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Dear America: Please stop, you’re scaring me

Right, so you’ve had your fun, America, but it’s time we had a serious talk. Yes, that talk. About your Donald.

I mean… what the fuck, guys?

In order for this to work, I’m going to have to be honest with you. I hope that’s ok, because I don’t want to upset you. I may use language that will offend some. This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this. I am— wait, hang on. Those aren’t my lines. Ah, here they are. Yes. Sorry. I’ll have to say some things you may not want to hear. Sometimes the truth hurts, but in the end you’ll be the better for it. As will the world. So take a deep breath, maintain an open mind, and read on. Yes, all of it.

Fezzik and Inigo

Fezzik, don’t hurt me, but we need to have a serious talk…

It started out as something for the rest of us to laugh about. You had this candidate who was some sort of celebrity in the States, some guy who did a reality TV show, and he was saying some ridiculous things about, well, about anything and everything, about the other candidates, about himself, about politics, about the world. Things no one could really take seriously, and it was obvious that it was just a publicity stunt, just a small… I mean, average-sized middle finger towards the politicians in Washington, who’ve grown stale and cynical and petty, obsessed with their little power games, who have perverted politics and turned it from something that is supposed to help the people of one of the biggest countries into something that only helps the politicians and the lobbyists and the large corporations who are willing to pour money into it to get their way, whether it’s good for anyone other than themselves or not.

I chuckled when my kids, who aren’t really interested in politics – not even Australian politics, let alone world affairs – asked me whether a guy who said those kinds of outrageous things could actually become president over there in faraway America. “Don’t be silly,” I told them, “there are millions of people over there, there’s no way he can fool that many. He’ll drop out of the race soon, thinking he made his point, but no one is taking him seriously.” Because deep down, I knew that there were three types of people who would support a man of his ilk:

  1. those actually dumb enough to believe all his blatant lies,
  2. those fanatical enough and/or filled with enough hate at whatever minority or fringe group Donald is throwing under the bus today, and
  3. those who get what type of person he is but are willing to support him anyway, just to send a giant “Fuck you!” to Washington.

I just had no idea how many of each there actually were.

An election anywhere is almost never about just one or two issues. It’s about a whole bunch of them. Only parochial idiots pick just one or two issues on which to base their decision which way they’ll vote. Sadly, America has many, many more such parochial idiots than I’d suspected. Not you, of course – you’re still listening (well, reading), so you’re clearly not parochial, and you’re comprehending most of what I say, so you clearly can’t choose the wine in front of… apologies, mixed up my lines again (inconceivable!). I meant, you’re not that stupid. But there is an astounding number of people in group #1. The same goes for group #2. A frightening number of them, too. I suppose in a nation that large, a nation that doesn’t attempt to suppress free speech and free will (no, no, I also think those are good things, calm down), there have to be many who take their opinion to the extreme.

Now the next part may be difficult for Americans to understand. I’ll try to break it to you gently. You’re sitting down? Good. You see, we – the vast majority of the rest of the rational world, that is – actually think Obama is a really good president. And we think Drumpf – I mean, Trump – well… hey, do you remember Chernobyl?

What’s that you say? You’re the greatest nation on earth and you don’t care what the rest of the world thinks about you?

Let’s start with the second part of that – you really should learn to care what we think of you. You’re part of the world, too, and just the same way as kids grow up and become more mature and learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that they have their rights but also their responsibilities, and that certain compromises have to be made so that everyone can get along, so you, too, need to learn that you’re part of Planet Earth’s big family, and with the sandpit becoming more and more crowded, you don’t want to be the kid that no one wants to play with, do you? Yes, it’s very important that you get your own affairs in order, but do you really think you need to shut everyone else out in order to do so?

As for the first part, about you being the greatest nation on earth… you’re still sitting down, right? Well, aaactually… you’re not. Not really. Sorry. Don’t get upset, now, I warned you about this, remember? We still like you and respect you. Let me explain.

You’ve done some really great things for this world – yes, you make most of the best movies over there, good example, but I also meant technologically and scientifically – but in some other respects, you’re kind of – remember what I said about not getting upset, okay? – you’re kind of the barbarians among, for lack of a better expression, the “civilised nations”. How can I say that? Well, think about it. The death penalty. Do you really think it’s helping with your crime rates? At all? Do some research yourself – please. It’s barbaric, it’s inhumane, it’s uncivilised. Your obsession with guns is another one. No, hang on now – I understand about your second amendment rights, but do you even remember what time these rights came from, and why they were added to your constitution? Fighting violence with more violence, really? This isn’t the Wild West anymore, you know. Look at other countries, look at how they’ve managed to make it work without everyone owning guns. No, no, their crime rates are actually lower, because— Okay. Uh-huh. You see, in other countries they— You don’t want me to explain? All right. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one, then. Don’t shoot me.

My way's not very sportsmanlike

Not everyone in the world is barbaric, guys.

But let’s get back to Donald. (Oh goodness, I just realised that the whole not-the-greatest tangent could be misinterpreted as agreeing with that silly “Let’s make America great again” slogan, but explaining how the ways in which Donald wants to make your country great have nothing to do with greatness would take too long.)

I was talking about those three groups who support him. Yeah, ok, scroll up and refresh your memory. Back? Good.

The ship has sailed for group #2, that is, the alt-right white supremacists and the other gun-toting idiots who’d like nothing better than to be able to shoot everyone who’s different from them. They’re beyond hope. All we can do for group #1 is to hope that someone slightly smarter than they are has the patience and/or the clout to explain to them how they’re wrong, or that they’ll finally get the drift that they’re on the losing side, and in their finite wisdom decide they’d rather back a winner.

No, my appeal would be to group #3, and my argument would be three-fold. (What? Oh, it means I have three main points. You’re welcome.)

Firstly, I’d like to point out that the “Fuck you!” has been heard loud and clear in Washington. Change won’t come overnight, but keep sending that message (no, without voting Trump, dammit!), and change will happen. It’s a worthy message – just please use a different envelope. The Brits tried to send that message, and it worked a bit too well. So well, in fact, that the first thing they tried to do once they realised that their “Fuck you!” vote had won and they’d be cleaning up the mess it caused for years, they wanted to re-vote because, well, they hadn’t really been serious about actually winning. Your “Fuck you!” could backfire on America much more spectacularly than the Brexit.

Secondly, have you actually listened to Donald talk? I mean, not just to play point-and-laugh – actually listened to his messages? With anything approaching a triple-digit IQ, you should’ve long ago figured out that he’ll say anything he thinks you want to hear. He obviously has no scruples, no conscience, no morals. He has an uncanny knack for knowing what people fear, and he loves to stoke that fear. He constantly thinks he can get away with spouting one outrageous lie after another, and whenever faced with clear evidence that he is wrong, he’ll just resort to calling everyone else liars. He calls himself a winner because he’s trampled on, bullied and cheated people, and used his father’s money and influence to get to where he is.

Do I even need to mention his bankruptcies? Or the ugly things he’s been saying about women, about Mexicans, about African Americans, and who knows what other groups? Now, given all that… is that really the sort of person you want running and representing your country? You want him to blunder his way through delicate diplomatic channels when lives are at stake? Butter up an unbelievably dangerous leader like Putin, not realising what he’s doing? Rip to shreds agreements about climate change that are finally putting us in the vicinity of having a chance to save our planet? Offend nations by groping the women in their delegations? (Because if he believed he can get away with that when he was just a real estate tycoon, what’s he going to think he can get away with once he’s President?) Throw entire international markets into turmoil and gamble with other people’s money because of his unpredictable nature? (Think I’m kidding? Read some serious articles that explain why he’s the biggest danger to international stability the world has ever faced.)

Need I go on? Please consider what kind of a country – and world – you’d create if you voted him into office.

The sound of ultimate suffering

And thirdly, imagine what kind of message that would send to your children, and your children’s children, and… you get the point. By making Drumpf your president, you’d be telling them that it’s ok to bully people, to grope and objectify women, to behave like an oaf as long as it’s entertaining, to disrespect minorities, to lie, to claim all sorts of untrue things about people who disagree with you.

My grandfather fought in World War II. For Germany, actually. Yeah, he was a Nazi when he was young. He’s passed away years ago, but I remember speaking to him about it, and him shaking his head in shame, saying that it all sounded so believable and convincing what the guy was saying, and that for the longest time he’d held on to the belief that all the ugly things they were hearing about their national hero couldn’t possibly be true. There was a guy who was going to “make Germany great again”, they thought. You may not see them, but there are so many parallels there, it’s scary. Seriously scary. Don’t be caught in a situation where something bad happens that you did nothing to stop and suddenly it’s an out-of-control train wreck and all you can do is watch. And despair.

So, in the name of all that is good and right in this world, I beg you: please, let common sense prevail. No matter what you think of Hillary, she can’t be worse than Donald. Impossible. This many awesome celebrities can’t be wrong.

Please, please, go and vote next month to let a loud and clear “Fuck you!” echo around the world to reach the ears of people like Donald Trump.

They need to hear it even more than Washington.

Save the day. The world will thank you.

Fezzik, you did something right!

I believe…!

(*clears throat and climbs up on his soapbox, manifesto in one hand, microphone in the other*)

I believe...

… that there are a few things I need to say at the start of the new year, 2015.

General

  • … that people who wonder about the meaning of life either don’t have kids or don’t pay enough attention to them.
  • … that love, humour and hope are the three main ingredients for happiness.
  • … in happy endings in real life. (In stories, they sometimes make me cringe, though. Even if I did silently hope for them.)
  • … in the importance of people being able to talk to each other… non-electronically.
  • … that you don’t need to drink alcohol in order to have fun.
  • … that smoking should be outlawed except for people willing to wear a permanently sealed-off helmet, and that the influence of tobacco lobbyists and the like are despicable. We all know what it does… why is it still around?
  • … that America and the UK need to stop hanging on to their confusing versions of the imperial system of units and finally go metric (your medical and military people are doing it… no, not with each other, I mean they use the metric system). Also, the US need to stop insisting on formatting dates with the middle value followed by the smallest value followed by the largest value. WTF? Oh, while you’re at it, guys, fix where punctuation goes on quotes that are less than a “complete sentence”.
  • … that bullies are almost always cowards too weak to stop doing to others something similar to what’s been done to them.
  • … that the most wonderful sound in the whole wide world is that of my kids laughing uncontrollably.
  • … that I’m the luckiest guy alive because my awesome wife, best friend and soulmate gets me and loves me including all my faults.

Politics

  • … that religious extremism of any sort makes this world a darker place, and that the rest of the world should take heed of how Australia handled her first real encounter with it. #IllRideWithYou
  • … that Australia needs to get rid of its current village idiot, climate-change-denying leader to start moving in the right direction again. We’re the joke of the world, being pretty much the only country in the world that is moving away from actively doing something about global warming, and it’s a friggin’ disgrace.

Software

  • … that OSS (open-source software) is the way to go wherever there’s a choice.
  • … that DRM (digital rights management) is wrong.
  • … that I couldn’t live without some of my favourite pieces of software (sounds like a future blog topic to me!).
  • … that installing a piece of software on my PC or an app on my phone doesn’t give it the right to do things like collect data about me without my explicit agreement, to not give me a choice of when it can dial home or check for updates, or to access any information on my system it doesn’t absolutely need to function. Worst offenders being companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Adobe, but also increasingly “do-no-evil” Google. (I love Cyanogen!)
  • … that it’s a crying shame that Smalltalk isn’t more widely used as a programming language (try Pharo and Seaside if you like to tinker, you won’t want to go back).
  • … that I am fully within my rights, when I see an email from someone that ends with “sent from my iPhone” to add to my own response, “Sent from my 64GB/3G Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz Quadcore OnePlus One with Cyanogen 11S that kicks your iPhone’s arse (and costs less than half as much)”.

Work (in IT)

  • … that programmers shouldn’t have to wear business clothes.
  • … that software architects should have the guts to recommend the right software for the job, not based on which sales reps can throw more money at decision-making board members who still believe that more expensive must mean better.
  • … that IT recruiters are right up there with lawyers and other blood suckers. The fact that they charge between 10% and 40% (or even more) on top of a developer’s rates without really knowing anything beyond buzz words is just appalling.

Blogging

  • … that I should take the time to blog a bit more. (Yeah, like that’ll happen. *sigh*)
  • … that there are too many good, honest blogs out there to read – how I wish I had more time to invest in being a good follower!
  • … that following another blog without really being interested in what it’s about, i.e. just to get them to follow you back, is akin to lying. Thanks to all those who do occasionally read my humble scribblings, and I hope to find more time to read all your blogs. (I _am_ interested in those I follow! I just roll my eyes whenever someone new follows me whose blog is about “making money by blogging” or the like.) For now, though, my aim is simply to have (not necessarily build) a platform while I focus on writing my book. Building my platform will come later, when I have more time for that sort of thing….
  • … that WordPress is great, but they should finally accept that I like the “old” stats page better and stop asking me to vote in their silly survey every time I load it.
  • … that WordPress needs to finally find a way to fix the “invalid certificate” bug that causes security errors. I keep forgetting that certain things only work in certain browsers because of it, and that it sometimes causes my “likes” of other blogs to be lost. Not cool!

Writing

  • … that I’ve had enough of distopian future stories whose premise I don’t buy, or whose premise I buy, but they then make ridiculous assumptions about human nature that I just can’t swallow (might be another future blog post).
  • … that everyone should take grammar seriously. Not just grandpa. All jokes aside, don’t let our language decay because people have to fit everything into 140 characters. Do your part, write things out, learn how it’s done right without needing a spell checker, and gently educate those who fall short. Or, like, mercilessly correct them, or… whatever.
  • … that my story is worth telling.
  • … that 2015 will be the year I finally finish my story. Watch this space. #amwriting

Conclusion

  • … that you should all have a Happy New Year! All the best for 2015 (and beyond).
  • … that it’s about time I stepped off this soap box. Ahem. Sorry for ranting, but occasionally it’s nice to get this sort of stuff off my chest. Now somebody give me a hand getting down, it’s higher than it looks. Huh? What do you mean, the microphone wasn’t on?!?

Political bullying, brown-nosing, and bad grammar

Apologies up front, this post will of necessity be somewhat politically tinged; if that’s not your thing and me having a go at bad grammar isn’t enough to make you continue reading, feel free to skip this one. The next one will be vastly different, promise. 😉

Reading the online news during lunch today at work, I came across this article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

MH17: Australia cool on expanding sanctions against Russia as access to crash site thwarted again

Quite a serious topic, and currently very much in the forefront of what Australian media are reporting. Two very different sides – the political and the grammatical one – of this story managed to really annoy me.

The political side

Few seem to be willing to say out loud what (I think) seems obvious to most: that Russia’s President Putin is an egotistical bully who needs to be taken down a notch. So many politicians are so worried about how much saying something negative about Putin or Russia might affect their international relationship that they’re willing to overlook all the bullying and the posturing and instead engage in brown-nosing that would make the most sycophantic teacher’s pet jealous.

Several European countries like Germany are treading carefully with Putin because of their reliance on Russian oil, and yet are daring to tighten their sanctions – good on them. The Amercians are economically more isolated and speak more freely while still having to keep in mind that Putin is a loose cannon, crazy and brazen enough to escalate a conflict that will make half the world bleed. I recently read some honest-sounding words from John Kerry about Putin, and the US is on board with increased sanctions.

Here in Australia, we’re even more isolated from Russia (as far as I know, I’m not claiming expertise on the subject), but what do our leaders do? The ones who got themselves into office mostly by bullying many Australians into actually believing those ridiculous three-word-slogans are now doing what most bullies do when faced with a stronger bully: they’re sucking up to him while it’s in their best interest.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia already had some sanctions against Russia and flagged the possibility of the government expanding those “further”, but not before the multinational team had completed its mission.

We’re trying to get the bodies of many who were on flight MH17 home, and, fair enough, if we upset Putin and that turns out to be the reason we fail to identify and retrieve our dead, then, well, that would really suck. But, come on, he’s had the chance to intervene on the side of sanity and has done nothing to help. He’s proven that his ambitions far outstrip his compassion and has made his priorities clear by not acting when he could (and should) have.

Why are we still holding on to the belief that he’ll use his influence with the separatists if we’re openly saying that we’ll consider expanding sanctions after he’s helped us? Do Abbot and Bishop really think Putin won’t hear that they’re only waiting with the sanctions for now? Or that it comes across as a “gesture of goodwill”? Bullies of that calibre don’t think very highly of gestures of goodwill. But our own, smaller, bullies are too busy brown-nosing to notice, I think.

Shh!

The resemblance is uncanny, isn’t it? (Original Photo by Jonathan Ng, shamelessly taken from SMH and converted to animated GIF by yours truly.)

The grammatical side

The subject matter of the article aside, the other thing that ticked me off while reading this article from what I thought of as a respectable newspaper was that it had several errors that any editor should have spotted. Are all these cuts to education having an effect already? No, wait, people can’t write properly because of previous cuts to education spending.

Let’s start with the title. Wouldn’t some alternative to “cool” have been preferable? I’m imagining most Gen-Y readers (well, the ones that read the news) would skim the headline and think, “Oh good, we’re cool with that.”

“Australia is unlikely to immediately follow the US and EU’s lead…”, the article begins. That possessive should apply to the US as well as the EU, i.e. “the US’s and EU’s lead” for the sentence to make sense. The same sentence then uses the phrase “… help in aiding the unarmed police mission’s safe passage to the MH17 crash site”. Who needs safe passage – the police, the police’s mission, or the “police mission”? The former would make sense, yet the latter is implied.

Later, in the typical one-sentence-per-paragraph style too many journalists use because then they don’t have to think about which sentences belong together: “… the possibility of the government expanding those ‘further’, but not before the multinational team had completed its mission”. (Ah, so the police and the team do have a mission, the abstract kind, not the missionary kind. I hope they get their safe passage.) Why is “further” in quotes? If someone were reading this out loud, would they have to do the “finger quote” thing? Is the article quoting just that one word and has paraphrased the rest, or are they trying to make fun of what the PM said in some manner I don’t get?

Next, they quote Abbott as follows: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again – that’s the approach that the Australian government and our international partners, particularly the Dutch have got to this.” We all know that Abbott is not the “suppository of all wisdom” (one try too many, Tony), but you don’t have to butcher his quotes even more by ignoring the rules of grammar. In the quoted sentence, the dependent clause “particularly the Dutch” should be separated from the main sentence (“…the approach the government and our partners have got to this”) by commas. The first comma is there, the second is missing.

The next quote (“if it doesn’t happen today…”) needs a semi-colon instead of a comma before the second if.

The conjunction but in the next sentence joins two independent clauses (“he said the situation remained fluid” and “they would not be taking sides”), hence it should have a comma to separate them.

Want to distill Abbott’s foreign policy down to one short phrase? He’ll do it for you:

I know that various things are happening in Europe and elsewhere, that’s a matter for the Europeans and others.

Douglas Adams defined those things as SEPs (someone else’s problem). Yeah, Tony, if all countries just worried about their own problems like you do, we wouldn’t get all those boats you want to stop, right? Do I even need to point out the fact that the comma in that quote shouldn’t be a comma? The same thing goes for the Hockey quote, “I made no such claim, that’s just dead wrong.” Does anyone even know what commas are used for any longer?

At least there’s a comma after “Wednesday”, but the rest of the sentence (“Moscow’s support for the unarmed mission was vital for the team’s support”) reminds me of Austin Powers’ wonderfully awkward “Please allow myself to introduce… myself.”

I won’t even mention the last sentence, but I will repeat this: it’s a newspaper article. Not just some scribbling in a blog no one reads. Journalists! You should hold yourselves to a higher standard. Especially on a topic of this gravity.