December 31, 2012

Year Ends


More arsehole than hero

Journalist David Walsh knew, back in 1999, that Lance Armstrong was a cheat, a liar, and a bold litigious arsehole.  He had to wait another 13 years for the cycling fraternity to come clean and dismantle the myth.

It's an ugly story about an ugly, manipulative man.  Lance Armstrong is no hero.

The story of Armstrong and of those who insisted on telling the truth about him illustrates why we all need to be vigilant in defending free thought, free speech, and hold tight to skepticism when all those around us are demanding meek conformity.

Blood, sweat and lies - David Walsh, The Weekend Australian Magazine, November 24, 2012

America ushers in cliff crash

It was designed to be the budget cut so painful, so indiscriminate, so downright mindless that even a gridlocked Congress wouldn't allow it to happen.

Now, it looks like it's going to happen.
On the verge of 2013 and financial disaster, the politicians held captive in Washington still can't bring themselves to play nice.  

Nation on the verge of fiscal breakdown


The vision thing: Julia and Tony

Listening to or reading Julia Gillard continues to be like attempting to stuff smoke signals into a bottle.

Listening to or reading Tony Abbott continues to be a puzzling exercise in understanding how a Rhodes scholar with an economics degree can be such a determined blithering idiot. 

They both have visions, of the non-drug-induced kind.  In 2013 we will all be tested by their deficiencies. 

Political visions for 2013

No, not kidding Mr Swan

The Gillard government bears no responsibility for the negative and vitriolic tone of the political debate in 2012, says Treasurer Wayne Swan.

He admits the ''scrappy'' political year turned many voters off politics but denies the government contributed to bitter partisanship that defined it.

''I don't concede that the government has been behind personal attacks,'' he said. ''We want to have a policy discussion based on the facts, not on the aggressive negativity, particularly the likes of which we've seen from Tony Abbott … to say that's a personal attack on Tony Abbott, given the events of last year, I find quite extraordinary.''

This year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard labelled Opposition Leader Mr Abbott a misogynist, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said he had an ''issue with capable women'', and Mr Swan called him a ''policy weakling'' and a ''thug when it comes to personal attacks''.
Climate Change Minister Greg Combet called Mr Abbott a ''wrecker'' and said everything the Opposition Leader had told the public about carbon pricing was ''complete bullshit''.

But Mr Swan denied the government was culpable in helping to set the low tone of what has been labelled the nastiest political year in memory.

''You've got to be kidding me. The negativity in policy and personal attacks have all been from Abbott. ..."
Don't blame us:  Swan on vitriol

Our grinding march to totalitarianism

It was not a good year for writers or language, and a particularly bloody one for journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders, it was the deadliest on record since its first yearly report in 1995. Eighty-eight journalists killed, 2000 threatened or attacked and 144 bloggers dead because of their work. The murderous spike has much to do with Syria and Bashar al-Assad's unholy crusade against his people, though if you're a journalist in Pakistan or Somalia your life expectancy isn't great either.

Back home, thousands of journalists lost their jobs - or were told they would - as the industry slouched towards reinvention but couldn't shake the smell of death. The coming year will yield more signs of the forms and success of that reinvention.

Meanwhile in Parliament this year, rancour trumped truth and eloquence, proving that our leaders are capable of saying things sillier than ''we are us''. Elsewhere, Fifty Shades of Grey - which works neither as pornography nor storytelling - became drearily ubiquitous. Pericles and the Marquis de Sade rolled in their graves.


Mortality takes its toll in a grim year for language lovers

Meanwhile, in a triumph of censorship over ideas, Nicola Roxon is shoring-up the Federal ALP's ambition to silence any thought they don't like - which is pretty much everything - with a law to prevent hurt feelings and general insults.  This is couched in terms of human rights and preventing discrimination.  Obviously not the human right to think and speak for oneself.  Don't worry, though, our political pipsqueaks will still be allowed to toss around their personal idiocies under the banner of parliamentary privilege.  It's only the rest of us who won't be privileged 

Roxon and her government are trying to slide the new legislation into the ill-fitting guise of anti-discrimination, which has become so elastic a concept it now encompasses most thoughts that you'll have in any given day, even if you only verbalize a half dozen of them.  The perpetually outraged are finally being rewarded, now that their small and fearful thinking coincides exactly with that of the Federal Labor Government.  

(Where will this leave Twits, who are alarmed over the most trivial of matters and go in like a pack of starved vampires several dozen times a day, over everything from breast feeding to binge drinking?)

This is not a path to a more litigious society, nor is this an "attempt" to curb free speech.  No, this is actual curtailing free speech, for which the speaker must prove that their inner thoughts, motivations and emotions weren't discriminatory.  Yes, that's right, the non-brainwashed will have to prove their innocence, rather than the accuser prove the intimidation or insult - the discrimination
 

The government maintains that the objective of the legislation is to simplify and consolidate five laws into one, all the while pretending that they haven't tossed in a few bells and whistles, just for fun.   

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has said that if the Senate inquiry identifies that the drafting of the legislation went well beyond the rationalization exercise, the government would "closely consider those recommendations".  Gee, sounds promising.  What a relief.

Roxon's Human Rights and Anti-discrimination Bill 2012 will not only extend the range of conduct deemed unlawful from matters of race to matters of religion, social origin, nationality and political opinions. Her bill also removes any notion of objectivity. It is enough that conduct by one person "offends, insults or intimidates" another person. This completes the legal slide from words that incite violence to those that merely insult. Sensible gradations of offence have been lost.
Offends, insults or intimidates?  Well, that covers-off all encounters with ticketing inspectors on Melbourne's public transport.
As James Spigelman, the chairman of the ABC and former chief justice of the NSW Supreme Court, said recently, this "significant redrawing of the line between permissible and unlawful speech" goes beyond "any international human rights instrument or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy."

Trading freedoms for feelings comes at a cost. The right to speak freely, if it means anything, must include the right to offend.





 ... this fundamental right is being replaced with a new right not to be offended. The marketplace of outrage, best described by author Monica Ali, is about to get one heck of a legislative boost. New categories of insulted people will scurry to court, vying for the title of victim, each claiming their feelings have been hurt more than others.
 
How many of us realise we are witnessing the Freedom Wars? On the one side are the command-and-controllers, people such as Roxon who sincerely believe in central control more than individual freedom. Ideology has trumped principles. They insist laws are necessary to "to help everyone understand what behaviour is expected".
To help everyone understand what behaviour is expected?  No, it isn't.  It's about preventing thought and public discourse, it's about taking away access to a sophisticated and accurate lexicon, taking away the right to express non-conformance.  After a while thought itself narrows, which is ultimately the unstated purpose of stopping a culture, an entire peoples, from thinking and speaking.
  
At this rate our human rights will be sloshing around our ankles and gurgling into the sewer
 
Politicians of all stripes have a very poor record when it comes to legislating for daily human behaviors and morality.  Let's not be intimidated into silence this; let's by offended and afraid of every silent and acquiescent politician. 

Coalition soft on offence laws

Nanny Roxon won't let you spit the dummy

December 30, 2012

It's the sane, stupid

Be afraid of the sane, not the mentally ill. 

You already knew that, right?

Just to be sure:


... the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts. Only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness. 

This does not mean that mental illness is not a risk factor for violence. It is, but the risk is actually small. Only certain serious psychiatric illnesses are linked to an increased risk of violence.
 One of the largest studies, the National Institute of Mental Health’s Epidemiologic Catchment Area study, which followed nearly 18,000 subjects, found that the lifetime prevalence of violence among people with serious mental illness — like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder — was 16 percent, compared with 7 percent among people without any mental disorder. Anxiety disorders, in contrast, do not seem to increase the risk at all.
 ...
But mass killings are very rare events, and because people with mental illness contribute so little to overall violence, these measures would have little impact on everyday firearm-related killings. Consider that between 2001 and 2010, there were nearly 120,000 gun-related homicides, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Few were perpetrated by people with mental illness. 

Perhaps more significant, we are not very good at predicting who is likely to be dangerous in the future. According to Dr. Michael Stone, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia and an expert on mass murderers, “Most of these killers are young men who are not floridly psychotic. They tend to be paranoid loners who hold a grudge and are full of rage.” 

Even though we know from large-scale epidemiologic studies like the E.C.A. study that a young psychotic male who is intoxicated with alcohol and has a history of involuntary commitment is at a high risk of violence, most individuals who fit this profile are harmless.

Jeffery Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University and a leading expert in the epidemiology of violence, said in an e-mail, “Can we reliably predict violence?  ‘No’ is the short answer. Psychiatrists, using clinical judgment, are not much better than chance at predicting which individual patients will do something violent and which will not.” 

It would be even harder to predict a mass shooting, Dr. Swanson said, “You can profile the perpetrators after the fact and you’ll get a description of troubled young men, which also matches the description of thousands of other troubled young men who would never do something like this.”
 ...
Adam Lanza was prohibited from purchasing a gun, because he was too young. Yet he managed to get his hands on guns — his mother’s — anyway. If we really want to stop young men like him from becoming mass murderers, and prevent the small amount of violence attributable to mental illness, we should invest our resources in better screening for, and treatment of, psychiatric illness in young people. 

All the focus on the small number of people with mental illness who are violent serves to make us feel safer by displacing and limiting the threat of violence to a small, well-defined group. But the sad and frightening truth is that the vast majority of homicides are carried out by outwardly normal people in the grip of all too ordinary human aggression to whom we provide nearly unfettered access to deadly force.
Ah, humans.  We love our delusions.

Deep down, we know it's the normal who are the problem, don't we?


Misguided focus on mental illness in gun control debate

December 28, 2012

December 26, 2012

Thinking on one cylinder

The problem with thinking with a loaded gun instead of a brain is that it leads to singular thinking.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is sticking to its stance on guns, calling for an armed guard in every school across America. National Rifle Association chief executive officer Wayne LaPierre said on Friday: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
Err, no.  The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is to not give him the gun.

It's not rocket engineering.

No good guy with a gun has ever taken out the bad guy with a gun, despite so many millions of Americans being armed on a day to day basis.

Taken to it's logical conclusion:  firefighters should also be armed, nurses, doctors, all postal workers (not only the nutters), cinema staff, teachers, parents - children too! Then everyone can shoot each other, and it won't be long before some schmuck holding a mobile phone is shot down in the mistaken belief he (it's always a "he") was taking a rest between rounds, rather than composing an SMS.

What the hell, hand out guns and bullets for free, a birthright.  It'll save the NRA millions of dollars currently spent peddling their lethal and uncivilized ideology.  They could set up a free funeral fund with the unspent funds, because there will be funerals: every day, every week, every month - around 30,000 people in the USA die by the gun every year. 

Firefighters shot trying to save lives in New York

Wednesday Wisdom

 How did it get so late so soon?

Dr. Seuss

December 25, 2012

December 22, 2012

So this is Christmas

Hubble comes delivers Christmas cheer: nebula NGC 5189.

c/o NASA


Crystal ball fails again

Yet again - monotonous regularity - humans predicting their own total catastrophic demise have failed to get it right.  Now if only someone would confiscate Tim Flannery's crystal ball, we might get through a single year without anyone announcing the moment or cause of the end of human kind and the end of the Earth.  

It will come soon enough:  about five or six billion years hence.  
Annually declaring the end of everything for that many years is really going to get monotonous.

December 21, 2012

Cultural suckers

Just like the old days:  queuing for food.
This is London's hottest restaurant. I know this because everyone says so.

You can't even hold a spot in line for other people, as we'd been trying to do. Unless your party is there in its entirety, standing on the pavement in the cold, you won't be given a little "FOOD" stamp on your wrist, and you won't be allowed the privilege of entering the building and waiting another hour at the bar for a table to be cleared. So the four of us, now fully assembled, do the walk of shame to the back of the queue.
The place where we're attempting to eat is called Meat Liquor, which specialises in American diner-style food. We're talking burgers, fries, Buffalo wings and deep-fried pickles. As a cuisine, it's so hot right now. It's also the sort of thing that's started appearing on Sydney menus in the past few years.

Meat Liquor is designed to replicate the food truck experience (so hot right now), serving simple fare on bits of paper towel instead of plates, and setting the whole dining area within graffitied walls meant to replicate the feeling of eating in a back alley in Shoreditch (so hot right now).

The food is solid American. The wine list is short. Beer is served in cans. Fancy cocktails are mixed to perfection, shaken with a flourish then presented to discerning diners in ... jam jars.
Queue. Of own free will. Eat fried American-style junk food. Of own free will. Recycle paper towel food receptacle for wiping face. Drink out of jam jar. Of own free will.  Recycle jam jar to catch wayward cockroach. Pay premium. Of own free will. Lose mind. Take medication as prescribed.

London's hottest restaurant leaves me cold

We're so ... not thinking

Yeah!

It's that time of the year:  endless friggin' lists. 

One such list worthy of a looky is the top 100 thinkers of 2012. 

No Australians are on the list.

No Australian politicians are on the list. 

Surprised, much?

No.  Me neither.
... testament to the notion that individuals and their ideas can truly change the world, a theme that resonates in ways large and small throughout this year's list, from digital-age visionaries like Sebastian Thrun (whose robot cars may just make him the Henry Ford of a new era) to rare political leaders like Malawian President Joyce Banda, who is imagining a new Africa freed from toxic corruption. Still, many others on this year's list are there not necessarily for reinventing the world but for waging its ever-more complicated intellectual battles -- think Paul Ryan budget austerity versus Paul Krugman stimulus. If you want to shape the global conversation, you have to be a part of it. 

Indeed, if there's one theme to this year's list, it's all about the perils and possibilities of free speech in this globalized age. As Columbia University President Lee Bollinger notes in a powerful essay, "Today, we quickly experience how censorship anywhere becomes censorship everywhere." 
That would be the censorship our federal government continues to try to impose on our patch of brown land.  Censorship of anything they don't like people thinking or saying.  Our academics largely side with the Gillard government, not even having a giggle at themselves along the way at the irony of academics arguing in support of censoring the riff-raff. 

That's why no Australians are on the list of top 100 thinker of 2012.

Top 100 thinkers of 2012

Duck Friday


21.12.12

Err.

Are we still here?

If so, excellent!

As you were.

If not, well, it was fun, wasn't it?

Lovely, truly lovely, edifying, and inspiring to have met you all.

Deeply sadden now that we're gone.

Better luck with the next planet.

(So, who's in charge of making the next calendar?)

And now for a word from our reassuring sponsor:  NASA.

December 19, 2012

End of World Means ... Best Google Doodle Ever

With the ancient Mayan prophets predicting that on Friday the earth will crash into a comet, collide with the planet Nibiru, or burn to a crisp in a mammoth solar storm, “our designers have had a lot of cool stuff to work with,” Mr. Page said.

Mr. Page said that a buzz-worthy home page is crucial to what he sees as Google’s final mission on Earth: “We want to communicate to billions of people that this is the last day of human history, so maybe they should finally sign up for Google Plus.”

When reminded that the end of the world would mean the end of Google, too, Mr. Page was philosophical: “As long as it also means the end of Apple and Microsoft, I’m fine with that.”

Borowitz Report

Wednesday Wisdom

Sometimes if I trip on a crack I act like it's no biggie by breaking into a jog and don't stop until I'm in a new city with a new life.

Eli Terry  
(on Twitter, Nov 2012)

December 15, 2012

The land of god fearing and gun loving

Recently the Michigan House of Representatives passed and sent to the governor a bill that, among other things, makes it easy for people to carry concealed weapons in schools. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday, a spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger said that it might have meant “the difference between life and death for many innocent bystanders.” This is a popular theory of civic self-defense that discounts endless evidence that in a sudden crisis, civilians with guns either fail to respond or respond by firing at the wrong target. 

It was perhaps the second-most awful remark on one of the worst days in American history, coming up behind Mike Huckabee’s asking that since prayer is banned from public schools, "should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?" 
 ...

We have to make ourselves better. Otherwise, the story from Connecticut is too unspeakable to bear. 
 ...

On Friday, the president said: “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” 

Time passes. And here we are. 

World of retro-normative white guys going way of the Dodo

The always crisp and insightful Maureen Dowd nails the myriad failings of the Republican Party circa 2012.

Unfortunately for us, the Australian Liberal Party, which carries a not insignificant whiff or GOP retrogressive white guy, is destined for a blood-bath like victory at the next federal election, so have no motivation to clean up their act, to move into the 21st century, or to contribute to the creation of a greatly more beneficial body politic.  No, Tony Abbott and his merry men (and a few strong and able merry women) will continue to have that whiff about them.  The ALP government, which we've now endured for five years, has cemented the lowering of the tone and substance on both sides of the political divide.

The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world: the G.O.P. universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys. 

Just another vanishing tribe that fought the cultural and demographic tides of history. 

Someday, it will be the subject of a National Geographic special, or a Mel Gibson movie, where archaeologists piece together who the lost tribe was, where it came from, and what happened to it. The experts will sift through the ruins of the Reagan Presidential Library, Dick Cheney’s shotgun casings, Orca poll monitoring hieroglyphics, remnants of triumphal rants by Dick Morris on Fox News, faded photos of Clint Eastwood and an empty chair, and scraps of ancient tape in which a tall, stiff man, his name long forgotten, gnashes his teeth about the 47 percent of moochers and the “gifts” they got. 

Instead of smallpox, plagues, drought and Conquistadors, the Republican decline will be traced to a stubborn refusal to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count. 

As the historian Will Durant observed, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” 

President Obama’s victory margin is expanding, as more votes are counted. He didn’t just beat Romney; he’s still beating him. But another sign of the old guard’s denial came on Friday, a month after the election, when the Romney campaign ebulliently announced that it raised $85.9 million in the final weeks of the campaign, making its fund-raising effort “the most successful in Republican Party history.” 

Why is the Romney campaign still boasting? You can’t celebrate at a funeral. Go away and learn how to crunch data on the Internet. 

Outside the Republican walled kingdom of denial and delusion, everyone else could see that the once clever and ruthless party was behaving in an obtuse and outmoded way that spelled doom. 

The G.O.P. put up a candidate that no one liked or understood and ran a campaign that no one liked or understood — a campaign animated by the idea that indolent, grasping serfs must be kept down, even if it meant creating barriers to letting them vote. 

Although Stuart Stevens, the Romney strategist, now claims that Mitt “captured the imagination of millions” and ran “with a natural grace,” there was very little chance that the awkward gazillionaire was ever going to be president. Yet strangely, Republicans are still gobsmacked by their loss, grasping at straws like Sandy as an excuse. 

Some G.O.P. House members continue to try to wrestle the president over the fiscal cliff. Romney wanders in a daze, his hair not perfectly gelled. And his campaign advisers continue to express astonishment that a disastrous campaign, convention and candidate, as well as a lack of familiarity with what Stevens dismissively calls “whiz-bang turnout technologies,” could possibly lead to defeat. 

Who would ever have thought blacks would get out and support the first black president? Who would ever have thought women would shy away from the party of transvaginal probes? Who would ever have thought gays would work against a party that treated them as immoral and subhuman? Who would have ever thought young people would desert a party that ignored science and hectored on social issues? Who would ever have thought Latinos would scorn a party that expected them to finish up their chores and self-deport? 

Republicans know they’re in trouble when W. emerges as the moral voice of the party. The former president lectured the G.O.P. on Tuesday about being more “benevolent” toward immigrants. 
 

Federal ALP report card continues to roll in

Commenced under Kevin Rudd's short and disastrous reign as Prime Minister, and continued under the painfully long (will it EVER end?) and disastrous reign of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, two more major Labor Government are proving to be remarkably success-proof.

Trust us, they told state governments, we can do a much better job of running hospitals than you can:  we'll throw money at it, and the world will be changed - promise! 

They threw money, billions of dollars, as is their most favoured cash-splash ballpark, and nothing changed.
Julia Gillard's national health reforms are in danger of missing their first targets as most patients spend up to 15 hours in emergency wards, despite a vow last year to reduce delays to a fraction of the time.
 Four hours is the target KPI.

Hospital goals at risk as reform milestones missed 
 
I don't know about you, but I was quite keen on the National Broadband Network, not because I needed it, but as a national project, I thought it was a good idea.  My main gripe was why a NBN should be supported with such glee, with no care for the usual economic cost-benefit analysis, while other major projects with indisputable national benefits still aren't on the agenda - airports, a fast train from Melbourne up to Queensland (via Sydney), a new port in Melbourne, not to mention a rail link from Melbourne to the airport.  So many worthy projects.  But then, this is the government that gave us tens of billions of dollars worth of empty school halls, pink bats, and a dodgy old car cash-back deal, rather than do anything of long term value.

Yes, I did like the idea of the NBN, right up until I saw the prices, right up until I saw the continually adjusted build and roll-out timetable, and right up until I saw that my suburb - being a true blue immovably Liberal seat - an inner city suburb, was not even in the plans, meaning not for at least five years.
Just one in four homes where the National Broadband Network has been operating for more than 12 months has signed up for the lightning-fast service.

The Australian can reveal that, of the first-release sites, the take-up is averaging 25 per cent, whereas 73 per cent of all Australian households have broadband.
That "25 per cent" sounds better than it is; the NBN has a few thousand customers, with roll-out being absurdly slow, and in suburbs where it is available, most people are declining to pay the silly price.  Don't blame them.


Meanwhile, my cheap, chirpy, fast and reliable Telstra WiFi is just fine thanks.
National Broadband Network deeply unpopular
 
 
 
 

Advanced Civilization

A mass shooting has claimed the lives of at least 28 people including 20 young children after a lone gunman opened fire at a primary school in rural Connecticut.
 
All the children killed in their classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the small community of Newtown were all between the ages of 5 and 10.

Others among the dead were teachers and the killer, who turned his gun on himself at the scene after his rampage.

The gunman was later identified by local police as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who is believed to have first murdered his father at home and then driven to the school where he shot dead his mother, teacher Nancy Lanza, and many of her students.

-----

We have iPads and iGuns ... modern civilization is, too often, morally and intellectually indefensible.

December 14, 2012

Tribute to famous author




Must be a tribute to Naomi Wolf,  of Vagina: A New Biography fame.

(Hat tip to the ever lovely Kath.)

Appeasement continues

Left luvvies have not vanished.  They haven't been sent off to the op-shop like a pair of bell-bottoms - the ironic kind, from last decade. 

They're alive and well in the Australian Labor Party, diligently appeasing the cause of Islam - not for a handful of silver - all for the hope of holding onto a handful of seats.
Carr reportedly stressed "the electoral problems in Sydney" to Gillard, and The Australian reported the "demographically challenged" Water Minister, Tony Burke, insisted on not rejecting the Palestinian resolution.

Burke's "demographic challenge" is that the proportion of Muslim voters in Watson, his Sydney seat, has rocketed to an astonishing 20 per cent.

Next door in Blaxland, held by Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare, that challenge is even bigger - 23 per cent.

In nearby Reid and Werriwa, it's 10 per cent; in Parramatta and Barton, 9. In fact, of the 20 seats with the most Muslim voters, Labor holds all but one.

Most are in NSW but in Victoria they include Calwell, with 16 per cent being Muslim voters, according to the latest Census.

What's focused Labor on these voters is that its polling says it could be wiped out in next year's elections just in NSW, where more than 10 seats - even Burke's supposedly safe of Watson - are at risk.

Eight have at least 5 per cent Muslim voters, including Parramatta, Barton, Reid, Werriwa, Fowler, Banks and McMahon, held by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.

Note also that Labor has sacrificed our wider interests before to placate Muslim voters.
Vindictive MPs sell out Prime Minister

As with all things ....

As with Aboriginal policies and programs, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent, billion dollar claims are made, yet seemingly things get worse and worse and worse - so too with the education revolution:  we're going backwards.

Education, you might recall, is Prime Minister Julia Gillard's one lonely claim to explaining her urge to become the leader of our land. 

Australia's disaster in education  

The bell tolls for classroom reform

Duck Friday


December 12, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom

I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.

Georgia O'Keeffe

December 9, 2012

30 tinnies not enough, and not a ban

Vexed:  to ban alcohol in remote Aboriginal communities, or to allow our government to treat the indigenous population in the same manner as any other adult in the country - free to destroy their lives, and the lives of those around them, with alcohol?

I've erred on the side of the alcohol bans, even though drugs aren't banned, so it barely seems useful.  It also reeks of infantalising grown men and women, which is exactly what so many policies and public debates relating to Australian Aboriginals do.

Still, given the evidence of good produced by the bans, I was surprised to see that one indigenous group is taking legal action to try to win the right to let the grog free again.  Strange, thought I.  Unfortunate if they win, thought I.  Why would they do it, I thought.

Then I thought:  holy fucking shit!

You see, on Palm Island, from whence the High Court challenge comes, distilled drink, wine and full-strength beer are banned - excellent, this has helped the community immensely; men, women and children alike.  But wait!  They can still purchase mid-strength beer, limited to one 30-can carton at a time.

Startled, I was.  An alcohol "ban" that means no more than 30 cans of beer in one go.  Thirty cans would last most people quite some time, surely.  And with said thirty cans of mid-strength in hand - it's not even low-strength - why would anyone feel compelled to overload this already heavy-drinking population with more and stronger alcohol?

I hope they don't win the challenge to have the non-ban of alcohol overturned.

Top indigenous body seeks role in grog appeal

December 8, 2012

It's not the looks (or the clothes)

There are millions of young men and millions of old men living there lives with the quiet conviction that they were robbed of fame, fortune and adulation - not from lack of musical talent, but a failure of their genes to bestow the right rock-star look.

It's not true.  (Smash: there goes delusion number three.)

A glance through the fashion-wearing history of the Rolling Stones illustrates that they are an especially ugly bunch of guys, at every age.  Their collective gene pool is asthetically mongrel, not thoroughbred, and there is nothing, nothing at all, about their visual appearance that suggests their place in musical history.

In terms of their music, the Rolling Stones set the gold standard of consistency. Ignore a few unfortunate dabbles in psychedelia and disco — their sound has never really betrayed its bluesy essence. The same cannot be said of their fashion sense, however. The Stones, who celebrate their 50th year with three New York-area concerts, starting with Barclays Center in Brooklyn, have enjoyed an improbable half-century run as style avatars, stretching from the “Mad Men” era to “Mad Men” reruns. Here are nine of the band’s more memorable looks.

The difference in the clothes they wear 

December 7, 2012

December 5, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom

Unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing glove. 

P.G.Wodehouse

December 3, 2012

They're going to do what?!

Now that Palestine has been blessed with some form of statehood by the UN, Israel is plenty pissed-off. 

Israel has approved another 3000 new settlements East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but not satisfied that this signals the depth of their pissed-off-edness, some bright spark believes it only fair and proper to withhold $96M in taxes and other funds that Israel collects on behalf of Palestinians.  They'll use the money to pay down debts to the Israel Electric Corporation and other Israeli bodies.

Wonderful stuff.  Peace should descend any day now.

Amen

That born-again kid on Two and a Half Men making $350K a show said it's filth.  Even the Pope responded: "Take the money jerk ... find God later."  Joan Rivers

(In fairness, he did wait 'til later, really, around $8M in the last two years, plus earnings from the previous decade, and the never-ending half a percent from repeats.  Nice nest egg for the average god-respecting 19 year old.)

December 1, 2012

Fortitude

Not for the first time, Julia Gillard recently assured the world of her continuing fortitude:

"I don't think there would be too many Australians that doubt that I've got the personal fortitude to get this job done, no matter how hard it gets."
Much like asylum seekers arriving by sea, this being an act claimed to be self-evidently, inherently "desperate", ipso facto assertions of persecution and refugee-type dangers and deprivations (not country shopping for a nicer world view) must be accepted as indisputably genuine; so too Gillard's never-ending fortitude is asserted as being an inherent and necessary precondition for holding the highest office in the land, an assertion that possessing such a quality - and only that one -  is in and of itself sufficient to be a good and deserving Prime Minister.

Is there anyone in the land doubting Gillard's fortitude?  Must be a few.  Doesn't matter.  Gillard overlooks the flip-side of the coin:  are there enough Australians with the personal fortitude to cope with her continuing primeministership?

November 30, 2012

We what? They what?

We abstained from the Palestinian vote.


Okey-dokey.

UN members voted 138 to 9 in favour of recognising Palestine as a non-member state.  There were 41 abstentions.

I don't get it.




Duck Friday


November 28, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom

All men are frauds.  The only difference between them is that some admit it.  I myself deny it. 

H.L.Mencken

November 23, 2012

November 21, 2012

Wednesday Wisdom

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. 

F.Scott Fitzgerald

November 17, 2012

Laws to live (and die) by

In Thailand it's illegal to leave your house if you are not wearing undies. You can't drive your car if you are not wearing a shirt. Strangely there is no law against no pants in cars.

In Switzerland it is illegal to flush the toilet in an apartment building after 10pm. 

Do not get naked in Kenya's Masi Mara. That is illegal.

In Singapore it has been illegal to chew gum since 1992. 

In Saskatchewan Canada it is illegal to drink water in beer parlours. (Damed right!)

Don't take your beer onto the street in Chicago, US. That's against the law. In St Louis you can take beer onto the street but you can't sit down with it.

In Longyearbyen, Norway dying is illegal. The remote artic town found that bodies didn't decompose in the permafrost. So if you're so sick that you're going to die, they will ship you over to the mainland.

In England the Outer Space Act of 1986 allows the Secretary of State to use reasonable force to prevent an alien attack. But if the aliens come with paperwork saying they have a licence to invade, then Britain will have to invoke the Space Objects Act to repel them.

In New York cinema owners must chisel all chewing gum off the bottom of their seats every month. 

In Denmark you don't have to pay for your food unless you are full at the end of your meal. You also need to legally check under your car for children who may be sleeping there before you start the engine.

In 2009 Japan made it against the law to be fat. In the nation that is the home to sumo wrestling actually set a maximum waistline size. Men aged 40 and above must not have a waist more than 80cm. Women get an extra 10cm. 

The Limits of Evolution

Max Galuppo meets his match. 
450 years of Evolution come to nothing.


November 16, 2012

November 15, 2012

A very puerile Xmas



More sophomoric rubbish from the ALP; they can't even refrain from tainting the office Xmas party ... and can't refrain from making Abbott the star attraction of their end of year festivities. 

November 14, 2012

Eclipse of the Light





Wednesday Wisdom



Our politicians have become a group of baggy-pants clowns on talk shows, trotted out in a low sketch comedy of hostility, tearful sanctimony, prejudice, xenophobia and social disruption.

Graeme Blundell (Australia, August 2012)

November 10, 2012

Back to candles and kerosine

Remember the ALP promise to go to war on grocery prices, even though government has no say in the price of Vegemite or frozen peas? 

Remember the ALP promise to go to war on petrol prices, even though every price inquiry has resulted in a finding that, shrug, petrol prices are what they are?

Now a new one, but more perverse.  (Is that possible?  Yes, yes it is.)

The Gillard government is going to do for electricity pricing what they did for grocery and petrol prices, only worse.

Having introduced a carbon emissions tax - and beforehand not noticing that electricity prices have been going through the roof for years, yet consumer usage has been dropping, and dropping, in a useless bid to out-drop the price increases - the Gillard government has suddenly become aware of what the rest of already know. 

Their solution?  Market deregulation and smart meters.

In Victoria, we started paying for the fully-paid-for-by-the-government smart meters a couple of years ago, meaning:  before we even got the meters, and we are paying twice.  We also got meters that aren't smart at all, since there's no ability to see the meter unless you wonder around outside.

The Auditor's report on Victorian smart meters found that, contrary to the claims that ushered in this wonderful technology, there was no benefit, real or imagined, to consumers

Of course, smart meters do mean that power companies can sack every worker who used to drive around doing the old-fashioned meter read.  They're not needed anymore.  For this, and for the meter that isn't smart, we pay more. 

As for "deregulation":  Victoria sold off power to the private sector long ago, and the prices have never stopped rising.  Yes, all power companies have to submit price increases to a regulator who approves or denies, rarely the later, but sometimes there is a bit of argy-bargy over just how high the price should go, which offers some sort of break on the private sector. 

Imagine, then, with a fully-deregulated private sector, the gloves off, the naked greed running rampant up the polls!

Year on year on year, I've used less and less electricity during each quarter.  Yet, my most recent winter quarterly bill was a splutter-worthy $100 more than for the same period last year.  That extra was the most recent power increase, approved by the government regulator, on top of every increase during the last five years, and on top of the smart meter charge, of which I've been paying for more than a year and will be paying for years to come (I got my "smart" meter a couple of months ago, coinciding nicely with the whopping latest usage price increase).

Kar-rist! 

Are the people in this Labor government lunatics?  Do they understand anything about what is going on in the utilities sector?  Have they looked at pricing in the States that have already sold utilities to the private sector?  The States that are already rolling-out smart meters?  Do they understand power pricing?  The margins?  Simple economics - supply and demand?  Which in the utilities industry means the less the consumer uses, the more they put up the prices so as to maintain their margins?  The water industry is exactly the same - the regulator grants increases to price to make up for lost profits when consumers insist on being responsible citizens by curbing their water usage,  just as the government insists they do.

Kar-rist!  Kar-rist!  Kar-rist!  

This new big announcement from the Gillard government melts my poor little brain cells.  
The Gillard government will unveil an all-out assault on power bills, recommending the deregulation of prices for households and small business and "time of use" pricing to prevent wasteful investments in poles and wires that are used for only a few hours a year. 

The major shake-up which would do away with retail price controls set by state-based regulators and allow energy retailers across the nation to set their own charges will be hammered out by Julia Gillard and state leaders at next month's meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.

It could involve a roll-out of smart meters, which would allow consumers to avoid high tariffs during peak periods such as hot spells in summer.

Releasing the final energy white paper today, Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson will also reject policies of reserving gas for local industry and declare that Australia must cut the costs on resources projects if a $230 billion pipeline of works is to be delivered.

And he will warn that if Australia is to secure the second $230bn pipeline of investment "we must reduce the costs of production in Australia", including cutting red tape and streamlining best-practice environmental approvals for major projects.

He will argue that realising the potential of the future will require "significant levels of investment in domestic infrastructure and further development of our resource base".

The paper will also reveal that Australia's domestic oil refinery capacity will plunge by 28 per cent between this year and 2014 because of the planned closure of Shell's Clyde and Caltex's Kurnell refineries in NSW, and that making greater use of "clean" energy could require more than $200bn in new electricity generation capacity by 2050.

Mr Ferguson will use the launch of the paper to declare that soaring energy prices are hurting households and businesses and are not sustainable, and will urge the states to resist populism and dump price controls set by state-based regulators.

"The willingness of other state governments to take on these hard reforms will be essential," he says in a speech to be delivered today, obtained by The Australian. "It will take political courage where others have failed."
 Oh bullshit!  Utter, utter bullshit.  

The only thing (not) keeping a check on prices in Victoria is the government regulator.  Take away the regulator and it really will be back to candles, kerosine and an esky to keep the milk and butter from going sour.

Labor takes aim at power bills

Let's salute the Australian Electoral Commission

In Virginia and Texas some voters waited in line for four hours. In Pennsylvania, there were inappropriate demands for official photo IDs. Recorded calls went out to residents of Florida saying misleadingly that they had until 7 p.m. “tomorrow” to vote. And in Ohio, there seemed to be an unusually high number of provisional ballots, causing concern that they might not all get counted. 

One of their biggest concerns was the apparently large number of provisional ballots given to voters in Ohio, the state many consider the central battleground for the presidential election. Provisional ballots are given when information presented by the voter does not match the registration roll or insufficient identification is presented. By law, provisional ballots must be counted if officials later determine the voter is legitimate. Many provisional ballots end up not getting counted. 

At the Mother of Christ Church in Cincinnati, there was frustration among those advised to use such ballots.

“I don’t want to vote provisionally — I want to vote for real,” Canessa Harrell, 42, told poll workers. Ms. Harrell said poll workers at another precinct had told her to come to Mother of Christ Church to vote, but when she arrived there, she was not listed in the rolls for the precinct. “Will my vote count?” she asked.

“It will still count,” a worker said, following Ms. Harrell, who had decided to leave instead. 

In Columbus, Annie Womack, who was volunteering for the N.A.A.C.P. to watch polls, said she saw people walk away rather than agree to wait in another line and receive a provisional ballot. In Ohio in 2008, about 20 percent of provisional ballots were discarded. 

Another concern had to do with voter identification requirements in Pennsylvania. A law passed earlier this year said voters had to present an official form of photo ID at the polls, but a judge said that would not go into effect for this election. He said poll workers should ask for the ID but voters without them could go ahead and vote in a normal manner anyway. 

But there were examples of voters without the ID being told they could not vote without it. In Allegheny County in the southwestern part of the state, a judge barred people outside polling stations from demanding identification from voters after a complaint that poll workers were seeking ID from people outside a polling place in Homestead, Pa.
No matter how low our lowly current bunch of politicians stoop, no matter how empty their basket of goodies, at least we have a tidy, fair and robust voting system - yes, it's still all done on bits of paper and with blunt pencils, but it works.

Plus we get to vote on a weekend, so can wait patiently in line, without harassment, and without need of worrying about getting back to work. 

So let's give a shout-out to the Australian Electoral Commission! Bless.

Long lines, demands for photo ID, provisional votes, mar voting for some

Angry white men out of time

Sixty eight per cent of single white women who voted in the USA election did not vote for Mitt Romey and his angry Republican friends. 

Hispanics weren't too fond of him either, with only 27 per cent going with Mitt (down from Dubya's 44 per cent of the Hispanic vote).

Angry white guys stuck in another era have a dwindling support base. 

Hmm.  Tony Abbott and the Liberals might do well to take some lessons from the American election, just as Julia Gillard and the Labor Party are already looking to copy whatever Obama did, in the hope that the magic will rub off for them too.

Republicans, unplugged

November 9, 2012