depressing).
However, I'd point to a statement made by our PM fairly recently. Ms Gillard apparently located her spine, and pointed out to a whole heap of mining company executives that, contrary to their apparent belief (as expressed via their corporate behaviour) they don't own all the minerals in Australia. Instead, these minerals are owned in common by the peoples of Australia. Mining companies don't get freehold rights to the areas they mine. Instead, they're given mining leases. I think it's about time for the Government to grow a spine and basically point out to various mining companies that if they don't like the damn conditions here, they don't have to put up with them. There's bound to be someone else who's willing to pay the prices associated with doing business in Australia who'll come along and pick up the leases. Heck, if all else failed, there's still a chance that either the state or the commonwealth governments could go into the mining business themselves and start hauling in the wonga for all Australians, not just the shareholding few.
Australia has one of the most stable and productive economies in the world. We've managed to stay out of recession and actually had our economy growing for the majority of the time since we discovered that the US banking system had been playing ducks & drakes with the global money supply back in November 2008. We're a country which has a lot of resources available to exploit, we're also a country which is both tectonically and politically stable (we don't change governments with revolutions, we use elections instead) with a culture which is remarkably phlegmatic on a global scale (last reported riots were in Cronulla, back in 2005). When a company sets up a mining venture here, they don't have to factor in costs like bribes, armed guards, private armies, bodyguards for executives, or similar. They can generally rely on a lot of cooperation from both state and federal governments. We have a skilled workforce (even if it is a bit small for the demand being put on it at present). We have very good quality infrastructure, and we're willing to put money toward making it better (for example, the National Broadband Network project which is currently ongoing, as an effort to make it possible for just about everyone in the country to access high speed internet). If a mining company sets up business in Australia, they're going to get a good return on their money - mining here is nowhere near as marginal as, for example, farming.
They're just not going to get to keep all of it. We're going to ask for our share, in the form of wages, taxes, and so on.
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We're Doing Feminism Wrong ... AGAIN
Frank O'Shea has his knickers in a twist at Independent Australia: Feminists desert female Aussie PM
I'm not sure what to be more irritated by from that article - whether it's the accusations of a lack of groupthink on the part of feminists, the unstated (and inaccurate) assumption that all women are active feminists, the notion that being part of a minority grouping means you're part of a seamless association that never has internal disagreements (and the imputation of such status to both the Indigenous and Jewish communities - both of which, I'm pretty certain, have a lot of internal political wranglings which can get extremely passionate and divisive), or just the level of sheer bloody-minded wrongness involved in the whole thing from go to whoa.
So, back to Feminism 101 stuff again, for the benefit Mr O'Shea:
1) Not all feminists are women. It is possible to be feminist and not identify as being a woman.
2) Not all women are feminists. It is possible to identify as being a woman and not identify with feminist aims or goals.
3) There is no One True Feminism. There is no entrance exam to become a feminist.
4) As a corollary of the above, not all feminists share the same goals, or agree on the same ideals. About the only central, core ideals that the majority of feminists agree on are that firstly, there is no reason why women should be treated as different to men in a legal, moral, political, economic or financial sense; secondly, that this is happening in the world at present; and thirdly, that this should be changed.
So, addressing various contentions in Mr O'Shea's article as they land:
Mr O'Shea is upset that some women are campaigning (rather nastily) against Julia Gillard, decrying her lifestyle, her gender, and various other things. So, see my points 2, 3 and 4 above. The women who are raising these posters are under no obligation to support Julia Gillard (or any other female-identified politician) simply because she is female. We're under no obligation to all believe the same things, simply because we are female. To insist that this is the case is to insist on the existence of an essential point of moral and political difference between women and men (women must all think and vote as a seamless bloc; men are allowed to hold differing opinions). Which is contrary to the spirit of feminism.
To be clear: I don't agree with those women, Mr O'Shea. But I do agree they have the right to make fools of themselves in public, just the same as I do.
Mr O'Shea contends that surely Ms Gillard has a right to expect that feminists and organised feminism will come to her defence, and also contends that this isn't happening. Possibly Mr O'Shea isn't reading the same blogs I do. I found the link to his article on Hoyden About Town (an Australian feminist blog), where the contributor who posted the link to Mr O'Shea's article pointed out a list of eight articles which are tackling just this very matter. There's a further three of them in the automatically generated "Related Posts" section at the bottom of the article.
There are a lot of posts about this very matter on the Aussie feminist blogosphere, pointing out the nature of the problem, pointing out how very gendered it is, pointing out how very discriminatory it is and so on. However, for some reason or other, these sorts of articles don't seem to be making it into the mainstream media. Now, could this have anything to do with the "gatekeeping" function the mainstream media (and particularly the mainstream media in Australia, with its heavy concentration of ownership) tends to reserve to itself? That there aren't newspaper articles in the Herald Sun, the Australian, or the Daily Telegraph, written by prominent feminist writers, and blasting the editors of the Herald Sun, the Australian or the Daily Telegraph for their selection of material regarding the prime minister... why, that would almost suggest that the mainstream media are actually privately owned properties, with their own editorial controls, where a deliberate selection of material is undertaken in order to present a situation in a particular fashion. Yes, there are problems when this happens, but I'd argue the problem isn't necessarily one that feminism and feminists can be blamed for.
Feminists of many stripes, however, will cheerfully agree that the lack of feminist opinion in the mainstream media is a feminist issue - it's emblematic of the way that the kyriarchy (the interweaving of systems of oppression to ensure that the oppressing class remains in charge) manipulates the way the world is, such that contrary, minority, or dissenting voices are silenced and marginalised.
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So, yesterday I attended my first O-week event for my upcoming university return - a Parents, Partners and Friends thing. I also stopped off by the student assistance van to pick up my orientation pack (complete with free temporary parking permit; complimentary lanyard and subject-area-specific timetable, and a checklist to help with the immediate stuff. Hooray.
The uni campus is a lot bigger than it was the last time I studied there (back in 1989 - 1990) - approximately double the size, most of it heading south. However, it's been designed with an eye to the weather - there's lots of trees, lots of shade, and lots of open space to sit and think in. Of course, there's also the cheerful thought that the weather it's been designed with an eye to is the warm weather (of which we get lots) rather than the rainy stuff (which is comparatively rare, and getting moreso... which is worrying). What this is likely to mean in winter is I'm going to be doing a lot of rushing around with a brolly, and huddling below verandahs.
The other thing about this campus is that at least half of it is built up a hill. The other half is built down it. This means there's multiple levels (and "ground level" is a somewhat tricky term to use when you consider that for one building alone it can mean entering on the third floor, the second floor, the main floor, or a sub-floor) and lots and lots of stairs. My knees aren't particularly fond of stairs - I have to approach them carefully, one knee complains when I'm going up, the other one complains when I'm going down. I forsee a lot of careful work trying to find ramps (which don't make my knees complain quite as loudly).
Of course, this time around, if I can't find a ramp, or an accessibility point, I'm more likely to be pointing this out to the accessibility folks. I've decided this year is my year to join the effort in bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon, and improve the situation for marginalised persons of all varieties.
In other news, check out this wonderful tribute to XKCD as performed by any number of blogging luminaries. Made me smile, made me laugh, made me weep happy tears.
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Have a bundle of ideas in the making
So today I read something on Charles Stross' blog (pointed there from Making Light) for the first time in months. Then I started reading back through the prior list of posts on the front page, until I got to Designing Society for Posterity, an ideas post about the nature of society which would need to be created in order to handle Generation Ships (extremely long distance - interstellar - colonisation). Which sucked me in massively (not just the post itself, but at least the first eighty of the three-hundred something comments which followed). So, after pulling myself away from that for long enough to get the next batch of truffle mix into the fridge and chilling (prior to rolling things into balls and chilling again, then choc-dipping), I switched over to Shakesville - and promptly got pulled into another enthralling comments thread.
This has not been a good day for the housework. It's losing out in a major way to the distractions of teh intarwebs.
So today my readers get to have a mini-linkspam, along with reflections of my own.
First up - social engineering won't really be possible until we really have the tools to do the equivalent of performing maintenance on a social system while it's still running in such a way that the participants don't find such maintenance obtrusive or intrusive. At the moment, the only tools we have are fairly blunt ones, such as advertising, war, legislation and suchlike. They all have an effect, but often all they do is pass the problem on down the line for future generations to handle (to get an idea of how effective this isn't, consider that we're still dealing with fallout from a war which happened in Palestine in 69AD, and another which hit Afghanistan in roughly 325BC). So first we need to be able to fix potential problems fairly early on, before they expand outward with chaotic effects.
Second up - The issue of "who is a good guy" is one which highlights some of the current problems in our society - particularly our love of simplification and easy binaries. Humans are always going to be more complex than a mere binary axis can pinpoint, and so are human problems. This is why I always tend toward the notions of multiple solutions to a single identified problem, simply because there are always going to be underlying factors in every problem which aren't considered in an easy fix. For example, imprisoning people is the "easy" fix to the problem of crime - but it brings with it a range of different issues (such as the cost to the state as a whole of maintaining prisons and a justice system, dealing with the simple logistical issues of keeping them functional, and also coping with a society where prison culture is starting to shape a significant fraction of your population over time).
Third up - Every single time I see anything about the US political systems I wind up having at least one massive "WTF?" moment. The issue spoken about in the link is one which would be far more difficult to achieve here in Australia - mainly because the average Aussie tends to trust political parties about as far as they could heave the collected membership thereof, and therefore hasn't left anything significant in their hands. Voter data here belongs to the Commonwealth and State Governments (or in other words, to the Commonwealth and State public service) and there are some very strict rules about what can be collected, what can't be collected, what can be done with the data, who has access to it, who they can give the data to, how it can and can't be stored, and what's allowed to be done with it in the meantime.
Fourth up - Currency, cash flow and crime and the relations between all of these. One of the most basic things about money is that it devalues - this is a universal. It doesn't matter how solid the currency is, it will wind up devaluing in one way or another. To put it another way, all money is ultimately inflationary, whether legitimately acquired or illegitimately acquired. The process of resetting the value of $CURRENCY is generally nasty, since it gets started at the top of the tree, and winds up hurting everyone all the way down - those at the bottom of the heap get the worst of it. One other small reflection: I started to think the US economy had effectively gone down the tubes when Australian dollars were very near parity point with the US dollar - given the Australian economy is approximately 1/15th the size of the US economy, it's probably a pretty good indicator.
Finally - Girl Genius is still my favourite web comic. Endless fun, drama, suspense, thrills, action and, of course, Mad Science!!!
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