19/20

I have worked 19 of the last 20 days (including today). And the only day I had off was because an oversight by the office manager meant I didn’t have a report I needed to do more work. Otherwise, I’d have worked last Sunday as well. I’m working the next seven.

At least then, I will get 10 days off.

I should say though, I like my job.

I’ve had jobs I’ve hated. I’ve had jobs where going to the toilet to get a few minutes of peace, and to be a few minutes closer to the end of the day when I emerged. I’ve had jobs which made me want to drive into oncoming traffic during my commute. I’ve had jobs where I would spend my time notifying regulatory agencies of illegal things my employer was doing, just for the excitement of watching him get in trouble.

I’d never have worked 19/20 days for employers like that.

Mind the Gap

Having spent a week in Penshurst, almost completely in my own company, I’ve decided I shouldn’t spend too much time in my own company. I’ve had lots of time to think, to faff about online, to watch downloaded TV shows, and to eat too much junk food. But tomorrow Ec returns and a day or two after that, I go back home. And I can’t help feel I’m missing out on something, letting opportunity pass me by.

Sure, this fortnight was about hiding. But the plan was for constructive hiding. That’s not what it’s been though. It’s not been destructive hiding (and for that I guess I should be grateful) but I feel I’ve achieved almost nothing.

Podcasts

I was asked today about the podcasts I listen to regularly. So here are the most essential ones, and some of the better examples of them.

First, I discovered podcasts thanks to the brilliance of Brian Ibbott and the Coverville podcast. Brian records these two or three episodes a week, and their focus is cover music. My favourites are when he picks an artist, and then bookends the show with covers by that artist, and fills out the remaining slots with covers of the artist’s songs. If you’re new to Coverville, check out his shows on Johnny Cash and Elvis – I didn’t like either of those artists when I first heard these episodes, but I loved both episodes and they illustrate Brian’s brilliance.

Next, I moved onto Conversations with Richard Fidler. While Brian’s Coverville introduced me to podcasts, Fidler made them compulsory listening. Of particular note recently is Fidler’s interview with Len Notaras and the description of the Newcastle earthquake Len gave. Also worth listening to are Michael Palin, Bill Bryson, and Tim Bowden. The Tim Bowden interview in fact contains some material which I think everyone should listen to, to gain a better understanding of a small chapter of Australian history.

I also really enjoy Three Moves Ahead, from a bunch of strategy game reviewers in the US – Rob Zacny, Troy Goodfellow, Julian Murdoch and friends. Sometimes the guys will review a new game such as Fallen Enchantress or X-COM. And sometimes they’ll talk about gaming in general. But every episode is worth listening to, even if I never play the game they talk about.

I’ll leave it there (or as Brian Ibbott would say “That about covers it”) but I get the feeling this will be one of those entries I return to later and add more to. It’s just that kind of list.

Newman’ed

This is the data for Queensland and Australian unemployment. The blue vertical line represents when Queensland held an election and Campbell Newman’s LNP came to power.

When they came to power, they said no front-line public sector workers would be lost. Since then, they have broken that promise thousands of times. I used to work in an office where we organised the maintenance on public housing properties. Two thirds of the tradesmen in that office – sparkies, plumbers, chippies – have been made redundant. Their mistake was believing they were ‘front-line staff’. I’m not sure how much more front-line one gets when the department one works for fixes broken stuff, and your spend your day going around the government’s properties actually fixing broken stuff.

Maybe You Meant Austria?

There’s a bunch of Americans on Twitter complaining about the result and saying they’re going to move to Australia.

Someone made this comeback poster which I thought was amusing:

The highlight though of the whole topic though was when young Kristen Neel stepped up to the plate. She tweeted:

Despite the ignorance which enabled Kristen to make so many mistakes in less than 140 characters, I thought I’d give her the benefit of the doubt and check if maybe she meant Austria (a common mistake for Americans). So I checked. Austria *does* have a President, so I checked him out on Wikipedia. Sorry Kristen, President Heinz Fischer is not Christian. And you’re unlikely to approve of his socialist politics. Oh, and his party voted in favour of the Anschluss with Germany in 1938.

Can I suggest maybe you try Canada? They’re not a republic, but at least if it’s not to your satisfaction, you can walk home.

Wonkery Day

The results haven’t started to come in yet. But I am trusting that Nate Silver‘s right.

I often tell people I think it’s inappropriate for foreigners to tell voters in any country how they should vote, and I wont tell Americans. I am curious though how those who would vote opposite to me have convinced themselves of their beliefs. In the American example, I wonder how anyone thinks they can vote for a politician who basically says he’ll do something which defies economic credibility, but wont give details. That smells to me far too much like someone who has no intention of delivering on their promise. I am though curious rather than hostile. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to be hostile to someone for their political choices.

I am an Obama supporter. I don’t agree with 100% of what he’s done, and I think his administration might have done better. But I admire his conviction-style politics, and the charisma he displays when interviewed – he comes across as a friendly guy, not a spin-monster, and someone who believes in what he says. I sincerely wish our own politicians were like that. And I am kind of disappointed I can’t vote for Obama, or a politician like him.

It’s 90 minutes until the results start to roll in, and I am likely to spend much of the day watching results. After following the race so closely this year, it’s equivalent to watching every Swans game of the season and then being glued to the grand final come September. Which I almost did. Well, I watched maybe half the Swans games this year, but I was absolutely glued to everything in the second half of the season.

I certainly know I am looking forward to today probably as much as I would Christmas as a kid. I hate Christmas now. Maybe one day, I’ll be the same about election day? :)

New Test Leper

There’s an R.E.M. song I’ve always quite liked which opens with the lyric:

I can’t say that I love Jesus
That would be a hollow claim
He did make some observations
And I’m quoting them today
“Judge not lest ye be judged”
What a beautiful refrain
The studio audience disagrees
Have his lambs all gone astray?

I’ve kinda always liked this because it seems to be saying that even though the singer isn’t Christian, he quite respects the attitudes espoused by Jesus.
I’ve been thinking about this since listening to Richard Holloway interviewed by Richard Fidler recently. Fidler described Holloway (who is a former Anglican bishop of Edinburgh) as “believing in the teachings of Jesus, but [Holloway] is uncertain as regards Jesus’ divinity”. This caught my attention as I’ve been wondering for a while whether someone can be Christian – as in believing what Jesus said – without believing in the supernatural parts of the story – virgin birth, rising from the dead, the existence of a deity that gives a shit about mankind etc.

Tied in with this is the increased chatter in many channels from the mad fringe of the US ‘Christian’ sector – you know the ones, those who think events like Hurricane Sandy are God’s signal to the world he disapproves of gays, or candy, or black men in the White House or whatever they’re complaining about this week. The US Christians seem to be very much of the Baptist-like “God will smite you for all your evil blah blah blah” kind of Christians. But if one actually reads the Bible (as I’m sure they would tell sinners like me to do), the New Testament (which, after all, tells all about their guru and saviour, right?) isn’t about a smiting God filled with hatred and anger, but the complete opposite. And all the smiting and “God hates this” and “God hates that” nonsense is actually the Old Testament. In other words – the Jewish book. Not the Christian book at all.

So if one is a Christian, one follows the teachings of Jesus Christ, the carpenter and preacher from the outskirts of the Roman Empire, right?

Except he never spoke about abortion, or gay marriage (or gay anythings), or hating non-believers, or any such thing. He spoke of not judging others. He spoke of loving everyone and He spoke of caring for the poor and less fortunate.

Given that’s what he spoke about, it’s almost nauseating to watch the astounding hypocrisy of almost everyone in the American political class claiming to be Christian while seeming not to understand what their guru said.

But hey, maybe I just don’t get it?

[Kind of triggered as well by reading this post over at Reading Upside Down]

Wyee Fire

I got a call to do a temp gig Friday-Monday so had to jump a train back to Newcastle this evening. The Shitkansen had barely left Central though – we weren’t even to Stanmore – when I found out via Twitter the rail line was cut by bushfires.

The train stopped in Gosford for the crew to be told the new arrangements – a fifteen minute break. The train then went to Wyong. From there, buses went to Morisset and then back on the train to Newcastle.

The bushfire itself was in Wyee. In the small town, several streets had grass fires burning, and there were RFS trucks in every street. Maybe 10 trucks all up. It was all quite calm and seemingly organised. As the bus passed through the town though, six police cars went through Wyee, at about 120-130, with lights and sirens going. I’m not quite sure why, since the firies weren’t displaying any signs of panicking or urgency. But clearly the cops thought something was worth rushing to.

Banana Revival

I’ve been wondering about the direction of my blog. I’ve used it for a variety of purposes over the years, in its various incarnations. I’ve been wanting to revive it lately, and actually I revived it several times this year, and kept setting the posts to ‘private’. Or deleting them. Or coming back to them after a few days and deciding they expressed sentiments I no longer felt.

The reality is 2012 has been a shit year. A fucking shit year. And even though it’s less shit now, it’s October. So whatever happens in the next two and a half months, I’m pretty sure 2012 will go on record as a shit year just on balance. The Swans winning the grand final on Saturday – and a bloody good game it was too – addresses the balance slightly.
But only slightly.

I’m reviving it though.

It might contain some of my ranty old self. About the usual issues. It might contain random thoughts. It might just be a place where I re-post stuff I find interesting from elsewhere. But whatever it contains, I need it.

Oh, and hello to anyone still tuning in. I can’t imagine there are many.

Silent Witness

Last night, I saw a man arrested.

I was on the platform at the railway station and two police spoke to a man as he entered via the stairs. They asked him for a ticket, and he at first ignored them, but then admitted he didn’t have one. Sure, it’s fine for them to ask. But until he actually got onto a train (which as it turns out he never did) he hadn’t done anything wrong.

When the man admitted he had no ticket, the police began questioning him, asking for his identification etc. They obviously radioed in to check him out because I soon heard them telling him he was in breach of his bail conditions and so they’d arrest him. He began to query that, and it tuns out he has bail conditions which mean he’s not to be out after 9pm. But the police had stopped him about 8.40pm, and even when they told him he was arrested, it was still several minutes before 9.

As the senior of the two police said, he was unlikely to have gotten home before 9pm, especially without a ticket, so they’d be taking him to the police station.

I have a problem with this. I know it’s not the worst behaviour of police in recent times, but it’s one I witnessed.

Regardless of whether the man was likely to have gotten home before 9, and thus complied with his bail, the man was not in breach when he was arrested at around 8.56pm. In addition, their detaining him before that could reasonably be considered a hindrance to him complying with the bail conditions. It’s hardly fair to detain someone who is in the process of returning home only to then arrest them for failing to return home.

I almost stepped in and spoke up for him. On reflection, I wish I had. Whatever the man was on bail for, these two police were significant players in causing the man to breach his bail, yet they were lining him up to be punished for it.

James Kirk

In our national capital, there’s a bunch of rules dictating who streets can be named after.

In general, they must be:

  • dead
  • Australian and
  • notable.

It seems some Trek-fan discovered James Kirk (1920-1997), a Novocastrian industrialist, to allow this street to be named after him.

I looked for a ‘Denny Crane Street’ but never found it.

Speeding Fine

Today was the first time I’ve ever been pulled over by a police vehicle for doing something wrong (not slowing down when I went from an 80 zone into a 60 zone) and *didn’t* get a ticket. I just got a warning.

And she also noticed my licence address needed updating, and I had an expired rego sticker on the car not the current one. Still, she didn’t book me.

First time I’ve been pulled over by a female HWP officer too. I wonder if that made a difference?

Disappointment

Friendships die.

In my experience, they mostly fade away. Someone you spoke to daily becomes someone you speak to once in a while. Life keeps you both busy, and you wander in different directions. Maybe a year or two later, you’ve changed phones and not got their number in your pocket any more. They’ve moved on from their job, and their email starts to bounce. Half a dozen years later, even your mutual friends don’t see both of you any more. It’s always reminded me of an old house in the forest slowly succumbing to the foliage and nature.

Sometimes friendships die because one party wants them to. I’ve had that happen a few times too. A friend will be upset, and stop contact. If they’re really malicious, they’ll try and sour mutual friendships too. Their anger is overpowering and prevents them from remembering the friendship’s history, the shared moments of joy they gave me, or I them.

When the latter happens, I mourn. I grieve. Often, I will try and fix it. Maybe I’m deficient in recognising when matter are beyond repair? Because I always seem to be the one who is last to realise, and the last to give up trying to salvage.

I lost a friend this week.

Perhaps I lost her a lot earlier? But this week, the loss was confirmed.

For a while now, quite a while actually and probably a longer while than I think was appropriate, I held onto the hope our friendship had life.

I was confused as to why she wanted it to die. The confusion obsessed me. I was frustrated she didn’t want to fix it. We’d always been very very good friends, and, she’d repeatedly claimed this outcome wasn’t what she wanted. Most of all, I was sad. Sad it’d come to this.

Strangely enough, it feels better now. Knowing it’s gone.

Knowing I can do nothing to fix it.

Knowing that, when I look back at my behaviour these last few months, I have acted with honesty and integrity and not turned nasty. I can stand by everything I have done and said.

At the end, the confusion, the frustration, the sadness, they all become something new yet something so familiar – disappointment.

Losing Allies

I built my dreams around you

When Caerulia and I split, almost ten years ago now, I recall thinking that what hurt most keenly was the sense I’d lost an ally. We’d made plans, we shared aspirations and goals. Then, all of a sudden, they counted for nought. I’d lost an ally.

Tonight, I realised – in the shower unsurprisingly, because that’s where all wisdom hits – that’s what’s eating me about the Lana situation. I lost my strongest ally who now will barely communicate with me. She was someone I could share almost anything with, and now I cannot share anything.

A Fresh Start

As of today, I have sufficient funds to tidy up the loose ends here and head to Brisbane. Anything I earn and save now is just additional padding for the transition period when I am up there and getting myself set up with a job, and surviving until my first payday. In the last month, I’ve been putting the building blocks in place for the Brisbane life, and especially in the last week, the foundations are looking solid.

The immediate plan is to live with Perry & Mel and their parrot Bender in the southeastern suburbs and get work in the city. I want to limit myself to working in the city, or at the port if I get something with a shipping company. Working anywhere else will mean I will have to drive across town, and I would prefer to limit the amount of commute-driving I do.

I have already made contact with the people at the footy club where I want to be active in fundraising this season. I want to help organise events like trivia nights to help the club’s finances and thus their facilities.

I’ll be getting to Brisbane in the middle of an election campaign, which Bligh called yesterday. I know Elissa’s not a candidate, but she’s involved with some of the seats in southern Brisbane, so I’ll do what I can there.

I want to make contact once again with the Ninth Hispania at Pax Romana. I’ll probably miss their Easter camp to Glen Innes (assuming they still do it) but if I get back into training, I can go on some of the future operations.

I also want to start preparations to do law next year, and so I need to organise a mentor or two, and also perhaps do the preliminary courses.

I think I’d also like to investigate some of the aboriginal and homeless services, and see what I can do to help them as well.

That’s the plan, for now anyway. I want to get up there and establish myself, and then start working toward some of the (as yet undefined) medium term goals. I think one of the medium goals is to get a place closer to Wynnum, but we’ll see how the Perry & Mel thing works out first.

Scary?

A couple of nights ago, we watched Wolf Creek. I was disappointed though.

The objective (since it was Halloween) was to be scared. Even though I am completely not a fan of watching movies to be scared, my girlfriend convinced me to. But while there was some gore, and Mick the psycho-killer was clearly a bloke I wouldn’t want living next door, afterwards I found myself finding plot holes rather than thinking every noise in the dark house was something to worry about.

Probably the worst hole in the story was in the ending, post-script notes. Ben was held on suspicion of being the culprit. But he was crucified! And as Neil from the Young Ones pointed out, self-crucifixion just doesn’t work. “No matter how hard you try, you can’t get the last nail in”. Also, the post-script notes said the bodies of the girls were never found. But if Ben had reported events to the police (as he clearly had) then even the blindest cop would have found the burnt out car that Kristy was in.

As I said: disappointing.

But the acting was very good – from Ben & the two girls (I thought Jarrett’s Mick was a bit ‘hammed up’) and the scenery made me want to explore that part of the country.

Stretching Credibility

I am amazed some days at how incompetent the law enforcement officials in this country can be. Case in point… yesterday, the Sydney Morning Herald published this story. In essence, Senior Constable Chaplin with a radar gun clocked John Busuttil on his motorcycle doing 149km/h and he was in danger of losing his licence. He contested it in court, and won. It helps that his dad is a barrister so is probably more able than most of us to choose such a path.

The defence case centred around the radar equipment, its inappropriate use, and the police officer’s incorrect measurements of distance and time. It could have died a natural death as these news stories do. The Police hierarchy could have said “our operator made a mistake, we’ll make sure our operators are trained better” and noone would think anything of it.

But no.

Police culture being what it is, they refuse to accept their guy made a mistake (despite a court saying so). So we get this story.

It seems Chaplin (according to his court testimony of June this year) had booked numerous vehicles at the same location, including ten the same day as Busuttil, using the same equipment and same procedure (now judged “radically wrong” by the court). Many of those drivers had had their licences suspended. But today, the NSW Police issued a statement that the errors in the Busuttil case were a “one-off” and thus none of the other speeding tickets given out by Senior Constable Chaplin that, or any other day are to be re-examined. Instead, their line is that NSW Highway Patrol officers are trained to a high standard, and their equipment is infallible.

What I find even more absurd is that the NSW Police press statement today states “The officer’s welfare and support is our priority”. Call me crazy, but I would think the officer’s training and enforcing the law correctly might be their priorities. After all, it’s their job. Why is the officer’s welfare an issue, let alone their priority?

Taxpayers of NSW: this incompetence cost you $60,000. For that, your local school could have had an extra teacher for a year.

RIP Lancer 1994-2011

Most people I know treat their car and their house with a similar mindset. They’re always thinking in terms of ‘resale value’ and whether amendments they make or the way they treat their asset will impact them when the time comes to sell.

That’s never been my way of viewing my Lancer. For years, I’ve believed I would drive it until the day it died. I was proven right.

Initially, I thought the bolt holding the front corner of the driver’s seat had popped and I’d need to replace it. I thought the biggest issue I’d have to face would be getting access to the bolt, in between the rails the seat sat on. Removing the carpet though revealed a more serious problem. The frame where the bolt connected seat to car was corroded and a bit rusted. Repair would take considerable welding, and with the Lancer, that just wasn’t feasible.

I think I’d be more accepting of the death as final if it were mechanical – if the engine wouldn’t start anymore. But that hasn’t happened. The motor still runs. But accelerating provides a unique sensation – that of the driver being tilted backward. And there’s the problem – the Lancer‘s no longer viable structurally. And so must be replaced.

*sigh*

Finding A Past

In 1820, near West Malling in Kent, there was a farm hand named John Hollands. John had a wife – Mary – four kids and another on the way. Not a lot is known about the events leading up to his appearance before the courts, but John showed up in December to answer on a charge of sheep stealing. His mate John Jenkins was in court the same day for the same charge, so the two may have been busted for the same crime.

The two Johns were found guilty, and sent to New South Wales on the ‘Speke’ in the new year. Like many, John Hollands probably assumed he’d never see Mary and his kids, including the unborn one, ever again.

Fate smiled on John Hollands. He was assigned in New South Wales as a farm worker for James Atkinson who ran a farm called ‘Oldbury‘ near what is now Moss Vale. Atkinson was also from Kent, so their paths may have crossed back in the motherland. Maybe for this reason, Hollands appears to have been a favourite of Atkinson because when Atkinson returned to England in 1825/26 as part of a deal to obtain more breeding stock for John Macarthur, Atkinson arranged for Mary Hollands and her children to come to New South Wales as free settlers. On the ‘Grenada’ with Mary sailing to New South Wales were the family of John Jenkins, Hollands’ probable partner in sheep stealing.

Mary received a land grant near Oldbury. Atkinson then used his contacts (he had worked in the colonial administration in Sydney before he set up his farm) to have John Hollands re-assigned as Mary’s assigned convict labourer. John & Mary went on to have another three children. Mary died in 1859 on the family farm, and John seems to have sold up and gone to live with one of his children nearby. In 1870, at the age of 82, John fell from a horse and died at his son’s farm.

I learnt the above story in the last fortnight. John & Mary are the first of my ancestors to arrive in the new colony. They are my great-great-great-great grandparents. I’m descended from their son Thomas, who was their youngest at the time John was transported.

Since learning this story, I have found (and am reading) a 2007 historical novel which mentions John & Mary in passing – Dark Mountain by Catherine Jinks – set in the 1830s and telling of the fate of Atkinson’s family (he died in the early 1830s) and their links to a serial killer in the Belanglo area – it’s peculiar how history repeats like that.

I was also surprised to learn (and impressed with my timing!) there is an association to help the descendants of John & Mary learn more about their ancestors, and the association is gathering this weekend.

Wrongful Convictions

Last night, I listened to a radio interview done by Richard Fidler with Paul Wilson. Wilson’s a criminologist from Queensland whose book on the Graham Stafford case ignited my interest in wrongful convictions. Wilson also teaches university students about miscarriages of justice.

The interview’s about 50 minutes long. The most significant nugget I took from it though is that research indicates the rate of wrongful convictions in most westernised countries is around 1%.

At that rate, around 350-400 wrongful convictions are made in Australia each year at the district and supreme court level. That’s about one a day. Or, another way of looking at it is every prison in the country holds 6-10 prisoners innocent of the crime they’ve been locked away for.

Timezones

Just after returning from Brisbane, the majority of the country slipped into daylight saving. And inevitably, I got to see several friends whining online about it. Most are native Queenslanders, but I’m surprised that some aren’t.

I was convinced of the benefit of summer time when I was watching the sun come up before 5am in Brisbane. Who wants sunlight at that hour? Losing an hour of sunlight in the morning for an hour of sunlight in the evening makes perfect sense. Unless, of course, you exist in a world where having dinner after 7pm is an alien concept. Which most of Brisbane does. Try walking into a restaurant for dinner in Brisbane after 8pm. They’re all packing up.

In the years I spent in Brisbane, I only heard one intelligent argument against summer time. That was from the guy who ran the Yatala drive-in who said the later sunset means he had to start his movies an hour later. Yeah, that’d make sense. But every other argument I’ve heard put up against is just another variation on “I don’t like change”.

The biggest issue I have with the Queensland insistence on their own timezone though is their piss-poor implementation of it. Many businesses, because Brisbane is an offshoot of their offices in Sydney or Melbourne, have their daily routines dictated by a timezone they’re not in. TV broadcasts are a mish-mash with some channels operating on local time, and others on summer time. It just makes for a mess. If you’re going to live in a timezone, you should live in it and not have one foot in each camp. That though is a consequence of being an outpost of somewhere bigger, of being on the rim, rather than a hub of their own lives.

I imagine Adelaide has that problem every day of the year. Maybe Perth too?

I Precede Myself

It was unsettling meeting someone for the first time, and having them explain they understand I am not an internet troll, but I hold some unconventional opinions. He knew this because he’d read my blog.

I was more unsettled by hearing that than I was by the possum who decided to sit in a tree and urinate on our picnic table and a chunk of our planned dinner.

Visit to Moreton Bay

During the last week of September, we went to Brisbane. Because I didn’t have to work, I had a lot of time to kill during the days, so I spent a lot of time visiting friends for lunch, wandering the city and reading on CityCats.

Time to think is a beautiful asset. During the week, I realised I haven’t had a lot of it lately. I really should address that.

The book I was reading that week (and still am) was Death or LibertyTony Moore’s examination of how the convict transportation regime from 1788 to 1868 was used to remove political dissidents from Britain. I haven’t got to the end of the book yet, but I suspect Moore’s leading to the conclusion that the resulting level of political radicalism in the Australian colonies may have been partly responsible for Australia achieving many political reforms before the mother country.

This book is symptomatic of a resurgence in my interest in Australian colonial history, especially of the first decades after the First Fleet. I suspect it was a guest on one of Richard Fidler’s Conversations who recently said Australians are bought up being taught that little of note has happened in their homeland, and that Australia lacks a history worth learning about. Even when I studied Australian History units at university, that mindset seemed to permeate the classes. But the deeper I delve, the more interesting I’m finding it.

Cameron Todd Willingham

This week, in Georgia, Troy Davis was executed for the murder of a security guard in 1989. There was considerable media attention because his conviction has some question marks over it. The media attention led to this interesting article on Crikey by Jeff Sparrow.

Sparrow reaches the conclusion – and I can’t see how any other interpretation can be reached – that the innocence or guilt of death row prisoners is considered irrelevant to many voters, politicians and even those involved in the legal process.

I haven’t read the background to the Davis case but at first glance, it seems to be that the majority of witnesses have revised their testimony, and there was a lack of any other evidence. Sparrow’s article though links to this article in the New Yorker from 2009 which details the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. I encourage everyone to read it, although it is quite long.

Willingham was a young married father-of-three whose house burnt down in 1991, killing his three daughters. Forensic fire investigators found it to be arson, and Willingham was executed in 2004 for the crime. But even as he died, a report from a fire expert sat in the Governor’s office explaining why every piece of ‘evidence’ the original investigators used to convict defied ‘rational reasoning’ and was as scientific as ‘mystics or psychics’. The clemency board – who are meant to examine the case for glaring errors – dismissed the new evidence as irrelevant, and the Governor ignored the report.

I often write here about the failings of the police and judiciary in convicting people with dubious ‘evidence’. But it’s been almost a century since a false murder conviction has resulted in an execution in Australia.

Short Circuit

Continuing the project of re-watching the classic geek movies, a few nights ago, we watch Short Circuit. Whenever I mention this movie to friends, almost everyone remembers the catch-phrase “Number Five is alive”. I was curious to see though whether it held up across the last twenty-five years.

Gutenberg was unlikely as the brilliant geek (but we all know it’s the Stonecutters who made him a star). Ally Sheedy has done better work both in St Elmo’s & Breakfast Club. And the town the whole story was set in reminded me very much of the beachside setting from the Goonies. The plot was formulaic, the minor characters were all awfully one-dimensional. But overall, it wasn’t the worst way to spend an evening.

Dolphins?

We went to Sydney this weekend, and I got a chance to spend Saturday with my cousin. He lives near Circular Quay, so I woke him early for a ferry ride to Manly for brunch. It turned out to be an excellent decision, as the day was windy, but sunny and awfully pleasant.

And after the huge swell coming across the heads (which I enjoy), we began to round the memorial to HMAS Sydney and Marquis took out his camera to get a shot of the memorial. While taking a shot, we spotted halfway between the ferry and the memorial a pod of about 5 dolphins. I was shocked, because I always imagined Sydney Harbour would be too dirty and noisy for dolphins to want to come hang out. And they make a lovely sight swimming alongside the ferry.

Julia as Caesar

I apologise for the punny post heading – my girlfriend came up with it. :p

Today, I read a brilliant piece (re-posted after the fold) which has been saying what I’ve felt about the Labor government for some time. Only in the fires of destruction can it once again find its soul.

There’s a scene in the West Wing (season 7) where Danny Concannon (senior White House correspondent, their Laurie Oakes equivalent) says to CJ Cregg “your boss never has to get elected ever again. But you guys are content to run out the clock with the same game of well-intention defence you’ve always played… You could do more in a day than most people could do in a lifetime. Make it count.”

I doubt they will though.

Continue reading

Pope Julia

I have written before about the problem of paedophiles in the hierarchy of the Catholic church. I (unknowingly) had a convicted child molester as a teacher in a Catholic school in Y6. And watched from the sidelines as a Brother at a school I did Y11/12 at went down for similar crimes.

What has always amazed me is the logic process behind the protection of such people.

Imagine for a moment you’re a bishop, running a diocese of a dozen parishes, with several dozen staff – priests, nuns, teachers, whatever. And you find evidence of one of your underlings engaged in activities which are criminal, evil and which could leave you with a huge legal vulnerability. You know if the victims stand up to you, you’re gunna get sued for everything your diocese has and much more.

What logic tells you “I must protect the perpetrator”?

This person has exposed your little empire to the very real risk of total destruction. What loyalty can you feel to them? Do you really believe you can hide it, cover it up? Do you think the victim will never wise up that they can go to the police, or the media? Is it worth risking everything you and your predecessors have built to protect this vile individual who has put you in such danger for the sake of their own sin?

Why would you do it?

Do you think the manager of any organisation – for example a business owner – would do it? Chance everything in favour of loyalty to an employee who put the whole kingdom in danger?

That’s why the Catholic Church are in the trouble they are. Because their middle managers (and higher-ups) made such stupid decisions.

Is it confined to the religious sorts? No. As those who are watching our national politics are witnessing. But whether it’s religious types, political types, or anyone else, a bad decision is a bad decision. And those who risk the kingdom for such selfish means deserve beheading.

Reunion Confusion

About a month ago, within a few days, I was invited to two school reunions.

With some people, that might represent as many school reunions as they’re ever going to be invited to. In my case though, I went to 12 schools, and changed schools 15 times in 14 years. I repeated a year voluntarily (Yr 11), one school I went to twice, and another I went to three times.

One of the invites I relished. I would absolutely be going, even if it meant an interstate trip and considerable logistics. The other is only an hour up the road yet I am completely unexcited by, and probably wont go.

What I’m wondering about though is why the different reactions? I’ve maintained friendships from neither across the years. I have no fiercely negative memories of either school. And both were rarities in that I did more than a complete school year at each.

Boogeyman!

This guy has three WoW accounts. Three!

He upgraded his PCs to enhance his gaming experience. OMGWTF!

And he spent so much time gaming, his wife got pissed off. Fuck! Who does that??

This sounds so much like the old-style media doing one of their “The net will roon us all!” routines. Haven’t read those in a while. But it’s nice to see they haven’t let go of their boogeyman.

Reading the article though, I did kind of miss the all-weekend sessions of playing Eve. :)

It Never Stops

One of the recurring themes I keep returning to in my writings here is the misbehaviour of the powerful, especially the police. It’s easy to assume the mistakes, the misbehaviours, and the corruption is a thing of the past. And then, I read stories like this one.

Only five years ago, police decided Haysam Zreika in Sydney was guilty of shooting someone. The evidence linking him to the shooting was minimal – a witness had seen Zreika in the street and claimed Zreika was angry. That’s it. That’s the sum total of evidence against him.

Witness statements from the shooting described a different build for the shooter. Different clothes too. But because the cop in charge of the case wanted a conviction, she ignored witnesses and evidence if it indicated she was wrong.

Zreika’s workplace was raided. He was imprisoned for two months.

Why? Because a detective constable was convinced he was guilty.

Last month, the people of NSW paid $300,000 compensation to Haysam Zreika.
Detective Constable Jacqueline Ryder wont have to pay a cent of that. Instead, NSW taxpayers paid for her legal defence. If I were one of them, I’d be pissed off at this waste of money.

Oh, hang on…

Losing Their Way

I understand why Stilgherrian got pissed off. But I wont. Why? Coz I’d pretty much given up on G+ anyway.

A couple of days before Google decided they didn’t like my name (and showed themselves incapable of telling me what about my name they didn’t like, since it complies completely with their policies, or at least the ones they’ve linked to in emails to me), a friend of mine posted to Google Plus:

Oh hai Google+
I’m sorry that I don’t spend that much time with you. Once you let me share direct from Reader I’ll be more than happy to spend more time on here than on facebook or Twitter. Until then… tumbleweed

I replied to her:

 It is a bit tumbleweedy. I said to Loq about a week ago I expect G+ will end up the same as Wave – introduced amongst much fanfare, then left to whither.
The pseudonym problems, and G’s incompetent way of dealing with them, have turned G from being thought of as mostly benign, to being thought of in the way many think of M$ or Apple. Especially within the techno-literate circles, and that’s where G+ is going to live or die in the long run.
G+ – some decent ideas, but poorly executed. 4/10.

That comment, a throwaway line when I wrote it, has stuck in my head for the last few days. Some decent ideas, but poorly executed.

It reminded me of a discussion I had with my girlfriend when Google Plus was first released. Remember when they had that phase where invites were open, then they weren’t, then they were restricted, then they weren’t? My girlfriend, who has studied marketing, thinks that was a good strategy – making something scarce increases perceived value. But when it comes to social networking, the value is severely handicapped if you’re the only person you know using the site. And if you’re marketing a new website, and a fresh user visits for the first time, finds none of their peers are there, and cannot invite them, what do you think that does for your “perceived value”? It’s a great example of why running a business according to what a marketer thinks is good might not necessarily be a good idea.

This “tumbleweed” feeling is also déjà vu of Google’s release of Wave. Released as a beta amidst much hype, with hour-long YouTube clips and whatever else. I remember my boss at the ISP where I was working saying he liked it so much he thought it could replace email, and staff meetings as well, as soon as the glitches could be ironed out. I recall other friends in an IRC community I was part of saying Wave could replace how that community operated as well.

But soon afterwards, it was obvious Wave’s instabilities and flaws were not getting better. It also became apparent that, with the limited invitation system (again we were told this was to prevent server overload – is that really credible coming from a corporation the size of Google??) if you wanted to communicate with a group where some had Wave, and some didn’t, you had to email those who didn’t. And since everyone had email, you could just simplify everything by not using Wave at all.

And thus, it died.

I expect Google Plus may follow a similar trajectory.

Edit: Found a blogger on my Google Reader feed who comes to the same conclusion, using totally different (but I believe valid) reasons. I sense a hole growing by the day.

Geek Movies

A little while ago, we decided to check out geek movies we hadn’t already seen. Filling in the gaps in our cultural education, perhaps? Anyway, it started with watching Blade Runner (which my girlfriend hadn’t seen), then moved onto some others mainly recommended by geek friends. The plan went sour though recently with The Fifth Element which was so awful we stopped about a third of the way through and couldn’t watch any more. (I really should write a list of movies we’ve set out to watch and quit part-way through – there’s been a surprising amount of them, but that can wait till another day)

Some we watched during this phase included TRON & TRON: Legacy (the latter convinced me that 3D cinema was bogus); we revisited the Back to the Future trilogy; and I introduced my girlfriend to the classics – Flash Gordon & The Last Starfighter. I’m also slowly working on introducing my girlfriend to the holy trilogy, and even Indiana Jones – which I cannot believe anyone of my generation’s never seen.

I’d like though to ask my geek friends and associates now for recommendations. What are the must-see movies of our generation? The geek holy experiences?

(Don’t bother trying to argue with me about my earlier comments about The Fifth Element. It’s trash. Get over it.)

Weekend Movies

We watched two movies over the weekend. Citizen Kane, and Charlotte Gray.

Citizen Kane was much as I expected. After all, I’d seen the Simpsons ripoff – Rosebud. I could see though why it is considered a classic, and made it into position 38 in IMDB’s Top 250. For even though it had some 1940s over-acting, it told a story well and there wasn’t anywhere in the movie I wanted to turn it off. Considering the other 1940s movie I’ve watched, Citizen Kane stands in a class of its own. Maybe alongside The Third Man?

Charlotte Gray though was a disappointment. I watched it because I’d heard it was based on the life of Nancy Wake, who died recently. The key phrase here is “based on” – as in, once upon a time, there was a war, and in occupied France there was a female agent. There the similarity between Wake’s history and this movie ends. The historical inaccuracies all over the place, the unbelievably sappy heroine and the far-fetched narrative links made it a woeful show. I’m not surprised it lost money.

Off Air

In a case of timing which could make a more paranoid banana hide under the bed, the day after I wrote the Google Plus post, my blog vanished. Attempts to visit it were re-directed to a page saying there was a problem, and I should call some US-based number to resolve it.

Logging into my account with the hoster though showed quickly what the problem was – my credit card had expired, and I’d neglected to tell them the new expiry date. A phone call, and a 24-hour wait later, all is good.

It surprised me though how many blog posts I wrote in my head in those 24-36 hours. One never knows what one has until it’s gone, huh?

Caught in the Net of Silliness

When the skirmishes broke out in Google Plus about the use of its naming policy, I was only half-interested. I could see where Google was coming from, and while I thought it was a poor decision, I thought the flames I saw were more to do with my location on the web, rather than the problem being a particularly significant one. I did though wonder whether well-known Australian cyber-personality Stilgherrian would run afoul of the new rules.

My interest in Stilgherrian’s status with the Google name policy was sort of selfish, because I am in much the same boat as him.

Most of those making a lot of noise about the policy, and its implementation, were arguing they should not be forced to use their “wallet-name” (the name on their official identification like a drivers licence etc) and should be able to use a pseudonym. It’s a position I agree with. But I also knew it was highly likely Google would have their rules, and these people would be defeated by Google’s rules. Although, Google’s rules do say the Google Profile Name must be the name one is commonly known by – thus arguing in favour of pseudonyms, whereas it was being used to exclude pseudonyms. It seemed contradictory.

Unlike those people – Skud, Fruitbat and others – I have government-issued identification as Dermott Banana. I have a licence issued by a state authority, and bank accounts. My understanding of Stilgherrian is that he has the same.

Yesterday, I saw a link (ironically, via Google Plus) to Stilgherrian’s blog-rant about this issue. He’d been banned. Stilgherrian was pissed off. And I think he’s got grounds to be. A US corporation was telling him his name didn’t meet their policies. Yet they were (and are) wrong. His name is his legal name, and the name everyone knows him by. More than just about anyone, Stilgherrian met their policy. For them to say he didn’t and insist he change only makes them look ignorant.

Tonight, I suffered the same fate.

Unlike Stilgherrian, I’m not going to rant. I’m not going to call Google a pack of cunts, as he did. I agree with him though. And hey, it’s their company, and if they want to go around shooting themselves in the feet, that’s their business.

I was a Google fan-boy. And not that long ago either.

40 Years

Today, I saw an envelope which made me wonder.

To cover the 60c postage, someone had used three stamps. Some of them though I recognised from when I collected stamps as a twelve-year-old.

The sender had bought these stamps as long ago as 1970 (!!) and in 2011, used them to send a cheque to my work.

Who does that? *puzzled*

Leaky Boats, and Leaky Emails

I have just finished watching “Leaky Boat”, an ABC documentary about the incidents around the MV Tampa in 2001, and the SIEV 4 (remembered in this country as ‘the children overboard boat’) and I think I solved a puzzle that’s bothered me for the last few years.

When photos were first published by the Daily Telegraph of the ‘children overboard’ incident, Defence Minister Reith said this image (right) was proof children were thrown into the water. On radio, Reith was told by the presenter the image showed people in the water, and not how they got there.

In reality, the photo shows a mother and her son being rescued after the SIEV4 sank. I knew when I saw the pictures in the newspaper the boat had sunk because I’d seen the full set of images Reith was talking about, and they included the image below, which clearly shows the boat in the process of sinking.

It was only when the Senate held an inquiry in 2002 into the incident that the full set of photos was published in the media.

I have always wondered how I, at the time a helpdesk operator in an ISP’s call centre, had photos Bob McMullan told me he hadn’t seen until the Senate inquiry the following year.

On the documentary, they interviewed Jenny McKenry who was in Defence public relations and who found the behaviour of Howard and Reith at the time distasteful. Also, it was made clear there were many people in the Canberra defence community who knew Reith and Howard were lying about the incident.

Jenny McKenry is a former director of Canberra Child Support Agency, where I worked in the 1990s, and where my wife (at the time) was employed in 2001. It’s entirely possible McKenry emailed the photos to former colleagues, and via the email version of Chinese Whispers, I ended up with a copy. I can’t say for certain – it was a decade ago. But at least now, I have a credible theory as to how I saw them months ahead of my local member of parliament or, presumably, anyone in the parliamentary Labor Party with the balls to stand up and tell the truth about them.

Returning

I hate blogs where the author is posting, every second post, how apologetic they are for the long absence between their entries. I never do it. On this occasion though, the absence is part of what I want to write about.

I have been absent because of EVE Online. I’ve written before of my on-off relationship with EVE [1, 23 and 4], and like any typical addict, I lapsed last month and went back. The fling did not last though, and so it has once again been put away. Maybe I needed to refresh my memory of why it was packed away for so long?

I returned to EVE because I missed the friendships with my former colleagues there. What I found though disappointed me.

EVE had just been updated, and Rob was unable to run it without a graphics card upgrade – so I didn’t see him in the 3 weeks or so I was back in. Jules and many of my former Jovians are now part of Van Deiman’s Demise. VDD had joined a *big* alliance, and so the one time I chatted to them they were in some big defence operation which seemed to consist of a lot of sitting around guarding a system against an attack which didn’t come. And CT’s new crew seemed listless and inactive – I sat on their Teamspeak for days and noone ever logged in.

If EVE allowed me to log in, immediately link up with colleagues who did nightly small-gang raids and get straight into the action, I’d be up for that. But the back-end logistics that goes into everything now drives me nuts. I don’t want to work 10 hours for each hour of fun. I want to just do the fun bits. And I’m not gunna get that there.

I also noticed that when I was back in EVE, I wasn’t reading, watching movies or TV, chatting to other friends as much, writing or doing any of the other things I spend my time on. EVE becomes all one does. I don’t want that. I don’t want to be Flavan all the time.

It’s a pity really. EVE has so much potential to be a good game. And it’s got so much I like about it. But again, it’s time to leave it behind. At least I’ve now got contact details for many of my former colleagues, so I wont lose track of them hopefully.

Any Publicity Is Good Publicity?

I’ve been following in the last week or so the ongoing stoush between a blogger (Mike Stuchbury) and the various forces pushing religious education in Victorian schools. From what I understand, Mike’s a school teacher in Victoria, and he objects to the uneducated and unethical way religious is being taught in Victorian government schools.

I’ve disagreed with some things Mike’s written about in his blog and elsewhere (his pieces crop up all over the place – he’s prolific when he gets a head of steam up) but I’m pretty much on the same hymn-sheet with this issue.

But Mike, and others fighting his case, a word of advice – even if you lose, you’ll win.

I completed school in a Catholic boarding school. I recently went to a reunion of the HSC class of 1989, and in that room of 60 or 70 of my classmates, not a single one could be described as a ‘believer’. And religion classes constituted maybe a dozen hours a week, every week, if you included compulsory attendance at chapel services.

If the churches can’t convert a single student in those conditions, and in many cases, took believers (as I am sure some of them were when they arrived as impressionable 12-year-olds) and turned them into atheists, they’ve got fuck all chance even if they win and get their hour or two a week*.

* which they shouldn’t have in a government school system anyway, but that’s another discussion for another day.

Stepping Up

My father was the eldest of two – his brother was three years younger. By their mid 20s, both brothers were married. In our house, there were three kids, plus two younger ones adopted later. In my uncle’s house, four kids. Even though I had cousins through my mothers branch, it was my paternal clan – those who shared my name – who always felt the way I’ve always understood as cousins. You know the sort – a second family, almost as close as your own siblings in a musketeers kind of way.

My father’s death seven years ago changed my mode of thinking about that clan. Even though my grandparents are still alive, and so is Dad’s younger brother, there’s been increasingly a feeling within me that the time was upon us for the younger generation to step up and take responsibility for the running of the tribe.

Last night, I realised my cousin, Marquis, is feeling in a similar way.

Marquis rang me to let me know our great-uncle had died. Unfortunately, in my first week at a new job, I can’t take time off to travel to Newcastle for the funeral tomorrow. But talking to Marquis about the fading of our grandparents’ generation, it seems he feels as I do – that the baton of leadership and responsibility is being passed on – specifically in relation to being custodians of the tribal history.

Being A Regular

How bad is it I know the names of all the staff at the local Subway, and they know mine?

How bad is it they knew I was disappointed when the ‘limited-time-only’ wagyu beef ended its promotional run?

How bad is it Toby [the manager] knew how happy I’d be with his news this morning – that he found a box of wagyu in another store and sent it over to my local so I could extend the ‘limited-time-only’ by a week or two?

And how bad is it that today, a day I started a new job, Toby’s news was the highlight of the day?

Some of us are beyond hope.

Slothful Weekend

The girlfriend and I did nothing this weekend. And if we’d not gone out to dinner Friday and Saturday nights, we’d have not left the house.

All up, a very successful weekend of computer games, downloaded TV and movies, and takeaway.

Sometimes, it’s just what one needs.

Solving the Refugee Issue, Cheaply

When the notorious MV Tampa sailed into Australian politics in 2001, our beloved leader told the nation he’d decide who came to Australia. We sent the boatload of people to Nauru to postpone the problem of the refugees until after the 2001 election.

And then, we assessed most the Tampa boat people were genuine refugees, and we let them into Australia.

For the privilege, we paid Nauru’s government, and various private companies who looked after the refugees hundreds of millions of dollars. I saw a report about four years ago which said we’d have been better off giving every family unit on MV Tampa a house in suburban Brisbane instead of sending them to Nauru.

Now, we spend over $60,000 a year on each refugee claimant while we assess their claims. The argument goes that we need to keep them in detention so we don’t lose track of them.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to pay them the average wage (ie less than $60,000 a year) to live in the community while they’re assessed? They can work, they can contribute to the society, they can send their kids to school. And if we’re paranoid they’ll vanish, have them report to the local police station every few days.

And in the process, we’d save millions of dollars. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it?

Robopocalypse

I tried. I really did. I tried to like this book. But I couldn’t.

My girlfriend bought it home from her recent trip to the US. She bought it in Los Angeles airport, intending to read it on the LAX-SYD leg of her trip home. But she also bought a Pratchett book, and read that instead.

Even though the premise of this novel is a staple of science fiction [machines become sentient & fight mankind], I thought Wilson might have given it a fresh treatment so I gave him a go. Almost a hundred pages in though, I’m waving the white flag and I’m not going any further.

The book’s written as a collection of reports compiled after ‘the war’, written first-person but with each chapter written through a different set of eyes. A veteran soldier from the war; a Japanese factory worker; an army technician in Afghanistan. None of these voices though are convincing. They all read like a teenage author trying to ‘put on a voice’. Badly.

Given Robopocalypse is Wilson’s debut novel, this weakness is understandable. But the publicity glare I’ve seen around this book isn’t. It’s a long way from being a must-read, or even finish-able.

The Truth is Out There

I hadn’t heard of Amina Abdallah Araf ol Omari, the now notorious “Gay Girl in Damascus” blogger until she was ‘abducted’ last week. I didn’t followed her story because, to be honest, the Syrian protest movement didn’t interest me much. The first I heard was the claim that she’d been abducted by goons in a van with a bumper sticker indicating they were employed by a relative of the Syrian leader. To me, that detail – the bit about the van with the sticker – made it all smell a bit fishy. But I’ve never been to Syria and maybe it’s normal for hired goons to drive around with markings making it obvious who they’re working for?

Reading the story of Amina’s unmasking, and especially the work done by Electronic Intifada and Liz Henry, got me interested in the story though. I enjoy stories of the cyber-deceivers finding their stories unraveling, and this story was a great illustration. Once the ball started rolling, it was inevitable Tom MacMaster would be exposed soon enough. The only question became ‘when?’.

The other fascinating aspect of the story is one put forward by Liz Henry – that the ease of faking a blog identity means there is a very real likelihood such ‘fake bloggers’ could be used in the propaganda industry especially by intelligence agencies.

Evil Banana Returns

I don’t use categories or tags on my blog. I used to. But I got to wondering what the difference was between them, and noone I read seemed to know. So I just ditched them.

But while I was using them, I reserved a category called “Evil Banana” for stories of my adventures taking on those who’ve treated me unacceptably. Especially the story of the bloke who ran into my car, left a business card admitting he did it, then trying to get out of paying for the damage. [The first bitThe second bit. The third bit.]

The reality is I hate being an evil banana. I hate having to strap on my sword, unpack my shield and go riding off to fight some battle against a shitball who’s stolen from me, or busted something of mine and spend my time extracting recompense. I’m sure there’s people in my past who think I enjoy it. But just because I’m good at it [and I am] doesn’t mean I enjoy it.

Coz deep down, I’m a lazy fuck. I’d prefer to spend my days eating pizza, playing computer games, or watching downloaded TV shows. I literally become ill at the prospect of confronting my enemies. So I put off the moment for as long as possible, until it cannot be postponed any longer.

However, once the dogs of war are unleashed, I see little point in showing any mercy.

Frozen

Everything is on hiatus.

The situation in my office grows more intolerable by the day. And that needs sorting before anything else. So the Novocastrian project, the band I am helping promote, everything else, all go on hold.

Until it’s sorted, every day of fronting up there is a challenge.

I’ve begun to consider that, when I find something else, I’ll just give them notice and walk out. Even if it means sacrificing what they owe me. Walk out, and be free of them. It’d cost me maybe a week or two’s worth of pay. Lost annual leave, and the pay they owe me. But I’d be out of there, and able to start afresh somewhere else. And maybe not burn bridges?

But then, I remember how they stole from me, and almost all their other employees. And broke so many laws I’m struggling to work out which one I find most offensive. And I remember what Marko Ramius said.

Opening My Eyes

Recently, I wrote of Allan Kessing and his story. And in response to a commenter, I wrote that the more we open our eyes to the poor behaviour of the government and their agents, the more we see. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially in my follow-up pieces on the Ben Grubb affair [1, 2 and 3].

In recent years, confronting my own legal battles, I have read a lot from this ‘genre’ – those who have run up against the establishment and been poorly treated by it. I think my readings began to the story of Graham Stafford who was wrongly convicted of murder in the mid 1990s in Queensland. Stafford has since been released, but according to the police, remains a suspect. But the Queensland Police refuse to give him the re-trial ordered by the courts, or investigate the case further to determine who the actual murderer was. [ABC's Australian Story covered the case - here's the link if you'd like to watch]

From reading up on the Stafford case, I came across two similar cases – that of Andrew Mallard in Perth and Andrew Fitzherbert [an alternate link about his case] in Brisbane. Both were convicted of murder on flimsy evidence and Mallard at least has been released and given compensation, largely thanks to an investigative journalist, Colleen Egan, and a rottweiler-style lawyer/parliamentarian John Quigley.

I looked further and found the story of John Button in Perth. He served five years in the 1960s for the murder of his girlfriend, despite Eric Edgar Cooke on death row confessing to the girl’s murder. It took forty years for Button to be cleared, with the help of journalist Estelle Blackburn.

Blackburn’s research also helped clear another man, Darryl Beamish, who served 15 years for another of Cooke’s murders.

Of even more concern was the case I read about Colin Campbell Ross in Melbourne. He was executed for the murder of a school girl in Melbourne, although the evidence even at the time of his trial makes one baffled to read it. How can a judge allow a pathologist to claim golden hair and auburn hair came from the same head?

And if anyone’s still curious, try reading the stories of Lindy Chamberlain which every Australian alive in 1980 knows well; or Alexander McLeod-Lindsay – convicted of the attempted murder of his wife, despite her giving evidence that the man who beat her was not her husband.

And the absurd case of Natasha Ryan, the teenage girl located hiding at her boyfriend’s house while another man – Leonard John Fraser – was on trial for her murder. How, in a professionally investigated murder case, do police find sufficient evidence to try someone for murder when it transpired the murderer and the ‘victim’ have never met, and the victim is still breathing? Maybe my friends at Queensland Police might want to answer that? It baffles me noone in the media’s asked them yet.

It is easy to dismiss these as isolated incidents. Until you read each story and see patterns emerging. Patterns where the investigators decide early in the story who is guilty, and only focus on evidence to prove their theory. Evidence which does not fit the theory is discarded or opposing witnesses never taken to trial.

One must also remember these are the high-profile cases only. If there are this many erroneous cases with murder cases, how many occur in lesser investigations?

I know first hand of cases where police have charged someone with stealing what turned out to be their own vehicle, from a street that did not exist [James Street Clayfield, if you care to check - there is no James street in the Brisbane suburb of Clayfield. The nearest James street is in New Farm, about 5 kilometres away]. Yet only on the day of the trial were the charges withdrawn. And another of a search warrant being issued based on the theory that two people were the same individual based on them both having email addresses on the same ["@gmail.com"] domain. (Google’s statistics at the time stated there were 146 million gmail users the month that search warrant was executed)

How much public money is wasted on such nonsense?

I grew up the son of a police officer, and the grandson of a police officer. I was going to join myself, and completed much of the training informally while my father taught at the Academy. The police and the establishment should be able to hold my faith without much effort. But their transparent incompetence and ineffectiveness means the more I look, the more they lose credibility.

Shocked, the reader who has left a couple of comments on my blog thus far asks if I want to know more about the stories the Press wont touch. In reply? Absolutely. Lies flourish in the dark. Sunlight is the ultimate disinfectant.

Blind Faith

Following my pieces last week on the Queensland Police Media Unit and the Ben Grubb case, I have been contacted by a couple of people who disagree with what I have written.

One of them was just random abuse. The other tried to engage me in a debate where their position seemed to be that police don’t lie, but journalists lie all the time, and so the claim the police lied must be untrue and should therefore be deleted.

Grubb’s recording of the arrest, available on the Sydney Morning Herald website, backs his version of the incident. And the Queensland Police Media Unit admitted they said something incorrect, and said to me last week they cleared their statements from high within the Police.

This is a great example of the mindset I find bizarre. The mindset that says “Police always tell the truth, and anyone who contradicts them must be lying” despite evidence to the contrary.

I could understand this attitude in a place like England, with its rigid hierarchical society. But Australia began as a convict society. You would think we’d have an entrenched cynicism of accepting the ‘official version’. Yet we seem to be a nation of gullible fools. I’ve no idea why.

Digging for Truth

My last blog post was written on the assumption that @QPSMedia, the Twitter account of the Queensland Police Service’s media unit, knowingly tweeted untrue information when they sent on Tuesday night:

@bengrubb was not arrested. He was interviewed briefly by police. iPad has been seized but will be returned asap. Investigation ongoing

After that post was posted, I received a comment from the Executive Director of Queensland Police Media, Kym Charlton. Amongst other things, Kym says:

@QPSmedia sought – and obtained- clearance for the information tweeted at a high level. There was absolutely no intention to mislead

If Kym Charlton’s comment is taken at face value, what we learn from this is:

  1. the tweet in question was approved at a high level, presumably from someone with an understanding of the issue and a knowledge of the Grubb case; and
  2. @QPSMedia, at the time the tweet was sent, believed the information it contained was true.

In a reply-comment, I asked “were @QPSMedia making a false statement intentionally, or inadvertently when they tweeted that?”, but since I had Kym Charlton’s twitter address, I asked Kym:

So, Tuesday night, you were told he wasn’t arrested? Or you said he wasn’t without checking its veracity?

Kym replied:

Not sure I can make it any clearer than in my posted comment. Thanks for using it.

If we accept Kym’s statements as true, as I tweeted:

The only conclusion one can draw from that is @QPSMedia were told an untruth and repeated it. Which again backs my primary point.

The ‘primary point’ I was referring to was that if @QPSMedia is going to make inaccurate statements either by being untrue, or by being lied to by the wider Police, then their usefulness which relies on their credibility is crucially flawed.

At this point, Kym’s underling, James Kliemt, stepped up to the plate.

James: Only conclusion? Not at all possible for it to have been a miscommunication? You never had a miscommunication yourself?
Dermott: Was it? I’m not the one clamming up. I’m willing to listen to alternative theories. Got any?
James: I already gave you one
Dermott: No. You asked questions. I’m trying to find the truth. So, what is the truth?
James: I gave you an answer and asked you a question. Again, have you ever been involved in a miscommunication?
Dermott: Were the Media Unit lied to? Or did they not check the arrest claim before denying it?
James: I’ve answered your question you have not answered mine. Am happy to talk but not if you just want to play semantic games
Dermott: Fine. If you don’t want to answer questions about what happened, you leave the issue open to interpretation
Dermott: I’m not the one trying to convince you of anything. You were trying to convince me Media Unit weren’t lied to. I’m waiting.
James: Was hoping for a mature discussion, have a nice life Dermott
Dermott: So discuss – were the Media Unit lied to? Or did they know what they wrote was untrue?

I’m not quite sure what James thinks is mature discussion. But he arrived in the discussion with an objection to the conclusion I’d come to, and completely failed to present any alternate scenario. A ‘miscommunication’? His boss told me the tweet in question was cleared on high. Are we to believe Queensland Police Media are so inept that saying someone wasn’t arrested when they were was a miscommunication?

The situation now is that I believe Queensland Police Media believed the information they sent out this week at the time it was sent. I also believe their tweets about issues of moment – such as the Grubb situation – are cleared on high (as I believed all along they would have been).

So the inescapable conclusion is that they’re lied to. By the Queensland Police.

Kym & James’ refusal to deny it, when it was put to them directly several times, only reinforces that conclusion.

Blowing Credibility

For the last few days, I have been following the progress of the Ben Grubb case. A lot’s been written about it, what happened, who should be believed and the competence or otherwise of the police involved. One aspect of the story seems to have been ignored though.

Tuesday, @bengrubb said at 17:45 “I’ve been arrested by Queensland Police for a story I wrote today. They’ve also seized my iPad. #AusCERT”

Then at 18:08 (only 23 mins later): “I have been officially released from being under arrest. My iPad is still seized. #AusCERT”

It’s been a couple of days, and in that time, Grubb’s recording of the police questioning and the police officer asking for Grubb’s iPad, his refusal, the arrest, the discussion about taking of the iPad, and the ‘un-arrest’ has been available to listen to on the Sydney Morning Herald website. So there can hardly be any debate as to Grubb’s version of events.

By contrast, the Queensland Police Media Unit tweeted at 19:01 “We can find no reference to an arrest of @bengrubb. If anyone can provide more info, we can chase up further?”

Then, later Tuesday evening: “@bengrubb was not arrested. He was interviewed briefly by police. iPad has been seized but will be returned asap. Investigation ongoing”

At 9.22am the next day, Wednesday, @QPSMedia conceded it was wrong Tuesday night: “Our bad @bengrubb was arrested for questioning briefly Our tweet last night was based on information provided at the time Apologies #Auscert”

The excuse for this error seems to be that the Media Unit are victims of delayed information. This does not hold water.

On Tuesday evening, @QPSMedia knew details of the arrest. Their tweet stating the iPad had been seized indicates they had information about the case. To get that, someone from the Media Unit had to go to the relevant officers involved with the case, and find out what was going on. If that happened, and it must have, then their tweet on Tuesday evening stating Grubb had not been arrested was clearly a lie. They knew he had been.

Why does this matter?

In January, the @QPSMedia twitter account was a major source of information relating to the floods in Toowoomba, the Lockyer valley, Ipswich and Brisbane. The public came to trust it as a source of accurate and important information, and for its service of dispelling myths which were disseminating.

By lying to the public, as they have done this week, @QPSMedia have trashed their goodwill and their reputation. Now we’ve seen they will tweet information they know to be lies, why should the public trust them? They’ve shot themselves squarely in the foot. Fucken plonkers.

Allan Kessing

The other day, I was browsing around the ABC website, and found a podcast of a conversation between Richard Fidler & Allan Kessing.

Most people haven’t heard of Kessing. But he’s a kind of hero of mine, mainly for the attitude with which he’s approached his situation. About ten years ago, he was working for Customs, and he wrote a report which took a year or so into the appalling state of security in Sydney airport, after the World Trade Centre attacks of 2001. Since his report contained some unpalatable truths, it was filed away and none of his recommendations were implemented.

Several years later, Deputy PM & Transport Minister John Anderson resigned when Kessing’s report was leaked to the newspapers, and the AFP & Customs decided Kessing was responsible. They investigated him, charged and tried him, and he was convicted. The case seems to have been based entirely on circumstantial evidence, and it’s clear Kessing knows what really happened, but isn’t going to say who the true leaker was. Kessing’s now spent all his money on legal bills, and is convicted and broke.

His case has been championed by Senator Nick Xenophon, but not much has happened in Kessing’s battles in the last few years. He’s recently found documentary evidence which was withheld by the Crown at his trial which shows the inappropriate behaviour of Customs, the AFP and the way his case was dealt with.

Despite how appallingly he’s been treated, he’s quite positive in his approach to it all. This comes out in the chat he has with Fidler, and Fidler’s interview technique is perfect for a chat like this. I’d recommend having a listen. Even though most people treat podcasts the way my girlfriend does – she downloads them, then never listens to them.

Speed Cameras

I got into a bit of a discussion with someone on Twitter about speed cameras, and whether the ACT Liberals are irresponsible if they fail to support more of them being introduced. I was challenged to back my assertion their effectiveness at reducing road deaths is minimal.

So I went looking for some data.

2006: ACT road toll 12
2007: ACT road toll 17
2008: ACT road toll 14

The ACT introduced fixed speed cameras in 2006. It didn’t bring down their road toll the following year, and didn’t give them a lower road toll than pre-cameras in 2008 either.

And, as someone I asked replied: If cameras are about the road toll, why aren’t they installed on roads where fatal accidents are more common (eg Cotter Road, Kuringa Drive) but are instead installed where fatalities are fewer, but potential revenue is higher such as major intersections in the centre of the city?

I have no doubt speed is a factor in many road deaths. Inattention, inexperience, alcoholic impairment are all major factors as well. But the mantra that speed cameras reduce road tolls is flawed. Road tolls are trending up in NSW, and they’re expanding their camera coverage.

Camera enforcement is also the cheapskate option. A better option is to put more police in marked cars patrolling the roads. But they cost more. A camera can sit there 24/7 with a much lower maintenance cost spitting out infringement notices.

Self-Censorship

I hate censorship. Hate it more than most, and have had some rather unique experiences with it.

But last night, I wrote a blog post which I soon after made ‘private’ on advice. The advice was unwelcome at first, but I soon realised that writing about dis-satisfaction at work in the candid way I did could be potentially damaging, especially for me. Well, of course for me. Because if it’s damaging for anyone else – my employer for example – I couldn’t really give a toss.

My question for the day therefore is what do other bloggers self-censor?

Straw on a Camel’s Back

Tomorrow marks three months at my new job. A few weeks ago, I’d resigned myself to probably staying in this job for a while, and getting other things in my world straightened before even beginning to think of starting the whole job-hunt thing again. The list of unacceptable behaviours though has become overwhelming in the last week or two, so arranging a new job has jumped to the top of my priorities.

It began with the boss smoking like a chimney. Earlier in spring, that was mostly avoidable because he’d do so in the warehouse, not in our offices (his office is next to mine, and the high traffic flow makes closing the door not a very effective solution). The colder weather coming on though means the cigarette smoke is now in the two offices, making it much more pervasive and sickening.

In the last fortnight though, a barrage of other issues have snow-balled and destroyed my tolerance.

I’m paid cash, in an envelope. There’s tax taken out, and so it’s not to avoid tax that I’m paid cash. I think it’s just more convenient for the boss. From early in my time there though, it’s been bugging me that almost every payday, my pay envelope is light by a few dollars. Not enough to be a big deal, but enough to be noticeable, and irritating. I’m not sure what the rationale is, but on Friday, I asked the boss’ son about it. He admitted it happens, when I asked if there was a reason he said “Yes” but ringing telephones got in the way of me asking the next logical question – “why?” I’ll get the answer to that tomorrow. But whatever the reason, the end effect is a dwindling of my loyalty to the job.

The other issue with my pay that’s been gnawing at me is about public holidays. I wasn’t paid for Canberra Day (Monday 14 March). My pay took a hit that week, but it was manageable, so I didn’t pursue the matter. The 5-day long weekend though for Easter & Anzac Day meant I missed out on three days’ pay in one week and that *did* impact. So I’ve been looking into the issue. On Friday, I found out as a permanent employee, I should have been paid for all public holidays that fall on a weekday where I’d normally be at work (here).

I checked the payslips for everyone (they’re kept in a drawer of my desk at the office) and it seems noone else was paid for those days either. What that means is this ripping off employees is systematic. This means when I ask about it, in a confused manner “Hey, I didn’t get paid for the public holidays, can we fix that up?” I expect less than total compliance.

The other factor in all this is I went to see one of the unions last week, to query which was the most appropriate union to join. I got chatting to the union chap, and I mentioned I was paid in cash each week. He said that is often a way of avoiding tax – which I knew, but doesn’t seem to be the case with my pay. I mentioned to him though how most the staff at my work get two payslips, a blue one and a white one.  The blue one is for the “cash component”. I’ve never had an adequate explanation of what that cash component is all about. I originally suspected the boss was paying most of the staff on the blue payslips so their pay which *should* have penalty rates for weekends was at the normal rate, but tax-free. But I’m not sure about that. It’s another thing I’m trying to find out through soft questioning, so as not to appear too suspicious.

The union bloke told me that, as the payroll is done at my PC, even though it’s done after hours by the boss’ wife, I could be implicated in the tax avoidance if that’s what they’re up to.

That warning was sufficient. I’ve now decided to find out what is going on, and also to get out of there as fast as I can.

So once again, the job hunt is on. It’ll be a bit of a juggling act, scheduling interviews around my work. But I should be able to fudge my way around it.

Status Reports

Because games of Civilization can last for several days at a time – especially the way I play them at the slowed-down Epic pace setting – I got into a habit with Eccles of having email discussions describing the game the way one would describe the history of an empire as if it’d really existed.

Today, describing a game (well, the first half of one anyway) I’d played over the last few days, I sent this:

Paris was founded at the northern end of a triangular landmass. To the northwest were the Venetians; to the south east, the Belgians. And in the far south, the Greeks.

Eventually, a stalemate line was formed along some swampland between the Greeks. The Venetians sided with us, the Belgians with the Greeks. We grew faster, so had an edge in technology and numbers.
But our superior size made the French empire harder to manage.

In a brief war, we managed to grab Knossus, giving us a sliver of land south of the border-swamps. We then made peace with the Greeks, because they offered us their only luxury goods (gold) as a bribe. A Maginot Line of forts was built to minimise the number of troops needed to hold the Greeks in place.

We were still at war with the Belgians, so our troops freed up by the line of forts were thrown against Belgium. Belgium was soon conquered, but meanwhile the Greeks managed to build Mycenae north of Belgium. If it remained and grew, it’d cause the next Greek war to be two fronts, and we all know how badly that could turn out.

A fresh war was opened against the Greeks – the Maginot Line defended while the bulk of L’Grande Armee quickly torched Mycenae. As the French forces marched south to attack Greece, a diplomatic coup by Greece saw the Venetians switch sides. Occupying Venice therefore took priority so it became French before the larger war could be won.

Then, the grind was on against the Greeks.

As the AI often does, the Greeks threw their army at the defences. Their troop numbers built up during the peace were eventually worn down, and from then their was only a matter of time. Argos fell, giving a back door to the Greek capital. Athens was to be the real prize, as it held the Pyramids, the Oracle and the Colossus. Once Athens fell, the Greek empire was split - Corinth at one end, and Sparta at the other.

Sparta held out the longest, and for its resistance, the French burned it to the ground, replacing it with the new French city of Cherbourg.

Only then was a world beyond our land discovered. Some small landmasses, and one large continent with Russians, Arabs, English, Aztecs, Iriquois, Germans and many many smaller city states. The dominant Russians were friendly and much trade was done. But they were (are?) technologically advanced, and very large. The Germans, Arabs, Aztecs and even the English gradually fell under Moscovite rule.
As the world’s second power, the days of France are probably numbered in the long term, but for now, French is the native tongue of a third of the world’s population.

Maybe it’d be more in character if I wrote it in French? What d’ya reckon? :p

Luck

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m broke this week because of not being paid for the public holidays around Easter & Anzac Day. So I was sitting at my desk yesterday not doing much, and wondering if my girlfriend and I had enough cash to get through until Friday when both of us get paid, when I found a birthday card buried under the piles of books and papers on my desk. I’d opened the card back in February, then promptly forgotten about the scratchies inside. I scratched them, and found I’d won $9 on one, and $50 on another. It’s not a fortune, but it’ll take the edge off the next day or two until payday.

Thank the gods for grandmothers who send scratchies for birthdays.

Not Home

Today, I am not in Newcastle.

I am meant to be. To attend the meeting of the Newcastle Lunaticks Society, a mob who get together every few weeks. As their site says, they are:

a society of prominent Newcastle digital and social media enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, creatives, developers, tech leaders, investors and others, who want to encourage creative thinking and new ideas in a digital world.

My new project will overlap with what some of their members do, so I wanted to get along to some of their meetings, meet the relevant people, and work out how we could assist each other. At first, I thought some of them might be potential competitors, but I’ve fine-tuned the goals of my project a bit, so it’ll dovetail with what exists already back home.

I’m not going for financial reasons. The public holidays around Easter severely impacted my last pay [I've got some questions about why, as a permanent employee I'm not paid on public holidays, but that's something I'm investigating] so I have neither the fuel nor hotel money to be away for a day or two for a Tuesday evening meeting.

At least, being digital and social media enthusiasts, their meetings are streamed online, so I’ll join the meeting at my desk this evening. It’ll be the first time I’ll have participated in an online-meeting like that, so it may be quite educational.

Was George III really mad?

One of the advantages of not having a television is our household barely noticed last week’s royal wedding. The highlight of this week of focus on the royals though is this video, which addresses the economics of the royalty to Britain. The transcript is here.

I’m a republican, and always will be. But the video explains the British monarch, three hundred years ago, cut a deal with the parliament to provide an income stream in exchange for the profits from the monarch’s lands. The deal though has always favoured the government by a factor of around 200%. So on that deal, the government is better off. And that’s without counting the tourism benefits which are considerable.

The upshot of it all is that, economically, the British are better off with their system. The colonies though? We derive no economic benefit.

Is the Banana Doomed?

There is a spate of search engine hits on my blog for search terms like “The Banana is doomed” and “Is the Banana doomed?”

I’ve no idea what it’s all about, but it kind of amuses me when this sort of thing happens.

Here’s an unrelated picture:

Sold at Last

I’ve stated a few times I’ve been wanting someone to sell me on the idea of a publicly-funded National Broadband Network. I have decided, after watching the 4 Corners episode on it recently, and reading this article at New Matilda, that public funding of the network is required.

Until now, I believed the network could be built by private industry where it would be profitable, and government should then make the decision about what to do about the rest of it, on a case-by-case basis. Until seeing the 4 Corners program, I believed this would mean places like the top 10 cities in the country (state capitals, plus large regionals like Newcastle, Geelong, Wagga etc) would get a network provided by private industry.

The 4 Corners program pointed out a network built with profit being the driving force would mean a network that did not even extend beyond the inner suburbs of Sydney & Melbourne. Such a network would be inadequate.

I do believe an NBN would be crippled if the capacity between Australia and the rest of the world continues to be a bottleneck; and I believe the only long-term solution to the need for a larger and larger cross-Pacific cable is for more content to be created and hosted locally.

At the moment, with the largest portion of internet traffic for Australian users being for sites like Facebook, YouTube and similar sites hosted in North America, giving Australians more bandwidth that bottlenecks in the Pacific Ocean will end up achieving very little.

Lazy Susan – Long Lost

My favourite band of those who are still performing, Lazy Susan, played a gig on Sunday I went to Sydney for. The gig was at the Annandale Hotel, a legendary venue where I’d never been before. But it turned out to be a lovely place, and an ideal layout for a pub.

The idea of the gig was they’d play their first album – Long Lost – in its entirety. It was released back in 2001, and includes several songs Triple J caught onto back then – SkywritersClumsy, Bobby Fischer and Canada. [Links are YouTube clips]

At previous gigs, Paul Andrews sang all the songs even though Pete Wilson (his co-writer and the band’s guitarist) sang two or three songs on the original CD. I’d never noticed they swapped vocals on the CD, and when I found out on Sunday, I realised that Pete Wilson’s songs were some of my favourites [Too Close for Comfort, Fresh Air, Skywriters]. On listening to the CD now though – as I did on the drive home Monday – Pete Wilson’s voice does sound more mellow, with an almost English flavour to it.

The encore was their latest single – Find Me a Way Back Into Your Heart.

It was, by far, the best Lazy Susan gig I’ve ever been to. That they were playing my favourite album obviously helped.

Nutbags in Public

I’ve just come home from a public talk held at the university. The topic was the new book by Andrew Fowler, about Julian Assange called “The most dangerous man in the world”

The talk was okay, despite a bit too little direction and flow, but what irked me was the question and answer session that came afterwards.

Whenever there’s a slightly controversial topic under discussion in any public gathering, and the floor is open to questions, inevitably what happens is the nutbag conspiratorial element with their insane worldviews start using the opportunity not to ask questions, but to soapbox.

So instead of hearing the thoughts of a journo who’d interviewed Assange and written a book about him, we got to hear boring old bearded idiots telling us how the reporting of the Wikileaks news saga is dominated by some cabal of Murdochian newspaper editors.

I hate people. They’re all idiots.

Defence Dramas

The dramas coming out of the Defence Department in recent weeks wouldn’t come as a surprise to many who, like me, have worked as a civilian alongside military staff. Defence has two types of personnel. The first are the ones they like to showcase – officers with 15-20 years experience who take a ‘get it done’ approach to their work, and treat those around them (superiors and underlings) as colleagues. The second are the narrow-mindset type who want what they want, and behave like spoiled two year olds when they don’t get it.

I was a civilian in Defence from my first job out of school (1990) for five years. I then went to the ATO for two years, before returning to Defence until my public servant “career” ended in 1998. During my last stint in Defence, I was working in the publishing unit of the Army’s officer college, RMC Duntroon. During the Duntroon stint, I was the only civilian in an office with 3 soldiers.

The fact I had different conditions of service seemed difficult for my workmates to grasp. I didn’t have to come in at 7am for sessions of running around the oval. If I worked outside my normal hours, I got time off on other occasions or I got paid overtime. If I had approved study-leave time to attend university, I could leave for an hour here or there during the week to attend classes.

The differences caused some friction, especially with my supervisor, a Warrant Officer. On one occasion, I declined an instruction to publish a menu for a business owned by the spouse of a staff member of another area of Duntroon. As I explained, my job was to do work for the college, its staff and its students, not the private commercial concerns of their families. It was a clear-cut case of misuse of government resources. I thought the refusal would be the end of the matter. I hadn’t counted on the peculiarly dysfunctional second mindset I mentioned above.

I was sent home. On full pay. While the Warrant Officer, their superior (an Army Captain) and the heirarchy of Duntroon investigated whether my actions were legitimate, and what to do about them.

Three weeks later, I attended a meeting with the Captain, a Brigadier, and my union representative to discuss the matter.

Almost 15 months later, I received a letter from the Brigadier advising that my refusal had been deemed inappropriate, and I should return to duty. No reasons were given, but the Warrant Officer had been reassigned in the meantime.

Fifteen months. On full pay. To deal with a situation (badly, in my opinion) which should have taken about fifteen minutes.

If that’s how badly they managed a pretty clear-cut case of misuse of government resources, and a junior civil servant who refused an instruction, it doesn’t shock me at all the way they’ve mismanaged the latest round of allegations of poor management.

Postscript: I resigned rather than return to RMC. I’d been working in my dream job while unable to attend my public service job, so I stayed there. I’ve refused work for the government ever since.

A Lesson from Captain Ramius

With the emergence of “the Project“, it’s increasingly unlikely I’ll ever again have the sort of time I once had for things like EVE-Online. There was a time, not all that long ago, when I had two computers running half a dozen hours each evening controlling the adventures of my two main characters – Flavan & Xuna Sennakharib – as they tried to make money, and stay alive in that harsh and unforgiving galaxy.

Along the way, friends were made, great corporations were joined and wars were fought. At one stage, I think in November 2009, a corporation I was part of even built a permanent station [one of the largest peaceful accomplishments in EVE]. Out in JP4-AA system. In the barely navigated areas of the Delve region. Looking back at the photo taken of that station, I remember the friends I made and it’s them I miss. It’s not the possessions or the in-game cash. But the friends I made along the way and the comraderie.

JP4-AA Starbase

I recently was given a week’s free access, and I used it to log in, and give most of my in-game assets to a friend who now lives in the UK. That act further decreases the likelihood I’ll ever wear the pod-pilot uniform again.

When he reached the new world, Cortez burned his ships.
As a result, his men were well motivated
Marko Ramius, The Hunt for Red October

In the event any of my former colleagues read this, fly safe.

The NBN debate

I have yet to hear a single argument in favour of the National Broadband Network which convinces me it should be built with public money.

Still. Despite raising the issue before, and asking for someone to sell me on the network.

I think greater connectivity would be a good thing. But just because something would be good doesn’t automatically mean taxpayers should pay for it. I can think of a variety of really great things which I cannot personally afford to build with my own funds. That doesn’t logically translate though into “someone else should build them” merely because I want them.

And the proponents who use lame reasons which are prettied-up versions of “I want it, but I can’t afford, so you should pay for it” I find really distasteful.

I am a million miles from an opponent of the policy. I live online. I am a longtime political lefty. But noone has yet put up one convincing argument in favour of the main question: should the government pay for it? From this, I conclude the proponents are not trying, or their arguments are woefully inadequate.

Sell me on it? Convince me. I’m not your hardest target. If you can’t persuade me, you’re screwed when it comes to the non-Cyberians.

Deleting Facebook

Those of us who dislike Facebook all have our own reasons. But once the decision to break-up with Mark Zuckerberg is made, what next? How does one break up with a website which has so insinuated itself into daily lives, and our relationships with our peers? It’s like ending a relationship with a partner when everyone you know is someone you know through them. That fear of detaching from your friends is strong, and keeps many who would otherwise leave within the cult.

However, there is a path; an escape.

Here’s how I did it.

The first step is to break your own addiction. Remove Facebook from your bookmarks, or regularly-visited site lists. This stops Facebook from being somewhere you go by habit, and when you do go there, for whatever reason, it requires a bit more effort. Even if the only effort is to type the URL into your browser.

Next is the cull. Anyone I didn’t know personally, I de-friended. The mental question I asked myself was “Have I shared a meal with this person?”. If I hadn’t, they weren’t really a friend, but someone I knew. There’s a mindset on Facebook that the more friends you list, the more popular you are, and therefore the more successful. Combined with the attitude that to reply negatively to a friend request is a slight to an acquaintance, most Facebook users have a bloated friend list.

The cull is an important step, and then you can concentrate on the people you actually want to remain in contact with. My culling took a couple of weeks, mainly because I wasn’t a heavy user who went to Facebook every day.

The next step was to open a Notepad file, and write down the email addresses of my friends. Some (about a third) didn’t list their emails, but if they didn’t, I asked myself “Do I have other ways to keep in touch with this friend? Do I have, or can I get, their phone number?”

At this point, I paused, and it took me a few months to get around to the final steps. There’s no great metaphysical reason – I just didn’t place this terribly high on the list of things to do. I’d worked out what the last bits of the plan were.

The last phase is to write a letter – again, I used Notepad – explaining to the recipients that Facebook had outlasted its usefulness for me, so I was deleting my account. I emailed it to everyone whose email addresses I’ve harvested earlier; and sent a private message in Facebook to the two or three whose emails I hadn’t found.

A few days later, I logged into Facebook, deleted my account, and it takes a fortnight for Facebook to close the account once that’s happened.

Prostituting Ourselves

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the story of Alicia Gali. She’s a 20-something Australian who was working in a hotel in the UAE when she was raped by three co-workers. When she complained to authorities, she was gaoled for a year (but served 8 months before being pardoned, released and allowed to go home).

I was disturbed about what Alicia Gali went through. It is terrible to be the victim of a crime, yet be the one targeted by the police and judiciary (territory I’m all too familiar with). But what puzzled me is why we’d not heard of her before.

Her family said they were advised by the embassy staff not to raise a fuss or go to the media because of the negative effect it would have on her. Given that she’d been raped and imprisoned, that may have been a fair judgment call. But what did DFAT do for Ms Gali during her situation? Why was there not pressure put on, at a governmental level, to have her returned home? Why do we have a government more concerned with upsetting the sensibilities of another country than with protecting their own citizens?

In the days of the Roman Empire, a Roman citizen could travel where they liked, safe in the knowledge that if harm came to them at the hand of a foreign power, retribution would occur so fierce the foreigners would beg for mercy.

But here? Now? We wont even issue a press release.

Yet how many organisations do you see wearing the logo of the Emirates airline? Owned by the government of UAE, the medieval cavemen behind this crime? Last week, I showed a picture of Ricky Ponting wearing one of their logos. Cricket Australia are happy to grovel to these untermenschen. As is the Collingwood Football team. And the Melbourne, Sydney and Western Australian symphony orchestras.

Proving quite conclusively that you can be as primitive and uncivilised as you like, as long as you have money.

Realising an Idea

When I was in Brisbane, I was impressed by the Brisbane City Council’s website OurBrisbane.com. It was packed with lots of useful information like what’s on around the city that week – festivals, gigs, cinema session times etc. It also had useful links to outside organisations for job vacancies, real estate information, weather, accommodation, public transport information.

What it lacked though was interactivity. There was no facility for readers to interact with each other. (It may have it now, I haven’t visited it much since I left Brisbane four years ago)

When I got to Canberra, there was a site The RiotACT which ran news stories, especially of a local nature, and allowed readers to comment on them.

For a while now – a couple of years at least – I’ve wanted to find something similar in my hometown [note: not the town where I live, but the town where I grew up and hope to return to - the one shown in the above picture]. Having not found what I’m looking for, I came to the conclusion it would only exist if someone built it.

So that’s what I’m doing.

At each step in the process, there’s hurdles and new lessons. I’m therefore learning a lot and spending an enormous amount of time finding many ways *not* to solve each problem. But hopefully, it’ll get easier as I go along.

One of the biggest hurdles right now stems from me living 500 kilometres from where it’s all based. There’s only so much that can be done in the virtual world. I’m therefore thinking I should try and find partners for the project who *do* currently live there. Finding the right person or people though may be a big challenge. Anyone interested?

An Irish Joke

When I was in Year 1 at school, our family moved to a house in a new suburb. Actually, to call it a suburb is a bit of exaggeration – back then it was only half a dozen streets in bushland. It was the first time though I was aware streets in an area might be named according to a theme. In this case, the theme was islands. There was Norfolk, Pitcairn, Timor, Celebes (where we lived), Luzon.

Later, when we’d lived there a while, the suburb expanded. And streets were added with names like Tasman, Lindeman, Bali, Hayman.

As happens, the circle of friends I had back then scattered as families moved on from our island-themed homeland to other places. Our suburb though continued to grow.

Recently, I was looking back at our old stomping ground in Google Maps, and noticing something’s gone haywire with the naming scheme for streets. More recent examples: Monaghan, Kildare, Antrim, Tralee, Tyrone, Kilkenny, Ballydoyle, Leinster.

It seems some town planner/developer type was told the naming pattern was ‘islands’ – ie those bits of land surrounded by water – and misheard so has been naming streets after places in Ireland.

Dear James Hird

Dear James Hird,

I am a Swans fan. But yours is my second-favourite team. Because of this, I try to make it to the Swans home game against the Bombers each year. Yesterday though, it was disappointing. But at the same time, pleasing.

It was disappointing because my team won on the back of some rather dubious umpiring decisions. A mark in the third; and a free kick in the dying minutes. Both resulted in goals and in the end, the Swans won by five points.

It was the first time since I started attending Swans games I found myself sitting there wishing the other team would win. You and your boys deserved it more. Apart from some short flashes of brilliance, my Swans were badly in need of polish. Your Bombers though seemed to be playing with thirty men on the field, such was your dominance.

The pleasing aspect of it all though was yourself. Despite being a rookie coach, only at the helm of your second game, you maintained your professionalism and not a whisper of dummy spitting, ranting to the media or such behaviour.

Wherever you learnt such restraint and maturity, at the feet of Sheeds or at Ainslie before that [my favourite ACTAFL team incidentally] or elsewhere, you did yourself proud. May your coaching career be more successful from here on

- Dermott Banana

Break a Finger

Mr 12 broke his finger today. At the base of the middle finger, on his left hand, he’s chipped a bit the size of his smallest thumbnail off. It happened during a PE class, and he confessed to me that he may have shed tears.

I found out shortly before the end of the work day, when his mum was about to take him to the hospital for some xrays. And I headed over and met them just as they were returning home.

It may sink our father-son trip to the Swans game this weekend, but that’ll be something he gets to decide between now and Saturday.

Because of the location of the break, there’s little that can be done for him except painkillers for the next week or two.

I think this is his first break or fracture. Knowing his reckless nature, it wont be the last.

End of an Era

And good riddance.

I’ve never been a fan of retiring Australian captain Ricky Ponting, and in the last four years at least, have been a vocal critic. As far as I see it, the only negative of Ponting’s departure from the top job is that he’ll be replaced by Michael Clarke.

Whatever his abilities as a batsman – and his batting form faded to the point where he should have been ditched at least a year ago – his style as a public figure, player and captain has always been inappropriate.

Remembering Vichy

In 20th century history, Vichy France is an enigma and so I’ve always been curious about it. France was seated alongside the victorious powers at the end of the war, but noone seems to acknowledge that for four years, France was ruled by a puppet government. After the war, some individuals in the regime were tried for collaborating. Most though switched allegiances, many claiming they were freedom-loving Frenchmen all along. That last included even later-dominant politicians like François Mitterand.

I found a review online today of a book written by the grandson of one of the high-profile (but forgiven) collaborators. The book’s only available in French right now, but I’m hoping a translation wont be too long.

Latest Really Cool Stuff

Even though I have backed off from Twitter – it’s easy to let it take up too much of your consciousness when you’re at the PC – I continue to be impressed by some of the really cool stuff that gets shared, when sharing is so easy.

Check out this for example:

It’s an animation from a US media site of the various modules that went into making the International Space Station, as it is today. I wanted to link the image to the animation. But I don’t know the code to do that. To see the animation, click here.

Something else I discovered – which I admit I was at first pretty dubious of – is the Paper.li site, which reads your Twitter feed for the previous day or so, and turns it all into a ‘newspaper’ looking page. It does require your Twitter username and password, but it’s not like that could cause me any more than an annoyance if the operators of the paper.li site decided to misuse the access. Here’s my latest newspaper, just to demonstrate.

Welcome Back Swans, How I Have Missed You

This afternoon, the Swans are back in action. I last saw them defeating Carlton at the Homebush Olympic Stadium in September, and I’ll next see them at the same venue next week against Essendon. For the season-opener though, they’re (as I type) punishing the Demons at the G.

They’ve been missed.

2011′s not a great draw though, so I’ll likely only get to two or three games. Next week against Essendon, maybe one other Sydney game, and their annual visit to Canberra. If I were really in the money, I’d go to their Gabba game on June 4, but that’d be a real stretch. We’ll see?

A New Project

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about a new project. Forming the idea, wondering how it’d work, thinking up ways to manage it. About a fortnight ago, I threw myself into it quite heartily. But then was derailed for around a week when my girlfriend and I went through a “we should break up” phase.

That phase didn’t last, so I’ve been able to get back into my project with some gusto, and the result is it’s almost ready to fly.

Which, quite frankly, impresses me. It’s something I’ve wanted to try out for some time, and since turning 40 last month, I’ve been feeling the need to achieve something. This will therefore be my something.

I’m not going to show anyone yet, because it’s not yet ready for the public. But its time is soon.

‘Alfred’ the Sham

I do not believe much can be gained from censoring commenters to a blog. However, I have declined to approve, or unapproved, several comments today from the commenter calling himself Deadman – for disclosing personal information about ‘Alfred’ and himself.

It seems Deadman is Alfred’s father. And as someone commented earlier on the ‘Alfred’ blog post, this appears to be a case of a parent using their offspring’s identity rather than their own. Deadman/Alfred is also telling porkies about his origin – since his IP address is tracing him back to a rather prominent corporation which has been involved in political and legal battles with the Tasmanian Green movement for at least a decade.

Thus, I’m declaring the Alfred blog to be a fraud, and closing the book on it.

Bullshit Detector

This morning, I saw someone on Twitter passing around this article from the UK’s Telegraph. Apparently, some Tasmanian school kid had been ostracised for speaking against the Greens regarding climate change. So I went and had a read of his blog, and the bullshit detector started beeping. Why?

  • A high school student named Alfred? Not impossible, but unusual in this day and age. He may exist, or he may be a fictional creation. Not enough by itself to shoot down the blog, but enough to raise suspicions.
  • ‘Alfred’ had argued with his teacher about her claims, but offered nothing more than unbacked claims: “My reaction thereto was that anthropogenic global warming was a hoax, another way for Greens, politicians and other greedy bastards to get even more money so that they can go get a new jet or a great big house right next to the sea” and “My reaction was to cry out, “What?”” If Alfred were the real deal, I’d expect to see him justifying his position by offering something more than mere disbelief.
  • Alfred’s origins – “my second year attending a public high school in southern Hobart” – made me suspicious. I also have a son in the second year of high school, and he would never say he was in his second year of high school, but instead call it “Year 8″. Referring to high school years using numbering exclusive of primary school years is something that went out of fashion in Australia around the time my parents were at school.
  • Alfred also writes of a ‘six-month project’. From my familiarity with students that age, projects are ‘first term’ or ‘two term’ projects. A six-month project would be two and a half terms, and that’s an unusual timeframe for any classroom activity.
  • Alfred also refers to “sea levels will rise by twenty feet or more” in quoting his teacher. Yet every teacher teaching today was taught metres, not feet. The idea that a teacher (let alone a teenager born decades after feet stopped being used as a unit of measurement) would quote figures in a unit that predated even her own education is far-fetched.
  • Alfred also talks about ‘hurricanes’. In Australia, they’re called cyclones. Maybe Alfred’s teacher is teaching from American source documents? (Or has Alfred’s blog post been altered from a story written by a North American?)
  • In Tasmania, ‘green’ politics is contentious, probably more so than anywhere else in Australia. The government itself is often labelled as being in the pay of, and seriously influenced by, the Gunns forestry company. Alfred’s story may be more credible if set somewhere more ‘Green-friendly’, but in Hobart, especially southern Hobart, it lacks the ring of truth.
  • Alfred has less credibility for being brand new. In blogging, or any online activity, being around for a while implies that the author is more honestly who they say they are, rather than if a blog has (as in Alfred’s case) only two entries: a movie review, and then a political polemic.
  • Alfred’s blog’s commenters are exclusively supportive of his position. If a blogger is swimming against the mainstream opinion, isn’t it more likely there’d be varying opinions rather than 50 comments (at latest count) where every single one is cheering him on?

I also reviewed the curriculum for Alfred’s subject. It mentions ‘environment’ as one of the strands for the subject, but in a ‘becoming aware of the physical world around them’ way of teaching the students. The ‘political’ side of environment is not part of the curriculum for Society & History in Tasmanian schools.

If Alfred’s genuine, I’d encourage him to learn the topic, and engage in intelligent debate including refuting unsubstantiated claims from all sides of the issue.

But at first glance, he appears to be a fictional creation.

Life in a Lancer

Last night, I went out to the gym. When I was leaving, I noticed at the end of our street, near the takeaway shop, was a slightly battered red Lancer with a bloke sitting in the front seat. Unusual after 9 on a Monday evening. But I paid him little mind.

An hour later, when I was coming home, he was still there, but now he was asleep in the driver’s seat.

I may be going out on a limb, but I reckon he’s one of those who live in their car. And he’d parked up there because it was lit, but not too brightly, in a quiet enough street where he’d not attract attention. Parked for the night.

As I pondered his fate while going about my Monday night, I wondered – if I were to help, how would I? And with what? Would he want a helping hand? And could it backfire on me?

I’ve never been so far down I needed to live out of my car. But I’ve been fucken close to it. Post-divorce, I carried a camp bed in the boot of my car for about five years, so if I was ever homeless enough that I needed to crash on someone’s floor, I’d at least have a bed. I’ve crashed in friends’ spare rooms, on their couches during their workday, and in many other temporary accommodations. But never in my car.

One reason I didn’t go talk to Mr Red Lancer is that I had no idea if he’d accept an approach, or if he did, what he’d want. A meal? A bed for the night? A job? The reality is I could easily offer him the first two, and probably give him a good lead on the last. But what if he was homeless because of some issue that was beyond my help? If he was an alcoholic kleptomaniac and my generosity was exploited? As wrapped up in stereotypes and prejudices as such thinking is, would being nice be something I’d come to regret? It wouldn’t be the first time my life was worsened by lack of forethought.

In the end though, I failed to act. I went to bed, and even though I gave him some thought, I dreamed about trying to balance the accounts at work, and always being $20 out.

Today, I regret not acting. I regret that someone was close by who may have needed a small bit of assistance, and I could have given it. But I didn’t. From fear, concern, prejudice. Or maybe just laziness. Who knows? Maybe he could have helped us? Helped us with the two dozen homemade party pies in the fridge from Sunday’s birthday party anyway.

Fev

About a decade ago, I saw a doco about some rookies in the AFL. Three lads who were up for the draft in 1998 – Des Headland, Adam Ramanauskas and Brendan Fevola.

Des Headland was a WA lad who was the Number 1 pick and ended up in Brisbane although he didn’t make the waves expected of him, and later went to Fremantle. He retired last season.

Ramanauskas went to Essendon. His career (1998-2008) was twice interrupted by cancer yet he played on.

Fevola went to Carlton, and later Brisbane. In each case, he got booted because of trouble with alcohol.

While the media love to make Fevola out to be a bad boy, the reality is he’s a good footballer, and clubs ditching him because of stuff unrelated to football looks more about them maintaining their PR positions. I was therefore interested to read the comments in this story from the manager of the Frankston VFL team stating that Fevola isn’t “a criminal” but “has a bit of a problem with drink and misbehaviour when he has a bit of beer in his belly” and Frankston are considering taking him on.

Lazy Susans

My favourite band at the moment is Lazy Susan. And this weekend was their last gig for a while. So I headed up to Sydney to see them, and caught up with @MarquisO at the same time.

The first support band – 49 Goodbyes – was a kind of acoustic trio. Two girls and a bloke. They were okay, but a bit country for my taste.

When the second support came on – D Rogers – I had one of those experiences where I see a band and decide they were fantastic, so much better than anything else I’ve seen in ages, and I have to have everything they’ve ever recorded. Unfortunately, their name is virtually useless for googling. So I’m unable to find anything about them. But their songs were short and sharp, and they were very tight.

I suspect D Rogers might be the bloke fronting the act, and the remainder were a backing band – just from the way he announced them.

When Lazy Susan came on, they were in a playful mood. The evening was declared ‘beard night’ because Paul Andrews was unshaven and looking a bit scruffy. Jokes were made about him being Bob Seger, and Tim the pianist even threw in a bit of the riff from ‘Old Time Rock & Roll’ [which I confess, I cannot hear without the image of ALF leaping into my head].

At one stage, Emma from 49 Goodbyes got up on stage and accompanied Paul in the vocals for a couple of songs. I don’t know if it was her or her sound levels though, but she sounded like she was shouting and that ruined whatever they were trying to achieve with those songs.

The real surprise of the Lazy Susan set was the lack of appearance by Bobby Fischer – usually a staple. I also was hoping to hear ‘Wreckage’ and ‘Don’t Fail Me Now’, but that’s just because they’re my latest favourites – I wasn’t expecting they’d play them.

After the gig, I got talking to @CaptainEagle, a mate of @MarquisO. Capt has spent some time working in the music industry so we had a chat comparing our impressions of the various acts. Interestingly, he liked things I didn’t about the night, and was nonplussed by the aspects which most impressed me. But overall, he enjoyed the gig, and shares my opinion about Lazy Susan – plenty of potential, if managed right.

I drove home immediately after the gig, as is becoming my habit when I go to Sydney for a gig. And got home after 3am. Which – combined with my lingering flu – meant the rest of the weekend was a bit of a write-off.

Chain Smoker

I forgot to mention to my circle of friends the other great joy of the new job – the boss chain-smokes. In the office. And even though I’ve been there only three weeks, I’ve already gone down with a respiratory infection once (one day off, followed by one week feeling like shit).

More loyalty-inspiring behaviour?

Understanding Evil

I have just finished watching a BBC documentary about Auschwitz and the Final Solution. Although its a topic I’ve read about quite a lot, there was much I learnt, and I think I’ll hunt down a copy of the memoirs of Rudolph Hoess, Auschwitz’s commandant for much of the war, to read his account.

The documentary, although informative, really annoyed me. Because for the first time, they interviewed German SS staff from the camp about their role – what they did, why they did what they did etc. But the interviewer had a tendency to get all preachy and high and mighty. A bloke whose job it was to bank the foreign currency stolen from the Jews explained what he did, and how his prewar job as a banker meant this was the role he was given in the camp. But the interviewer would start to harp on about whether it was right for him to be seizing the assets of the dead Jews. And later, when it was revealed that soldier later became a magistrate of sorts in Hamburg in the 1970s – was it right he should have a successful life when the Jews had suffered so much?

I found it terribly annoying. He did what he did, and he was prepared to discuss his role which was an administrative one. He spoke about why he dismissed the fate of the Jews, explained about the indoctrination of the first decade within the Reich. The interviewer was crossing the line, judging her subject. I don’t think I’ve seen a documentary in many years where an interviewer did their job so unprofessionally.

The Final Solution intrigues me. Like everyone when they first learn of it, I was horrified and I don’t think the scale of it was something I understood. When I did understand it, when I was about 15, I decided that something *that* evil was impossible. So it mustn’t have happened.

For a while there, I was a denier. Not an active, go around telling people it was all lies, kind of denier. I just couldn’t accept that something so terrible could happen.

Think about it. Think about the worst thing you have ever done, or the worst thing you have ever dreamed of doing to someone you really didn’t like. Think about the worst thing you have first hand experience of someone doing. Even in an extreme case, you may know of someone who has killed or tortured one, or maybe a couple of people. By contrast, we’re talking about thousands of people who spent years killing millions. In a systematic, organised way. It’s not surprising that as a teenager, I decided that something so evil could simply have not happened, is it?

Trying to understand how a civilised people could commit such a crime, and not in the dim ancient history of Roman or Egyptian times, but when my grandfather was a teenager – that’s driven a lot of my curiosity about that period of history for much of the last 30 years.

Wanting to understand how that happened, I was glad to finally hear from someone who was there what the mindset was. To have some stupid BBC interviewer treat him, and the audience, like idiots soured it.

Boba Fett

I’ve always had a problem with Boba Fett.

In Star Wars, we met Darth Vader. The first time he speaks, he’s holding a rebel bloke a foot off the ground, interrogating him, and when his questioning comes up empty, crushing his throat and tossing the body against a wall. Vader’s seriously bad-arse. Not surprisingly, the first time we saw it, my big sister had nightmares about him. He’s the kind of villain we’re meant to have nightmares about.

But in Empire, Boba Fett was introduced. He spent every scene he was in standing around watching the action. Watching Han Solo getting frozen in carbonite, then having a sooky little whinge to Vader “What if he dies? He’s worth a lot to me.” If he’d kicked Vader’s arse, to show he had balls by the truckload, I’d have accepted him as worthy. If he’d done something really nasty to Chewie, or Lando, or maybe even Leia, he might have become someone kids could have nightmares about. But seriously, “What if he dies?” That’s the toughest thing he can muster?

Then in Jedi, he’s even more of a pussy. He stands around like a Christmas ornament until an accident results in him flying off into the Sarlacc pit and he dies.

Pathetic. I’ve met posties that have scared me more.

Loyalty

One of the things my new boss emphasises is loyalty. It’s a big thing with him – he’s bought it up several times both in the interview and in conversations once I started work there.

Today, I learnt he does not intend to pay me for the first few days I was working there, because I was learning the ropes. As a result, when I wind back from working fulltime to working parttime in a week or two, I’ll be spending my spare hours seeking another job.

After all, loyalty’s a two-way street.

French Movies

I am trying to think of a French film that came out in the 1990s. It was about a bloke who pretended, after the liberation, to have been part of the Resistance. Anyone know what it might be called?

Also, I am craving watching some French movies. How about you leave a comment with your favourite ones? That might inspire me to hunt some more down. Cheers. :)

New Gig

When I worked my full-time permanent job, I looked after the accounts. I did it for three years and so I thought I had a grasp on what doing the accounts at a business entailed. How wrong I was.

In the new gig, I’m looking after all records for all suppliers, and customers. And being a bit old-school, everything’s done on paper. The details are entered into a computer and kept on the database, but everything is also kept on paper – every invoice, every payment. There’s double or even triple records of most things and so most of the day is spent making sure the different bits of paper end up in the right place. It’s all terribly archaic.

But I’ve got to learn how it all works before next Wednesday (when the girl I’m replacing leaves) so for now, I’m just doing that, and putting aside all thoughts of how I’d fix it.

I’m not sure the deadline can be met though.

It Never Rains

After nine weeks of staying home, driving my girlfriend slowly crazy, I’m back to work this morning.

Last week, I went to an interview for a job that I was uncertain about. From the description, I was pretty sure I could do it without much trouble, but it is sufficiently different to my previous jobs that I thought the employer would decide “Oh, he has done A, B and C, but not D and E, so I’ll skip over him.”

At the interview though, that changed. The bloke who runs the place – Jim – interviewed me, and we instantly hit it off. I’ve only had one other interview like that where everything went right, and I clicked with the interviewer – and that was Karl in Brisbane many years ago. After the interview therefore, I was pretty confident. After all, if I couldn’t land it after a perfect interview, things were looking pretty grim.

Jim had said he’d call by Wednesday and let me know, but he rang Monday to invite me onboard.

Within an hour of Jim’s call, Darcy called from another job I’d applied for. Based on my application, he was keen to meet me when he flies into town this week, and if that worked out, would I fly to Newcastle for a week’s training, and then start the next week in the local office? After 9 weeks and several dead-ends, I’d landed two in an afternoon. I half expected it might work out that way. Jim got in first though, and Jim’s offer is already locked in. That’s the direction I’m going then. In two hours time.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

In early December, I went to a job interview. It was a light-industrial small business, and the vibe of the place appealed to me. The first interview was straight-forward, and I thought it went well. I was quietly confident.

I got called back for a second interview. I took that as a good sign – I was being asked to meet the state manager. I went along, had to wait maybe half an hour because the manager was busy, but the interview itself went well. It was a little odd – as I said to someone afterwards, I wasn’t actually asked any questions as the session was just the state manager giving me a run-down on the business, future plans etc.

They were supposedly keen to get someone in before Christmas. They wanted to move fast on this.

I heard nothing. I assumed therefore someone else had landed it, and I began to wonder what I might have done to cause me to miss out, and what needed to be improved for the next one. Because I’d barely been asked anything at the second interview, I came to the conclusion that the state manager had vetoed me on the basis that I’d not worn a tie to the interview – open collar and jacket was the choice I made, based on it being a light industrial business. Okay, I figured, I wouldn’t make that error – under-dressing – again.

I learnt this week they still haven’t put anyone on. And they’ve had 8 second interviews. it does make me wonder how such indecisive people can run a business.

40

Forty is the only number whose letters are in alphabetical order.

-40 is the only point where Fahrenheit & Celsius scales show the same reading.

40 is a U2 song, and one I quite like. It’s bassline is complex, so when done live, Edge & Adam swap instruments.

40 is also used by many ancient texts to mean “a lot”.

It doesn’t bother me though, turning 40.

Gender Parallels

My girlfriend and I were just discussing the harassment issue I’ve written about lately. And I have to admit, a lot of my rage about this, and my ranting, was because I have an attractive girlfriend, she went to a conference with a whole bunch of guys who wanted to paw her, and that made me territorial, protective and jealous.

Creeps who’ve never spoken to her, but if they were paying attention in her talks – and I’ve worked out they were actually at her presentations – knew she was not single, asking her out anyway. Or following her and her friends around taking photos, even after they’ve been asked not to. The sorts of things that, had I been there, I’d very likely to have done something to severely embarrass the creepy stalker dudes. But I couldn’t. Because I was not there. I only heard about such things when I’d call her each evening and get an update of her trip.

The discussions, post-conference, on the email list seem to be all too familiar. My girlfriend’s had issues come up before, of low-level harassment, and maybe it’s just coincidence the other instances I’ve witnessed also related to the open source community, and socially underdeveloped males within it.

Tonight though, we were chatting about the issue, and especially my reaction to it. And I worked something out.

The hurdle faced by women in that community is many of the men do not understand the issue. A bloke just cannot understand how one can feel threatened if they are walking down the street and a girl calls out “Nice arse”. To most men, it would be an ego boost. A bloke cannot understand feeling uncomfortable when a girl in a bar buys him drinks, and sits down next to him uninvited. Same thing – it’d make him feel desirable, and no doubt a bit full of himself. A bloke cannot understand what it’s like to walk into a room, and be the only male amongst two dozen women, and wonder if their safety is in question.

Guys just can’t comprehend therefore the everyday situations which women find uncomfortable.

To make a man understand, a different scenario needs to be explained.

How would you, as a man, feel if you were walking home at night, across the road from a pub, and three drunken lads came out and yelled “Hey, you wanna fight?” How would you feel if you walked into a bar, and it was full of a different ethnic group, and they started acting aggressive toward you? How would you feel walking down a dark street past a house where Hells Angels were revving up their Harleys on the footpath?

Men parade through life unafraid, except in rare circumstances. If you, the women who are trying to explain your situation, want them to understand what you go through, you need to relate it to one of those situations. Because for the most part, we don’t have the fear on a daily basis that many women do.

How to Prevent Harassment

While the LCA2011 people argue on their mailing list, I left a hint to them in my last paragraph yesterday. “How to prevent harassment continuing to spoil the image of the open source community?” Easy – you professionalise the movement, and thus the issue.

That happened today, it seems, as one of the conference’s major sponsors made their position on the issue perfectly clear. In response to a request about when/if the Pesce talk would be released in video form, Glen Turner, speaking on behalf of a major sponsor of LCA2011 wrote:

As a sponsor with promotional materials on the stage can I ask that no video be released.
We sponsored a conference with a strong and clear anti-discrimination policy, one which closely aligns with the policies of our organisation and of our customers. The policy was both well known and made clear to speakers.
It’s beyond argument that Mr Pesce’s images, imagery and language violate that policy.
With such a large breach of trust by Mr Pesce I don’t think the organising committee owe him any consideration — including providing materials for people to “make up their own mind”. That’s being far too fair to someone who has treated the LCA organising committee and the LCA sponsors quite unfairly.

I suspect the unspoken message there is that future sponsorships would be conditional on speakers at future events comply with the harassment rules laid down by the committee.

Money talks. I presume future conference organisers will now have to sit up and listen.

Open Source Harassment

The open source software community has a problem.

At the moment, they’re a fringe group. Most people haven’t heard of them and what they’re banging on about. But they’d like the world to know about them, to be converted to their ideas. They’re wanna-be evangelists. But as a group, they’re evangelists with a habit of taking aim squarely at their own feet, and pulling the trigger.

A recurring issue in their community and their gatherings is harassment. Theirs is a community overwhelmingly made up of white middle-class techno-literate university-educated males. They’ve evolved from the Revenge of the Nerds stereotypes of the 1980s, but for many of them, not too far. The adolescent mindset when it comes to social interactions, especially with women, is still dominant.

At last week’s LCA2011 conference in Brisbane, this issue hit the headlines with a talk by Mark Pesce.

Despite LCA2011 having a policy on their website stating harassment includes:

  • offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics;
  • sexual images in public spaces;
  • deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording;
  • inappropriate physical contact; and unwelcome sexual attention

Pesce presented a keynote talk which included images of mating animals, two women and a man engaged in bondage, and an airport scanner showing through a woman’s clothes revealing her naked body. Some audience members walked out. Presumably complaints were made and the LCA2011 organisers apologised publicly later in the day. Pesce issued an apology via his website two days after his talk.

For a group trying to sell their ideas to the wider public, to be seen as a bunch of chortling socially-underdeveloped basement-dwelling teenage boys is PR death. But rather than face up to the realities, instead, they are obsessed with defending themselves from accusations that the offence Pesce gave is in any way valid.

Those who were offended are over-sensitive. It was meant in fun. The images weren’t of a sexual nature, so therefore they’re okay. The catchcries have come out, on Twitter, on the LCA’s email discussion list, and anywhere else the sad nerd collective have been criticised. On Friday night, I saw Benjamin Humphrey from NZ say on Twitter that Sam Vargese who wrote an article titled “Keynote speaker censured over sexual images” was wrong to write about the furore.

For a great illustration of the problem, have a read of the comments on the Vargese article. There’s only two, but they make my point perfectly.

I am not a Pesce fan – I’ve disagreed with enough things he’s said that I tend to avoid reading his articles when I see them in places like The Drum. I do not think he included the images he did to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I believe he’s a professional communicator, and he included them purely for their shock value. But, as a professional communicator, I think he was more than aware of the potential for such images to cause offence. I think it’s likely he wasn’t even aware the anti-harassment policy he breached even existed but, as a keynote speaker, I think Pesce would have figured himself beyond it. After all, what could organisers do?

And that’s the problem with anti-harassment policies. They’re only as strong as their enforcement. And if they’re not enforced, they aren’t worth the electrons they’re written on.

LCA2011 had other problems with harassment though. The Pesce images were the ‘public’ problem. There were also ‘private’ problems.

LCA conferences have around 15-20% female attendees. Every female attendee I have discussed the issue of harassment with has been a victim of behaviour from male attendees which made them feel uncomfortable. Men hanging around them, following them, taking photos of them, repeatedly asking them out on dates. It’s not isolated. It’s not occasional. It’s continual. Such incidents are rarely reported, and receive no publicity.

From conversations with women I know who attended the conference, I am aware of at least four incidents of this nature. For example, last November, I wrote about my girlfriend receiving inappropriate gifts from one of her more stalker-y fans. That same fan-boy was loitering around her and her friends at LCA2011 last week. As with last year’s conference, he was hanging around taking pictures which made them feel uncomfortable. He had to be told to leave them alone.

Why should the women at such an event have to be swatting flies away all the time? It isn’t as much of a problem at IT conferences in the professional or academic sphere. So why does the open source community have such a problem with it?

Stop or I’ll Shoot

I can remember, as a teenager, thinking that not much had happened within my lifetime that future historians would look back on and deem worthy of note. It was a period after the moon landing, and the 1970s and 1980s weren’t the most eventful times.

The political upheavals across the communist world changed that. Tienanmen Square, the Polish election, the Hungarians opening their borders, the mass-protest movements in East Germany & Czechoslovakia, the Berlin Wall collapse, Romania’s uprising. They all happened in the last half of my final year of high school. I remember discussing with classmates that these were notable historical events. And we watched them intently. Such events awoke in my friends and I a political awareness for the first time.

Later, I studied the 1989 revolutions at university, and I remember a lecturer saying that once the population was out on the streets, there are only two possible outcomes.

Either, there will be a change of sufficient moment to satisfy the majority of the people, they’ll go home, and the situation will defuse. The only other outcome possible is a Tienanmen Square scenario.

Last week, when Mubarak sacked his ministers, I was reminded of that lecturer’s comments. Clearly, the people don’t think the sackings are sufficient change to warrant going home and returning to normal life. So Mubarak’s choice is now to quit, or shoot them.

Silence is Golden

I went silent for a while because Eccles visited for a weekend; and then my girlfriend went away, and I didn’t feel like writing while she was gone. Things will be back to normal now though.

I’m planning continuing my “Confessions of a Band Manager” each Tuesday – taking in the different adventures of each band I managed, some I almost managed, and a few I met along the way or would have liked to manage. I’ll also re-institute the YouTube Sundays. And since today’s Sunday, here’s one from my favourite Australian band still in existence. A song about having a slightly unhinged girlfriend – not that I’d know what that was like.

If I Were The Director

Hardly ever do I watch a movie and think “I’d have changed that bit”.

The other night, my girlfriend and I watched Blood Diamond. I think it’s an amazing movie, certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen.

But it should have ended a few minutes earlier than it did.

Know that scene where Archer’s (Di Caprio) dying on the hillside, and the plane, carrying Solomon (Hounsou) flies off into the sunset? That’s where it should have ended.

The rest, the London scenes, were just preachy bullshit.

Taking notes Director Zwick? Oh, while I’ve got your attention, Defiance was a pretty kick arse movie too. I understand you were the producer on that one.

Darkness Falls

About 9.30am yesterday, our power went out. It turned out to be a planned thing [replacing power poles up and down the street] although Country Energy failed to notify us. Power remained out all day until 4.55pm. It made for an extremely unproductive day.

Too Soon?

There’s a lot of people I read complaining about politicians discussing the floods in Brisbane and the surrounds. Because their arguments are so poorly put together, I’ve had some issue trying to sort out what is actually wrong with politicians discussing questions like “What happened?” “Why did it happen?” “What are we going to do about fixing what happened?” “How do we avoid it happening again?” and “How do we pay for all of it?”

The people engaged in these discussions are politicians. It’s their job to discuss these questions. Because of their various ideological flavours, they’ll have differing opinions. But that’s also their job. It’s why we have elections and choose politicians – to debate, and govern.

Those who claim it is wrong to politicise an issue baffle me. If what happened is going to cost billions of dollars to fix, surely we should be discussing the questions I listed above. And since the people whose job it is to do that are politicians, it will be politicised. Arguing anything else is naively childish.

Senator Brown from the Greens has taken more heat than most in this area. The Australian newspaper ran one his quotes as a headline, without bothering to worry about him not actually saying it. Despite the newspaper claiming he blamed coal miners for the floods, what he said was that coal mining is a significant factor in global warming, which results in warmer ocean temperatures, which contribute to more severe weather including floods like we’ve seen recently.

A number of blogs I’ve read recently have agreed with Brown up to the point of the ‘warming causes more floods’ step. But I can remember sitting in a public meeting in 2006 in Milton in Brisbane. At the public meeting, a government climatologist said that Queensland could expect a higher frequency of severe weather events as a result of a warming global climate. When asked to clarify his statement, he said he expected (amongst other examples) “floods of the severity of 1974 which even Wivenhoe might not save us from”. The building I attended in 2006 to hear that is about 200m from the river, but last week, was a riverside property [It's shown in the picture above].

To argue that there is no correlation between warming temperatures and events such as last week is uninformed untruth. The Queensland Government were holding public meetings discussing the possibility half a decade ago.

Confessions of a Band Manager: Part 1

I’m going to do something I don’t usually do with my blog – I’m going to write a series. A series of blog entries about a chapter of my life. And I’ve chosen the topic because I’ve been thinking lately it’s a chapter I might like to once again experiment with. I’ll start at the very beginning and see where we end up. Come along for the ride?

In very early 1998, my (then) wife and I went to see the Hoodoo Gurus at ANU Bar on their farewell tour. It was actually a rescheduled gig, because Dave Faulkner had been ill when they tried to do the gig before Christmas. The gig was, as with every Gurus gig I’ve ever been to, awesome. But what stands out from that night was the support band. They were a dancy-bluesy local band called Crumpet. My strongest memories were of their front-man who managed to get an indifferent audience to get quite into the vibe. For an unknown support band, that was impressive.

Over the course of 1998, I tracked down Crumpet’s debut CD in a local store, and although it was unpolished, I liked the flavour. I tried to find out more about them, but they these were the days before bands had websites, so details were scarce. I did find out though they were launching their next CD – Shotgun Tango – in September, so I went along and bought a few copies of the new CD. I instantly loved the first track – Queenie – which had been introduced that night as a love song to Morticia Adams. [You can still hear it online here]

I got an email address from the liner notes, and emailed the band to suggest I’d like to help them, in some kind of promotional-administrative way. Back then, I had no idea what they needed, how I might help them, or did I know anything about the music industry. I just figured they’d know what they needed help with, and I’d help where I could. A few chats later – in cafes, or in bars after gigs – and I’d sussed out that the organising forces behind Crumpet were Blair (front-man, singer, guitarist) and Richie (drummer). As to what they wanted me to help with? None of us were sure.

Gradually over the early months, I started to look after some of the online tasks – getting a domain name, and setting up a website for the band. Back then, some online services started to appear for independent bands to share their music, via hosting mp3 files and communicating with other like bands around the world. I set those up for the band and tried different ideas to have their music heard further afield. The reasoning was simple – if we could get the songs – especially the good ones like Queenie – heard by lots of people, some of those people would like the band and become potential fans.

In conjunction with Richie, we tried to get Crumpet some interstate gigs. Mainly in Sydney. These though were failures simply because noone in Sydney knew the band (despite me getting them some limited airplay on TripleJ), so there was no audience. Richie’s remit was to get Canberra gigs, which he did mainly through his contacts who organised Canberra gigs for larger, nationally-known bands and Crumpet often ended up with a support slot. It paid the bills, but such gigs were infrequent.

I can’t say I ever really found my feet when working with Crumpet.

I was a complete newbie when I started, and learnt everything as I went along. Blair & Richie had a few years experience before I got there so I always felt out of my depth. Blair especially taught me a lot – he and I became mates for a while.

Maybe a year after I first became involved with Crumpet, they went from being a 5- or 6-piece live band to being a 3-piece. Their violinist left to front another band, a more folk-rock style group. And the percussionist followed. Only a few gigs later, the bass player – a really talented bloke named Deane who had a unique way of dancing while playing – left to teach English in China so Richie headed off to work in Sydney. At that point, Crumpet fizzled out which, as a fan, I was disappointed by. Musically, Crumpet were the cream of the bands I managed. It’s a pity it didn’t work out differently, and that more people never learnt of their talent.

Now, why don’t you all go listen to that track I linked to above, and tell me what you think of it? I get nothing out of it – the band is broken up, and I stopped working for them a decade ago. I just wanna know if people like it. Cheers :)

Brisbane Flipside

The flipside to my optimism about Brisbane is shown by stories such as this; and hearing locals whining about food and grocery supplies in whatever stores are open – haven’t people heard about the law of supply and demand? When there are more customers than loaves of bread, bread prices rise – a basic tenet of capitalism.

I’ve also seen several places the ‘blame the victim’ mindset where people who are not affected argue the victims are responsible for their own situation, and therefore should not be helped, if their plight includes a lack of appropriate insurance. I detest the ‘bad things happen to others because they are unworthy, but gimme gimme when bad things happen to me’ mindset.

Even if Brisbane residents could get flood insurance (most companies wont insure for it because it’s likely to happen – hey, isn’t that the point of insurance??) I read today that insurance companies consider ‘water releases from dams’ to not be ‘floods’. So even if a Brisbanite is covered, their insurance company will no doubt screw them over.

EDIT: David Koch [amongst others] appears to have taken up the flood insurance issue. And his article mentions insurers are excluded from the laws regarding unfair contracts.

Dirty Water Washes Clean

I lived in Brisbane three times in four years.
Easter 2003-December 2003; Clayfield, Hendra.
July 2004-December 2004; Bracken Ridge, Rochedale South.
And Easter 2005-July 2007; Redbank Plains, Bracken Ridge, Hawthorne, Coorparoo, Chermside.

Looking at that list, I was quite nomadic back then. I may write more about that aspect later. Now though, I’m writing about my lingering impression of the city.

I found Brisbane quite oppressive, especially in terms of thought. I – on more than one occasion, and with more than one acquaintance – shared my thoughts and was told that I could not believe what I had expressed, so therefore I must be lying. I wasn’t being told I wasn’t permitted to think how I did, I was told I did not think the way I did – it was impossible and thus expressing my thoughts labelled me dishonest.

It took some getting used to. I was learning to hide what I thought, on the most mundane of topics. One of my friends back then referred to it jokingly saying “You know, Earthlings don’t think like you do.”

At the time, the conclusion I came to was that the people I was surrounded by were, let’s be diplomatic here, were….. “less capable of diversity of thought”. Yeah, I thought I was in the Land of the Dumb. I used to refer to it, especially after I’d left in 2007, as “in Brisbane, your intelligence slowly drips out your ears, so the longer you live there, the dumber you become, so you fit in”.

On reflection, I think the problem was the poor choice of associates when I lived there – especially now that I’ve met other Brisbane residents (via my girlfriend) who aren’t as closed-minded as those I met while there.

Ironically, toward the end of my time in Brisbane, I began to associate with a football team – Wynnum Vikings Australian Football Club. I’m far from being a sporting person. But I started attending the games because a friend played in the reserves team. Later, a workmate’s son was the vice captain of the Seniors team. From those I met around the club, there was a much more accepting and inviting attitude, and some of my fondest memories of those years are of afternoons spent watching their games with a tribe of fans.

I have drifted from the original intent of my writing this afternoon. The point I wanted to make is that I have had quite a negative opinion of Brisbane, and its people for some time. The past few days though, reading stories like “Brisbane flood volunteers turned away” [because twice as many people turned out to clean strangers' homes than were expected by Council organisers] and “Roads and rubbish the focus in flood-ravaged SE Queensland” [which quotes the Lord Mayor saying there were at least 12,000 volunteers out cleaning the city] make me realise there is a side to Brisbane locals I never saw when I was there. Yesterday, I saw a message on Twitter stating someone had a water gurney, a ute, and a team of young blokes available to help anyone who needed it. Twitter’s been full of such messages for the last few days.

Know what it’s all doing? It’s making me miss the place. I’m missing a city I’ve spent the last few years despising.

It’s all most peculiar.

Gumboots

This week, with all the flood news out of Brisbane, I’ve had this song as an ear-worm. Now you can share it too.

Gumboots they are wonderful
Gumboots they are swell
Coz they keep out the water
And they keep in the smell
And when you’re sitting round at home
You can always tell
When one of the Trevs has taken off his gumboots
If it weren’t for your gumboots, where would you be?
You’d be in the hospital or infirmary
Since you would have a dose of the flu or even plueracy
If you didn’t have your feet in your gumboots

The King’s Speech

We went to see The King’s Speech last night. Surprisingly, I liked it.

I say ‘surprisingly’ because I am usually a stickler for historical accuracy in films and:

  • the Duke of York consulted Lionel Logue between the Wembley speech in 1925 and when he opened Australian Parliament House in 1927; and the consultations must have worked, because The Duke spoke well in Canberra; and
  • David (Edward VIII – Guy Pearce) was a couple of years older than Bertie (George VI – Colin Firth) but Pearce is about 7 years younger than Firth – which looked a bit odd to me.

Placing the speech therapy in the 30s instead allowed it to overlap with the death of George V, the abdication, the rise of Hitler and the commencement of the war. It made the story a little more dramatic and interesting, so maybe in my old age, I’m getting less pedantic about such things in movies?

As a movie, it was enjoyable. It’s one I’d recommend seeing, but it’s not a ‘must see on the big screen’ films.

Disastrous Politics

Everything in life has a political angle, and this week’s events in Brisbane and surrounds are not immune. Some initial thoughts:

  • Anna Bligh has shone. She’s managed the emergency extremely well, and her press conferences have been must-see viewing for keeping up to date with what’s been going on. I’ve never been a great fan of hers, as I thought she was promoted by Beattie solely on the basis of her gender. But after this week, if there’s any politician in the country who seems capable of handling anything thrown at them, it’s the Member for South Brisbane.
  • By contrast, Gillard has appeared at a couple of press conferences and they’ve been painful. Her cliched words are, as John Birmingham so wonderfully described “stale before they were halfway out of her mouth” and are completely bereft of sincerity. A leader in these situations needs to appear one of the people, yet across the situation. Gillard appeared to be neither.
  • I’ve never been a fan of Campbell Newman either. But he’s come across as capable and reliable. In the aftermath, he’s someone I think who will get Brisbane back on track, although it’ll be a track he wants – more about that later. I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds himself recruited into state Parliament pretty fast, because of the next dot-point.
  • The Qld Opposition Leader has been, well, invisible. Completely silent and not seen. During a major disaster, in what may well turn out to be an election year, such an absence is impossible to explain. If you can’t argue with what the Premier’s saying, be there saying you’ll support her in rebuilding the state. To vanish says nothing to the voters except, well, it says nothing at all.
  • Paul Pisasale, Ipswich Mayor, was appalling when he first appeared on radio on about Tuesday. He was unable to give the locations of evacuation centres, or answer half the media questions. Within 24 hours though, he’d obviously been briefed, got his head around the issues the media (and the public) were concerned about, and from then on in, lead wonderfully from the front.

In the aftermath, there’ll be a lot of rebuilding for Brisbane and other areas. I do hope though Brisbane’s Council do not use this as an excuse to abolish the ferry services, which were a barely-known but wonderful feature of life in the river city. The infrastructure for the ferries and City-Cats was largely destroyed, and I expect the City-Cats will return before too long. But the Council wanted to abolish the ferries in 2006-07 when I lived there. I just hope they don’t use the last week as an excuse to carry that out.

Quieter

Despite what I wrote yesterday, I’m not sure ‘losing momentum’ is really right.

This week, we’ve got tradesmen of all flavours in our kitchen. And for the last two days, that’s included jackhammering. So the tendency here is to avoid being at my desk, especially during the daylight hours.

In addition, the floods in South East Qld have bought up a problem, in that $girlfriend and I are possibly going to host a friend of hers who needs to get out of the area. This means we’ve been paying a lot of attention to what’s been happening up there.

Back In The Hunt

In a move I now consider was too impulsive, I quit my job in December. I forgot to take into account the time of year – for looking for work in the weeks before Christmas is a futile exercise. Since the business world has re-awoken after the break, things are looking a bit more hopeful.

It’s kind of strange looking for work. It’s a series of discussions of hypothetical scenarios. I especially dislike when I’m asked my ‘salary expectations’ (I’ve taken to referring to how much my last job paid, and then saying ‘I’m less concerned with remuneration, and more interested in the quality of the job’ anyway).

Although they’re not all listed on my resume, for various reasons, my list of previous jobs looks something like this (in no particular order):

  • publishing for a govt department; later for a govt educational institution;
  • helpdesk for a large ISP; then later for a smaller ISP;
  • overnight DJ at a community radio station;
  • managing rock bands;
  • office admin for a courier company; and a state branch of a political party;
  • traffic clerk for an army unit – organising transport for supplies;
  • caretaker on an experimental farm;
  • overnight cashier at a few service stations;
  • on-site PC technical support (both as a sub-contractor & later as a sole trader);
  • staffer for a Federal Opposition Leader;
  • electorate staffer for a state MP  who was also Aboriginal Affairs minister;
  • salesman for IT products; IT support; radio advertising;
  • call centre operator for two telco’s;
  • accounts clerk for a small ISP;
  • maintenance coordinator for govt housing (in two different states);
  • fulltime stay-at-home dad to my son when he was first born;
  • taxi driver;
  • courier;
  • telephone service provisioner (a database monkey really!) for a telco;
  • “client location officer” (finding people who didn’t want to be found) for a govt agency;
  • union industrial officer

Along the way, I’ve undertaken most of the Police’s training (my dad was an instructor at the Academy, and he assigned me to go through with one of the classes, when I had a lot of spare time [another story entirely] during my senior high school years); and much of a BA majoring in politics & history.

I am sure the above list is incomplete. The truth is I don’t have a complete list. Not anywhere. Other than in my head, and that’s liable to lapses in memory.

Silent Resolutions

I never make New Year Resolutions. So, in that sense, I have a 100% success rate with keeping them. This year though, I have almost made some. I say ‘almost’ because rather than resolutions like “I will learn Swahili, save the whales and become Pope” I’m entering 2011 with a plan. And, frustratingly, I can’t write about most of it. So you’re gunna have to trust me.

Activism

When I was younger, I was an environmentalist. Specifically, I was into environmental education and the Permaculture movement. When I moved to Canberra in 1990, a friend and I started going to Question Time in the House of Representatives primarily because it was free, and we had plenty of time to kill. It was the days when Hawke was PM, Keating was Treasurer, Beazley was Leader of the House, and Howard was Opposition Leader. I’d become hooked on politics.

Later, I went to university to study linguistics (because I was working in publishing) in a BA, but found history and politics to be more interesting, so enrolled in those. There I met Steve, a classmate who was active in the ALP and the union movement. Steve seemed very professional in the way he spoke about the machinations of those organisations, so I thought I’d take a gradual approach to joining them. My plan was to work for the Greens in one election, and maybe the Democrats the next election, before moving up to the real battle with the ALP. Back then, that was the hierarchy of professionalism on the left, as far as I saw it.

As part of the plan, I worked for the Greens at the 1996 election. Handing out how-to-vote cards at what turned out to be the largest polling place in the country – Palmerston Primary School in Canberra. I was mildly pleased the Greens vote for that booth was higher than average. But the larger result – the loss of the election for Labor, the loss of Keating who had become a hero of mine, and the installation of the Howard government – altered my plan. If I’d stuck to the plan, I’d have worked for the Democrats in 1998, and done my first Labor campaign work in the 2001 election. Instead, I decided that my side of politics needed all the help it could get, and straight away. Within three weeks of the election, I’d joined the ALP.

It was a raucous introduction. North Canberra sub-branch was huge – 200+ members – and the hall where the meetings were loud, tightly-organised and hard to follow for a new player. I got to know some of the regular speakers and soon was agitating for a split in the sub-branch to establish a new sub-branch in the new part of town where I lived. I was one of two main drivers for this change, and I know I made friends and enemies in doing it, but we got the result. My first real victory.

While this was going on, I was increasingly active in what turned into a big industrial dispute at work. The normal strategy in disputes was to impose work bans that would upset clients. Those clients (so the theory went) would complain to their MPs who would complain to the minister who would complain to the secretary of the department, who would then acquiesce to our demands. We took a different approach.

We went via the media, and MPs, and we went to the shopping malls to tell the public (ie the affected clients) how the proposed changes we were in dispute over would negatively affect them. The dispute was drawn out over several months, and upset many within the departmental hierarchy, but the union members won. Even now the changes we fought never occurred, a decade and a half later. I’m still a bit proud of that result. It ruined any career prospect I had within that department. I didn’t mind – I disliked the department intensely and was trying to get out for most of the time I worked there.

I landed another position, back in the department where I’d been in publishing earlier. Soon though, I came into a disagreement with my manager, after failing to follow an instruction I considered illegal [using departmental resources to publish a menu for the manager's mate's wife's cafe - a private business] so I was suspended on full pay while the matter was investigated. While the ‘investigation’ dragged into its third week, I was out to dinner with Jason, a friend from the new ALP sub-branch. Jason worked for an MP in Parliament House, so I asked “I have spare time on my hands. How can I help the party?” He gave me a number to call, which I did, and within days, I was volunteering in Mr Beazley’s [the Leader of the Opposition] office. I quickly went from volunteering every Thursday to being there every day, and taking on more and more tasks.

Essentially, my role there was ‘media monitoring’ – keeping a database on what the media wrote about a whole raft of issues – the proposals to sell Telstra, to introduce a GST, the rise of Hansonism, etc. There were 30-odd categories. As I moved to being there full-time, I took on the role of coordinating the volunteer staff, and then expanding our volunteer numbers by recruiting through the university Labor student organisations. By the time a decision had been reached regarding the menu-publishing dispute, it was more than a year later and I was being paid to do a job I loved, so I resigned my ‘government career’ so I could spend all my time trying to overthrow the government. :)

I never managed it. Labor stayed in Opposition a lot longer than I stayed working for them. I left during the 1998 election campaign.

Later, when I was no longer married in 2003, I moved to Brisbane and was involved with Labor up there. The alien factionalism though I found confusing and frustrating. I therefore let my membership lapse. I felt back then I’d fought enough skirmishes, earned enough scars that I could put away my sword and shield and no longer fight political battles.

Despite this, I joined the Greens in 2006.

I stood out in the Greens. At the time, I joked with a friend that it was like “imagine having a Dad’s Army unit, and in walks someone freshly returned from Dunkerque, and they all behave with reverence and whisper about how he’s been to the real war“. That’s what it was like.

In the 2006 Queensland election, I was a campaign manager. We worked hard, and the three electorates under our influence all did well. Our preferences unseated a Liberal we didn’t like, and our vote went up in each seat. All up, a good result. The evening of the election though, I had such severe sunstroke I collapsed and slept for two days straight.

I left the Greens soon after the election, frustrated with their lack of organisation and discipline. I re-joined Labor when I returned to Canberra in 2007, but only as a way of reconnecting socially with the friends I had in the party earlier. I did my time as a booth captain – back at Palmerston Primary School – the day Rudd finally ended the Howard years. It was my last real activism in partisan politics though. I became then a dormant member, paying my dues, going to meetings to dine with friends, but I’d lost the belief and the trust in the party I’d fought and bled for.

I was sufficiently disillusioned with Labor to finally quit in 2010.

Why do I write this epic history of my partisan history? Because I have been examining the question lately: what do I believe in? What causes am I prepared to stand for?

Now, the answers to those questions lie with issues, not with parties.

Just some of the issues I am passionate about now include freedom of expression and the removal of censorship; secession for my homeland; and fighting the lies surrounding issues like immigration and cultural integration.

Disliking Ricky

I was asked about my dislike for Ricky Ponting, so here’s the response.

In 2006, I was living in Brisbane during the last Ashes series in Australia. My housemate was an odd bloke, but we got on most of the time and understood how each other ticked, so it was a mostly harmonious household. One day (and some research this afternoon means I can narrow it down to November 25) I came home from work and mentioned to James “Seems Ponting’s failed to enforce the follow-on, despite being 400 in front”. James’ response surprised me. He had no idea who Ponting was, or what was meant by ‘failing to enforce the follow on’.

I can understand that not everyone knows the rules of every major sport. But James was a bloke in his early 30s, who had spent his whole education in private boys’ schools in Brisbane. And so having some idea of who the Australian Test Captain is, or what the follow on is struck me as really odd. It wasn’t like I was asking where he was at the time of the underarm bowling incident. (For the record, I was in a fish and chip shop in Hamilton South, with my dad buying dinner)

I don’t remember learning the basics of cricket. They’re gained by osmosis growing up in this country. I can’t help but doubt any male of a certain age who doesn’t know anything at all about the game. Of course, in time, I learnt James was more odd. But that’s not today’s story.

Okay, none of this addresses the issue of why I don’t like Ponting. But it gives the dislike a beginning point in time. The reason why is because of his cowardice in the decision that day. The fear of a repeat of the failure in the 2001 Second Test in Kolkata hadn’t been overcome, and one can’t respect someone who lives in fear like that.

Search Terms

I am curious how random googlers end up here. This gives some idea.

It seems when I’ve written about child abuse, the googlers know the names they’re looking for (Obbens, Bambach), and are looking for more information. I am heartened by people searching for Graham Stafford, because it means his story is slowly getting heard by more people – which it should because it’s an injustice that should be resolved.

By far though, the overwhelming number of googlers who end up here are looking for more information about the mosque – a sad indictment on society.

“Banana Nipple-like Defect”?????? Just, umm, wow.

Hour of Greatest Slaughter

Paul Kelly, in his tribute to Don Bradman, sang “And in the hour of greatest slaughter, the great avenger is being born”.

Today, Australia lost the Ashes series in the worst defeat since those days ‘of greatest slaughter’. Leaving aside my hatred of Ricky Ponting, I am wondering where the next great leader of Australian cricket will rise from. If the current team are the best players Australia has, it may be a while before the triumphs of the Taylor-Waugh years return.

There are many arguing Ponting, Clarke, Watson, Hughes and others should be ditched. I detest Ponting, and don’t think much of Watson. Clarke I liked when he started out, but his form says he should be dumped. Hussey, Haddin and Hilfenhaus I like. I think the new bloke – Khawaja – might turn out good too. Everyone else I am indifferent to.

I am not a believer in selectors picking a squad at the start of the season, and sticking with them, come hell or high water. I am also not a believer in the idea that seems to have emerged this summer of letting a captain decide his own selection. Ponting has been a failure all season. Clarke as well. Neither should have remained by virtue of their captaincy status. Bad players get dumped. Despite what some including Francis Leach have said, captains should not be immune to the ‘perform or perish’ standard everyone else should be held to.

Wrangling with iTunes

I hate Apple. And I hate Steve Jobs. And I hate Apple products, and all the software I’ve ever used of theirs.

Why?

Because Apple products – in my experience – have a set way of doing something. And if I want to do something another way, that’s just too bad.

I never knew this until I bought an iPod many years ago. Before that, I used Winamp for playing my mp3 collection on my computer. But Winamp has never been able to load music onto my iPod (people tell me it’s possible, but it’s never worked for me, and I’ve asked much geekier people than I to make it work, and they give up in frustration). Having an iPod and putting music onto it therefore has always meant running iTunes.

Now, I may have mentioned this before, but I hate Apple products. Letting iTunes onto my computer makes me a little bit sad. But it’s necessary, so I put up with it. It’s meant though I’ve had years of frustration with it. I think though the time has come when I’ve managed to bend it to my will. Or at least, I’ve worked out what annoying shit it does, and how to ‘manage’ the annoying shit so it is a bit more controllable.

And I’m documenting it here so when I get six months down the track, and the annoying shit has resurfaced, I don’t have to re-learn it all.

My music collection is all in a big directory tree. Until now, it’s been in My Documents\Music\Artist Name\Album Name\Track Name.mp3. Because of my desire to start afresh, and have a ‘clean’ music collection with no unlabelled, unorganised files, the new location is f:\Music Data\Artist Name\Album Name\Track Name.mp3

iTunes’ most annoying trait is that it wont always play the formats my music’s in. Especially WMA files. So, if I put incompatible files in the new, clean home, and I use iTunes’ ‘add folder to library’ option and I specify the newly-added directories, it complains about the incompatible formats. If I select ‘Convert’, it will create m4a files (what the fuck are these?) and put them in a separate location (f:\Music Data\Music\Artist Name\Album Name\Track Name.m4a). It’s these files iTunes will then add to the Music Library.

The problem with this is that the original files, with their offensive-to-iTunes format, remain in their original locations. So when I “Add folder to library” and use the base directory (f:\Music Data) as I often do when I’ve added a wad of music, it creates ANOTHER m4a copy. The result is I end up with a growing collection (I think my record is 12 copies of some albums) of duplicates which I then need to cull out of iTunes’ Music Library. But I’ve never understood the process enough to know to get rid of the duplicate files themselves.

Now, because I’m not fussy about file formats (so long as they work), as part of the ‘importing a clean music collection’ project, I’m doing a few bands at a time, and when the m4a files get created, I’m going into the relevant places, copying the m4a files to the proper places, and culling the files iTunes doesn’t like the format of.

My ‘clean’ music collection is up to 15.3Gb. The old dirty collection stands at 43Gb. Once I get the collection under control on this computer, I’ll do something similar with my girlfriend’s PC, and our file server, both of which have similarly messes. Then, we’ll hopefully have a workable setup. It’ll be a relief, because at the moment, we use her laptop connected to some speakers, and she plays it about 16 hours a day. And because adding to the laptop’s collection is such a disaster, there’s lots of music we never listen to (coz it’s not on that computer) and some we hear way too often (yes, Paul Simon’s Kodachrome, I am looking at you!) especially because of the duplicate-file problem.

One of the interesting side-effects of this project is finding out how much some artists make up our collection. For a long time, I’ve considered that my music collection is quite heavy with Crowded House. But Neil and the boys account for about 600Mb. By contrast, The Beatles make up a gig and a half, and there’s two gig of Weird Al (hers, not mine: I don’t mind him in moderation, but two gig is not moderation!) Over a gig of U2, Paul Kelly, Queen and R.E.M.

Oh, mentioning R.E.M. reminds me of something else too. Having bands with different possible ways to spell their names adds to the duplication & mis-filing problem. R.E.M. are a problem with that. So are OMD, AC/DC and any band with ‘The’ as the first word. We had files under ‘The Whitlams’, ‘Whitlams, The’ & ‘Whitlams’. And iTunes seems to want to categorise The Clash & The Cure under C when tracks are sorted by artist name. Yet another reason I hate anything made by Apple. Oh, did I mention that? The Apple hate? I may have said something about it earlier.

USS Drum

I go through phases with computer games. I’ll play them solidly for a while, and then not touch them again for months, if at all. Eve Online was a bit of an aberration, since I was kinda hooked on it for almost three years. But since my divorce from Eve in September, I’ve dabbled with Sins of a Solar Empire, Civilization V, Wings of Prey, Company of Heroes, Minecraft and most recently Silent Hunter IV: Wolves of the Pacific.

This latest game is submarine simulation, where one is in the role of an US submariner starting just after Pearl Harbor and going on from there. It’s an *incredibly* time-consuming game, with a 6-week patrol taking maybe a dozen hours to complete.

I started out the war in the USS Tuna, but after 4 patrols, it’s approaching the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor and I’ve got a new boat – the USS Drum.

I like the patience that’s required to play submarine games. And this is the first one I’ve tried since Silent Service, back in the Amiga days.

The Big Lie

Last week, it rained. A lot. Especially in some areas of Queensland. Result: a bunch of towns are flooded.

And as happens, some bureaucrat or more likely a political hack came up with the phrase that the flooded area was larger than France and Germany combined.

Know how they got that figure? They took the list of local government areas (LGAs) declared disaster areas, and added them together.

But in each LGA, the area affected – flooded, or cut off, or just majorly inconvenienced - is not the same as the total area. As an example, when there were floods in our town, maybe half a dozen streets had any flooding, and most of those only had flooding for small bits of their total length. And out of several thousand houses in the city, maybe a few dozen were flooded, or inaccessible. Even the map I created (badly) to illustrate the affected area overstated the case because I was relying on media and Twitter sources. When reality dawned, some streets listed as affected weren’t.

So from now on when you read some media hack repeat the line about the flooded areas in Queensland being the size of France and Germany combined, hopefully, you will take the claim with a healthy dose of salt. Yeah, they’ve affected a lot of people and a large area. But lying about it helps noone.

Media who’ve swallowed the line:

The BBC’s Australian correspondent, Nick Bryant here
The Big Picture from Boston here
The Guardian here

Most the Australian media have stopped using the line. Maybe because they worked out it was bogus, or maybe because they’d said it so many times last week they got tired of the cliche?

Outing the Banana

With this week’s eruption of discussion on both Twitter and on my blog about cyber-pseudonyms, I thought I would clarify something.

I was not born Dermott Banana.

But a very long time ago, when I worked in a print-room in a government department, my boss – Colin – and I decided that we’d make the machinery more productive if he came in early, and I stayed later so the printers would be running 11 hours a day, rather than the 7 and a half they would if we’d stuck to our normal hours.

During the few hours I would be alone with the large printers running flat out, I’d sit at the single office computer, load up Word Perfect (it was before the world discovered MS Word!) and type up silly little stories which I would then leave there for the amusement of Colin when he arrived at work the next day. It just became a bit of a daily routine and kept us amused.

One day, mainly as a result of a news story I’d read about someone going berserk in a mall and killing a dozen shoppers, including in a cafe I used to frequent, I wrote a story about a homicidal piece of fruit who did a similar thing, before being gunned down by police. Despite how I describe it now, it was actually a piece of comedic writing. It was never saved or printed though, so I can’t really reproduce it now. In the following days though, the story morphed. The homicidal piece of fruit instead became “Dermott the Banana”, who was fighting for the rights of fruit and vegetables against the evil vegetarians. Dermott’s philosophy was fostered by his guru – Dave the Orange – and was all about impressing two girls he knew – Thelma Mango and Frida Fruitbowl.

Later, a few years later, I was first going online. In about 1994. My first experience of the online world was the clunky early incarnations of IRC – online text-based chat. When joining, I needed a name to use. So I used “Dermott” and thus all my earliest online friends came to know me as Dermott Banana. It became who I was online, in a variety of places. I think my earliest email address was dermott@interact.net.au

My ‘alternate identity’ became so widely known amongst my circle of friends and workmates that many of them called me by that name. And when I was managing a band in the early 2000s, everyone had ‘stage names’ like “Golf T Nipples” and “Trumpet Winsock” (yeah, that last one’ started out as a geek-fart joke – not a combination you see too often). At some point, probably during a band rehearsal, the question of the process of name changing came up, and from there, it evolved into “I’ll do it if you guys pay the cost of the change” and as things do in a room full of blokes, it solidified into a plan to legally change names.

$76, three forms of ID, and a half hour of paperwork later, I had changed my name legally.

I changed it back later. One can legally change one’s name once every 12 months if one wishes. But it is the name on my licence, at least one bank account, and my birth certificate.

Scared of Spikes

There’s a defect in my motivator chip which stops me blogging when I have readers.

Last month, when there were floods locally, a few blogs linked to the pictures I had collated. Some radio stations also put links on their websites. It made my stats graph looks quite stupid.

And it meant I stopped writing for a couple of weeks.

I really should stop it – either stop looking at the stats, or stop seeing a spike as evidence I have to stop writing for a while.

New Years

We had a number of different options for New Years Eve. Free Whitlams gig in Canberra? And a couple of party invites – although in Sydney. We took up my cousin’s invite though to come check out his new place and watch Sydney’s fireworks from his apartment building’s observation deck. And with a view like this, who wouldn’t?

It was a simple ‘dinner at nearby pub, then watch fireworks’ kind of plan.

We couldn’t leave home until just after 6pm, so we headed down to Sydney as fast as we could. $girlfriend had booked us a motel room in Narellan, so we had to swing by there on the way to grab the room key. It was sunset by the time that was sorted. Then the plan was to drive as close in as we could get, park near a train station, and catch the train to Circular Quay (just a block from Marquis’ place).

All night, as we headed for the party, hurdles kept arising. The first question we needed an answer to was whether there’d be trains running after midnight – so we could get back to the car. Logic said there would be. But Cityrail’s website did not actually have an answer to that question. It said that tickets would be valid until the next day. It gave a “New Year’s Public Transport Guide” to download, but the link was a 404 error. It told how the ferries would not be running due to the fireworks, but didn’t say whether the trains or buses would be.

So their website was pretty much useless. It did though tell us Circular Quay station would be closed so we had to get a train to Wynyard instead and walk from there. On the map, that looked quite a trek. I was concerned.

I needn’t have been. The plan went remarkably well. We headed to the inner west, where I navigate everything based on where it is in relation to a mate’s cafe in Stanmore. Then we managed to find Stanmore station. And there was a parking spot right near the gate. The walk to Marquis’ place from Wynyard was about a third the length I thought it would be. And we didn’t get too lost along the way. We even managed to arrive shortly before the bar stopped serving food, so we managed to get some wedges and pizza before heading upstairs for the fireworks display.

I thought it would be a gathering of @MarquisO’s Twitter friends. I don’t think they were though – all work or other friends of his I think. Some of those I spoke to seemed nice. Although at some point, the topic of discussion turned to astrology and all of a sudden it flicked to something akin to Tim Minchin’s Storm (It’s a 9-minute video, but it’s quite amusing – go watch, I’ll wait).

Sorry, I’m a rationalist.

Of the fireworks, the view (despite the considerable crowd on the observation deck) was good. But really, they’re fireworks. With all the technological advances we’ve seen since fireworks were invented, what’s changed with fireworks? Different colours? Bigger bangs? More of them in larger clusters? I really do feel a bit jaded when watching fireworks and am wanting someone to show me something to blow my mind. Maybe someone will some day?

Afterwards, we had to wait in a massive queue for an elevator, and for some reason, everyone around us waiting was from Scotland – how does that happen? Is there some kind of allocation system for foreign tourists coming to Sydney for New Year’s Eve? “Oh, you’re from Dundee? You’ll have to go to such and such building and watch from there.” Twas a bit odd.

We got back to Marquis’ apartment. Tis small, but comfy. And for the few of us who remained, it was a nice place to relax for an hour or so before heading back to the car, and then the motel. I wouldn’t be able to live where Marquis does though – every time I went near the window, it made me uncomfortable seeing the street twenty-something storeys below.

In fact, the only truly bad thing to happen on the trip was the cup of tea that $girlfriend had from Maccas on the way home. It was reputedly the worst thing to ever happen to her. I’m no expert on tea, but I’m told the problem is that at Maccas, the kids are trained to put the hot water in, then drop the teabag into the cup, and then add milk straight away. $girlfriend explained to me the tea needs to soak at the high temperature before the milk cools it down. And at Maccas, they just don’t get this right.

EDIT: (7 January)
I saw this video, of the fireworks on the night. It’s a 2-minute display of the whole evening, and is the preferred way to watch fireworks :)

Cyber-Anonymity Follow-Up

After last night’s post, I had only one person (@Kimbo_Ramplin) follow-up with any kind of defence of the ‘disclosure’ position. She is who I meant when I wrote “some people I follow and respect backing [@SaintFrankly's] position”.

@Kimbo_Ramplin put it “It’s too easy for ppl to use anon to conduct themselves in a truly vile way” and “I understand full well the need for ppl to be pseudononymous for work; but many just seem to do it so they can call ppl cunts”. Her response made me curious. She’d defended (and taken quite a bit of flak for doing so) Grog Gamut’s pseudonymity in September. She also – I believe from previous chats with her – wore some for expressing personal beliefs online while working in a sensitive position (an adviser to a senior politician). So I had a read of her blog, and specifically this post, about an anonymous poster wrote something inappropriate. I can see therefore that @Kimbo_Ramplin has put some thought into the position.

I do think though that the #twittercoward hostility though is misdirected, especially by @SaintFrankly.

Would knowing an attacker’s name make a scrap of difference? Or is the hostility really based in frustration at failing to adequately respond to the anonymous commenter?

Here, recently, an anonymous commenter (Elemondo The Great) on a post about the NBN said:

I’ve read plenty of arguments against the NBN and this would have to be, by far, the most stupid, idiotic, thoughtless and moronic I have ever read. It’s so stupid I’m inclined to believe you’re taking the piss.

But how did I respond? Did I decide that the problem was the commenter was anonymous, and have a dummy-spit, as if I were a sports-reporter for the ABC? No. I googled the name the commenter left, found the name is used nowhere else online, and so gave Elemondo The Great more respect than he deserved in my reply:

You are, of course, welcome to point out the flaws or address the concerns.
Something I note you haven’t done.

If Elemondo The Great had been an established online presence, his comment might have carried more weight. If he’d been someone I knew, the same. But being some total nobody with nothing of a past and failing to provide a coherent comment with points of valid discussion, he was treated with disdain.

Online reputation and credibility is like a bank account. The more intelligent, witty or interesting words one speaks, the greater the balance. Abuse, uninformed or ignorant behaviour depletes the balance. It’s completely independent of whther the name people know you by matches your driver’s licence.

There are many valid reasons to have an online pseudonym. One of my followers (@del_detriment) put it well last night when she said “I honestly don’t understand how using your real name makes you accountable. Also, I find it odd we teach our kids to protect their privacy online, but expect out peers to publicly out themselves.”

Cyber-Honesty

The issue of cyber-anonymity arose again this week. Not in a big way. But Francis Leach (ABC and former TripleJ celebrity) bought it to my attention by saying “Anonymous twitter postings. Unaccountable & gutless. If you’re going to say it, put your name to it #twittercowards” and “Declare war on #twittercowards. Block & ignore those that wont own what they say”.

I was surprised to find some people I follow and respect backing his position, but others I follow were opposed.

As I mentioned to one of those who were disagreeing with Francis Leach “I’ve got a lot of respect for @SaintFrankly, but on the anon tweet thing, he’s wide of the mark”.

Although I am not anonymous in Cyberia, I know many people who choose to be. Each who chooses to does it for their own reasons – some serious, some trivial.

I do find the position that “Unless the name on your Twitter account matches that on your driver’s licence, then you’re being dishonest and cowardly” to be a curious one. Not curious actually – I think it’s complete nonsense.

During the 2010 election campaign, an obscure blogger rose to national prominence with his writings on the progress of the campaign. One of the main reasons Grog’s Gamut became so popular and certainly why I considered it essential reading was he was doing something the mainstream media wasn’t – writing good quality analysis and making me think about the campaign and where it was going.

In doing so, Grog was being judged not on who he was, not on what the name on his driver’s licence was, but on the content and quality of his writing. At its purest, isn’t that the way all writing should be judged? If the byline of an article changes its import, isn’t that tainting the quality of the piece?

History now tells us Grog was outed by The Australian, his name is Greg Jericho, and he’s a public servant in an area dealing with film policy.

I don’t know about other readers of Grog’s Gamut, but knowing the name on his birth certificate changes nothing with my interpretation of the articles he posted to his blog. It’s nonsense to think it would.

I would genuinely like to hear the counter-arguments. I’d like to know why anonymity online is cowardly behaviour. If you’re someone who believes it is: please, put your case. Sell me on why you think it so.

I would have asked @SaintFrankly to respond. But he’s blocked me on Twitter. Which, I have to say, makes me reconsider what I said about respecting him.

Water Retreating

The Queanbeyan river is in retreat.

$girlfriend and Miss 6 have returned home, and their pics give a good idea of the extent of the flooding, and also how much the water has receded already.

In this picture, you can see the water line on the columns of the underground carpark, and the level has dropped about a metre since this morning’s peak.

Here is a good illustration of how far up Morrisset street the floodwater came. This photo is taken opposite the nursery/garden centre.

This is taken from the corner of Collett & Morrisset streets, looking across to the art gallery and the Kings Highway bridge.

Water Water Everywhere

The town where we live is flooding.

This is the first pic I saw. I’d heard the carpark (lower level of that shopping mall shown) was flooded, and I thought to myself “But that’s like three or four metres above the normal river level”. If I hadn’t seen it, I would not have believed it.

Then I saw this one, a car lot from the corner of Atkinson & Waniassa streets.

This picture is an art gallery on the opposite side of the river from the shopping mall in the top picture.

Then, I saw some pictures take from the other end of Collett street. Both seem to have been taken from the same location.

The Art Gallery from picture #3 is visible in this picture, at the north-eastern end of the bridge.

It’s raining again. River’s past the predicted peak, and likely to go a metre or so higher.

I’ll try and find source information for these pictures.

UPDATE: @ambiej also sent this to #QueanbeyanFlood:

This pic is from the main bridge in the middle of town. Anyone familiar with Queanbeyan will know this bridge is usually 5-6 metres above the river level. The boat is in an area that has at least a metre of water over it.

The local member and state Minister for Emergency Services has said just now on the radio the river will peak at 10 metres – when an hour ago, the prediction was for 8.2 metres.

UPDATE:

The latest information about what areas have been evacuated and which roads are closed has been announced on the radio (11AM).

I am not very good with graphic programs, but here’s a map of the areas affected they announced.

There are also pictures available on another blog and here too.

On a local news website, there’s some other pics too:

This could be the flats along Morrisset street.

We had to check this picture to make sure Miss 6 wasn’t amongst the subjects :)

And the source of the problem?

The radio is reporting (at noon) that the river is now dropping. I hope they’re right. I have a job interview this afternoon on the other side of the river, and I’ve rung the bloke the interview is with to make sure the Yass Road is open. It’ll mean a long drive there though, about 10-15 kms for something that’s less than a kilometre in a straight line.

185 to 1

I’m not a Beatles fan. Not in the same way some people are. I like them, and most of their stuff, but I have friends for whom they are their favourite band. And, if I’m honest, they’re not in my top five. Too much of their stuff is average, although I will admit some of their songs I really like. But as Dave Faulkner from the Hoodoo Gurus sang once “I need a sound that aint found six feet underground” – I prefer music released in my own lifetime.

About a month ago, I was doing some things around town in my girlfriend’s car. And it’s got a Beatles sticker on the back window. So the store owner I was visiting asked me about the sticker and whether I was a fan. I explained it was $girlfriend’s car, and she was a bigger fan than I. He then started telling me how big a Beatles fan he was, like this common ground gave him reason to consider me a friend, rather than just an occasional customer.

But hey, everyone born after 1950 is a Beatles fan to some extent, aren’t they? That is the equivalent of promoting someone to friend status because they drive on the left hand side of the road, or they like steak.

Anyway, around the same time, I saw a discussion on Twitter about a website whose owner had written a “definitive” list of the Beatles 185 songs, in order of quality. Like anyone alive, I took a look at the list and noticed how incredibly wrong it is. Check it yourself, reproduced on Peter Martin’s blog (because the original has vanished from the web). I’d take down the original if I wrote it too. I mean really! Who would put “I am the Walrus” at number 2??? It wouldn’t make the top 100 in my list. And to NOT put Bungalow Bill in the bottom five? Clearly the original creator of the list was deranged!

My top five though would probably include (in no particular order) Norwegian Wood, Across the Universe, In My Life (which would probably be No 1), Hey Jude and All You Need Is Love.

The bottom would have Bungalow Bill, Revolution 9 (the only correctly placed song in the original list), With a Little Help From My Friends (yeah, I hate it coz I hate Joe Cocker, who ruined the song forever in my memory), Me & My Monkey and I Am The Walrus.

Fast Forward

The absurd pace of the last couple of weeks continued last week.

Wednesday, I quit my temp job in a move that may have been a bit misjudged. But I’ve had a bit of history with copping abuse from someone for following their own instructions, and that happened at the temp job so I wrote an email to my boss and walked. I probably should have acted in a more considered way, but hey, that’s what happened.

The situation I cannot write about boiled over on Friday in a good and bad way. Bad because of the immediate impact, but good in that it set the nemesis up for a fall.

The whole situation, with the possible lifestyle change that may come with a victory, prompted a discussion with $girlfriend on the question of “What do we want our life to look like?” which has forced me to look at that topic a bit in the last few days. I might come up with an answer soon hopefully.

Clued Up

Thursday night, I watched Paul Keating interviewed on Lateline. Despite being out of office for a decade and a half, he surprised me to the extent that he’s clued up on issues such as the European economic situation, the international position of China and many others. Most impressive. In fact, his take on Ireland’s economic situation, and on the rise of China was the best explanation of the issues I’ve heard before.

For my own benefit, I’ve put the transcript after the fold – just in case the ABC site archives it and makes it unreadable down the track.

Continue reading

Vanquishing Enemies

Today, I feel a lot better. I feel relieved and relaxed.

Last week was a struggle.

Sunday (21st) we came back from Newcastle. And straight into a stoush I’m not allowed to write about here. Which resulted in making an appointment to see a solicitor on Tuesday.

Monday lunchtime, I noticed someone had hit my car, without leaving a note. It may have happened over the weekend, or maybe Monday morning while I was at work.

Wednesday, I put $girlfriend and Miss 6 on the plane, and then came the petrol station fiasco. I have to admit, that messed me around for most of the day. Made me feel quite besieged.

Friday (26th), I went to the airport to collect $girlfriend and Miss 6. SMSes soon told me their flight was delayed, so I went home to wait. Before long, flight was cancelled. So I rang and we worked out an alternate plan – because Miss 6 had a scout camp to go to in Sydney for the weekend. I was to get Miss 6′s stuff together, and meet them when they flew into Sydney at 7am Saturday. So I drove to Sydney, crashing at Eccles’ place at 2am.

Saturday, I woke up, and an SMS told me as I struggled to get out of bed to drive to the airport that the latest flight was cancelled. New arrangement was for a Saturday evening flight into Canberra. Miss 6′s scout camp had become collateral damage.

I drove back to Canberra, and finally met $girlfriend and Miss 6. We thought we could relax. Until we learnt their luggage hadn’t been on the same flight, so that needed to be chased up.  It arrived Sunday (28th). Fortunately, my super-sized Toblerone had survived mostly intact.

Monday – yesterday – we had solicitors, electricity companies, ombudsmen, university lecturers and someone else (who I’m not allowed to write about) to straighten out. By the end of Monday, they’d all been pulled into line, and our world was once again the way $girlfriend and I like it. And I have to say, I enjoyed Monday’s battles immensely. The sense of relief when they were won was disturbingly noticeable. And absolutely worthwhile.

Home for a Wedding

Two weekends ago (well, the weekend before this one – I’m writing this on a Sunday night), we went to Newcastle for a wedding of my youngest cousin.

Unlike previous trips to the home town, this time we stayed at a B&B rather than with my mother. It was a great decision, especially since my most annoying sister lives next to my mother, and so is impossible to avoid when staying at mum’s. In an added bonus, annoying sister didn’t even go to the wedding, so I didn’t have to see her at all.

The weekend was an excellent one – I got to see members of my family I liked, and the weather was glorious. Unlike many of my friends, I have a family where noone puts on a false face for the others, and it was kind of relaxing to be amongst them in a large tribal gathering. Of course, it’s just one more in a long list of reasons to go home permanently. That has to wait for now though.

I think we also decided that when the weather is warm, and life slows down a bit over the summer, we’ll go back and stay for an extended trip – a week or so.

Free to Go?

This week, my girlfriend is delivering a talk to a conference in Melbourne. I took her to the airport for her 6.30am flight, and noticed the fuel light on her car was on, so I stopped to get some fuel on the way home. It’s the day before payday, and I was unsure how much was in my cash account, so I only put $20 in. I noted the pump number and went in to pay. I told the guy at the counter I was at pump 6, and he said that one had already been paid for.

I told him again, pointed out which car it was, and he told me I must have moved the car, because I had used pump 10 and I had to pay $70.

I hadn’t had breakfast. I hadn’t had enough sleep. And I hadn’t woken up properly. So I had to think about what he was saying, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t filled the car and then moved it to another pump before coming in. So I told him again it was $20 on pump 6. He started getting a bit upset, so his manager, at the counter next to him, stepped in and took over. The manager explained I had to pay $70 because I must have put fuel in, moved the car to another pump, and then come into the shop area. I refused, so he threatened to call the police.

“Go ahead, but you are wrong. Don’t you have cameras everywhere? Why don’t you look at them?” I replied. He never answered my question about the cameras.

I waited while the manager called the police. Some other customers who had witnessed the exchange made some passing comments to me about how the manager was overreacting, and as one fellow customer said “Do you know pump 10 is diesel?” So I walked to another section of the store – I wasn’t going outside to where the car was: I didn’t want to be accused of trying to leave before the police arrived.

The police – quite surprisingly – took only a couple of minutes. And I was still killing time in the store. If I’d been in a hurry, I would have been more agitated. But it was still only about 6.30, and normally, I wouldn’t be even out of bed for another hour. So I could afford the time for this to play out, and I knew that remaining calm would be important, especially now the police were there.

One of the cops – the younger one – came to me at the back of the store, and asked me to wait while his senior colleague spoke to the manager. I heard what the manager said – I was only 5 metres away, after all. He basically repeated the claim I’d filled up at 10, moved to 6, and then quoted a pump number which had already been paid. The older cop asked about the security cameras, and the manager said he could show them. Older cop then came and spoke to me.

He asked me if I was going to pay $70 for the fuel. By this stage, I had used the ATM in the back of the store to check the balance of my cash account ($36) and I’d withdrawn $20 cash to pay. I told senior cop I’d pay $20 because that’s all the fuel I had put in the car. I noticed while he was doing this, his younger colleague started radioing in to check the registration details of the car, and getting the information the car did not belong to me. I didn;t hear the radio response to younger cop’s queries, because I was talking to senior cop. (I really should have noted their names!) Senior cop said if I didn’t pay the manager the $70 he was claiming, I would be taken to the station and charged. He didn’t specify with what.

I told senior cop there were several points he should consider before taking that path.

“One: pump 10 is a diesel. The car is unleaded. So the wider outlet will not even fit in the fuel inlet for the car. Two: if you like, you can check the fuel gauge of the car – there is only $20 of fuel in there. Three: the car will not hold $70 of fuel, diesel or unleaded. Four: there are security cameras – you just spoke to the manager about them – and they will prove I did not use pump 10. I will pay $20, or you can arrest me.” I held out my wrists indicating he could handcuff me (I’ve used that challenge before to a cop – they tend not to take up the offer).

The cops and I walked out to pump 10, and checked it was diesel. Senior cop then asked me to pop the fuel cover for the car, to confirm it was unleaded. Junior asked me whose car it was – I informed him it was my girlfriend’s, I had dropped her at the airport for a 6.30 flight, and I showed him my licence, and he noted the details in his book.

Senior cop said he was convinced, and I offered to pay him the $20 in my pocket, or take the cash into the manager who was still serving customers at the counter. He said he would take the $20 from me, and pay the manager, but asked I not leave until he returned to junior cop and I, and we waited at the car. He went in, paid the manager, and then returned. He told me I was free to go.

Regional Revival

In Australia at the moment, there’s plenty of communities crying out for new residents. Often I read of this or that town, several hours drive from the capital cities, dying and making all sorts of desperate attempts to pull in a few extra families. An extra few families might make the difference between keeping a school or losing it. Or a bank. Or a doctor.

A few weeks ago, I read that the town of Trundle, population a few hundred, a couple of hours out of Dubbo, was offering rental houses for $1 a week, in an attempt to draw some extra residents. It prompted me to have an email discussion with some friends along the lines of “If you decided to take up this cheap rent offer, and move to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, what would you do? What business would you set up? What career change opportunities would you take advantage of?”

Because the email discussion was mainly with some geeky friends, the discussion had a distinctly technological flavour to it. But the idea was fermenting in my head for a while. Added to this is that, in my work, I deal with many people who are at the poorer end of the socio-economic scale.

Many of those people are living in the outer suburbs of capital cities, and have very little tying them geographically to where they are. Would it be more economical for the government, and possibly beneficial to the pensioners/single-parents etc if they were given some incentive to move to smaller, more rural communities where they might have better lives, fresh starts, or different life paths? I don’t believe the homeless and poor should be forced into such moves. But surely it’d be better to offer them some kind of incentive than have them live on the edges of society in capital cities?

With that mindset, I read Bob Ellis’ latest piece on The Drum.

His proposal is to put boat people in caravan parks in regional towns, a few hundred at a time. They’d be able to socialise with locals, work in the town, stimulate the local economy, and be ‘trial citizens’ while their applications for refugee status are assessed. It’s a plan with no losers, except maybe the Nauru prison guards. As Bob says though, “will the Prime Minister buy this? Of course not.”

Sometimes I think Bob gets a bit ranty. But I’ve always had a soft spot for him since he used to hang out at Kim‘s office when I worked there. And helped us set up our “Shrine to Miranda Otto” in the back room of the Opposition Leader’s suite. Today’s piece by Bob though makes me think this country needs him as a President or some such.

Against the NBN

Not the Newcastle TV station. The National Broadband Network. I’m against it. Despite being a screaming lefty.

Actually, I am not against its existence. I am just opposed to the government spending a metric shit-load of money on it. If it’s viable, let it be built by a private organisation. If the government really thinks it’s important, let them specify what bits are important, and reward whatever private organisation builds those bits.

Of course, with the Australian telecommunications system screwed up because of previous mistakes, it’s a messy terrain. But that terrain is a mess precisely because for the last few decades, we’ve had governments fucking up the industry. Telstra’s dominance is a result of a privatisation which was driven more by political considerations than by the long-term interests of the country and consumers.

(Courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner)

To those who argue the public and social benefits of the network, I am the least sympathetic. After all, technology always promises lofty altruistic goals. And delivers garbage.

Television promised documentaries and education. We got Australian Idol and The Bold & The Beautiful.

The web offered e-commerce and sharing of knowledge. We got porn websites and Facebook.

Email promised instant communication. We got spam.

Broadband promised video-calls. What it gets used for is sharing movies at increasingly stupid picture and sound qualities that are indiscernibly better than last year’s version.

Having a broadband network capable of delivering 100Mbps has the potential to make cyber-surgery possible. It has the potential to solve the problems of regional Australia and their tyranny of distance.

What it will deliver though will be the equivalent of the spam, porn and lowest-common-denominator shite improved technology has always given us.

Discovering Steampunk

Inspired by this article on Boing Boing, my girlfriend and I were chatting about Steampunk and other related subcultures. My understanding of it until recently was that it was a kind of alternate-history world, where steam and clockwork rather than internal combustion and electronics controlled technology. My main awareness of it came from seeing ads and articles about Space 1889, the 1980s role-playing game which seemed to be based in a Jules Verne world where steam spaceships and dirigibles were ubiquitous.

I started reading about it, and going through some of the shops I found online. Places like Gentlemen’s Emporium in California.

Along the way, on my tour of all things Steampunk, I came across two pictures I thought were way cool. The first is a drill bit, positioned to appear as though it’s emerged from the earth into some chap’s yard. I dunno about you, but when I saw it, the first thing I thought was “Mr Squiggle crashed here!”.

The next is a robot helmet. Which looks terribly centurion-like, either in a Roman or Cylon way.

And the second pic got me thinking – was Robots a Steampunk movie?

Jack of the Second First

2/1 Battalion was raised in Sydney at the start of the war. I’m not sure what prompted Jack’s decision – I don’t know enough about his life then. Was it patriotism? Was he looking for a sense of adventure? Or possibly even just a steady pay-cheque? That last is possible; the ’30s hadn’t been overly generous to my grandfather. But he took the train down from Newcastle and signed on. Quite a few of the initial sign-ons were Novocastrian.

Training in Ingleburn. Disciplinary problems. Desertion. Even a soldier gaoled for murder. 2/1st wasn’t exactly the finest battalion ever to serve. Certainly not before leaving Australia. They boarded ships – half a dozen ocean liners. Well-appointed boats with luxury accommodations (even if there were four soldiers crammed into each double-berth cabin) and plenty of cheap beer.

They trained some more in Egypt and were rushed into the battle when Italians in Libya attacked the British forces in Egypt in the summer of 1940, capturing Bardia.

In early 1941, with the Italians reeling back in Libya, Erwin Rommel and his Africa Korps arrived to back them up. 2/1st were moved out of Tobruk shortly before Rommel counter-attacked and the port became cut off. It remained cut off for 240 days – most of 1941 from April to November. While their fellow diggers were in Tobruk, 2/1st were sent to Crete where they were soon retreating from the German paratroopers and so by Christmas 1941, 2/1st were in Palestine.

By that Christmas, war had started with Japan and Australia was dangerously under-defended. Prime Minister Curtin was pulling troops home, and 2/1st were amongst the returning troops. Thoughts of coming home though were short-lived and 2/1st were diverted to Port Moresby, and the pivotal Owen Stanley Campaign. 2/1st were not the most high-profile unit on the Kokoda Trail. But they lost many of their number there.

Jack was almost one.

As I understand it, Jack’s war ended in Kokoda in 1942. He took a bullet in the shoulder and another close to his lung. Both were deemed too dangerous to remove so he carried those Japanese bullets around for the remainder of his life.

2/1st spent the remainder of the war in Papua New Guinea. Jack seems to have been invalided out and returned home to Newcastle. There, he married Thelma, adopted my mum when she was a baby, worked in various low-grade jobs, drank too much, was far too angry, wasn’t the most exemplary father one could have had, and suffered a major stroke in his late 70s.

When I met him, he was old and frail. His best mate, who I understood he met in the 2/1st would visit him in the nursing home each weekend and take his requested bets down to the TAB because Jack couldn’t go there himself. He died when I was in my early 20s.

On days like today, when historians and journalists and political speechwriters write of wars, what gets forgotten are the blokes who fought them. Not the heroes, not the poets or those whose letters got sent home and ended up published. But those like Jack.

I recently received the official history of 2/1st and I’m reading it slowly at the moment. What strikes me is that it’s ordinary blokes. More ordinary than anyone I’ve ever met.

End of a Battle

Recently, I chose to give up on a battle I’d been fighting for more than a year.

I can’t write about it here (or anywhere, as it happens) until 2012, but the battle was one about free speech, and calling someone a thief if they steal from me.

I sacked two lawyers, and chose to fight it myself. Along the way, I learnt a lot. But I also experienced more than a year of patchy sleep, stress and negative health impacts.

A few days before the final court battle, I gave up, and so the other side won by default.

Despite the outcome, I feel more satisfied with the result knowing I achieved it fighting for myself, rather than having a solicitor fight for me. Especially given my experience of solicitors who are rottweilers up until the moment of truth, and then they turn to water when the heat is on.

Why solicitors turn to water is beyond me. After all, they have absolutely nothing to lose by fighting. They’re paid to fight. They will be paid win or lose. So to roll over when their client wants to stand up is just pathetic.

Is it just coincidence that I’ve only ever employed female solicitors? Would I have found more courage in males? Not sure. Either way, I’ve felt more satisfaction from legal stoushes (won some, lost some) I’ve had when I’ve stood up for myself rather than let a paid lackey do it for me. So I’d recommend it to everyone.

Birthday

Last weekend, it was my girlfriend’s birthday so we went away to a little B&B a couple of hours away. The plan was simple – be away from everything to relax for a couple of days.

As it turned out, some of home’s ongoing saga caught up with us. But it didn’t overwhelm the whole weekend, and it was still nice to have a completely vacant schedule for a while so we could relax together.

Today though, something weird.

I spoke before about my girlfriend becoming a bit of a someone in the circles she mixes in. Today though, a package arrived from Amazon and it seems one of her fans – male, socially-underdeveloped fans – went shopping on her Amazon wishlist to an extent that is really quite disturbing.

Decisions

I have decided to return to study.

Before I do, I need to write a checklist of “stuff I need to sort out before I return to study”.

And then complete it.

But I’ll do it later.

Coz I’m feeling non-writey tonight.

Gaming History

I’ve been a pretty solid Eve Online player for the last three years. I was introduced to it when I returned from Brisbane by Jam, one of my Illawarran geek friends, and created my account on the first day of September 2007. Jam left the game soon after recruiting me, so I was alone for a while. And alone isn’t a real way to enjoy something like Eve. After all, at any time, there’ll be tens of thousands of others logged in. So flying alone is kind of doing it wrong.

In late 2007, I met Tyr Cloudstone. Tyr was second in command of the Phoenix Wing, a corporation who had just linked up with Strix and Takagi to form Acheron Federation. Acheron were a Gallente loyalist alliance, fighting in the Solitude region. Strix were pretty hard core role players. And Takagi were French-speaking pilots. All up, Acheron numbered around 120 pilots, divided pretty evenly between the three corporations.

With Phoenix & Acheron, I made some new friends and participated in my first real battles. And started using voice comms for the first time. With Danes, Scots, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Americans, Germans as well as a couple of Australians, the international flavour made Eve great fun.

In late 2007, my mate Rob, who I haven’t seen since he emigrated to Manchester in the late 90s, mentioned he was starting to play Eve, so I encouraged him into Phoenix Wing. He clashed with one of the others there and, as Acheron were splitting up Rob & I set out to form a corporation on our own – the Brotherhood of Mars. Going from a corporation of 30-40 as part of a 120-pilot alliance down to a two-man independent operation (and where the other man was 10 timezones away) meant a lot of the social aspect of Eve was lost for me, so my interest waned. Acquiring a new girlfriend meant I spent hardly any time logged into Eve too. So I closed my accounts down.

They stayed closed for about six months, but in late 2008, I got an email from Rob. He was still in-game, running Brotherhood of Mars. My girlfriend was doing NaNoWriMo, so I had plenty of spare time so I reactivated my accounts. Unfortunately, Eve Online had a fresh software patch in December and the effect was to blur my graphics so badly I could hardly read the text on the screen. So I dropped out again.

In May 2009, the Illawarran geeks decided to find a game we all could join in and play together. Eve was the choice, and so Ham, Jam, Eccles & I all reactivated our Eve accounts. Rob was still there, still in the dangerous space of Syndicate region where he’d been all along. Rob’s dictatorial style of running Brotherhood of Mars alienated the others, so they didn’t stay. I stayed in-game, although I joined ANZAC – one of the largest in-game corporations of Australian pilots.

With ANZAC, in November/December, I participated in one of the biggest wars in Eve’s recent history, as a scout in the campaign to capture Fountain region from Pandemic Legion and the Sons of Tangra.

I was on a brief break from Eve after when the invasion of Delve region occurred, which culminated in the collapse of Goonswarm, Eve’s largest and most powerful alliance. With the end of the Goons, ANZAC took up residence in former Goon-space in Delve and with peace came boredom. So around Easter, I was so bored I was about ready to quit Eve once again.

It was around then that CT, a former ANZAC pilot, contacted me. He was leading a breakaway of some ANZAC pilots to form a new corporation – Jovian Brothers. Did I want to join? In May, I signed up and once again was amongst a small group of active players who were all good mates. I had tremendous fun for a couple of months, before a split in Jovian Brothers happened and was really acrimonious. Jovian Brothers split down the middle, and I ended up going with CT and some others back to Fountain where we started flying with a small Australian mob. The new lot though didn’t live up to expectations. CT got bored and quit Eve. In the process, a few others who’d come with us from Jovian Bros drifted off to do their own thing or leave Eve altogether. All through August, I barely logged in. Eve, for me, was all about the social circle I was playing with, and they were all gone or alienated. At the end of August, I closed down my Eve accounts, especially as I was getting my gaming fix from Company of Heroes, a WW2 infantry game my son had introduced me to. Then I returned to Sins of a Solar Empire for a few weeks. And when Civilization V came out, the addiction shifted to that.

Actually, Civ V is why I barely blogged this month. That big three week gap? What I was doing is playing Civ V, and having email chats with the Illawarran geeks telling stories about how our empires were going, especially when the settings I play on mean games last a week, rather than just a few hours. Plenty of time to email Eccles and Jam and chat about progress that way.

Today though, I got an email from Jules, the leader of the “other side” in the Jovian Bros split. I’ve always respected him, and I think he was quite hurt when the split happened, at the sense of betrayal by those he considered his friends, especially CT. Jules told me today most of the old Jovian Bros team are back together in another corporation, and Eve’s become fun for them once more. It got me thinking. I wont go back immediately, but if I do go back, it will likely be to join them. We’ll see.

When Spam Works

Last week, I ordered this:

and this:

and, just to have a set, this too:

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Amazon‘s sending me spam suggesting I might want to buy this?

Should I?

One thing that did impress me though was I ordered those books last Wednesday night. And they were delivered yesterday – Monday, less than a week later.

Celebrity Boyfriendism

On a few occasions lately, I’ve been at events where my girlfriend is the celebrity, the centre of attention. And I’m just there as a kind of handbag or accessory.

It’s not a bad thing. But it’s a new phenomenon and a little odd.

Naturally, I find it mildly fascinating – people fawning over her as she gains status in her fields. Especially from a people-watching perspective.

Rocking the Boat

My post about the protection of paedophiles by the Catholic education authorities caused some waves, with several people contacting me about the issue. It triggered a discussion at home here and something came out of it I’d never considered before.

Why would any organisation which deals with children, faced with a child molester amongst their personnel, do anything *except* show them the door when the situation was discovered?

Surely the knowledge it was only going to end badly if any other path was taken would be well understood, wouldn’t it? If so, why do anything else? Why hide it? Why take action to protect the offender? What could they possibly have hoped to gain by hiding from the situation?

There’s Your Chief of Staff

In He Shall, From Time to Time, episode 12 of the first season of The West Wing, President Bartlet is about to give his State of the Union address, and his Secretary of Agriculture, Roger Tribby, has been selected as ‘the guy’ – the cabinet member who must be in a secure location away from the rest, in the event of a catastrophic event that kills off the President and others in the line of succession. President Bartlet is explaining to Tribby what happens in the event he finds himself president, as Leo McGarry – Bartlet’s chief of staff – listens silently in his office. The President is unaware McGarry’s there.

“You got a best friend?” asks the President.
“Yessir,” Tribby replies.
“Is he smarter than you?”
“Yessir.”
“Would you trust him with your life?”
“Yessir.”
Bartlet smiles and says “There’s your chief of staff.”

When I read Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was quitting his job, I began to wonder why someone would quit – it’s not like he could have got a better offer somewhere else – and how will this change the Obama presidency?

Then I found out Emanuel is running for the mayor of Chicago. Now, I have never been to Chicago, but really? Who’d give up being at the centre of power for the whole world in order to take a stab at being the mayor of a city? That’s just daft.

Scoop?

A month ago, there was a football game between Canterbury Bulldogs and North Queensland Cowboys. There seems to be a bit of a scandal created because of a betting plunge on the first score being a Canterbury penalty goal. Supposedly, police are investigating the possible corruption of several players.

I am not much of a NRL fan anymore so I’ve only had the vaguest interest in the story. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I received an email at work from a colleague. Supposedly, this email had originated from a Federal Police officer, been forwarded to someone in the AFP pay office, then forwarded to one of my work colleagues, then to me.

It detailed the outcome of the police investigation into the betting scandal, and said the NRL would announce the result of the investigation after tomorrow’s grand final between the Dragons and Roosters. The email included details of which players would be sacked by their clubs; which would be banned from the game for life; and the web of connections between the players and betting agency figures.

Looking at the email, it’s either a hoax, or genuine.

If it’s genuine, what amazes me is that I received a copy. I’d expect such a story to be treated more confidentially.

If it’s a hoax, it seems quite a detailed one.

I guess I’ll see whether what is outlined in the email comes to pass to see if it’s real or not.

Learning the Truth

Last year, I organised a school reunion. One of the most disturbing aspects of the reunion was hearing some stories about a Christian Brother who was found to be interfering with some students. Back then, in 1989, the perpetrator – Brother Dominic Obbens – was named and shamed, forced to leave the College and later charged. I’m proud of my classmate who instigated this outcome. I didn’t know the perpetrator back then.

Today though, I learnt that my 6th grade teacher – Tony Bambach – was a convicted child molester. I say ‘was’ because he died in 2006.

Apparently, Bambach was a known paedophile when he was appointed as a teacher in 1974 – known by the Catholic church education authorities in Newcastle & Maitland anyway. I was at St Joseph’s, East Maitland in 1979 to 1982. At the time, Bambach was the 6th grade teacher. He was a teacher all the kids worshiped and I remember vividly my 11th birthday when it was announced I was going into his class for 6th grade. The legend of Tony Bambach was that he was as old as time, and would speak of historical figures of antiquity as though they were personal friends; but when i was in his class in 1982, I calculated his real age because he said he was 19 during the Maitland floods in 1955. His stories of adventure were commonplace in his classroom.

By 1986, he was the deputy headmaster at another school, in Nelson Bay. Something happened there that meant he was charged and convicted in 1988.

Although there was nothing I was aware of at the time, it is difficult to believe that a known paedophile in 1974 would have waited until 1986 to re-offend. The reasonable conclusion is that my classmates may have been victims. I think back to my classmates of the time. Kids the age of my son.

What a depressing thought.

But an even more depressing thought is that, at the time, he was a hero to every student in the school.

Second Favourite Team

James Hird, Thomas Hird & Kevin Sheedy

My second favourite AFL team has a new coach.

Normally, that wouldn’t be something I pay a lot of attention to but this new coach is James Hird. And Hirdy was always a joy to watch when he was playing. I was pleased to hear he was appointed coach, but am slightly worried he may fail in the new role and thus ruin his legendary status with the the Essendon fans.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope he goes on to be a great coaching success like Kevin Sheedy. But Sheedys are rare creatures.

A Tale of Two Gigs

Last week, I went to two gigs.

The first was Regurgitator.

I rocked up, met up with @mickrad who had suggested a couple of months earlier I come along. We had some drinks. We chatted. The first support band came on. I liked them, so I bought a CD. I went outside to put the CD in the car and felt extremely dizzy. Two spews in the carpark later, I sat in the car nursing a severe headache for about 20 minutes. And decided to bail out for the evening. So I went home without seeing the main act.

Two nights later, my girlfriend and I went to Sydney to see Lazy Susan.

The more I hear Lazy Susan the more fond I am of them. And having spent far too many years and far too many dollars in my younger days managing and promoting bands I loved, they are one of the few bands I’d consider going back to that game for. Fortunately for me (and probably for them), they are in Sydney, so we’ll never run into that temptation.

The played some of my favourite songs. Played Bobby Fischer and Canada back to back, just like on their Long Lost album. And even though my girlfriend and I didn’t get back home until the sun was coming up, it made my weekend.

\o/

Today was my first day at my new job. As far as first days go, it was pretty decent. The worst aspect was that I’d wandered a bit far off when getting lunch, and so got back to the office slightly late. Since I spent the day in co-piloting with a more experienced staff member, it didn’t matter terribly though.

Today was also the day the manager at my former employer had insisted I return to my old job and work out my notice period – until 15 October. As outlined earlier, that was never going to happen. I admit I was a little curious how the former manager would react today because the last email I had sent him, in response to his latest request I return to work, was about as subtle as a wave motion gun. What I’d done is tell him he was legally obliged to pay me until 15 October. And if he didn’t, I’d follow up with AFACT, as outlined in my previous blog post.

His response was to email me this afternoon.

He thanked me for my email. Then said he didn’t appreciate threats (showing he doesn’t understand me – they weren’t threats, they were an accurate representation of what evidence I had against him and the company) and he went on to make some rather lame threats against me. The amusing aspect was what he was threatening to do would have caused some grief if he’d done it a year ago. Now, they’ve lost their potency.
Next was the best bit. Despite arguing for 4 days he wasn’t obligated to pay me until 15 October, he then announced he intended paying me until that date and would have a cheque drawn up.

Who says being a hard-arsed bastard isn’t the best way to get what you want?

:)

Outings

On Twitter today, the big story was that a journalist had published a story ‘outing’ ‘Grog‘, a blog author who rose to prominence in the recent election campaign. Grog had stirred the pot a bit during the campaign, as he was critical of much of the vacuous media coverage.

I am not a favour of revealing the real identities behind pseudonyms. I no longer blog under a pseudonym, but I have in the past and many people do. And if they wish to, then *shrug* that’s up to them. I can understand why someone would. Many of the feeble-minded don’t like hearing the truth about the world, and if a blog author chooses to avoid the hostility of the feebles, especially those immediately surrounding them, that’s their choice.

There’s an aspect to the Grog outing I don’t understand though. Reading the article from the newspaper hasn’t helped me. I don’t understand how the world knowing the name on Grog’s driver’s licence alters the veracity of his words. How does knowing Grog’s name is Greg dilute the criticisms of the media and the campaign that he published?

The newspaper article says Grog breached rules of the public service, his employer. But he clearly hasn’t. Those rules limit what one can say publicly about one’s immediate work, but leave the door open to speak about any other issues as a normal citizen. And the fact Grog is in reality someone of complete irrelevance – not a senior party strategist, nor a journalist, nor a participant in any of the issues he has written of – means his legal name is even less relevant. If he was a sacked government minister, defending policy, then his identity might have some part to play in the story of his writings and their influence. Or a disenchanted former journalist criticising the way the media were behaving, perhaps? But a middle ranking bureaucrat named Greg working in film policy? How does that matter?

For many years, I’ve disliked journalists. I’ve had personal run-ins with several.

Twitter is dangerous though because it’s full of journalists. Often journalists we’ve heard of. And so it’s easy to forget they are amongst we humans, although they are not of us.

Rewards of Loyalty

There are few electorates in any democracy which rival my hometown. In the last 110 years, it has sent ALP members to Macquarie Street at every election, except one. Even then, in 1988, the loyal citizens of Newcastle elected an independent, rather than a conservative. Federally, the seat’s never elected a non-Labor candidate. The surrounding electorates, at both state and federal levels, have similar records. Not surprisingly, this loyalty has been rewarded in a way that looks suspiciously like being taken for granted.

In recent weeks, Newcastle’s CBD has lost its biggest retailer (David Jones announced they’d be closing at the end of January 2011) and there are concerns about the ramifications for the CBD’s remaining businesses. For reasons I’m unclear about, the David Jones departure is being blamed on the state government’s failure to adequately deal with a proposed revitalisation plan for the CBD. Last night, while I was listening to Newcastle local radio via the web, Neil Slater – owner of one of the city’s popular restaurants and a vocal businessman – was promoting a protest action he was planning.

Neil Slater @ Nobby'sSlater’s plan is to organise a large number of Novocastrians to drive to Sydney on a parliamentary sitting day and park in Macquarie Street, to blockade it until the state government is prepared to speak to the protesters. The callers to the radio program showed a mixture of enthusiasm, and pessimism typical of any such suggestion and it got me thinking.

I’ve lived in several cities, and noticed each has a different way of getting stuff done, of approaching a problem. Probably the most noticeable contrast has been between Newcastle and Canberra. In Canberra, if a group of citizens want something done, the question which underlies the plan they work toward is “How can I get the government to do what I want?” In Newcastle, the attitude is much less state-centric. The Canberra mindset of “if we talk to the government, they will listen to us” doesn’t seem to exist up there. It’s born of generations of being ignored, of living in a city which has 9% of the state’s population, produces 21% of the state’s GDP, 32% of the state’s exports yet receives only 4% of the state’s government funding.

I don’t believe Slater’s protest will work. Not because I think it’s a poor idea, but because a century of neglect wont change because of the events of a single day.

Listening to that interview though, it did make me decide that when the day comes when I can return home, I’ll have to bring my experience of other ways to helping fix the neglect. I wont succeed. But banging my head against brick walls is situation normal for me.

Resigning

Almost two weeks ago, I confirmed something I’d suspected for a while – my colleague who is meant to in the same role as me is being paid substantially more than I. As he had started a year after me, and in different circumstances, I could understand him being paid more. But the amount being so substantial caused me to think the inequity should be remedied.

My third anniversary working there coming up, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to even the situation up a bit. With that in mind, I emailed the owner and the manager of the business last week making two requests. The first was to “remedy the discrepancy” in the pay levels between my colleague and I. The second was for afternoon tea on the date of the anniversary: “Cake. Chocolate. Just because.”

The cake was granted. The owner emailed me back stating that pay levels were private and couldn’t be discussed with other staff.

Since the owner, the manager and I all know what my colleague is paid, citing his privacy was quite a waste of time. And so last weekend, I discussed the situation with my girlfriend. Distilled, the reality is I’d not stay there even if I did get the same pay as my colleague, so the exit plan was worked out.

Monday and Tuesday this week, I was off work sick. Monday, I bought a suit. Tuesday, I spoke to some employment agents. On Wednesday, I intentionally went into the office late and spoke to the manager. He was surprised at my announcement of resigning. I’ve no idea how he could have been surprised.

In April, I clashed with the manager about my colleague’s tendency to engage in illegal activities which would threaten the business, and to engage in them instead of doing his work – meaning I then had to do more work. The manager had promised to address the issue. He hadn’t.

In May, having received no remedy, I approached the owner with the same issues. I was told “Leave it with me” and nothing was done.

In June, I’d again raised my concerns with the manager, and my displeasure that I was swamped with work while my colleague was complaining about not having any work to do. The June clash with the manager included me telling him that if the corporate culture wasn’t going to change, and he wasn’t going to step up and manage (which is his job after all).

So three months later, having rejected my request for a discussion about a pay rise, the manager was surprised at my decision to resign. How fracken obvious should I have been?!?!

Anyway, I resigned, worked slightly more than a single day’s work this week, and then went home with a headache Thursday afternoon. I emailed the manager this morning to say I had an interview to attend. At the time I didn’t have one. But by lunchtime, I did.

As an aside, when I discovered the pay discrepancy between myself and my colleague, I got into a Twitter discussion with @subwaybelconnen. I had considered that if I resigned, the worst thing that could happen is I could get a job at a Subway store. What he told me confirmed my decision to leave my job was the right one. Because I was being paid less to do the company’s accounts, and deal with hostile business callers than his staff are for making sandwiches. When I mentioned on Twitter that I’d resigned, he messaged me asking: So you find out how much a sandwich artist earns, and the next day you resign your job. So you will be applying for Subway? No @subwaybelconnen, I wont. At least not yet. But knowing how much your staff are paid at least helped me gain the courage to jump.

Why Mining Companies Dislike The Tax Change

How it works now is the mining companies pay a royalty for each scoop of dirt they extract from their mine.
How it’s intended to work is mining company profits will be taxed.
The difference is that under the proposed scheme, only profitable operations will be taxed.
That part makes sense. To most anyway.

An aspect hardly anyone talks about is that the royalties being paid by the mining companies to the state governments at the moment are currently diverted into infrastructure projects that benefit the mining companies. Rail lines which are meant to be paid for by the mining companies are being subsidised by the state governments, courtesy of those mining royalties.
Mining companies are able to do this because state governments are always competing with each other for jobs, and mining operations are good for state governments. The state government can claim to be generating jobs while pocketing a portion of the royalties, and diverting the rest back for the benefit of the mining companies.
If a Federal tax replaces a state-based royalty, mining companies know the Federal government will be less likely to use the money to help pay for rail lines used exclusively by the mining companies.

Identity

I was watching The Gruen Transfer from last week, and at one stage, it was mentioned that so much information about everyone was available online that the only way to have any privacy in the future will be to change one’s name every few years. Indeed, a senior executive from Google said something similar recently.

I changed my name in 2002 from my birth name to another name. I switched it back in 2003. Later, in 2005, I went for a job in Brisbane. I failed to get the job and, on reflection, I figured it was because I had included in my work history a job I held which was considerably different and stuck out like a sore thumb. Just as an experiment, I resubmitted my application, under a different surname, replacing that job with one which fit the overall flavour of the work history instead. Result: I got the job.

It created the curious situation where I had I.D. in two names, but was working under a third.

I know. That makes me sound very questionable, doesn’t it?

But I look around at friends I’ve known. Some have multiple names, and drivers licences, bank accounts, passports in different names. Not for dubious reasons either. Either their own marriages, or divorces. Or the marriages, divorces, deaths and remarriages of their parents. In at least two cases, I have friends who changed their names later in life because of spelling errors on their birth certificates. Some more acquaintances who have come from Asian countries and have anglicized their names to make assimilation or finding work easier.

Spring?

The last few days have been glorious mornings when I’ve been driving to work. I’ve even been able to drive with the windows down.

Unfortunately, the days never stay that way. Either in weather, or mood.

Nevermind, for I have a plan.

Devil Calling

Last weekend, while the whole country wondered what the independent MHRs would do, Rob Oakeshott was driving to a ceremony in Lismore to commemorate the Sandakan Death March. His wife was in the car with him, and she answered his mobile phone. The caller said in a gruff voice he was the devil.

As we now know, the caller was Liberal Senator (and complete douchebag) Bill Heffernan. His defence for such inappropriate behaviour to Sara-Jane Oakeshott? He thought he was actually talking to one of the Oakeshott children. Yeah. Right. Coz that makes his behaviour more acceptable in some weird universe, does it?

Here’s a pic of Oakeshott’s wife and two of his kids.

The Oakeshott children are 6, 4 and 2.  I live with a 6 year old girl. If any stranger rang here and told her he was the devil, it would not make me inclined to work with such a person, and help him achieve high office. Instead, I’d be more likely to want to ram a garden fork through their esophagus.

If Heffernan were any dumber, he’d have to be watered twice a week.

More Novocastrati

I have written before of the unique form of homesickness a Novocastrian feels when living in exile from his homeland. I have been following the #newcastlemorningphoto hashtag lately where each morning a bunch of people submit photos they have taken of their personal piece of Newcastle for that morning. Most of the photos are taken in their house or their yard. But some are of public places – the harbour, the city, the beaches etc.

This morning, I saw a picture that was so beautiful and appealing, it made me long to be home. I sent it to my girlfriend, and she said it made her homesick for the place – and she’s never even lived there!

It was submitted by a chap called @xrayjets who graciously gave permission to use this shot.

Carpet Bombing

As indicated elsewhere, I am not content with my current work arrangement.

I applied for a few jobs in the paper, and landed some interviews. But nothing has yet come of them. There’s a few “in the wild” as I refer to them, although at least one I liked the look of has been shot down. I’ve therefore decided to bite the bullet and try out an idea I’ve had bouncing around my head for a while.

I have created a two-page CV, attached a letter to a prospective employer, and picked a potential industry I’d like to target. Tonight, I took the contact details of a dozen businesses in that industry, and I’ve written them a letter stating that I’m looking for work in accounts-admin roles, and do they have any because I’d like to work in their industry?

It’s a tactic I’ve wanted to try for a while. I figure many companies would be at the point of either losing a staff member and needing to replace them, or finding their workload requires an extra person in their office. If I catch one of them at the right point in that cycle, and they’re planning to hire in the next month or so, I might get lucky. Like all cold-call/spam attempts though, the strike rate is likely to be low – I might get a phone call from one in a dozen if I’m lucky! But with each shot costing only as much as a postage stamp, it’s worth rolling the dice.

Delusion

If you were living in Germany during the war, you’d have heard reports how the eastern front was going. Being government-controlled broadcasts, the news would be twisted in such a way to make it sound like Germany was doing well. But anyone with a map could look at where the supposed battles were and see they were gradually losing ground across Russia, Byelorussia, Ukraine and Poland. The propaganda would reveal itself as untrue.

Nowadays, we’re more civilised. We call propaganda ‘spin’.

I heard on the radio last night that US bases in Afghanistan had come under attack from the Taliban. The story is on the ABC site here.

After years of campaigning in Afghanistan, the most powerful military in the world is still suffering raids on its bases. Not on some outpost at the edge of its control. But on its bases.

And we’re told over and over we’re winning?

Yeah. Right.

Sometimes though, it’s easier to believe the lies. When the truth is unpalatable.

Almost Spring Saturday

It’s almost spring, and our finances must have recovered from recent batterings. We went shopping today and bought lots of soil and compost for the second garden, some bins and worm food for our next plan to grow earthworms, and we went to a bookstore.

I’ve been wanting recently to read some spy novels. It’s never been a genre I’ve had much exposure to, but I thought I’d like to try it out. Naturally, the way to begin is with authors I’d heard of. I bought second hand copies of La Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Forsyth’s Fourth Protocol.

Papally-Sanctioned Rock

I have a friend who has a theory. Not surprising really that I would have friends whose hobbies include having unsubstantiated theories, since it’s one of my favourite pasttimes.

Anyway, Tony’s theory is that Catholic boys like U2 because it’s “papally-sanctioned rock music”.

It’s hard for me to prove or disprove, since I first became a U2 fan while in high school, and since it was a Catholic boys’ school, everyone I knew at the time who was also a U2 fan happened to be Catholic.

End of the Election (Almost)

I didn’t write much about the election during the campaign. Sure, I wrote a bit. But not anywhere like the amount of brain-space it took up. I see voting as something personal, kind of like religion, and I have never been one for trying to “convert” others to my viewpoints on such matters. Especially since most people never change their spots anyway.

I did like this though.

Which I think should be handed out to every voter, much in the same way “How To Vote” cards are.

And a long time ago, my blog used to feature a theme of “You Tube Sunday”. In that vein, I’ll bring you this. It was made today, obviously. Who ever would have thought that a video could come out which makes us wish Hitler was our PM?

Ground Zero Mosque

I’ve been hearing about it for a while. When the issue first appeared as a Facebook group some people I knew joined, I thought “But *is* there a proposal to build a mosque at the site of the World Trade Centre in New York? Or is this just stirring people up?”

In the last week or so, it seems to have caught the attention of the media and it seems there is a proposal to build a mosque, but not where its opponents say. I was curious therefore, so I went looking. And it’s surprising how few commentators actually show, on a map, what they are discussing.

There’s a proposal for a Muslim community centre three streets from the WTC site. Not “at ground zero” as Sarah Palin says. Or “right at ground zero” as Rudi Guiliani says.

Those who wish to stir up xenophobia really should try harder to get their facts straight. They’re just too transparent sometimes.

Time for a Change

I have been doing my job for almost three years. Initially, it was an attractive option because I’d moved back from Brisbane and had spent a few months doing temp work. I’d found the sporadic nature of temp work frustrating, and dealing with temp agencies annoying. When I got the call from my current boss telling me I had the job, I was trying to balance some long-term plans including my at-the-time girlfriend moving from Brisbane to join me. The full-time stable job was attractive even though a few months later I came to realise it paid substantially less than similar work anywhere else in the city. It was close to home though.

The Brisbane girlfriend faded into history. The promise of growth at the new job slowly evaporated. I moved first out of town, then across town from the office. I pushed for a part-time role, or some working-from-home time. It was agreed to, but never eventuated. New products were touted. They too came to nothing. Some colleagues left, not all were replaced. Eventually, I started clashing with the manager. My new girlfriend began opening my eyes to what was wrong with my workplace. Their culture was unwell. As a company, they were making mistake after mistake.

I spoke to ex-employees. The frustrations which had led to their departure were the same ones gnawing at me. I decided around Easter this year to speak to the manager of my concerns, of what was wrong and needed remedying. He conceded the problems existed. We agreed I’d make some changes, and he would too. I had hope. A month later, another clash – I’d held up my side, but he’d not. Another pledge by him to resolve the underlying problems. Again, weeks went by without remedy.

I went to a BBQ with some friends of the company – people who’d either worked there, or who had worked closely with the company, or knew the owners. I raised concerns. “Tell the owner,” they counselled, “he needs to know.”

I had an email discussion with the owner. “Leave it with me,” he said. A month later, no change. I then told the manager and the owner I was looking for other employment. I was asked why, so I told them I’d found the corporate culture incompatible so if it wouldn’t change, I had to find accommodation elsewhere.

I have been formulating plans to leave. I have been applying for a few jobs I’ve seen. I got a few interviews. One as a political staffer. A few in work almost similar to what I’m doing now. Nothing’s come to fruition yet, but for the first time I can remember, the response is good. Unlike previous job searches, I seem to be marketing skills and experience which are desirable. Hopefully, it wont take long.

Errors of Judgement

If the office is driving you mad, you’d think asking the boss for a week off would be a good idea, yeah? You’d think your break from the place would make everything less sucky when you returned after a week off, wouldn’t you?

Mistake. After a week of peace, every little thing you hated will be a thousand times worse on your first day back. And the desire to find fresh pastures becomes overwhelming.

1983

As stated before, I don’t watch TV. But I do watch ABC’s iView. It’s the only form of TV I ever see. The other day, on a day off (I took Wednesday to Friday off last week – the office was sending me mad) I saw a documentary about a week-long military exercise in 1983 – Able Archer. I have only the vaguest memories of that time – I was in my first year of high school.

Able Archer was a communications exercise – no troops were being moved around, just the signalers, and they were acting out a scenario which, over the course of a week in November 1983, would climax with a nuclear launch being simulated. What NATO’s leadership didn’t realise is how seriously the Soviets took it, because of a number of coincidences mostly in timing.

Since Reagan came to power in 1981, he was ratcheting up the language against the Soviets, most famously in his ‘evil empire’ speech of March 1983. Around the same time, his unveiling of the SDI “Star Wars” program shook up the Soviets by suggesting their ICBM defence forces would be useless and leave the USSR open to an attack. The Americans believed a peaceful system like Star Wars could not threaten the Soviets because “America doesn’t start wars”. The Soviets looked at the Americans and saw a country which had used nuclear weapons before. Thus the ‘old men’ running the USSR were worried their country was becoming vulnerable to a surprise first strike, as had happened in 1941.

The Soviet Union at that time was led by Yuri Andropov who when he was KGB chief set up Operation Ryan, whose main objective was to map NATO preparation for a surprise assault. This mindset was steeped in the events of 1941, when the USSR was attacked by its allies in a surprise assault, which was initially disguised as an exercise. They also believed the initial attack would be an overwhelming first strike and would come at a time of minimal readiness by the Soviet forces. This last factor meant Soviet forces were particularly vigilant against an assault during holiday periods.

Able Archer, being staged in the first week of November, would reach a crescendo a week later as the Soviets celebrated the anniversary of the 1917 revolution which added to their paranoia. It also came at the end of several months of tension-raising events.

In September, the Soviet shooting down of an off-course Korean 747 raised tensions and American rhetoric. A few weeks later, the confidence of the Soviet leadership in their own response systems in the event of a NATO strike was shaken by the Stanislav Petrov incident where a colonel refused to launch his missiles despite receiving five notifications that the US had launched an attack on the Soviet Union. Petrov reasoned that isolated single launches were unlikely and so when his computers said individual missiles had been launched, he refused to accept the reports as accurate, and failed to respond in accordance with his orders.

Just weeks before Able Archer was scheduled, the US invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada triggered a large number of secure communication between London and Washington. American intervention in a Commonwealth country, without consulting the British, was not looked on favourably by Thatcher and her government. The Soviet intelligence services noticed the flurry of activity, but could not crack the code, thus were not aware of the nature of the messages.

Two days before the Grenada invasion, the suicide bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut which killed 299 marines resulted in US bases worldwide being placed on a higher state of alert with increased security measures put in place.

Heightened security measures at US military installations ticked a box in Operation Ryan’s list of “signs”. A burst of high-level communication traffic between London & Washington was another. The pieces were falling into place.

Thus when Able Archer started in early November and reached a finale of a simulated nuclear strike on November 11 – Revolution Day in the USSR, such was the height of Soviet paranoia it is considered to be the closest the world came to nuclear holocaust. Yet noone at the time in the west had any inkling.

When the west did realise the consequences courtesy of intelligence agents, President Reagan was initially disbelieving but later quite scared. Reflection isn’t something I usually associate with Reagan, but I was surprised to learn of his decisions in the wake of Able Archer which included a stop to strong anti-Soviet language in his speeches and an urgent push for greater communication between the US & Soviet Presidents. As Reagan said of the situation:

Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians: Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did … During my first years in Washington, I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike … Well, if that was the case, I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us.

It was another two years before Reagan was able to sit in a room with a Soviet leader. By that time, the Soviets had churned through two leaders and were onto Mikhail Gorbachev. That was probably fortunate.

Yamato

Unlike many of my peers, I’ve never been much of a fan of Japanese animation, or even their culture. But this movie has me excited. I watched the animated original, and it looks like the live action remake is awesome. I even enjoy watching the trailer without subtitles, just because it looks so cool.

(I hope the embedding works – never tried it before)

Climategate

I hate when the media tack “-gate” onto the name of every scandal. I wish they’d all get over it. Anyway, some may remember the leaked emails from the climate scientists in England last year. It was spouted by denialists as evidence the issue was fabricated.

It seems the whole thing was a beat-up.

But I am pretty sure the media wont publicise that. They thrive more on scandal than on the sedate explanation of what really happened. Nevertheless, it’s good to see the science won.

Minmatar Driving

I went to Sydney Saturday. I drove back late, and I noticed the dash lights were dim about halfway home. I wasn’t too concerned because my car is a bit temperamental at times and I thought this was just such an occasion.

A few minutes before I was due to turn off the highway, I noticed the internal clock was so dim it was almost unreadable. Again, I didn’t think much of it, figuring a wire was loose somewhere. That’s when problems started rolling in because I soon noticed my headlights weren’t giving much light, even on high-beam.

I was only 10 minutes from home, so I thought I’d just try and limp home. But the indicators were erratic when I turned off the highway onto the country road I have to drive on to get home. And the headlights were virtually useless. Fortunately, it was a full moon, so even with minimal light, I guessed I could get there. Just to be sure, I pulled over and left the car idling while I checked the headlights.

I got out, wandered to the front of the car and saw the lights were barely as bright as parking lights. If I drove along a country road with them that faded, it could be dangerous. I wasn’t sure it was a wise move to continue. I was saved the decision though by the car stalling, and failing to re-start.

Even though it was 2am, I knew my girlfriend was sleeping with her phone next to the bed. I gave her a call, and let her know. She was coming to collect me, and I planned I’d ring the NRMA in the morning, get the car towed, and sort out whatever was wrong. I was guessing it was the alternator, or the battery, or a cable come loose.

After I’d rung my girlfriend, a car went past going in the opposite direction, as I was getting out of the car. He turned around and I thought “Oh, it’s late at night, he must be checking if everything is okay”. As he pulled up next to me, he asked just that, and I explained what I thought the problem was. Then, he turned on his internal light and I saw the driver. “Oh, hi Luke.”

Luke is someone I worked with about ten years ago, and we’ve run into each other around town a few times since. He knows more about cars than I do, so he swung his four-wheel-drive around to shine onto the front of my car, and we assessed under the bonnet. Luke’s assessment? Alternator. He offered to wait with me for a while, but I said all would be fine and he was about to leave when another car slowed down as it drove past. The new arrivals flashed their blue and red lights.

The police asked if I was okay, if I needed a phone to make a call to the NRMA, if I needed a lift into town, if I needed them to call someone for a towtruck? I just told them I’d driven back from Sydney and was exhausted, I’d rung my girlfriend, she was on the way, and I would sort the NRMA out in the morning. Having checked all was fine, they headed off into town.

Luke headed off too, and I waited for my girlfriend to arrive shortly after. As she said when I told her of Luke showing up “I’d be surprised if you didn’t know the first random person to stop and offer a hand. You seem to know everyone.”

Hmmm…

As expected, the next day, the NRMA advised the alternator was stuffed. They could replace it but only if the car was moved across the border into the ACT – their guy is only licensed in the ACT. They then helped out getting the car moved to Fyshwick and their guy came along several hours later and fixed it. Total cost: $341.

Implosion

Yesterday, my corporation in Eve imploded, despite everything being very friendly when we got together at a Sydney pub on Saturday last.

I’ve been with them since just after Easter, and joined because a mate from my previous corporation recruited me. That same bloke had gotten bored, and decided he was moving on. About half of the dozen members were going to follow him. I was too.

The leader of the faction who were staying is the cop I mentioned earlier. I had the chance to have a private discussion with him, and told him I feared a split would be acrimonious and I hoped it wouldn’t get nasty – since I have friends on either side of the split.

Despite my efforts at encouraging a peaceful amicable division, it soon got ugly and so now at least half of us are heading out to Fountain region to join up with another group of Aussie pilots. We’ve left behind accusations of thefts and a pile of recriminations. But last night, we met with the new mob and things went well.

Hopefully it means lots of action and adventure in the future. It certainly will mean new targets, and high on that list are a corporation we were all part of before Easter, and their allies. Let the fun begin!

Random Backs

I like to surf the “Random Article” button on Wikipedia.

When I do this in Chrome, if I hit the “Back” button, it doesn’t take me to the previously-viewed article. But instead to the first article I’d seen that session.

No idea why.

This is the only downside I’ve ever encountered since I switched.

It’s Pretty Fucking Simple

I do tire of idiots ranting about issues when they have no clue, or do they wish to get one.

I don’t have a science degree. I have just read some climate change science. And if I can grasp it, it’s not neurosurgery. I’m not pretending this is a detailed scientific paper. But it seems necessary to at least put the bare bones down here.

In the 1950s, Charles Keeling, a young scientist at an observatory in Hawaii noticed fluctuations in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The levels oscillated daily, and annually. He wondered why, and worked out the diurnal cycle was due to the way plants dealt with oxygen and CO2 during daylight and nighttime hours. The annual cycles were because CO2 was absorbed by trees in spring and summer which then lost their leaves in autumn, and the leaves decomposed, releasing the CO2 into the atmosphere.

Over a decade or so, Keeling noticed the graph was slowly climbing. Something was increasing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. For a decade or so, the reason was unclear, but as ice cores from Antarctica & Greenland were examined, it was found CO2 had been rising slowly for a couple of hundred years. Industrial growth was found to be responsible.

Some scientific debate occurred in the 1960s and 1970s as to what the effect of climbing atmospheric CO2 would be. NASA’s probes to Venus helped understanding by showing that Venus had a much more advanced greenhouse effect than Earth, and atmospheric temperatures of hundreds of degrees. Conclusion: atmospheric carbon equals higher temperatures.

Earth’s CO2 levels though were much lower than Venus. Keeling’s figures showed our CO2 was in the 250-260 parts per million, slowly rising. What would be the effects of 300? 350? 400? 500? Noone knew. The long-term ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica gave a good indication of CO2 levels in the past. From these and records of ocean levels which tied in closely with ice ages, and ice-cover measurements, some idea was gained as to the effects.

The most hyped effects are the ocean level figures. These are often confused by the general public because there are several numbers thrown around, outlining the effects of different scenarios. These discrepancies are leaped on by critics as proof the science is flawed, which is of course a ridiculous interpretation. Ocean levels are not the only measurable effects. Other outcomes include migration of climate zones – which would effect the viability of crops; changes in climate patterns – which are tied in with the paths storms take; size, frequency and intensity of storms – with obvious consequences for rainfall management etc.

The ocean level figures and the scenarios they are built on depend on a number of variables. At its most basic, a warmer atmosphere would mean warmer oceans. Heating that water would mean it would expand – warming water up expands it. Naturally, if the water takes up more volume, the ocean level rises. I haven’t seen the most recent figures, but I believe thermal expansion is in the order of half a metre to a metre in a century (assuming a warming of around 5 degrees across the century).

The ice core records indicated that when the average temperature was last 3-4 degrees warmer than it is now, Antarctica was ice-free – it was a rainforest. The next question therefore is what would an ice-free Antarctica effect? Without wanting to be dramatic, the effect would be quite noticeable. The ice in Antarctica is so plentiful it accounts for some stupid number like 95% of all the fresh water on the planet. Melting it therefore would mean a lot of water, enough to raise the oceans by dozens of metres.

Do we know Antarctica’s ice sheets would melt? No. That’s extrapolation based on asking the simple question “What was the world like the last time we had these conditions?” The past is usually a good indicator though. Would it happen fast? Slow? Would we notice it happening? Noone knows, since there weren’t many people around last time it happened to take notes.

That the CO2 is rising is not debated. Not by anyone with any credibility anyway. Even our nutjob friend Lord Monckton says so. The cause is not really debatable – since scientists all agree industrial output is responsible. What is speculation is what the consequences will be. And since we’re not sure about that, there’s even more speculation about the right response. It’s late, and the topic isn’t one of my specialities, so I’m not going into that debate here and now. But let’s just come to grips with what is happening first, ok?

Tonight, I found myself in a debate with someone who was arguing the accuracy of the claim that CO2 was increasing. But when challenged, they did not even know who Charles Keeling was, and when they found out who he was, they claimed he faked his figures “because he needed funding”. It’s these people I find most abhorrent. They are spouting claims they have no idea about, and they don’t even understand that before Keeling measured, noone even knew CO2 levels could change, let alone did Keeling figure out he could get funding (from whom I am unsure, since he was already funded by the university he worked for, and noone had any clue about the issue, so he wasn’t going to make more money faking his data). People like that are just mad conspiracy nuts. The scientists who do the measuring must be corrupt. The data must be flawed. There must be some big agenda driven by – who? I’m not sure – but even when presented with the most basic facts, they shy away from them. For fuck’s sake, if I – a politics/history-trained geek with no tertiary science training – can get it, these nutjobs aren’t even trying.

I didn’t do any research for writing this post, only drawing on my memory of the issue that I read in the 1990s. On checking back some basics (on Keeling’s Wikipedia page) I discovered that Keeling’s research position was terminated at the end of his two-year employment in Hawaii because his research was deemed “routine”. So yeah conspiracy nuts – he was faking his data to boost his funding! I was also disappointed to read he died in 2005.

Why I’m Not Voting

I am enrolled to vote.

I don’t want to though. The only reason I can give the AEC to be removed from the roll is if I were moving overseas permanently. I’d like to move overseas permanently. I’ve chosen where I will move when the various entanglements which keep me here are less entangling. But for now, I cannot.

Therefore, I must vote.

Or, to be more specific, I must go along to a polling station and have my name marked off. Which I shall do, because my girlfriend will conscript recruit me to sell cakes or make sausage sandwiches at the polling booth.

But I don’t think I shall actually vote. Not in the House of Representatives anyway.

As I have written before, I have been a member of the Labor Party and worked for the Labor Party in various positions from the ACT Branch office to the Opposition Leader’s Suite in Parliament House. I wont vote Labor though.

Labor’s refugee policy position, pandering to the worst attitudes in our society, is the main reason I’ll reject Labor. Gillard’s abdication of responsibility by establishing a citizen’s assembly on the issue of climate change – there’s another reason. (Note to Labor politicians – Rudd was disliked not for making bad decisions, but for failing to make decisions) Labor’s IT policies continue to out-do each other, with newer dumber decisions being made each month (this is the latest I’ve seen). Then we have the appalling NT Intervention. No, I cannot vote for them.

Could I vote Liberal? No, sorry. Their attitude with the net filter is a bit better, but they set up the Intervention, and it’s their willingness to exploit the refugee issue which opened the door to the racist situation we’ve now got. I can’t support a party who are willing to make the nation a lesser place, just because they mistakenly believe there’s electoral benefit for them.

Naturally then, I’d be a Green voter, yeah? Sorry, no.
I worked closely with the Greens in 2005/06 in Queensland, and was one of their campaign managers in the state election. I like Bob Brown’s policy positions on many issues (including those mentioned above), but organisationally, they are worse than useless. Their approach to decisions means they’ll never face up to contentious issues, and if they did, they’d not find any resolution.

What about the minor single-issue parties? Nah. I’ve spent too long working in or studying or watching politics to believe they’re anything more than a waste of time, and electoral funding.

There it is. With an election campaign a third over, no party is likely to get my vote, and it’s difficult to imagine anything will change.

I’ll get my name marked off, but I wont be rewarding them. None of them are deserving.

Adventures in the Mirror – The Second

Shortly before I left work on Thursday, the phone rang. “My name’s Troy from the police station”. Normally, having a cop call me would make my heart race. I had not much to worry about this time though. Troy was calling because he had Allan & Andrew in the station. Allan had torn strips off Andrew then taken him to the police station where Troy had done so as well. Troy was now going to sort out a peace deal.

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Novocastrati

Several years ago, my cousin coined a word I have used regularly since then: novocastrati.

It means “the yearning for home felt by a Novocastrian when separated from the land of his birth”.

This week, I submitted the word to UrbanDictionary, but after several days consideration, they rejected the definition for unspecified reasons.

I was a bit disappointed, because now, what’s a Newcastle lad to feel when he’s exiled? Homesickness? It’s just not the same.

Dissecting Monckton

Christopher Monckton is a rather peculiar character. He’s a prominent climate change denialist. I’ve listened to some of his media appearances and thought “What he’s saying doesn’t make sense” but never been able to pin down exactly what the holes in his arguments were.

John Abraham, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of St Thomas in Minnesota, went one better. Perhaps more than one. Because what he did was go to one of Monckton’s presentations, take note of the claims, and then he went to the researchers quoted by Monckton in the presentation and asked “Did Monckton get it right? Is he using the data correctly? Are the figures even accurate?”

Then John Abraham made it all into a 80 minute slide presentation and talk. And made it available for download and for anyone to view. All the statements he makes are cited, the references given, and he invites the viewer to check it themselves.

This is really good science. I don’t expect many readers will follow the link though - here! - but I hope if you have time, you try it out. It’s real bullshit-detector stuff. I liked it. Even if it did get a bit technical in the middle bits.

(Confession: I suspected when listening to the presentation that he looked more hairy, and scruffy, the way engineers in academia are meant to look. But that’s him with the glasses and the skivvy in the picture above. In fact, he looks a little like The Hood, the bad guy from the Thunderbirds)

Very Bad Judgement

I mentioned yesterday that someone’d run into my car.

Today, I sent him an email:

I found your business card on my windscreen on the weekend
I confess I’ve never done this process before – having repairs done because of a collision, so I’m not 100% sure of the protocol
If it’s okay with you, I was going to get a quote from a couple of places regarding having the mirror repaired, and then contact you.
Cool?

At pretty much the same time, I sms-ed my friends asking if anyone could recommend a good repair place.

Just before hometime, I got a response which said:

I was out taking down signs on Friday and did some damage to your side mirror, for this I apologize. However, I am not prepared to cover the cost of a new mirror. The vehicle was, according to ACT road rules, illegally parked across a driveway (see attached), you would be aware that the driveway in question is particularly dangerous. I could not see your car in multiple checks of my mirrors.
Regards,
Andrew

He also attached a screenshot of the website in the ACT which deals with cars that are parked illegally and seems to have come from here. He highlighted the bit that says “across any passage, thoroughfare, entrance, driveway or foot crossing.”

It seems Andrew’s reasoning is that if a car is parked illegally, he’s not under any obligation to pay for any damage if he runs into it. I am not quite sure how that works – you still cannot ram cars that are illegally parked. But, of course, his argument only stands up if my car was parked illegally. It was parked outside the house, on the street, in between two driveways – ours, and the neighbour’s. And it was at least a car length from either driveway. The driveway I suspect Andrew is talking about though is the one across the road where the block of units are. I suspect this is the driveway he reversed out of.

Naturally, I could not resist replying:

Hi Andrew
I find your response curious. Citing ACT rules for an incident in NSW illustrates you have some issues understanding jurisdictions.
You also seem to be under the misapprehension my car was parked illegally. You know where the car was – after all, you hit it then placed a card under the windscreen wiper.
The photos I have taken of the car, parked in the position where you hit it, with the broken pieces of the mirror shown on the ground, and the supporting witness statements, will be ample evidence to show where the car was located should this matter be required to go to court.

My girlfriend – who removed the business card from the windscreen wiper on Saturday – can easily write up a statement explaining where the car was, and the photos we’ve taken should leave no doubt.

Some people really have no judgement. To leave his details, then admit in an email to hitting the car, and then to trying to argue with me about his liability? The Force is strong in this one.

Oh, and by ‘The Force’, I meant ‘stupidity’.

Bad Luck & Potatoes

I went to go to the hardware store this weekend. But found a business card on the windscreen of my car. “Sorry about your mirror” it said. And I checked the wing mirror on the car, and it was shattered into pieces on the road. From the look of the damage, someone from the block of units over the road had reversed into it. There’s even a dint in the car door but that’s far less noticeable.

At first, I thought it was only the plastic casing to the mirror, and that would be no drama. But the mirror itself is badly shattered, and the whole fixture will need replacing.

*sigh*

I’d plenty of things to worry about financially before that happened. And I have to confess, it put me in a pretty foul mood for a while. Until my girlfriend did her usual thing of ridiculing my reaction. On the bright side, at least the person who did it left a note. When someone ran into my car a year or so ago, they didn’t.

The main task of the weekend – getting ready to plant potatoes in the yard – made some progress though. That was why I was heading to the hardware store – for some stakes to hold the wooden sides of the garden bed. Last year’s potato harvest was good, but being experimental, it was not nearly as much as I’d have liked. So I’m planning to increase the plot this year.

Election Called

Today, an election was announced for August 21.

This will be the first since 1993 where I’m not helping to campaign for one of the parties. It’s nice to not be involved, not switching into election mode, and having to start coordinating things like manning of polling booths on election day. My girlfriend may yet ask me to help at her school’s sausage sizzle on the day, but that’s only a slim chance, and wont – unlike every the last five elections – involve being up at some stupid hour to set up polling booths and be on duty all day because of failure of backup staff to show up on time.

Twitter has of course gone totally berserk with election discussion. I’m slowly filtering it out, especially as a lot of it is just uninformed speculation or stupidly banal.

Us and Them

I play Eve Online. Pretty regularly. Well, most evenings. I am a member of a small corporation in Eve of Australians, of various backgrounds. We’ve got some IT professionals, a banker, a train driver, a coal miner, a cop. I was thinking of the diversity amongst us, and something struck me.

Unlike any of the others, the cop is always “the cop”. He’s always referred to as “that guy in blue” or “a cop” when talked about in the third person. None of the rest of us get labelled like that. And it started me thinking – are they always “separate”? And if so, is it them, or us?

My father was a highway patrol cop for a large slab of my childhood and adolescence. He told me he rarely told people he was a cop, but would self-label as a “government driver”. Was that because whenever anyone knew what he did, they’d automatically assign him the role of “other” and be ultra-cautious of anything they did wrong, even in social situations? Did they think he’d arrest them, or just turn into “moral policeman” if they said or did something questionable? I think it might have been.

Who amongst us doesn’t see a police car behind them on the street and run through a mental checklist “What speed am I driving at? What could he book me for? What are my vulnerabilities?”

And to what extent is the separation fostered by the police themselves? Their mindset of “us and them” which allows police to always assume that police are infallible, and civilians are always wrong, lying or cheating – an attitude so conducive to police corruption?

None of the Above

On Twitter this afternoon, there was a bit of discussion about being so disillusioned with the Australian political scene that the only real option was to not vote, or vote informally. Someone suggested the Greens present an option to the disillusioned masses. And maybe the country would end up with a Labor-Green coalition?

Such an outcome would, not surprisingly, be so bad I’d be all for immediately dissolving parliament and going back to the polls.

For although I was in the Labor Party for the last 14 years, I had a lot of involvement with the Greens, mainly as a campaign manager for them during a Queensland state election – an experience which left me in no doubt they should never be allowed anywhere near anything like power in any serious capacity. For although working with them was great for my ego, I found their internal disorganisation was appalling and structural – so the only way to fix it would be to destroy their party, and start again from scratch.

For just like an abused child, the Greens have been traumatised by being rejected by the political class. In their attempt to redress what they see as the flaws of the political system, they have built internal systems which make them completely dysfunctional. As an example: the Greens dislike the idea that decisions be made by majority, and internal votes. Instead, the preference is for consensus. The result is a party who cannot decide anything, if anyone dissents. On the topic of electricity for example, if a single member speaks in favour of nuclear power while the remainder are opposed, then instead of rejecting the position totally incongruous with their normal position, they will simply decide nothing. This desire to achieve 100% agreement means they can easily be neutralised by a single crackpot standing as an outlier, opposed to the majority.

The reality is that politics is a world involving strong opinions and beliefs. Trying to make sure everyone agrees is a futile game, one where the outcome will always be a zero outcome. And at a national level, failing to achieve an outcome means losing.

I like many Green candidates. And many Green policies. And I may even vote for some. But would I want them to actually have any power? Not on your life. It’d be a complete disaster.

[Edit: Yeah, the Robin Hood image means nothing. I just searched for "No Greens" in Google's image search, and that appeared. So I couldn't resist :) ]

Why I Left Labor

The last leader this country had with courage was Paul Keating. He was prepared to take his opponents on, and prepared to stand up and say what he stood for, whether it was the republic, taxation reform, aboriginal land rights, foreign relations. He stood there, said “This is what I think” and challenged the voters to nod, or shake their head.

In 1995, when Howard became Opposition Leader (once more) he knew that Keating had been in the public eye for more than a decade, had been doing his “with me or against me” routine for a long time, and alienated plenty of voters. For every voter who thought Keating was visionary, there was another (or maybe a few) who found his style or his policies not to their liking.

Howard therefore, since he was nothing if not an astute politician, chose the ‘small target’ strategy. He’d not say much, not stand for much, and hope he was elected by not alienating too many people. He claimed in the leadup to the 1996 election that he was a friend of Medicare, of migrants, of the ABC, of all things he’d previously spoken against. His only position: not being Paul Keating.

As we all know, this worked. And the Liberals were on the Government side of the new Parliament House for the first time.

The effect on the psyche of the Labor Party though was disasterous, and still being felt strongly today.

Labor’s new leader was Kim Beazley, an intelligent man who believed in the ability of the Australian people to discern between the policy positions of two possible governments. Unfortunately, Kim Beazley was served very badly by his choice of senior staff.

Principal amongst his staff was David Epstein, formerly the head of “Animals”, Labor’s propaganda unit in the Keating years, someone who when I first went to work for the Labor Party was described to me as “David doesn’t let Kim get out of bed in the morning without asking a focus group first for their opinion”.

Because of his background, and what he’d observed between Howard’s ascension to the Liberal leadership and the subsequent defeat of Paul Keating, Epstein used his position as Beazley’s chief of staff to advise the big West Australian to court no controversy. The mantra was “best to say nothing at all” if any controversial issue arose. According to Epstein, if only Beazley could remain low-profile, the Howard administration’s mistakes would result in a quick return to power for Labor within an election or two.

As Howard’s first term unfolded, the wisdom of Epstein’s small target strategy seemed apparent. Howard lost seven ministers in his first term; he revived a GST he’d said would ‘never ever’ be his party’s policy; his first budget contained so many broken promises that the terms ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ promises entered the Australian political lexicon. In the election year of 1998, the waterfront dispute which was supposed to break one of the strongest unions in the country ended up with public opinion supporting the wharfies when photos of balaclava-clad strike-breakers appeared on newspaper front pages.
In the election of October 1998, Howard was returned, but with a majority reduced from 45 to 12.

Despite this apparent success of Beazley and Epstein’s imitation of Howard’s small target strategy, anyone who has seen Kim Beazley speak in public, especially those who witnessed his parliamentary speech in response to the release of the Stolen Generations Inquiry, knows that Kim Beazley is at his most impressive when he is speaking to the Australian people. He is an educated, intelligent man with a passionate heart and when he shows this, the Australian public warms to him. Within the confines of the small target strategy, such displays were verboten and to be avoided at all cost.

Ever since then, Labor leaders have been terrified of opinion polls, and so scared they will no longer do what they believe is right. Instead, they will do what they think will improve their poll numbers.

The small target strategy meant Beazley allowed the Howard government to breach Australian and international law with regards the MS Tampa in 2001. It meant Labor went through a succession of leaders from Beazley to Crean to Latham back to Beazley to Rudd and to Gillard. It is behind the Gillard ‘lurch to the right’ with regards refugees. The foundation behind the failure of the Rudd & Gillard governments to follow their own inquiry’s recommendations with the Henry tax review of earlier this year, and the dropping of climate change policy when the going got tough.

In short, David Epstein introduction of ‘rule by polls’ has removed any soul and dignity the Labor Party had. And left it a shell, no better than the Liberal Party it stands opposite.

I resigned from the Labor Party in February, having joined it in 1996 in the wake of the Keating defeat. At the time, I cited the Conroy filter, the NT Intervention and the failure on environmental policies as the reason. It’s taken me several months to realise the core reason is Labor’s loss of soul, which it certainly had in 1996 when I joined but which it had lost by the time I left.

Disclaimer: I was a Beazley staffer during his first period as Opposition Leader. I saw Epstein and the ‘can’t get out of bed in the morning before we conduct focus groups’ thing first hand, and thought it was a mistake then, and continue to believe so.

Hermitology

Being the first Bastille Day since my girlfriend and I set “move to France” as one of our longer-term goals, I got home to find she’d made chicken chasseur for dinner. (Right now, I would link to her recipe for it, on her cooking blog, but the link doesn’t seem to be working. Might need to look at that darling?) [Edit: Added later - the link to her recipe is here.]

Today was a rainy day, and one which was extra fun for three reasons:

  1. I confirmed a long-held suspicion that I am the lowest paid person where I work, a situation unlikely to alter much in future;
  2. After work, I had to come home, pick up the trailer and go across town to collect an exercise bike she’d scored from Freecycle (no pun intended); and
  3. While out getting the exercise bike, I found the trailer’s electrics were shot, most likely as a result of negligence of the last person to borrow my trailer.

The upshot of which was getting home, in out of the rain, to a cup of tea and a lovely meal – one of her favourites to cook – highlights something which I’ve never really felt before. Nowadays, when I am not home, I want to be. Like, I realllly want to be.

Maybe I am becoming a hermit in my old age?

Twitter’s First Week

After a week, or almost, of having a Twitter account, what do I think? What are my first impressions?

Two stand out.

  1. It’s a time sink.
  2. Maybe it’s the people I follow, but there seems to be little except political comments.

Maybe I should broaden my scope of whose comments I read, and spend less time reading them?

On the upside, yesterday, I did link up someone who had a problem to solve with my cousin who’d be able to help them. So not a total waste.

Fictional Blockages

When I was younger, I tried a lot to write science fiction. One thought kept blocking me.

Why am I writing in English, when clearly this character and those around him speak and think in something very different?

The hurdle held me for a long time. Or maybe it wasn’t such a long time, and only seems so from the distance of many years? But it’s quite a logical thing to wonder. And took me a while to work out “I am not writing what they said and thought verbatim, I am just telling their story, the same way I can tell a story about what happened to someone in a foreign country without knowing their language”.

I’ve been wanting to return to writing stories for my son, but had another barrier blocking my way. Lying in bed this evening, my mind wandering, the cure for the latest problem hit me. In hindsight, it seems so obvious. Why’s it taken so long?

Urban Renewal

This morning, in my daily round of reading websites and blogs, I came across the story of Mark Covington. He’s a bloke who lost his job as an environmental engineer and returned to live with his mum in Detroit. He saw the urban decay in the neighbourhood, and set about building a vegie garden on a disused block of land. An orchard followed, and his neighbours began to get involved and share in the produce. It’s an inspiring story, so I’d recommend spending a few minutes reading about him.

Someone’s trying something similar in my hometown, assisting embryonic micro-businesses to set up in some of the untenanted shops in the city centre, and it’s reviving the CBD. It is a project I would love to be involved with if I weren’t five hours away.

Reminded me of this quote from Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Made me wonder what differences I can make around me.

Not Much TV

It amuses me when I am talking to someone and they say “I don’t watch a lot of TV” and then proceed to have a conversation built around reality TV shows, or whatever is happening in their latest TV series.

My girlfriend and I own a TV. But we never watch it. In the whole time we’ve been together, I have never seen her watch it. And I’ve only watched it twice. The first time was when I was listening to radio of the Geelong-St Kilda grand final last spring, and at halftime, it was very close, so I turned the TV on to see the second half (and watched St Kilda lose, despite me having a bet on them). The second, and the only time I’ve turned the TV on this year, was to see Lateline the night of the Gillard coup against Rudd.

I guess saying I have only turned the TV on for those two occasions says a lot about me, eh? An exciting football game, and the only interesting night of Australian politics in recent memory.

Since signing up to Twitter last week though, I’ve noticed how ubiquitous TV is for those around me. It didn’t take long for me to start following my girlfriend’s lead in culling hashtags like #masterchef.

Maybe my life would be different if only I’d listened to Bono?

Stop the World!

Today, I was reading one of the RSS feeds I subscribe to and found a fascinating article.

Imagine for a moment the Earth stopped spinning. What would happen to the water in the oceans?

Apparently (and I didn’t know this, but it kind of makes sense when I think about it) the water is ‘attracted’ to the Equator because of centrifugal force creating a bulge. But if the spinning slowed down or stopped, the water would be more drawn to the areas of the surface with higher gravity. These are the poles. So we’d end up with polar oceans at either end of the globe, and a band of land around the centre. Because of different altitudes, this would mean most of the current dry land in the ‘tropics’ would remain dry. But so would a band across the Pacific either side of the Equator. And ditto the Atlantic. Best illustrated by this image of North America:

A fuller explanation about this on the ESRI website – they’re the people who took this little walk into hypothetica, and who inspired the article I originally read, on Gizmodo.

An Introduction

Given that this is the beginning, or at least a beginning, an introduction might be in order?

I am Dermott. I live with my girlfriend and her daughter. Sometimes, my son’s here too, joining us in our little piece of suburbia. I work for an internet-based company, but am trying to find something further from IT but closer to home.

I am old enough to have voted for Bob Hawke, but not old enough to have watched Neil Armstrong‘s moment of glory. I once fluked my way into winning Tony Delroy‘s challenge (when the final untouched category was Roman History, one of my pet topics, and I rang in on question 21).

I am a political junkie (mostly in remission); a Novocastrian living in exile; a supporter of the Sydney Swans & Wynnum Vikings (so am used to a life of unfulfilled hopes); and am hoping to one day learn enough French to allow a relocation to the Vendee (progress has been slow).

I am adamant that weeks run from Sunday to Saturday; but I am unsure of my position on the Oxford comma (but tending toward approval). And my favourite painting is Turner‘s The Fighting Temeraire.

Getting Started

As well as creating this site, I took a step I always said I wouldn’t on Tuesday evening and created a Twitter account. Predictably I’m now @dermottbanana

I avoided it for so long because there’s so much I’d seen with my girlfriend’s interactions on Twitter that made me cringe. Stuff like people who sit in lectures and talks at conferences, and are more interested in sending their own comments to those who are there than actually paying attention to the speaker. Those who do it call it “the backchannel”. I call it rude. But then, a lot of what I consider poor manners is considered otherwise by others, and vice versa.

The main reason I created @dermottbanana though is the passive uses – to follow people I find interesting, so I find more sources, more “input”. And for that, it seems – after the day and a half I’ve been reading – rather useful. Although I can see “information overload” could become a problem. Let’s see how it pans out?