# 16/04/21 - dr00's News
Merry Easter! First off I just want to give a huuuuge RIP In Peace to the Duke of Edinburgh - an awful man from an awful family who said and did many awful things throughout his awful life. Good night sweet prince.
Speaking of irredeemable ghouls, Ben Roberts-Smith (Australia's most
bloodthirsty decorated veteran) is alleged to have buried USB drives in his backyard that contained material that should have been handed over to the Brereton Inquiry looking into war crimes in Afghanistan. He is also alleged to have threatened witnesses. There are already photos of him HILARIOUSLY chugging beer from the prosthetic leg of a man he killed doing the rounds so I'm sure even if those USB drives DO exist (which he denies) there totally wouldn't be anything fucked saved on them. It has also been revealed in recent days that Roberts-Smith's weird sugar daddy, Kerry Stokes has been bank-rolling the defence against these war crime allegations using company funds from Seven West Media to the tune of $1.87 million. Stokes has since repaid the money but it is a little disconcerting that the head of one of the largest media companies in Australia is so obsessed with war, that he will blindly piss money away on this Buzz Lightyear lookalike, simply because he was good at shooting people in the head.
Anyway, that was just a taste of some news. Oh, you want more news? You asked for it!
# The Luna Park Ghost Train Fire
In 1979, the Ghost Train ride at Luna Park in Sydney caught fire, killing seven people (including six children). The police at the time concluded that it was due to an electrical fault, but a recent investigation by the ABC's Caro Meldrum-Hanna has revealed substantial evidence of a cover-up. I recommend watching "EXPOSED: The Ghost Train Fire" (available on ABC iview) for the full story, but in summary, it turns out that the fire was deliberately lit at the behest of Kings Cross gangster Abe Saffron in an effort to gain control of the lucrative land.
Shows like this don't do paranoiacs like me any good. The investigation found that numerous corrupt senior police officers, judges and politicians (including the Premier Neville Wran) actively concealed the truth of these horrific murders. While suspicion of authority figures is often portrayed as unreasonably conspiratorial (and the QANON folks aren't helping with this impression) I would argue that it is actually a pretty rational worldview. You don't have to assume that most humans are corrupt or evil to believe that many people in positions of power are both of those things. It's not as if politicians or leaders of large organisations are chosen at random from the population, rather it is the most ambitious and ruthless that tend to rise to the top because these qualities give them a competitive advantage. In theory, public scrutiny would be a countervailing force here, but voters are so desensitised to corruption now that the powerful rarely pay a price. Carrick Ryan has compiled a list of corruption scandals (opens new window) the current federal government has been involved in and it is not short... Another example of our collective magnanimity is NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who inexplicably enjoys broad support despite the fact that she was caught up in some supremely dodgy shit in an ICAC investigation last year. She has since been referred to ICAC again on the back of some highly suspicious government grant programs.
On a bizarre and slightly funnier note, while watching this documentary I remembered that Abe Saffron had a son named Alan who was once on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. At some point, Alan moved to Los Angeles and opened an awful burger restaurant called "Burger Kitchen". It is pretty surreal to watch television chef Gordon Ramsay yelling about cheeseburgers at the half-wit son of an Australian crime-lord and murderer.
# Australia's COVID "Recovery"
I've mostly avoided talking about the pandemic on this blog (aside from my article What COVID-19 Can Teach Us About Data Science) because the coverage has been relentless and I haven't felt like I had much to add. It certainly appears that the government has bungled the vaccine rollout, and at the very least they over-promised with their target of full vaccination by October, but I will leave the criticism to real journalists. With that said, I do hold grave concerns for our economy as Morrison, Frydenberg and co drunkenly steer us into the post-pandemic era.
The first thing to point out here is that by most metrics, the Australian economy was already struggling, well before that fateful bowl of bat soup had been prepared. Wage growth was non-existent and we had actually slipped into a "Per Capita Recession" in 2019. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg were quick to dismiss this at the time, but GDP growth per capita is arguably a better (if not as ubiquitous) measure of economic prosperity than raw GDP growth since it accounts for population increases. In the last few days, the RBA has come under fire for not being aggressive enough in stimulating growth over recent years, but we must remember that the body only really has one lever to pull (interest rates). Through monetary policy, the RBA can affect supply, but historically this is an unpredictable and less effective means of stimulating an economy than through fiscal policy. Well unfortunately during this period, the government was busy weaponising the budget deficit and buying down debt (i.e. doing the opposite of stimulation). There isn't space here to get into why this was an incredibly stupid thing to do, but know that it runs counter to the vast majority of modern economic thought.
One of the most frustrating things I've heard during this pandemic has been the common refrain "how can we afford to pay for Job Keeper" as if these austerity-obsessed morons came up with this policy in a bout of socialist delirium. This is a damning measure of just how inculcated Australians are with the sophistry that government spending is like a household budget. You don't need to be a card-carrying Modern Monetary Theory fanatic (though for the record I'm yet to hear a cogent technical argument against it) to recognise that it is worth spending money to stop the country from entering a deep depression since that scenario would end up costing the budget far more in the long run. At some point, I will write a longer piece on this topic, but if you are wondering why the rules of household budgeting don't apply to a government, one key reason is that your household probably doesn't own a money-printing machine (yes I know the RBA aren't technically part of the government but functionally that distinction is pretty grey). Also, let's not forget that most households ARE in debt through their mortgage and that taking out loans has historically been a pretty sensible and profitable thing to do.
The final thing I'll say on this is that the Australian COVID recovery policies are entirely out of step with equivalent approaches in the US and UK. Both these countries are raising taxes on high-income earners and corporations and spending vast sums of money on infrastructure and social policies. While they are redistributing wealth to rebuild their economies, the Australian government has passed tax breaks to corporations and is planning to make massive cuts to personal income tax for high-income earners. It's trickle-down economics (which does not work), it's the exact opposite of what other countries are doing and it will further entrench the growing inequality in Australia. It's also worth noting that the UK has a Tory government and that the US is led by Joe Biden (a Democrat, but an extremely conservative one).
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# Donkey Pong
Our fat-headed overlord Elon Musk has a new toy for us; it's our very own mind-control brain implant! I've been following the progress of the Neuralink project since they first demonstrated the technology and it seems that (based on the video above) it has come a long way. The Neuralink device is implanted in the brain and acts as an interface that reads and writes brain activity. The raw data is then decoded using Machine Learning models. In this recent demonstration, Neuralink got a monkey, named Pager, to play the video game Pong and trained a model to learn the relationship between the monkey's raw brain activity and its actions in the game. Once the model had been trained sufficiently, they were able to remove the controller altogether and Pager can now play Pong using his mind alone.
It sounds like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel, but brain-machine interface technology has actually been around for a while, and Andrew Jackson, a neuroscience professor at Newcastle University, claims that similar demonstrations have been performed since 2002. I worked with a data scientist a few years ago who was doing his PhD in this area and the technology was already quite advanced.
It is still very early days, but there are countless potential applications for Neuralink - some exciting, most terrifying. Personally, I believe the area which holds the most promise is in prosthetics. It seems likely to me that we will one day be able to replace limbs with mechanical prosthetics that bypass the spinal cord and are controlled wirelessly by the mind. We may even swap out defective human eyes with cameras that can encode image information and write it to the brain. Musk seems to have greater ambitions though, and has openly spoken about his vision of "AI Symbiosis" where human brains are integrated with artificial intelligence in a future where "the world is controlled by the combined will of the people of Earth". Cool...............
The idea of a wireless device that can literally read our thoughts and potentially write new ones is especially disturbing when we consider the recent history of global surveillance. A single terrorist attack in 2001 was all the justification the NSA needed to begin an illegal programme of mass surveillance (in cooperation with their counterparts in Canada, the UK and Australia). Thanks to that despicable traitor Edward Snowden, we now know the intelligence agency was strong-arming private companies into handing over customer data, listening in on the phone conversations of innocent citizens, harvesting millions of emails and instant messages and tracking peoples' locations and sexual activity. Until now, these despotic bodies have not had the means to prosecute people for "thought crime" or to subjugate the masses by broadcasting pacifying thoughts directly into our skulls. Perhaps they never will, but I suspect Philip K. Dick would perceive this video game playing monkey as a thoroughly sinister development.
# 🎥 📕 Media That dr00bot has Ingested Recently 🎹 📺
# Dead Man (1995) - Jim Jarmusch 🎥
- IMDb Synopsis: On the run after murdering a man, accountant William Blake encounters a strange aboriginal American man named Nobody who prepares him for his journey into the spiritual world.
- I have been on a bit of a Jarmusch binge lately but this contemplative, psychedelic and subversive Western is easily my favourite of his films. Johnny Depp and Gary Farmer are quietly brilliant but the star of Dead Man is the stunning frontier landscape, shot in low-contrast black and white. It might be the best-looking movie I've ever seen.
- There are some great cameos from Jarmusch regulars like Alfred Molina, John Hurt and Steve Buscemi, but the stand-out for me was Iggy Pop, who plays a religious, cross-dressing fur trader. I also thought he stole the show in Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) but I am a big Stooges fan so perhaps I'm biased.
- It felt like this movie was hand-crafted for me because the score was written by dr00bot favourite, Neil Young. Young composed the music by improvising with an electric guitar as he watched the film and the results are raw, sparse and the perfect companion to this spiritual odyssey.
- Jarmusch is not a Native American, but a large portion of the film's budget was spent ensuring historical accuracy and avoiding insensitive stereotypes. I liked the fact that there were sections of untranslated dialogue in indigenous languages, which apparently include jokes for Native American audiences.
# Mista Thug Isolation (2012) - Lil Ugly Mane 🎹
- In the last dr00's News, I recommended an album by Parsley Sound. Well, this week I bring you the exact opposite: Lil Ugly Mane. Where Parsley Sound's music is warm and pleasantly understated, Lil Ugly Mane is brash, aggressive and... ugly! I also commented that Parsley Sound is a profoundly bland name for a musical project. Well whether or not you like the moniker "Lil Ugly Mane", it's certainly not boring.
- Lil Ugly Mane is the enigmatic rap persona of Travis Miller, a musician who came out of Virginia's punk and noise scene. On the self-produced Mista Thug Isolation, he blends southern horror-core with hilariously, tongue-in-cheek braggadocio. You might not guess it from a guy with a meme-able rap name and track titles like "Lean Got Me Fucked Up" and "Bitch I'm Lugubrious", but this guy is a genius, a luminary of weird/experimental rap and abysmally underrated.
- I think Mista Thug Isolation is the best introduction to Lil Ugly Mane as the beats aren't overly experimental and the hooks find the rapper at his most charismatic, but I also recommend checking out his other records. Oblivion Access and Third Side of Tape are top-shelf, and his track "Uneven Compromise" is a masterclass in story-telling.
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