The real reason we dont have free speech anymore

Our stupid defamation laws.

The early days of the internet, the 1990s were a wild west. But largely, it was a great wild west. Barriers came down. Discussion was open.  We could get information by ourselves. We didn’t have to rely on a little group of insider journalists who may or may not decide to write about what policy was announced or filter or slant it their way – we had the revolutionary way of now looking it up ourselves. (And didn’t it make them furious).

During this time, the internet proved itself as a great source of free information.  The One-Tel collapse was presaged by anonymous emails by a whistleblower.  Wikileaks happened.  Information was out there.

Even better, our defamation laws were then reformed in 2005, and made nationally consistent. For a while things looked promising, with limitations put upon claims and common sense rules imposed; including a right to an ‘early retraction’; a commonsense reform.

But judges started loosening the defamation laws straight after they were tightened.  As always, their sympathy to ‘do something’ in the case before them prompted them to push them wider, little by little; granting extensions, increasing the scope of payouts, weakening sensible tests and thresholds. 

At the same time, the web has tightened up. The media business figured out that people just wont pay for news or reporting, and started putting up paywalls. And they began to realize that having lots of comments just isn’t worth it; it doesn’t really bring in any advertising, and just exposes them to legal risk.

As a result, Whirlpool has become a ridiculously overrmoderated joke (that might as well be shut down); Fairfax began censoring its comments, and finally has a ‘subscriber only’ comments policy (which has turned it into a garden of smug) ; and Newscorp is the same.  Facebook is the one remaining exception, but a wave of cases have made them pull up; as well there is now a new censorship movement gathering steam in the mainstream media to stop ‘manipulation’ of facebook (which really means shutting down comment without pre-moderation, which really means no more free speech).

Defamation laws, to state the obvious, only protect the wealthy. The sheer costs of running a defamation action, along with the legal risks, means the rich are its main users.  A recent case of a wealthy couple (who tested positive for Covid 19) then refusing to self isolate, demonstrates this: we are not allowed to know who they are, because of defamation concerns.

Defamation laws are corruption’s best friend.  The wealthy and the corrupt tend to overlap quite a lot (almost totally in some cases) and there have been many trials and cases in Australia that can’t be pursued due to defamation concerns.  I’m aware of one open and shut case of corruption that no journalist wants to write about (despite the facts being very simple), as the main beneficiary is a prominent wealthy person with political connections. Everyone knows it happened- nobody wants to write about it.

Journalists should be our natural allies here.  The defamation laws are ridiculous. They are being invoked in school disputes, by parents fighting about school facilities and uniforms.  They are being waged by councillors against each other, over trivial nonsense which should be a natural part of government discussions. They are shutting down debate, and smothering everything with a patronizing ‘we can’t talk about it’ gloss that’s worse than the pre internet 1980s. Corruption is thriving.

I acknowledge that journalists opposition to the defamation laws often comes from wanting to gossip about celebrities. By and large, this stuff is a waste of free speech, however sympathetic we are to a ‘sleb who’s been unfairly treated.  But the defamation laws overwhelmingly protect the corrupt, no matter how you look at it.

We need, simple, commonsense, bleeding-heart-judge proof defamation laws. A presumption of free speech.  Damages for defamation only in the case of clear, serious injury to someone’s reputation where there was no basis whatsoever to make the comment (and the basis can be a mistaken belief). If I see you dip your hand in the till and take out $30, I’m entitled to report it, even if it turns out you got permission from your boss to take the money earlier. And if you do issue court proceedings, I can make a retraction within six months, which (unless its done in a clearly insincere way); ends the matter with no costs. Damages capped at 100k; an all up global limit between you and me (no matter how many cases you launch or causes you file for).

Free speech is being completely and totally throttled, its getting worse, and we don’t have time for our idiot judiciary to shut free speech down on behalf of the corrupt rich.



Firstly, yes, we should all be isolating and stopping the spread of this goddamn virus as much as possible. Listen to the public health people and give them/do whatever they want.

That out of the way, I can’t decide who annoys me more in the media chatter. Usually its Newscorp- this is where you find the majority of ‘I’m alright jack’ comments, as well as most of the conspiracy theorists etc; or the morons saying that the fact of the virus proves there’s nothing to worry about from climate change (?)

But, Fairfax is really running a close race. The sheer smugness of its commenters- who all think they have gotten their remarks published on merit, but really because subscriber comments are let straight through. Its pay for play. And the self satisfaction! Oh look I said ‘Scomo’ ; and someone else said ‘Scotty From Marketing’ and its all the PM’s fault (when the issues confronting the virus response are far more human ones driven by our reluctance to change rather than the fault of which side of politics you dislike). You get the feeling that a lot of the commenters work(ed) in the public sector. And don’t get me started on the constant trivia of their press gallery columnists.

Also the constant assumption that government money and debt is a bottomless pit which never has to be paid back starts to grate. I would be happier if they actually acknowledged the need to eventually balance the books and tax the miners a bit more, but nobody ever does…..


Can you basically trust people?


People only care about themselves. This has been proved time and time and time again.  The bushfires were a good example. Remember those?

The fires caused about 100bn of losses (houses lost, businesses, tourism down etc). An appeal was held, and about 1% of what was actually needed was raised. There then was a fake scandal where, literally, a few people in some focus groups said they were concerned how the donations were being spent, the media beat it up (of course) and everyone jumped online to say how it had ruined it for them and they weren’t donating any more.  The excuse to stop donating to a cause (so big it would have caused real financial pain) had been provided, and we accepted it greedily.

The houses are still burnt out, people are still homeless, and nobody cares. I wonder how long it will be before we’re told the homeless people in the bushfire zones need to accept personal responsibility, and go after $3 per hour fruitpicking jobs in the outback?

Its really time to stop deluding ourselves that people are meant to care about each other.  I found out what a mistake this is many years ago when I started working. The scope of human selfishness really is boundless.  Need to testify to help a mate? Sure I will- until I have to actually do it and it might cost half a day’s pay; then my phone will ring out and you’ll never hear from me again.

People can point to the doctors and nurses keeping everyone alive in the coronavirus crisis, and, yes, good for them.  But its notable how powerful the underlying altruistic idea has to be in public health (with everyone reinforcing it) to motivate a group to keep striving to a common goal.

Meanwhile in early March the Australian newspapers are full of paid for ads by the mining industry talking about how dynamic it is (in other words signalling to the press gallery/elites they don’t want their diesel rebate touched or any mining taxes increased from their present pathetically low level). The press gallery, as always, pick up on this, automatically assume this is what ‘the readers’ want; and any increase in mining taxes is quickly binned as ‘too hard’.  Selfishness grinds on.

One thing that gets me is the constant surprise at the selfishness. Basically someone (if they have the time) will give you a jumper lead start for your car, and that’s about it.  Then we’ll go back to opposing that local shelter for veterans (you just know its inappropriate for the area); any sort of tax rise; anything that would have the slightest impact on your life.  All this as my phone lights up with scamming phonecalls and messages.

I honestly think we’d all be better off stopping trying to project fake altruism.  The wide eyed appeal from union leaders about ‘members money’ (when they’re stealing it themselves); press gallery journalists dressing up the desire for gossip as a right to know; politicians virtue signalling. Lets accept that many times (not always; not in health care) those that want to expand government have their own self or business interest at heart.  Lets accept that self interest is a bedrock human motivation (the motivation) and adjust our perceptions accordingly; and still do business with people on this basis. Life is a seething mass of competition over not enough and always will be. We’d all be better off assuming that truth.


Precious Pinstriped Prison Punts the Point.

This is a belated review of a book from 2008 from a disaffected former student (who worked briefly (as a summer job) at a top law firm, colloquially known as a ‘Top Tier’), who wrote what she felt would be a savage indictment of elite talents of her friends gone to waste in law firms.

A warning: much is made of people with ‘perfect scores’ who got into law- this (awkward) point is brought up repeatedly by the author (appears she’s one of them!). She then goes on to say that such perfect scores are being wasted in the corporate type jobs these grads will get.

There is various discussion about the long hours and difficulties these jobs provide their grads, particularly with professional attire (though surely other lawyers have to suit up as well, and it can’t make all the increased salary disappear, can it?). (Then again, they all got ‘perfect scores’ so they are special people).

Unfortunately, its still difficult to empathize with the top grads here, especially when you’ve experience by far what most law grads get – very basic law. (we call it small-law, though there are other names for it).

Anyone who’s worked in small-law knows the total, almost comical, bias toward the ‘top tier’. Even 30 years after graduating, your resume will be haunted (in fact binned before you start) by the fact that you haven’t worked at a ‘top tier’.  Experience and skills are irrelevant without this background.

And yet really the Top Tier is a symbol of nothing. Nobody who works there is anything special. For all the bluff and bluster about their ‘elite’ skills, Top Tier firms add as much as high flying overpaid CEOs or consulting companies (ie, nothing). In fact, ironically there’s a big overlap between the consulting companies and the Top Tier firms. And nobody’s forced to work there.

It is very difficult for anyone who’s struggled in Small-Law to have any sympathy for the poor struggling Top tier grads in this book.

I wonder if Top Tier grads have ever had the following experiences: been bailed up by an endless stream of mentally ill clients, screamed at for not taking someone’s traffic fine to the high court (not because they’re a client and you’ve agreed to work on it, but because their de facto has a ‘no win no fee’ injury case with your firm, so of course you’re responsible for everything that happens in their extended family); received death threats at midnight because of some case you’re running, and, above all, been triumphantly told the client ‘ is on a pension’ (thus meaning you have to work for them for free for life).

Compare that to the horror for the poor little dears who managed to score high marks on the law marks lottery- by aceing irrelevant issue-spotting exams (in first year) on topics long forgotten; and then spent (oh the tedium!) boring long hours with their corporate clients.  And the hours for Small-Law and the Top Tier are about the same, contrary to rumor.

The other massive difference between Top Tier grads and all other law grads are exit options. You work in small law, you stay in small law, forever. Nobody cares about how good you are, what you know, how you appear in court. You are stuck. All they know is you didn’t work in the Top Tier. The elite jobs for govt, public sector etc etc, are ringfenced for the Top Tier grads, totally and completely. It usually takes till your fifth year out when this dawns on you.

Pleasingly, since 2008, the most notable feature of the law graduate ‘market’ (if you can call it that) is the slow collapse of the ‘Top Tier’. People have woken up to the overpricing and lack of value. (Well, most people, but it’s still taking public companies and governments a while).

Of course, the other dominant group not mentioned in the ‘Pinstriped Prison’ are those who never get to go to any prison to begin with- the unemployed. And with a quintupling of grads, thats the main experience law grads will have.

Still our perfect grads are entitled to feel a bit ripped off I suppose; though of course they are not stuck in these jobs for life.


Why does Whirlpool bother?

Anyone who’s been on whirlpool forums knows the ridiculous overmoderation that goes on there. There is no free speech, any discussion on virtually any subject is just arbitrarily shut down. It’s quite common, after posting just a comment, to find your whole account gone, with a smug little comment about the account being closed.

In particular, anyone who criticizes anything, or questions immigration, or in fact raises any issue about anything is quickly shut down.

To be accurate, they should give the disclaimer: ‘please note these discussion forums should not be a forum for discussion’.

The same declining gang of easily offended commenters is gasping along, no new voices allowed.

The question is, why? Why did something that provided a useful outlet for commenting become so ridiculous and so dead? That provided a useful forum to discuss things anonymously (because, lets face it, people are bland to the verge of pointlessness when discussion is under their real names).

I think the reason Whirlpool has collapsed into a no-discussion overmoderrated joke is part of a broader collapse of free speech on the web, closely linked to ridiculous defamation laws and lawyers. There is virtually no benefit from publishing comments, where there is an ocean of legal pain available to plaintiffs. I wish these laws were changed, but until they do, we can say goodbye to the old ‘free discussion’ whirlpool and we’re stuck with what it is now; a joke which might as well just shut down.

The collapse of free speech on the web will be the subject of another, more detailed, post coming soon.


Fairfax readers (the few allowed to comment) have worked everything out for themselves

This link from Fairfax has a quite reasonable article about how we should go nuclear to save the climate. For the record, nuclear power is a virtually no emission power source which, (annoyingly for its opponents), provides reliable baseload.

Naturally, the fairfax readers were having none of it. Scroll down in the link to see their self righteous and emotive comments, (which mostly ignore the practicalities), saying ‘no’. Some even say they don’t want to hear the arguments, they just don’t want it, full stop. These same people will bemoan the bushfires and curse Scott Morrison and the world for not doing enough on emissions and climate change, (without any sense of irony).

Of course, we will never know how many people commented in favor of nuclear (at least being an option without unscientific objection, nobody’s saying we have to use it) without being published…Fairfax has a long history of not allowing comments that offends its in house groupthink- and pro nuclear (probably due to its scientific basis) definitely offends that anti nuclear cloth eared collective.

So we get the sad site of previously nuclear Japan going all out to ramp up dirty coal (and poison more of it citizens than nuclear ever could).

Still, as long as the smug, virtue signalers at the Age are happy then the world’s been put to rights – unfortunately with a lot more carbon and other pollution and no more clean safe nuclear power. Yep, when they were working things out for themselves, ‘facts’ and ‘logic’ carried to weight compared to blinkered social justice warrior instincts (Mixed with the usual anti nuclear NIMBYism).

It’s hard to work out why Fairfax bothers with its comments, as they only publish the same narrow views from the same predictable group (no dissenting views are allowed), but then again, that’s how most journalists think at the Age in the first place.


Rupert isn’t (really) the enemy

Yes, the media in Australia is too concentrated (though this was more of a problem in the pre internet era).

Yes News Corp has a conservative bias and always has (it was actually a lot more pronounced in the olden days).

But no, News Corp is not the enemy. Really. Its just providing a market for what the readers want. I remember being told in 1991 by a (left wing) journalist that the Herald Sun didn’t really filter its letters- that what you saw is what you got. And what you got were a lot of conservatives writing in to the newspaper.

Pick up the Australian newspaper now and you’ll see letter after letter from people rubbishing climate change. These people exist- they have to give a name and verifiable address to be published, and they do so. I have met plenty of people like this in my life, and still do.

If you read, closely, the editorials of the Australian, they have, in fact, been reasonably liberal on climate change. Yes, they publish a lot of op-eds from a denial perspective. And I’ll bet you they’ve done that because these columns appeal to the readers. It’s the readers- mostly older, more often male, that are the bedrock of the Australian’s culture. If anything, its more liberal than they are.

Its comforting in a way to think its all Rupert’s fault. If you can blame one person you can divert your eyes from the real deniers of climate change- the vast bulk of people who object to changing anything (and in their partial defence, many of the solutions are not quite there yet). But, the same way his conversion to the green cause in 2007 didn’t change much back then, it wouldn’t change much now. People are the real problem.


Climate position: TLDR version

I realized my last post was a bit TL/DR, so here’s another go:

Basically: Climate change is man made and terrifying. We should be doing our utmost to stop it. The problem however is not organized wealthy groups against it, but ordinary people who don’t want to change their lifestyles; and who, realistically, realize that the alternatives aren’t quite there yet.

Although most skeptics dress up their opposition with pseudoscience ‘climate’s always changing’; ‘it’s the sun’ etc etc; this is rot; ultimately the opposition is really driven by the cost of the required fix. They can be held partly responsible, therefore for climate chaos.

Given the solutions aren’t quite there yet, the only real solution is a massive RD program to reduce the expense of the change. I strongly endorse this plan by Kevin Drum.


Climate Change: the facts

Firstly, I’m setting up this blog because I’m sick and tired of not having a say. Someone who loves free markets, loves small government and dislikes bureaucracy, hates monopolies and loves the environment most of all really doesn’t fit in anywhere in our media market. And increasingly, sites are removing comments, or just not printing them at all, or engaging in such ridiculous moderation that its just not worth bothering with anymore. So here it is, my thoughts on a blog I control, without having to look over my shoulder all the time. Hope you like it.

Currently, Australia is under attack from horrifying, record bushfires and the cause is climate change. No point prevaricating; this is the cause. Although the deniers are quiet now, in a few weeks you’ll start reading about how ‘this is all normal’ or ‘its been worse before’ or my personal favorite ‘climate is always changing, so its nothinig to worry about’ (Nothing to worry about whole areas being evacuated, horrible deaths and the likely extinction now of many species).

What is driving this? Why do many rational people on the right (if you look in the top of this page you’ll see I am very in favor of free markets (but also the environment)) so willing to go along with crackpot denial of science? Why aren’t they writing about denying smoking causing lung cancer, or sugar causing tooth decay ?

The answer is these denialists are not being honest. They are not being driven, deep down, by some ‘Galileo desire’ for truth in science (as some ludicrously claim). They are being driven by a core reality.

And that core reality is that virtually everyone on this planet is born of the carbon economy. Looking at my family history, I would not be here if it wasn’t for the industrial revolution and carbonization. Unfortunately its that carbonization which is killing us.

And the costs of de-carbonizing are much much greater than are being sold. I well remember when the ‘greenhouse effect’ and the CFC-Ozone hole issue were considered about as serious. The ozone hole quickly got fixed, because it was cheap-ish to do so and didn’t upend our lives. Nobody (much) crapped on then about how the science was all wrong, and the hole was always changing and it was normal for the ozone to just disappear. It got fixed.

De-carbonizing would upend our modern civilized society. And this is the other rub. The real deniers aren’t Exxon Mobil, or the Heartland institute, or the Murdoch press, putting skepticism into innocent minds (thought these organizations have played a dishonest role). It’s the people themselves, once they realize the cost of them giving up carbon.

And its in everybody. That old jibe used by deniers about us taking flights or driving cars is annoying, but not without truth. I know from personal experience just how unwilling people of all stripes are to give up even a tiny bit of their lifestyle. Remember the greens in Sydney; in favor of public transport, but immediately on the side of NIMBY’s to block it anywhere it actually had to go?

People are inherently selfish (not totally so) and will bitch and moan about very slight imposts in a way that will surprise you(It’s sure surprised me over the years). This is the real resistance to climate change.

Does this mean as the planet slips further into climate chaos that we can hold the people who opposed action as blameless, as it was just their nature? No. Firstly, very few have ever been honest about it. I sort of respect the ones that say ‘well it will cost too much to fix’. I disagree with them (as the penalty is the destruction of the planet) but at least they’re advancing a honest argument.

The worst ones who dress up their resistance in pseudo science; whilst remaining surprising unpassionate about debunking Venus’ obvious greenhouse effect or the theory of relativity etc…. They crap on about how they ‘have worked it out for themselves’ , how the scientists are all wrong, based on their ‘experience’ (did I mention that they are disproportionately older males?). Just say ‘I don’t want to pay’ and be done with it, its a lot closer to the truth.

Secondly, actions have consequences. If the consequences of your actions was to encourage something that will lead to what likely will be the extinction of all life, then yeah, you need to be held to blame. If I pour lead into your fishpond, saying its ok, I have a theory that it wont hurt the fish, and they all die and the pond is toxic, would you hold me blameless?

Human beings are selfish dolts for sure, but not totally so. Yes, putting a carbon tax (which I completely support and was happy to pay) would likely be political poison even now and lead to whining you would not believe. The trick is to make technology, notably batteries (storage of the now almost free power we get is the real battle) much much cheaper, so that people are then crazy not to change. We need a massive investment in R&D to make that happen and improve the world. I think this guy has the right idea, and I urge you to click through to read his plan.

Other than that, I am a big believer in free markets (but not when they override climate change) and free speech; and I dislike monopolies (this is why I dont really fit in to either Murdoch or Fairfax’s worldview, thought I suspect there’s a lot more people out there like me then we let on).

And PS ‘owlknot’ is meaningless, was just the shortest phrase that hadn’t been taken yet. Hope to keep writing lot more blog posts; and rest assured: I’m not selling anything!