Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Well, So Much For "Protecting The Kids"

Not sure how many of you know, but various Australian ISPs have been 'voluntarily' imposing censorship for a while now. At the behest of the government. To 'protect the kiddies', naturally.

And of course, it was never, ever about politics, nor suppressing dissent. Nope.

I'm on a Telstra account. When I saw this link:

on a news site, I was curious. There was a note that said the US government had sought to trial a nerve agent on Australian soldiers, and requested the Aus government's co-operation and silence. I'm skeptical, so I thought I'd read it.

I clicked the link. (Have you done so yet?) And I got a Google broken-link message. (I use Chrome as my browser. On Firefox, it 'times out'.)

Did I mention I'm skeptical? I'm also cynical. I promptly went to a very quick-and-simple proxy site called Workdodger, in the UK, and input that self-same link. And got this:

C O N F I D E N T I A L CANBERRA 000685      SIPDIS    STATE FOR EAP AND PM  SECDEF FOR OSD J.POWERS  PACOM ALSO FOR POLAD    E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/07/2018  TAGS: MOPS PINS PREL AS SUBJECT: GUIDANCE REQUEST: ALLEGATION USG SOUGHT TO TEST  NERVE GAS ON AUSTRALIANS    Classified By: Charge D'Affaires Daniel A. Clune.  Reasons: 1.4(b),(d)    1. (U)  This is an action request - please see paragraph 4  below.    2. (SBU) Australian newspapers, quoting recently declassified  Australian government documents, carried stories over the  July 4 weekend alleging the U.S. Government had asked the  Australian government in 1963 to permit aerial testing of VX  and GB sarin nerve agent on Australian troops in Queensland.  According to the stories, the U.S. proposal included a  request that the GOA conceal the nature of the testing,  including from the troops on whom they would be conducted.  The Australian government at the time did not respond to the  U.S. request, according to the press stories.    3. (C) At the Embassy's request, staff of Defence Minister  Joel Fitzgibbon, currently in Hawaii and en route to  Washington, provided a background paper used to brief the  Defence Minister that includes further details (see full text  at para 5 below.)    4. (C) ACTION REQUESTED:  Embassy requests guidance for  possible use in responding to media inquiries.  Defence  Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has indicated he will raise this  issue during his forthcoming visit to the United States,  possibly including during his July 8 call on PACOM Commander  Keating and during his call next week on Secretary Gates.  In  addition, although no press had contacted the U.S. Embassy as  of COB July 7, we anticipate the need for guidance to respond  to press inquiries over the coming days, particularly for a  previously-arranged radio interview of the Charge in Adelaide  July 9 on a range of topics.    5. (C) Following is the text of the background paper provided  by Defence Minister Fitzgibbon's staff:    Begin text:    Nerve Gas test plans    Regarding widespread reporting - The Australian, SMH, Sunday  Program, Advertiser 07/07/08 - that recently declassified  National Archive documents reveal an American plan to test  Nerve Gas on Australian Defence Force members during the Cold  War.    Background    Recently declassified documents held by the National Archives  contain information that the US wanted to test Nerve Gas on  Australian soldiers at the height of the cold war.    The Australian reports that under the plan, 200 Australian  combat troops, presumably wearing 1960s-era chemical  protection suits, were to be subjected to aerial bombardment  in the Iron Range rainforest near Lockhart River in far north  Queensland.  The Australian also reports that the plan is not  believed to have been acted upon.    The nerve agents were to include VX and GB, better known as  sarin nerve gas.  The aim of the tests was to gauge the  effectiveness of nerve agents in jungle warfare at a time  when US military involvement in Vietnam was intensifying.    The US proposal is alleged to have made by US defence  secretary Robert McNamara in July 1963, according to Defence  Department and Prime Minister's Office documents.    The documents stated that of the 200 troops to be used in the  tests, "only four to six would need to know the full details  of the operation".    The US proposal is reported to have recommended that the  Australian government keep the nerve agent tests secret,  describing them as either "equipment testing" trials or "land  Qdescribing them as either "equipment testing" trials or "land  reclamation" experiments.    The Australian reports that the Australian government is  believed to have not responded to the initial US proposal in  1963, but in 1966 Washington approached the new prime  minister, Harold Holt, with a request to drop tear gas on  Australian troops.  Reports say that again, Canberra quietly  ignored the request.    A former Holt staffer told the Sunday Program that the then  Government was concerned that its Cold War alliance with the  US would be damaged if it refused to allow the tests.    Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who was Minister for  Army from 196668, denied knowledge of the US requests.    COMMENTS BY MINISTER FITZGIBBON - 06/07/08    "(It is) difficult to believe any such request came forward,  but if it did, surely it would have been rejected by the  conservative government of the day out of hand".    "I have asked Defence for an urgent and full briefing on this  matter. I can certainly rule out any such testing in the  future."    New lines for the Minister:    --I am aware of reports that the United States sought to test  nerve gas in Australia during the 1960s.    --I am advised that the United States did seek Australian  agreement to conduct experiments using chemical agents in Far  North Queensland, as they had no suitable sites available in  areas under their control.    --I am advised that in 1964, the Cabinet agreed it was not  appropriate to allow such trials to be carried out in  Australia and agreed to advise the United States of this  decision.    --I am advised this information is available on the public  record. Relevant cabinet papers were released in the  mid-1990s under the provisions of Archives Act, 1983.    --I am advised the United States was made aware of the  pending release of this information in 1994.    --I have asked the Department of Defence for an urgent and  full briefing on this matter.    End text.    

Don't take my word for it. Try it for yourself.

So. Is there anybody out there who still thinks the government's censorship of the 'Net is about 'protecting the kiddies'? Because if so, I've got a lot of money in Nigeria you can have if you just send me a few thousand dollars to cover administrative costs...


1) Different results have been reported to me from different ISPs - well, yes. I'd expect that. Conroy's Great Big Firewall hasn't been implemented, but a number of ISP's have agreed to censor voluntarily. They're supposedly listening to Interpol, but there's nothing that says they're all censoring the same stuff the same way... and there's nothing to say that Telstra, for example, isn't taking quiet instructions from our government.

2) A later check allowed me to reach the Wikileaks site. But the cable was simply not there. On the other hand, it was still accessible via the English proxy. This was about five hours after the first couple of checks, which occurred across a period of about an hour to an hour and a half.

3) According to Twitter sources, Wikileaks.org has been under cyberattack today. Well, maybe. On the other hand, I can't quite see why a cyberattack would block an inquiry from a Telstra ISP, but let an inquiry from an English proxy go straight through.

Something's not straight, folks.

FINAL EDIT: And now, as of 2220, I can get straight through from my Telstra ISP to the cable itself.

So what happened? Did a cyberattack somehow block access from Telstra while leaving open access via an English proxy? And did that cyberattack somehow later refine itself, allowing access to Wikileaks, but blocking the one cable in question? Or is it merely my computer (and two others in this house that can access the 'net, of course... naturally I tried them.) which has somehow slipped a gear?

This isn't the first time I've noticed problems with accessing portions of the Web using Telstra. This is, however, the first time it's really pissed me off. I'm going to keep watching this, with interest.

Unattractive Leisure Pursuits: The Bronchoscopy

I had a distinctly unpleasant day yesterday.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a good dose of bronchitis. The same cough went through every kid in this neighbourhood, but I'm the only one that got raging bronchitis. Personally, I think it's because of my pathetic cough-ability. Somewhere in the last few years, I lost the ability to cough deeply, and bring out all that wet, nasty shite that goes with minor respiratory tract disorders. As a result, my goddam lungs are probably better at incubating vile bacteria then they should be.

The doc who saw me for the bronchitis said he'd set me up with a referral to a respiratory physician. Well and good. And about a week ago, I got a note from the Launceston General Hospital telling me I was on their waiting list. They also said they'd notify me when my name came up.

Well, fine. The waiting list is apparently several months long. I could try going privately - but it's not really urgent. No big deal. I'll wait.

Except that on Monday, while I was at the supermarket, I got a call from a hospital clerk who wanted to discuss my 0800 appointment for Tuesday. For a bronchoscopy.

Fuckin' what?

Apparently a gap opened in their list, and they forgot to tell me. I got slotted in because other than the cough problem, I'm in good order. The lung doc figured I'd probably need a bronchoscopy, and he knew he could safely slide me into the gap because I'm not in my seventies, and on five different kinds of medications.

The clerk was surprised I hadn't been informed. Not as surprised as me, I told her. Fortunately, I'm not stupid: I actually asked about pre-procedural prep ("Don't eat after midnight." "Why? Will I turn into a gremlin?")

I also asked about driving. And there began the problems.

With the total lack of warning, there was no way Natalie could go in with me. And what with the sedation, I wasn't supposed to drive for twelve hours afterwards. Hmmm.

Well, okay. I figured I could just stay in Launceston, shoot on out to Bruce's place in the evening, catch a movie with him as usual, and then drive home roundabout midnight, as I often do of a Tuesday. There. Plan made.

I got out of bed obnoxiously early and drove into Launceston like a chiropteran making a rapid exit from Sheol. That ensured I found a parking place near the hospital - one that would actually let my car sit for near-enough twelve hours. Yay!

They signed me in pretty quickly. And then they gave me the dreaded backless gown. These days, you also get nifty paper underpants and booties. Add to that a nice little lap blankie to keep the breeze away from your 'nads (those paper underpants are about as useful as... paper underpants, really) and you're all set for a forty-minute wait in the TV room of lung-victim hell.

Happily, it was a slow day at the hospital. There were only two people before me, and neither of them seemed particularly tuberculoid. We nodded and smiled and carefully avoided looking at each other's paper underpants, and eventually, I got called into The Room. With The Chair.

The nurse was nice, but she made a hash of sticking a drip in my hand. Natalie told me later that it's probably because of my more-than-usually tough skin. The nurse did ask about that - wanted to know if I did a lot of outdoors work. I do work outdoors, but no more so than any gardening type... it's just my skin. Anyway, she missed the vein in the left hand, switched to the right, and caused a truly remarkable amount of pain by missing the vein there too, whereupon she just gave up.

Fuck it hurts when they miss the vein.

I lay there on the chair, waiting. I had the blood pressure cuff round my left arm, the pulse monitor on the index finger of my right hand. Lacking anything more interesting to do (I did smuggle in a book, but it was kind of hard to read with all that crap hanging off me) I played around with biofeedback. I discovered that simply by concentrating hard, I could move my heartrate down to sixty-five (it generally hung at about seventy-five, which is higher than I like, but I haven't been able to exercise well lately) and up as high as ninety or so. I also discovered that my blood pressure is about 123/77, which is pretty reasonable for a forty-five-year-old man coming out of a bout of bronchitis. It's even better when you recognise that hospital stress tends to raise everybody's blood pressure. (Natalie's jumped twenty points when she had it done in a hospital. Which is weird, since she works in the things.)

So all up, aside from this stupid cough, I'm doing okay.

The nurse finally noticed my fluctuating heart-rate. She stared. Asked me what I was doing. I said "Biofeedback. It's fun."

She stared some more. Then switched the machine off. Well, okay.

The doc arrived. He was good value. They stuck a needle into the crook of my arm, and then put a mask on my face. I had to inhale nebulised lignocaine for a while, to numb the airways. Apparently, jamming a camera up one's nose, then all the way down to the lungs can be traumatic. Who knew?

Finally, they got around to loading me up with a mix of Fentanyl and Midazolam.... yippee. Happily, whoever mixed the dose had a light hand. According to the doc, most people come out of it without realising anything has happened. I, on the other hand, recall... well, a little more than I want, really. The bit where the tube wouldn't go up my left nostril, so they tried my right, then went back to the left -- there's a thing I could do without. But on the other hand, the bit where the doc tilted the vidscreen and said: "There's your vocal chords. Say 'hello'..." was very cool. Especially because I did indeed say 'hello', and my vocal chords moved in the most amazing way. Keen!

Anyway, they had a good old probe around down there. I don't recall that they found anything too exotic, and they wound up splashing in a bit of saline so they could get some sputum samples, which provoked a certain amount of coughing. And at this point, I'd like to report that it's fucking difficult and painful to cough with a camera in your goddam lung...

... then they wheeled me to the recovery ward. I got a little oxygen while we waited for the various drugs to clear, and then they shifted me and my bed to a second ward. Shortly thereafter, they brought me my clothes and my bag, and shifted me to yet another ward - this one all about chair. (I abandoned my paper underpants with alacrity, and returned to the comforting cotton of my regular Rios.)

And the waiting began.

Apparently, I shouldn't have told them I planned to (eventually) drive home. I had been quite clear with them that I wasn't driving for twelve hours. But they didn't like the sound of that, and so instead of letting me go by 1330, as they'd intimated, they 'asked' me to stay 'a while longer'.

By 1500, I was over the whole funking experience. Sitting around in a hospital is dull. I'd read a lot. I'd even composed about a thousand words of fresh fiction on the Netbook 'puter I brought. But I was bored, and I was feeling rocky from the afterFX, and I wanted to GTFO.

So I called up a nurse, and very politely explained that she needed to remove the needle still hanging out of my arm, or I was going to do it for myself. We had a short, friendly conversation, and then they brought me some self-discharge forms. And I left.

I can understand that the hospital needs to cover itself, sure. But enough is enough.

I did have a bit of aftermath. For some reason, I started running a low fever at about five o'clock. But by eight o'clock, I was in Bruce's kitchen, cooking asparagus and mushroom crepes with cheese sauce for him and Tiarne, and by eight-thirty, the fever was broken, and gone. We watched a French crime/thriller thing which was, by and large, not too bad, and I hopped in the car and went home almost exactly twelve hours after the bronchoscopy was complete. The drive home was very normal indeed.

Kudos to the doc: he had a good sense of humour, and he really did handle the machinery - the hospital's and mine - well. I have no soreness at all today, and though the cough did flare up, he warned me of that, and it really hasn't been a big deal. The nurses were nice, the hospital was organised... but no matter how you paint it, the whole thing was still a tube up the nose and down the chest, followed by several hours of post-drug hangover and waiting.

Ah well. We shall see what the results show, eh ?