Saturday, 29 April 2017

To keep speech free let's no-platform the law-mongers

The libertarian version of free speech wants no conditions, no boundaries and no apologies to anyone. The conservative right claims to champion free speech - but everyone seems to have their own version of it – usually one that enables an attack on actions of those on the left. The left is not bound by such principle at all – leaving them free to attack the speech of others through censorship, legislation and recently no-platforming.

No-platforming is the practice of preventing someone from their expressing ideas usually through a speaking event or some sort of public forum.

Recently, no-platforming attacks have successfully shut down speaking events in Australia by anti-Islamist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and in America by conservative commentator Ann Coulter.

As much as I would love to join our conservative media in defending liberty by shaming the no-platformers I cannot. For when you spend as much time thinking about these things as I do you realise that this is about emotion not reason.

It's so sickening when a radical thuggish institution like Berkeley can so easily snuff out the cherished American right to free speech.” - Ann Coulter

Well it sickens me too Annie, but to shout louder than another is not denying them freedom of speech. Intimidating a person into cancelling a speaking tour comes closer, but does not either. Burning flags, burning cars even burning books does not. These are attacks on freedom of speech to be sure, but they have not and will not take away your ability to speak and subsequently to be heard. These are just provocations and punishments meted out by one tribe to spite another.

In the People's Republic of China where I once lived there is no such thing as free speech and there has not been for at least 60 years. This blog could not exist there. The authorities would have blocked it from the first post and warned me not to write another. Had I persisted they would have come around to my house and taken me away and put me in a cell for as long as they saw fit - perhaps forever. To speak of freedom is illegal.

I remember after a typically boozy business lunch in China when a few of our younger associates became relaxed enough to start complaining that the government was keeping them poor. My interpreter shot to her feet and said it was time to go and we left. Not only is it dangerous to speak, it's dangerous to listen.

There was a gay pianist who played in the lobby of the 5 star hotel where I worked in Shanghai. Over time his demeanor went from mildly effeminate to being flagrantly camp until one day he pushed it too far and they took him away.

This is what it looks like to have no freedom of speech. No freedom of expression.

Thankfully, it is very difficult to shut down free speech in the modern western world. You can read books, magazines newspapers and blogs, watch television and youtube, listen to podcasts and the radio all day and night. You will find Hirsi Ali and Coulter prominent in all of them.

No-platforming really only imposes geographical limits on speech. It does not stop you from speaking, just from speaking here. You are free to speak over there.

Even in America where free speech is enshrined in the First Amendment we know that such geographical conditions do not infringe constitutional rights. How? Well thanks to the Westboro Baptist Church.

Between 2006 and 2012 state and federal laws were passed to counter the picketing of funerals by it's hate-mongering members. First Amendment protection of the church's extreme hate speech was confirmed by the US Supreme court in 2011. So to comply with the constitution laws were made that excluded any kind of protest from within 300 ft of a funeral service. You can scream that “God hates Fags” over there, just not over here.

Proof that no-platforming is not only ineffectual but counter-productive is brought to us by the irrepressible Milo Yiannopolous. Right wing media personality Milo has been banned from Twitter, fired from Breitbart News, dropped by his publisher and blocked from speaking at universities in US and Britain. Earlier this year Milo's speech at Berkely UC was shut down by violent protesters. All of which have added to his fame and expanded his audience to make him the new Justin Bieber of the Internet (though as his recent comments in favour of sex with 13 year old boys has seen him branded a paedophile - free speech may well be the undoing of Milo).

In Australia we have no constitutional right to freedom of speech. So lawmakers are free to make whatever laws they wish. Here lies the real danger. Scream loud enough and some populist law-monger will want to criminalise no-platformers or the people they wish to silence. The civil courts could then be used to force institutions into hosting controversial speakers and be accountable for their safety. Or the speakers could be taken away by police for illegal “hate speech”.

Then their tribesmen would congratulate themselves for striking a blow for freedom and justice, when all they have done is throw those things away - forever and a day.

Making laws won't make you free. There are no safe spaces out on the street. Free speech in the public arena is, and always was, a fuck-off all-in brawl.

Let's keep it that way.

R U R Free

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Two small steps to freedom (and perchance to happiness )

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

that all men are created equal;

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;

that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thomas Jefferson

I would love to tell you that freedom equals happiness but I cannot.

The author of the fine words above sought not to either. But he did say that happiness could be achieved by being free to pursue it - though of the outcome one can never be certain.

So often we exercise our freedom of choice by choosing to be miserable. We bend to the will of others not because we are compelled to, but because we choose to. We employ our freedom of speech to say nothing, and our freedom of association to be alone.

All the while others may exercise their freedom to attack our way of life, to police our thoughts, to exclude us from the political arena and to make us question our relevance and worth in society. They demand laws that criminalise our choice of lifestyle and marginalise our forms of expression.

Freedom does not equal happiness.

What I can tell you is what got me started on the road to happiness. It is what I call the two stages of acceptance. Make of it what you will, but it works for me.

The first stage of acceptance is the acceptance of you. You are who you are and can never be anyone else or anything else, other than a corpse. You have total control over what you do but not over whether or not you are you. You are stuck being you for the rest of your life. Hopefully you are happy being you. Ideally you love being you. But when you look in the mirror there you are, regardless of how you feel about you. So you might as well get on with it and make the best of being you. Be a wiser, faster, fitter, stronger, funnier you. Be the best you that you can be. Or not (that's up to you).

The second stage of acceptance is that everyone else in the world is not you. As most of the people on this earth don't know you exist and never will they do not want to be you. Because they are not you they do not and will not ever think like you do. Or look like you or behave like you do. Concern yourself with them no more than you wish them to be concerned with you. You will never be able to make them like you, nor be like you. So stop trying to force yourself upon them.

My father is 80 years old and has never been a happy person. It was only quite recently that he accepted himself and became at least more contented than he has ever been. Leaving the behind the anger that comes from the fierce envy of others and the suffering that comes from desire to be someone better than himself - he is almost free.

But the second stage has so far eluded him.

Why? - he asks me constantly. Why do they do they think that way? How could they believe that? Why do they vote for them?

The answer is always the same and needs no elaboration. It's because they're not you, father. They are not you.

He hears me and he believes me and it silences him for a while but it does not last. Some small part of him holds out and I suspect will do so until he is no more. But that's him. He is not me.

In accepting ourselves and others we can be free of the need to govern the lives of others and concern ourselves only with governing of ourselves. To be the captains our own ships, to master our own fates without the interference of others seeking to re-make us in their image.

Remember you are free to be happy (or not, it's up to you)

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Strange ways indeed (most peculiar markets)

Australia is not some banana republic backwater any more. We are a big fat rich nation of big rich fat people who will fork out $2000 for their kids to see Justin Bieber if they have to. But they don't have to – they choose to.

If you want a ticket to see Jerry Seinfeld's sold out show in Sydney it will cost you about $500 for a ticket that was bought by a scalper from Ticketek for $100.

While everyone bangs on about the unfairness of it all - am I the only one who wonders why the tickets are so cheap in the first place? $100 is four packs of cigarettes. It is two cases of beer or less than two tanks of petrol.

The actual market value of the ticket is $500.

Imagine a car dealer inexplicably selling you a new car for $6000 that is for sale at the dealership down the road for $30,000. Wouldn't you stop and think that something was a little odd about that? (Then Nick Xenophon comes along and yells, STOP THIEF!! when you try to re-sell the car for what it's actually market value.)

Inexplicable also is how Tiketek chooses to allow this kind of scalping when it clearly doesn't have to. Tickets to my local festival Splendour in the Grass are not scalped despite overwhelming demand for tickets means they sell out in 12 hours or less. Their agent Moshtix simply does not allow direct re-sale of the tickets. Each ticket is booked in a person's name and address which cannot be changed. Unwanted tickets can only be sold back to Moshtix minus a fee of $20.

For the same reason Jetstar air tickets are not scalped - despite that they release small quantities of tickets at very low prices from time to time. Jetstar uses the same “paperless” ticket as Moshtix but allows you to change the name of the passenger. There are deadlines for name changes though and the fee they charge will negate much of the profit from scalping. Their tickets are not refundable. And as Jetstar handle the changes they will know what you are doing and can easily shut you down and bar you from flying with them – forever.

So why does Tiketek choose to do business in this way? Why don't they just sell the tickets for what the market will pay? (These questions are not rhetorical, by the way, if you can answer either of them please do).

But the cat is now out of the bag and we all know what riches await us if we can just get out hands on one of these golden tickets. If Nick Xenophon were to get rid of those damn ticket bots then you and I could become home-grown scalpists. Even if I'm limited to purchasing only four tickets per show, by investing $400 I can make a profit of $1600 - then I'm in and you should be too.

'Cause you're free to do what you want (any old time).

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Freedom vs market interventionists, scalperbots and Adele

Serial market pest Senator Nick Xenophon is at it again. Poker machines again? No it's ticket scalping prompted by Australian politicians' bi-partisan love for Adele and the fact that a ticket to see her recent show cost as much as $5000. 

Put simply - this is because only a small number of tickets are available to the public and the bulk of those seem to be snapped up by scalpers who go on to sell them for huge profits via the internet. 
This is an example of supply and demand economics - when demand outstrips supply prices go up. As profiteers move in prices go up some more. This has been a feature of the free market economy for some time now and is well understood by Year 10 students everywhere.

However, this being 2017, scalpers are thought to be unfairly aided by software 'bots' which are conveniently taking the heat for the situation.

Being a federal Senator and a market sceptic Nick's solution is, of course, market intervention through federal legislation. Firstly by following the US which last year passed the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act and banned these digital daleks.

Ticket bots are basically hacker's tools that can be downloaded from the internet. Banning them would be like banning a virus, or outlawing hacking. Or banning crime.

There is so far no evidence that this legislation has affected ticket prices. No one has been charged let alone convicted under the Act.

Nick has his own ideas though none of them could be described as bright. Such as allowing tickets to be re-sold only when where a ticket holder has a legitimate reason to do so and dis-allowing tickets to be resold for more than 10 per cent profit. Really, Nick? Do you really think such nonsense could be made law?

If it could - we would end up with is a taxpayer funded Fair Ticket Pricing Commission. The Federal Police will need a Ticket Scalping Strike Force with offices in every state. Teams of hackers would be employed by the government to fight the scalperbots in cyberspace. All paid for by you and me. Would it affect ticket prices ? Unlikely. But even if it did, you and I would be subsidising concert goers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. 

Luckily for us all - Nick Xenophon speaks softly and carries a small stick – for he is just a Senator and cannot put forward a bill to Parliament. He can only put forward a motion which is a statement that other Senators can agree or disagree upon, and that's it. Such motions carry as much weight as the belligerent utterances of a drunk as he slides off his barstool to the ragged cheers of rival barflies.

Xenophon is, and always was, a cheap populist hack.

Politicians commonly branded as populists, like Trump and Hanson, actually have ideas about society and government – big, weird ideas that make them saviours to some and devils to others. Nick Xenophon is a true populist in that he keeps to the centre to please as many voters as possible and kindly offers to legislate against anything that might vex them.

But those who seek to make laws purely to increase their popularity are the enemies of liberty. Every law they make takes away our freedom. And as we only have the right to do what is not prohibited by laws – our rights are taken away too.

Government interventions into the energy market have stuffed it up, particularly for those in Nick's home state of South Australia. Nick's solution – more interventions to stuff up the old stuffed up interventions.

To do this he waved his little stick at a weak government and took tax reform hostage to force his interventions upon us. Tax reform meaning - the lowering of our taxes. His little stick just got a little bigger.

So don't encourage him. Don't vote for him. Don't fall for his populist bullshit.

Remember you are free.

More on the complex issue of ticket scalping to come. In the meantime check out,