Black Jack’s Pacific revolution, soft journalism and Annabel Crabb

Dear Annabel:

I note you have a problem with email.  That’s understandable. Thought I’d drop you a Twitter link to this though, in case you’re feeling beset.,, again.   Some stuff will probably keep coming at you.

It’s about soft TV interviews in politics. You’ll probably not be surprised to find that the “issue” — if that’s what it is — is not new.

Back a few years before you were born <sigh> (we’re talking B&W TV here) I had the opportunity to interview Deputy PM “Black Jack” McEwen for a Ch-7 current affairs program.  A notoriously dour character, McEwen had agreed to a half-hour filmed interview on his farm in Stanhope, Vic.  And he’d even agreed that that could happen in the middle of the farm’s junk yard, where he’d cobbled together all manner and shapes of leftover materials to fashion a Heath Robinson machine for clearing irrigation canals. (The “Stanhope Monster”).

For this “soft” interview, I read almost every book and press clipping I could find.  I setttled on a general approach of gathering together many of things that had been written about him and giving him a chance to confirm or deny the written records. It turned out to be a fairly productive approach.   Then, at one point, I said I’d read he had entered politics with a keen interest in international affairs, and that not many people knew that at one point, in 1940, he had served briefly as Minister for External Affairs. …..  What did he see as his main achievements in that time?

He paused.

“Starting a revolution in New Caledonia…” was the start of the response, which spelled out a war-time exploit to block Japanese from establishing a base within easy reach of the Australian mainland, and ended with the conjecture that he believed that members of the overthrown Vichy government of New Caledonia had been dropped off on a beach in Indo China.

Sometimes soft interviews produce sheer gold.

But hard or soft, there is no substitute for a two-fold approach:

  • prior homework on the person and the topic; and
  • an ability to listen to, hear, and respond to what is said in the interview.

There are always going to be surprises if you take the soft approach, more often than in hard interviews, where the “talking points” from the subject tend to overrule everything.   It’s usually easier to be able to listen and respond to the surprises if you’re not fixed on asking another pre-prepared “hard” question that ignores what the interviewee just said.

Keep it up.    It’s been good stuff.

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Gallipoli’d out already

Dunno about you, but they’ve got me wishing already that it was about say, the 28th of April, and it was all over — for another year — maybe 100 years…

It seems to have got that way that there’s a new “nostalgic” bit about our troops at war on TV every night — and the promise of replays of whole series.     As if nostalgia of that kind is something to welcome.

I’m immediately reminded of the One Day of the Year days when student newspaper Honi Soit ran an article critical of those who appeared to wallow in Anzac Day “celebrations” .

I think all of us can appreciate what a shitawful thing it was and is to send young kids out to die for the failure of politics.   After all, that’s what war is all about, political failure, and sending out kids to kill and be killed.   And we should never forget what that means as an action taken in our names, or who it was we sent.

However, when it comes to having one community setting up cute recreations of all the action complete with trenches, machine guns, and similar “authentic details” (except for blood, mud, death, open wounds, stench and scattered human parts some of which came from your mates),  I was pretty sure I’d had more than enough.  A sanitized Gallipoli-as-a-Game or Gallipoli-Gone-Disney I could do without.

But then some benighted poor soul offers the promo line that their genuine display has “organic trenches”.  That’s when you know it’s gone silly.     Just bloody silly.

Can we just stop, pause a moment, wait till the 25th,  remember, and start to understand this is not some religious circus, and not some kind of made-up variation on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or Halloween?

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Letter to Stephen Cooper, wind farm syndrome pollster

Dear Mr Cooper:
I’m wondering if you can include me and my family in your ongoing study of sickening noises which you say you can detect near wind farms. I’m not near a wind farm, but it’s something similar.
I live near a wave farm on the coast, and frequently get feelings of pressure in the head, eyes, throat and chest, headaches and a pulsing in my ears.
These feelings seem to come whether they’ve got the turbines in the wave farm turned on or not. There’s this low frequency noise all the time that comes in stops and starts. It gets worse and more frequent when the wind blows at high tide, and I would think it’s just like what those families near wind farms hear. It’s a rushing, wooshing, watery kind of noise, but sometimes it rises to a roar, particularly when I walk down to the beach.
At times when I get on a boat and go out to sea, it’s a different sound, but the feelings get worse and I start to feel bad nausea and even get fits of violent vomiting.
And it’s even worse after I’ve been into town to the pub and had a few drinks with my friends, although on these occasions I really don’t feel the effects all that much until I start to hear the low frequency noises again in the morning. That’s when my head really hurts.
Someone should do something about this and help us out here. Perhaps you can include us in your study and that might help get your sample size up a bit — particularly if the dog hasn’t run off again.

Yours sincerely,

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Climate Change Lies: Tony Abbot

Pick which untruth you want today, or, A Case of  Early Alzheimers?

July 2011, Star FM Gippsland (T. Abbott):

Yeah look I never said it was a myth. I once used some colourful language describing the so-called settled science of climate change but look, climate change is real, humanity does make a contribution to it and we’ve got to take effective action against it. I mean, that’s my position and that’s always been my position but I’ve never been in favour of a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme

Sky News July 29, 2009 (same guy):

I also think that if you want to put a price on carbon, why not just do it with a simple tax? Why not ask motorists to pay more, why not ask electricity consumers to pay more and then at the end of the year you can take your invoices to the tax office and get a rebate of the carbon tax you’ve paid. It would be burdensome, all taxes are burdensome, but it would certainly change the price of carbon, raise the price of carbon without increasing in any way the overall burden. This Emissions Trading Scheme is almost impossible to understand. It involves some enormous offsets. It’s going to create business opportunities in a product that is not a real product.

Lateline October 2, 2009 (same guy):

So we are taking this issue seriously and we would like to see an ETS which excludes agriculture, which protects Australian jobs, which doesn’t damage export industries, which is at least as supportive of our jobs and our industries as the proposed American ETS is of theirs.

Daily Telegraph, July 10, 2009 (same guy):

I am wary of a system which creates new vested interests – which an ETS will do. I suspect that a straight carbon tax or charge could be more transparent and easier to change if conditions change or our understanding of the science changes.

Climate Change speech, July 2009 (same guy — having a really good month)

There is much to be said for an emissions trading scheme. It was, after all, the mechanism for emission reduction ultimately chosen by the Howard government. It enables an increasing market price to be set for carbon through capping volumes of emissions. The allocation of permits should mean that more carbon-efficient businesses have a surplus that can be sold to more carbon-intensive ones.

Interview with Alan Jones, December 2009:

And it seems that notwithstanding the dramatic increases in man made CO2 emissions over the last decade, the world’s warming has stopped. Now admittedly we are still pretty warm by recent historical standards but there doesn’t appear to have been any appreciable warming since the late 1990s.*       

* 2000 – 2010:  warmest global average temperates for any decade on record

More to come…..


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Triumphs of Intelligent Design — NOT

Who else but a great idiot designer….

  1. Would design a birth canal that causes trauma to all concerned at such a crucial time, having earlier convinced us it was the source of the greatest joy ?
  2. Would set up the human appendix to only add to the trauma later, irrespective of gender?
  3. Would make eyes one of the most vulnerable parts of the human body, while requiring us to see everything upside down, back to front, and right to left, with retinal vision cells facing the wrong way, and then have to find a way for the brain to fix some of that up, while ignoring the need for proper built-in sunglasses?
  4. Would leave muffs or ear plugs off the standard design of ears while allowing modern music?
  5. Would give us millions of African AIDS victims and a host of people like George Pell ?
  6. Would leave millions of us with white skin when it was clear that there was going to be surf, sunburn and skin cancer?
  7. Would make scrotums so vulnerable but still let us play cricket ?
  8. Would make it impossible to scratch your own back properly, or for dogs to scratch their chests when they can easily lick their private parts?
  9. Would neglect our need to lick our private parts?
  10. Would skip over “minor” details like the Earth’s orbit fluctuations and wobble, the need for leap years and days, and daylight saving?
  11. Would make it almost impossible for either faithful or pagans to work out when Easter occurs this or any other year?
  12. Would permit any development that even looks like a bagpipe, let alone sounds like one?
  13. Would leave a list like this published, if unfinished …..?
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NBN and Roads: Why the city should pay the bill

NBN and Roads: Why the city should pay the bill

I’ve been a bit of a fan of Ross Gittins of the Sydney Morning Herald as a writer on economics:  he is one of the few of his kind who makes a point of reminding us that Not All is Money and that humans have other perfectly good reasons for doing things other than for financial benefit.

But a passing remark he made yesterday has started to piss me off a bit.  In a piece for the SMH in which he tried (not very convincingly) to suggest that the NBN really might need a CBA job from the Productivity Commission, he echoed a refrain that is almost a cliché, and which probably shares a good measure of falsehood with many clichés.

He suggested that city users would be subsidising country users in the development of the NBN network (although admittedly he thought this was a good thing).

A lot of economists take this view and then take it further.  They’re doing us country folk a good deed by paying a big chunk of the cost of the NBN  — when presumably, by all rights, they shouldn’t have to.  After all, they’re all in the city, and the NBN lines run out to the country, and when they run lines long distances out of the city areas, where there aren’t so many people, that’s the rural responsibility.

Now this may come from my relatively recent rural experience, but I think that last bit is basket-weaver’s codswallop. It’s more a case of condescension from city-based economists than a piece of clear thinking.  Really clear thinking should start from the assumption that when the city pays for communications in rural areas, all it’s doing is taking up the bulk of the bill it’s responsible for, and maybe a teensy-weensy bit more.

For a time, I worked in Sydney’s Flemington markets, in a fruit and vegetable merchant’s office.  Looking back on it, one thing I recall distinctly is that that business had very few incoming calls from the rural suppliers of produce to the city:  the boot was on the other foot.  The merchant’s office was the one doing all the calls — they were the ones initiating most communications. And as it is with fruit and vegetable, so it is with everything else. Our cities dominate our economy and our social life in so many ways.

It gets down to a question of perspective and population.

The basic pattern goes like this:

  1. Communication is a two-way thing. There’s always someone at each end.
  2. The vast majority of Australians live in the cities.
  3. Use of communications, like roads, is a function of population.
  4. Most phone calls and communications involving rural connections are initiated by the vast majority of users living in the cities, just as most rural road usage actually has city origins.
  5. If city people make by far the bulk of the calls, they should pay for them.

So why don’t all of you in city economists who keep jamming up our phone lines and our roads just sit down every time you want to talk about subsidies and tell us what proportion of the costs you’re responsible for, and what proportion us Country Folks might be up for?

And don’t just talk about capital costs when the usage made possible by the capital expenditure is all the other way.

I have this sneaking suspicion that this great subsidy is a lot less than those who talk about it so grandly all the time  want to imply.   A quick stab in the dark says the city is responsible for 90% of the traffic and should be paying at least that.

Anyone got any better figures ?

Postscript and Rethink….

I wrote the above early this morning and then went back to bed to think about it all.

I think I got it wrong.   There’s every reason for your city-slickers to pay for the lot.

It’s all to do with networks

The N in NBN stands for network… just as it does in PSTN (the phone system). And a feature of modern networks is they are designed for redundancy. They’re not designed in a simple fish-bone or tree pattern, with a single trunk and some nodes.  They’re much more intricately interconnected.

This applies to a limited extent to roads. If there’s a bad prang on the Pacific Highway north of Newcastle, and the highway is blocked, there are two options: you can sit and wait until the road is clear, or you can head off via, say, Stroud and Gloucester, and get on with your journey. There’s more than one way to do the trip.

With phone calls and internet connections, the option of sitting and waiting is not much of a choice, and these systems, and particularly the internet, have been built for a high level of redundancy — a good deal higher than our road system.

Two features of the modern network are particularly relevant:

  • a connection design pattern which makes sure that there are many multiple paths to any given point on the network; and
  • the use of devices such as intelligent routers which can sense and report on traffic patterns and can redirect a connection away from busy circuits or around a break in the connections.

The availability of these features is one reason why things like STD charges for phone calls are simply a bad joke.  If you’re making a call from say, Mosman in Sydney to Parramatta, then depending on current traffic patterns, there’s every chance your call might actually be connected through a 100 kms of cable via Wollongong or even Newcastle, particularly if a bulldozer just cut a major trunk line somewhere near by.  The routers just do the job automatically.

What this system depends on, though, is the existence of a set of  “fallback” connections that link around any trouble spots. “Fallback”?   Well maybe, but also, think maybe “Rural”?

Yes, folks, when that call to Sydney to Brisbane is cut by the effects of the floods at Coffs Harbour, you won’t even know it, but your call or your internet hook-up will be going through places you’ve never even heard of.  It’ll be slipping by on the country bumpkins’ part of the network which you think we bumpkins should all be paying for in spades.

So somehow some of us don’t think of rural connections as being something you “subsidise” out of the goodness of your heart.   Rather, it’s something you need and probably finish up using much more than us locals do.

And come to think of it,  even when we use our home nodes to connect into an ISP somewhere via a local switchboard, one thing we are doing is testing the availability of these rural fallback systems for you.  If we can’t connect, and report it,  the redundancy system can be maintained for your use when times are tough.

So when it comes to rural connections, you city slickers really should pay your dues.

And we bumpkins could do with a nice fee for all the circuit testing we do for you on your backup communications.

Just slip the cheque in the mail anytime now.






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None of the Above Party Needed

Compulsory Voting and “None of the Above”

If there is one thing evident from elections at both State and Federal level over the past years, it is the crying need for a way for voters to cast a  vote “None of the Above” on their ballot papers.

At present, major political parties derive benefits from compulsory voting almost entirely by default.   It’s clear the electorate doesn’t think much of the way the major parties are behaving.   And while smaller parties like the Greens might gain from this, they aren’t exactly practical alternatives in the mind of many of us. But compulsory preferential voting means somewhere you have to vote for them whether you like it or not.

In the meantime, party officials and hacks continue to be able to claim “victory” in situations where the parties they run only get votes because there’s nothing much on offer, and it’s actually (and stupidly) illegal to cast a deliberate informal vote.  (The law is stupid because we do have secret ballot, so what’s going to be proven?)

The grand solution?    A legal option, whether by write-in ballot or otherwise, that would permit a voter to express distrust of election choices by voting for “None of the Above”.

That legal vote should then be counted and listed separately from informal votes.   It can serve as a signal to members of the various parties that something might be rotten in the state of Denmark.   For MPs, it can serve as a confirmation or otherwise of the gut feeling they had during the election that all was not well.  For party hacks in the back room, it is the ultimate performance indicator:   your party may have won, but all it needs to unseat you is someone to pick up on the disillusion of the alienated voters.

It’s not going to happen, of course.    It takes legislation to change the electoral laws.

So the answer is simple.

I’m contemplating starting a political party.     It’s called the “None of the Above” party.    Only two questions remain:

1. How to ensure preferences are distributed randomly.

2. What to do when elected in a landslide.

Anyone want to join ?    Contributions (of ideas on 1. and 2. above) gratefully received.


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