22 January, 2010

Australia Day? Invasion Day? What a Load of Jingoistic Crap

A son of a German shoves a Union Jack on the shores of Botany Bay, proclaiming that a terra nullus is now the property of a King George III, whom is completely mad from the hereditary disease porphyria and is not English but German, during a time of malcontent by those the New World (American) colonies.  How is this a day for Australia, let alone representative of England’s expanding empire?

It reminds me of an Episode of Blackadder Goes Forth (General Hospital), where Capt. Blackadder is tasked to root out a German spy in a WWI field hospital: having tied Capt. Darling to a chair Blackadder interrogates, and Darling finally cracks under the pressure “I’m as British as Queen Victoria!” to which Blackadder attacks with “You mean your father's German, you're half German and you married a German?!”

I’m not anti-German or anti-British or even anti-Calathumpian.  The point is how ridiculous that Australia Day is about the establishment of the Botany Bay Colony (NSW), which has nothing to do with South Australia, Tasmania or Western Australia, and Australians in general.  Particularly immigrants (aren’t we all?) and indigenous peoples.  That doesn't leave very many Australian Citizens left.

Surely this artificial date, linked to firing a few muskets to the strains of God Save The King, is not appropriate for now let alone pre-Federation.

Perhaps a better date is when the Premiers of each colony first sat together and, with the “mother country” (English or German?) agreed on the referendum that would put our nation on the path of a successful Federation, remembering that both Western Australia and South Australia both had universal suffrage - for non-indigenous peoples - for those aged 21 and over?  A second date could be set aside to celebrate the successful referendum in which indigenous peoples won the right to be recognised as people with the same rights as citizens and thus given the vote.

Perhaps the real “Australia Day”, then, should be 2nd March to reflect the first day of the meeting of all Colonies to push for Federalism.
In the same way, 26th August should mark “Vincent Lingiari Day”: the walk off by Aboriginal stockmen from Wave Hill, which precipitated the overwhelmingly successful 1967 referendum which removed the power of the Commonwealth government as to how indigenous people could be treated.  (Contrary to popular belief, in some states indigenous peoples did have citizenship and were allowed to vote in state elections.)

As for the current “Australia Day”, it’s time to let go.  Unless you are a New South Welsh man or woman, and even then it would be better to rename it as "Foundation Day, NSW".

21 January, 2010

Daylight Saving? Yawn

Don’t like missing out on Daylight Saving?  Disappointed WA voted for the 4th time “No”?  Then referendums are obviously not the way to go. May I suggest you go to New South Wales or Victoria or Tasmania or — the eternal purgatory – South Australia.

You see, I don’t really care if Perth has DLS or not; and let’s face it Perth/Mandurah/Bunbury is the socio-political critical mass of Western Australia.  Does DLS cause more car accidents?  Probably not.  Do more people sun themselves at the beach after getting home from a stressful day at the office with DLS?  I doubt it, except for the above average wage earners in the beach-side suburbs.  Do kids not sleep properly at night because the sun sets later?  Maybe not.

Whatever arguments that are put up, there are counter arguments.
But I’ll let you into a secret.  I voted no.  And I’ll tell you why.

If you’ve ever lived in the North of the state (and I don’t mean the suburbs of Joondalup and Wanneroo) then you’ll know you get roughly 12 hours of sunlight each day all year round.  It doesn’t vary as much as does in Tasmania.  Or even the Southern Coastal towns like, for example, Hopetoun.

I chose Hopetoun for a particular reason.  Hopetoun is less than 10km East of the 120°E Easting, which is where WA officially measures its time zone.  And Hopetoun is roughly on the same Northing as Sydney.  So if anywhere would need that extra bit of daylight at the end of the day it would be Hopetoun.  After all, with sunrise as early as 5am, they could do with the extra light at the end of the day rather than the beginning.

Well, it’s not that simple.  During the height of summer, the sun rises and sets in the ocean.  But in winter, is rises and sets over land.  In Hopetoun’s case having a bloody big hill the size of a mountain to the West reduces winter daylight by as much as an hour.
What’s this go to do with Perth?  We don’t have any mountains.  The sun always sets in the Indian Ocean for shore dwellers.  Being 5° West of the 120°E mark means Perth has less morning and more afternoon all year round.  A kind of built in DSL.  5° may not sound very much, but it means Perth can get over 20 minutes of DLS.  Plus not having the sun set over mountains, unlike Sydney, means more twilight.

But that’s not the real reason for voting no.  The Office of Energy did an audit of power consumption during the 3 year Day Light Savings Trial, and was supposed to release the data to the public before the last referendum.  I guess the idea being that because we were all at the beach being sand-blasted by the Fremantle Doctor, we weren’t using our electricity guzzling reverse cycle air-conditioners.  And so, the theory goes, we weren’t burning as much gas and coal in our power stations.

How could we be so naïve!  The Independent Market Regulator washed its hands of the issue, and no documents have been allowed under the Freedom of Information Act (WA) to say whether more or less power was consumed.  However, since the former Carpenter government thought it necessary to re-commission a coal fired power-plant, one becomes suspicious.

Yes, we know that Apache’s Varanus Island gas plant exploded, but Apache are still fighting NOPSA in the courts over the inspection, and anyway, even when the Carpenter government enacted a reserve of 25% of all gas produced to be for WA domestic and industrial use, no plans have been made to decommission the re-commissioned power station.  Even with the current Barnett government, even with more gas available and a plan to keep storing energy so that we urbanites won’t have to go without power again.
Conclusion: they are hiding something from us, and it isn’t the Office of Energy’s good news.

Yes, we may dream that we’ll go down to the beach after work.  With the kids.  Get some sunlight — but not too much because we don’t want any more skin cancers than we already have — and all the fun stuff that the warmer weather brings.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  At most we’ll only spend more time down at the pub or at a mate’s barbie.  Or as earlier this week proved, 3 consecutive days over 41.1°C (106°F) and 5 consecutive days over 37.8°C (100°F), it was no surprise as the grid again failed.  We had been warned about this before, and we are being warned it will happen in the future.

No matter if you prefer DLS, don’t grumble to me about how awful it is doing business with those over east.  Let’s face it, it’s awful doing business anyway and the money comes into this state from those in our timezone, eg Beijing, not outside it (Sydney, Melbourne).

12 January, 2010

Shame Is The Only Weapon That Hurts Them

Humans are flawed.  We are prone to err.  We make observational errors.  We unwittingly make assumptions that have no foundations.  Sometimes we deliberately deceive ourselves as a protective (or coping) mechanism so that we don’t have to face facts: the lie is comforting and protective.

Perhaps the most interesting psychological and social phenomenon that demonstrates one of our psychological flaws is the Fundamental Attribution Error.  We all have it to a greater or lesser degree.

What is it?  Well, it would be easy to insert a few links to Wikipedia or a paper or text on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or even the person credited with the term Lee Ross. Instead, I will explain it in hypothetical examples of a cognitive error.

Let’s say someone has severe depression.  One of the behavioural problems this person exhibits is severe social isolationism and an irrational blame system.  The sufferer may attribute all “good luck” to simple good but undeserved fortune, and any “bad luck” to deserved punishment, be it by “God”, or any other source, even themselves.

The use of “good”, “bad” and “God” is deliberate: they are loaded words, with a value that is different for each individual.

The same phenomenon happens in perfectly functioning individuals too.  For example, “bad” things that happen are entirely due to things beyond the person’s control, and “good” things happen because the person is a “good” person or because they pray to “God”.

It should now be obvious what is really happening: the individual is attributing in error what is happening to them.  As individuals we all do it from time to time.  As a society we gravitate towards those with similar belief systems and reinforce any errors.  To claim otherwise is in itself a fundamental attribution error.

So why talk about a psychological theory, especially one that is still debated amongst psychiatrists and psychologists?  There is a battle going on, and an ugly one at that.  It’s religious fundamentalism verses human rights.  Normally sanity prevails and on accommodates the other, but this “war” is becoming ugly as issues become polarised.

On the religious fundamentalism side, a claim has been staked for theological absolutism over morality.  The principle being only religion can own morality, since what is “good” and what is “evil” is defined by “God”, be it Yahweh, God, Allah, or any defined deity, and any human morality is corrupted.  The flaw in absolutism is exposed when absolutists can’t agree on moral “laws”, or even be consistent on interpretation.

This isn’t the crux of the problem, as conflict amongst religious absolutists has ever been thus.  What the current vortex has done is draw in an ever growing number of seemingly normal people capable of making their own decisions based on evidence and experience and turning them into bigots.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the US.  There is a growing fear, often unfounded, of Islam because a few radical “Muslims” deviate from orthodoxy and have an irrational belief that Christians and Jews are deserving targets in a violent jihad.  Similarly a growing number of centralist, nominal Christians in the US, as well as here in Australia, believe that homosexuality is equivalent to a moral cancer.  To recruit the otherwise “I don’t give a hoot” to the cause, they actively, deliberately, use fundamental attribution error to scare those on the outside into believing that gay marriage is a danger to children.

There are two very important issues that those against gay marriage, or homosexuality in general, that those behind these bigoted attacks don’t want you to know;
a) many western governments already accept same-sex couples for the purpose of taxation, estates and family laws,
b) the organisers of bigoted attacks deliberately confuse being homosexual with having homosexual sex,
c) the organisers of bigoted attacks deliberately obfuscate any logical debate, and,
d) the organisers of bigoted attacks pander to fear by linking homosexuality, particularly male homosexuality, with paedophilia, when in fact evidence is to the contrary.  When any such activity is demonstrably shown to be from within a church then the cracks are papered over.  Nothing to see here, move on.

As a society we can arm ourselves the best we can with facts, and question every “fact” given to us.  As individual we can not give in to the moral absolutists.  Today is the rights of individuals to enter a civil arrangement and be equal before the spirit and the letter of the law and equals within society.  Tomorrow it may be your right to judge for yourself what is acceptable, how to raise your children, who you are allowed to associate with or something more sinister.

As an example how deep this self-belief (or delusion) goes, I’ve engaged with tweeters with different views to my own.  It’s important in my view not to devalue someone’s personal belief system for my own amusement.  However one tweeter came to my attention because the nature of the argument cementing into a “because”.  You know the type of argument. Master or Miss Four comes to you and asks a question, to which you answer.  But they are never satisfied, and eventually you give up and reply with a “because it just is” or “because I said so.”  That’s fine, since as the adult you set the rules and the boundaries.  However when it’s a debate with someone who is supposedly an adult, and the debate still reduces down to “because”, then you can bet that person is an absolutist, or worse a fundamentalist absolutist.  It may be tempting to dismiss such individuals as radical right-wing fundamentalists and not representative of others of their faith, but it’s a dangerous assumption.

I wish it could end with just religious belief, yet recent events both here in Australia (mainly in Melbourne and Sydney) and in India have brought up another societal ugliness: racism.

The murder of Nitin Garg, an Indian National, has brought out bloggers such as “Wendy” (I won’t give a link, as I don’t wish to promote her views.  If you wish, Google “culturedviews.com racism laugh” and take it from there).  The point is there is a growing resentment towards immigrants and asylum seekers in nearly all nations.  Racist classics like “we’re full” and “they take our jobs” abound.  Throw into the mix “no one’s forcing them to come here” and “they should count themselves lucky to be here”.  Yes, it’s very easy to be a racist without thinking about it.

I don’t know if the recent attacks on Indians living in Australia is racially motivated, however I have noted a increasing resentment towards Sub-Continent Asians by various people.  “They’ve fucked up the taxis single handedly” is one such comment I’ve heard.  Before this it was the Serbs or the Croatians  who were to blame.  Before them it was the Vietnamese.  You get the picture.

What I have noticed is India’s growing self assuredness as a nation.  The Indian media has certainly taken a more aggressive stance on the matter.  It doesn’t help when inadvertent comments made to the media further sour relations, forcing what should be a murder investigation into a diplomatic row.

Now let’s be utterly clear and frank.  We are all capable of expressing racism.  Racism isn’t solely the domain of “white” people.  And no-one is best served when generalisations are made about a person’s country or culture.  Finally, it does no harm to apologise for our failings of the past and current.  Not just “white culture” but all cultures.  Surely in this specific case, the interests of the victims it’s best to take a deep breath, both Australia and India, find, investigate and prosecute the offenders.

In the meantime, we should do our best to out the religious and racists bigots: shame is the only weapon that hurts them.

Raunchy for the RSPCA

Raunchy for the RSPCA?  Well, fellow #PTUBer Tim Pokorny aka @soporificfrog and all-round good-guy is raising money for the RSPCA (WA).  Specifically a minimum of AUD$520.  When that target is reached, he will nude up for a tasteful self-portrait, which will then be posted to Flickr.  Why?  Read Tim’s blog.  It’s a worthwhile cause, in my humble opinion.  I have not only given a denotation, but have offered an other $10 donation for Tim to keep his clothes on.

Go on.  Donate.  Do it now.  Tim is dying to nude up in front of his own lens.

05 January, 2010

Welcome to Eternal Digital Purgatory

It’s an unwritten law about politicians: it’s expected that they be hypocrites and be able to disguise (so they think) by using gobbledegook or nonsensical technocrat jargon.

Senator The Honourable Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is today’s subject.  Well, not so much a subject as a lesson.  In not how to be a minister.

What Conroy is trying to achieve is nothing short of total censorship of the internet within Australia.  Many commentators have already spoken about this, commentators far more qualified than I am.  However I will add something that no commentator to my knowledge have spoken about.

I wrote to the Senator about his plans for a compulsory internet filter for all Australian ISPs.  He finally replied with an nonsense letter (in PDF form), republished here;

(I apologise for the poor quality of the images.  One could say it represents the quality of the answers Conroy gave.)

There are some answers that amuse me.  For example Enex TestLab tested the filter, but no IT group, journalist or editor accept the findings, particularly at ADSL2+ speeds.  Mainly because the Minister reneged on his promise to publish the full results.  Instead we have to take the Minister’s word and Enex’s report as gospel.  No surprise, then, that Enex “found that a defined list of URLs can be delivered with 100 per cent accuracy.”  Of course it can, because that’s like saying parsing a text file for the word “the” will succeed 100% of the time if “the” is in the defined list.  What Senator Conroy or Enex don’t say is what the defined list is.  In other words it’s easy to pass with 100% any test when you know what the answers are beforehand.  If it were a statistical study or basic science at year 11/12 level, then quite rightly the examiners would fail the student.

Of course, this “one hundred per cent accuracy” is spin.  At least three websites were erroneously added to the the banned list, if this news article is to be believed.  And even though I don’t trust News Ltd or the Courier Mail 100%, I trust that report 100% more than Conroy’s statements.  Especially since Conroy threatened to have the Federal Police, which was never followed up, investigate the leaking of the list held by AMCA.

There are, at best, deliberately misleading errors, or at worst, lies, by Conroy.  The claim that Germany has already legislated ISP filtering only relates to child abuse.  Italy’s Ministerial Decree only relates to child abuse and illegal gambling sites.  Neither are close to the scope Conroy and the Government want to implement.  Misinformation, spin or lies.  You decided.

Much more amusing is the quote “Some opponents of the policy are trying to misrepresent the figures in the Enex Testlabs report by suggesting that a figure if of less than ten per cent is substantial.  To put that into context of real time, Australia’s largest ISP, Telstra, undertook its own testing that showed the impact on internet performance would be less than one seventeenth of the blink of an eye!”  Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty certain a “blink of an eye!” isn’t a standard measurement of time, let alone one seventeenth of a blink of an eye.  It’s a claim made more absurd when neither the government nor Telstra will release how they tested the filter to arrive at this ‘figure’.

Who are these opponents?  One is a influential body, Save the Children, an NGO that pushes for some radical rights for children.  But even they are against Conroy.  Why?  Adviser Holly Doel-Mackaway when interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald said:

The filter scheme [is] “fundamentally flawed” because it failed to tackle the problem at the source and would inadvertently block legitimate resources.  Furthermore there was no evidence to suggest that children were stumbling across child pornography when browsing the web.  Doel-Mackaway believes the millions of dollars earmarked to implement the filters would be far better spent on teaching children how to use the internet safely and on law enforcement.  “Children are exposed to the abusive behaviours of adults often and we need to be preventing the causes of violence against children in the community, rather than blocking it from people’s view.”

    Even Google Australia’s Head of Policy, Iarla Flynn, wrote in an official Google Blog:

    At Google we are concerned by the Government's plans to introduce a mandatory filtering regime for Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Australia, the first of its kind amongst western democracies.* Our primary concern is that the scope of content to be filtered is too wide.

    We have a bias in favour of people's right to free expression. While we recognise that protecting the free exchange of ideas and information cannot be without some limits, we believe that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.

    Some limits, like child pornography, are obvious. No Australian wants that to be available – and we agree. Google, like many other Internet companies, has a global, all-product ban against child sexual abuse material and we filter out this content from our search results. But moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information.”…

      This is not enough for Conroy and his cronies.  In justifying the filter, Conroy concedes that “it is possible that filtering may be circumvented by a technically competent user”.  That is a lie, Conroy.  A user need not be technically competent to circumvent the filter.  A user only needs to see what other users are doing to circumvent the the filter, and apply it to their own situation.  A user doesn’t need to know the hows and whys of various methods to work around the filter.  The user merely only needs access to the information.  Such as a WikiPedia page or a forum with the instructions.  A user doesn’t need to know how an OS like Windows 7 or Mac OS X work, so sure as eggs break when thrown at brick walls, the “technically competent” will be able to show even the most casual user how to circumvent the filter.

      The filter doesn’t address peer-to-peer connections or proxy servers or VPNs.  In short AUD$126 million and counting is being wasted to catch the 11 or 12 kiddy porn downloaders out of the 22 million Australians.  Wow that’s outstanding value, Conroy.  Pity it won’t catch the thousands using peer-to-peer networks or those grooming on chat channels and the like.  Police agencies will still have to work as hard as ever to catch these offenders, and the “smartest” of these offenders will escape being caught.

      It’s as stupid an idea to waste money to target the drug mules carrying illicit drugs in their hand luggage instead trying to nail the source.  Or ignoring illegal drug labs and targeting the one or two drug-fucked that sell a few grams of low-quality marijuana to undercover police officers.

      So why is Conroy equally obsessed with a mandatory filter and refusing to answer questions by the public or the media about it, except on his terms to spruik it?

      This will help answer that question.

      Conroy, despite being a Senator for the Australian Labor Party, is a conservative right-of-centre politician.  Since leaving university he has been working for, or understudy to some of the ALP’s biggest king-makers and head-kickers.  He has been implicated in the plot to removed former ALP leaders Mark Latham and Kim Beasley to stall current hypocrite, PM and master of double-speak Kevin Rudd.

      Conroy’s also religiously a conservative, fundamentalist Catholic, having voted against the “morning after pill” RU486 (the bill passed, and RU486 is legally available in Australia), and voted to overturn the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws.  Not so ironically, abortion and euthanasia will be banned subjects once the filter is imposed in full.  We’re not talking about pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia, the filter will block any site that discusses these issues.  Potentially sites that carry information about safer drug use, or safer sexual practices, will also fall foul of the filter.  It’s conceivable that people will die because information Conroy perceives as dangerous will be filtered, or if a domain within Australia, be given a “take down notice” by ACMA without AMCA having to explain why such an order is issued.

      Separation of church and state, anyone?

      Despite his conservative, fundamentalist Catholic views, and right wing conservative political views, he and his wife arranged to have a surrogate mother by egg donation, with the procedure performed in New South Wales.  Such surrogacy arrangements were illegal in his home state, and the state of his Senate Seat, Victoria.  Not to mention that such a procedure anywhere goes against the Papal decrees of John-Paul II and Benedict XVI.

      This man wants censorship based on an ill-informed won’t-someone-think-of-the-children mentality, justifying it on the thinest of premises.  The very same man who has, despite the deep conservative fundamentalist Catholic beliefs, evaded one set of laws by having the procedure done in another state and yet use his vote to overturn the wishes of the Northern Territory because euthanasia is a “dirty” word in fundamentalist Catholicism.

      For now, Conroy wants to protect children from seeing images that have been refused classification, and yet there is no transparency as who decides this or exactly how it is to be done.  Even the “list” of URLs which have been deemed to contain material which is Refused Classification is to be kept secret.  Despite what Conroy wants, the horrible truth is that children will continue to be abused - with the Catholic Church still being the biggest institution offending, and protecting offenders).  Internet content that is currently available with a classification will inadvertently be reclassified as RC mostly due to some fundamentalist viewpoint objecting for no other reason than their belief that it should be offensive, or because a site has been hacked and redirects to a site that sells sex toys or R18+ DVDs.

      How long is it before ideology or political or social commentary is deemed to be “Refused Classification”, with the author or authors none the wiser as to who complained and under which grounds the complainants believe the material is RC?  This has already been done.  The parody site StephenConroy.com.au has been removed by auDA and has the strong stench of political interference.

      We can only hope that the bill, and Conroy’s and the Government’s plans are scuttled.  And then hope Conroy doen’t introduce it as policy as a back-door method to get around the law.

      There is something you can do.  Write to your local MHR (you can find your member here), and cc Senator Conroy either by senator.conroy@aph.gov.au or minister@dbcde.gov.au

      Don’t restrict your questions to the filter.  Ask about the NBN, AustraliaPost, the ABC and SBS.  Anything and everything that is in his portfolio.  That way you won’t get an automatic, computerised letter that says nothing.  When you do get a response, question the answers, and ask again.  This is where asking your MHR is important.  You MHR is obliged to ask questions of the Minister on your behalf and the Minister is obliged to answer.

      As it currently stands, on-line petitions are being ignored.  Conroy doesn’t have to respond, and given the outrage and lack of intestinal fortitude, he won’t.

      It’s time Conroy had a decent kick in the balls, or his head kicked in instead of being the head-kicker.