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megpie71: Animated "tea" icon popular after London bombing. (Default)
megpie71

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megpie71: Simplified bishie Rufus Shinra glares and says "The Look says it all" (glare)
Friday, January 13th, 2017 09:37 am
People 'expect' politicians to claim expenses for sporting events, says Steven Ciobo

Ciobo said businesses and other organisations who invited politicians were “taking the opportunity to showcase themselves there, to take the time to have a conversation in relation to important matters”.

If the businesses in question are so keen to see the various ministers and so on at these events, why aren't they offering to pay their transport costs? Why are the taxpayers of Australia being asked to shoulder these costs?

Come to think on it, what kind of business is actually "showcased" by an event like the AFL grand final?

Ciobo was gifted a ticket and hospitality at the 2013 grand final by the National Australia Bank.

I'm sorry, possibly it's a complete failure of imagination on my part, but I fail to see what aspect of the bank's business is being "showcased" in a sporting event like the AFL grand final (did they loan the AFL the money to put the event on, or what?). Why was a meeting at a major sporting event considered more suitable to showcase aspects of this company's business than a meeting in the minister's office?

On the questions of "it was work related", I have to ask, was the meeting at the AFL grand final minuted? Were any decisions reached, and what were they? As an Australian voter, I feel I have a right to know. After all, if Mr Ciobo is accepting corporate hospitality at these events in his capacity as Minister for Trade, is there not a question of corruption and bribery involved - these companies are presumably offering Mr Ciobo tickets to a major sporting event as a way of obtaining his influence and attention at the expense of their competitors.

As a member of the Australian voting public, Mr Ciobo, I'd argue there's a lot of questions to be asked here. As a fellow recipient of Taxpayers Money (and one who faces far more punitive conditions on their receipt of same than you do, quite frankly, for a much lower amount) I'm saying bluntly that I'm fed up to the back teeth with this bloody attitude of "one rule for thee and another for me" which seems so common to our parliamentarians. You're welcome to try your luck with Newstart if you think you're hard done by in this regard.
megpie71: Slave computer, captioned "My most humble apologies, master" (computer troubles)
Friday, January 6th, 2017 09:00 am
Centrelink crisis 'cataclysmic' says PM's former head of digital transformation

The notion that the current Centrelink crisis is a result of a culture of "don't want to hear bad news" in Centrelink management doesn't surprise me at all. Centrelink management has long had a culture of shooting the messenger bearing bad news, because it doesn't agree with the glossy picture they're trying to sell their Minister (not to mention themselves). It really is one of the main ways the particular algorithm being used (compare total incomes reported against the ATO total for the financial year to determine whether income has been reported accurately, then average the ATO total across 26 fortnights to determine whether there's a debt) could have survived even cursory testing.

I suspected the whole thing was developed in-house, and it's nice to have those suspicions confirmed, but the point to be raised here is Centrelink's programming staff are not sourced from within the group of people who have worked on the customer contact end of Centrelink's operations. Instead, they're sourced from within the IT industry, and generally from a group of people who have had next to no contact with what could be considered the bulk of Centrelink's business (their parents may have received Family Tax Benefit for them while they were in school, but that's pretty much it). This is where a blind spot in the bureaucracy intersects with a blind spot in the IT industry - the bureaucratic insistence on "no bad news" intersects with the IT industry article-of-faith that if you can figure out programming, you can solve any problem at all with no additional knowledge required (and if you did need extra knowledge and didn't get supplied with it by the client, this is the client's fault for not knowing you'd need it).

So basically, what's happened is a programmer (or group of programmers) in Centrelink's IT section has been handed the job of figuring out how to automate the process of debt recovery sparked by income data matching, and they've done this effectively starting from scratch (and probably reinventing several wheels along the way) with absolutely no reference to existing processes and procedures, or to the knowledge bank of staff who were doing this job at the time. When the program was tested, it passed all the standard tests to see whether it would break the Centrelink desktop environment (this is mandatory for all products on the Centrelink network, whether they're being rolled out to all staff or not), so it was assumed to be Just Fine! If someone in the debt recovery section raised the problem of "we know this is going to raise a lot of false positives - something like nineteen out of twenty of the issues data matching raises aren't actually valid debts" with their manager (assuming they found out about it ahead of time), the caution would be buried, because nobody wants to hear bad news in Centrelink's upper management.

And thousands of people across Australia got asked to justify their receipt of social security benefits they were legally entitled to, because they made a typo in their income reporting once (or because the business they were working for made a typo when they created their record with the ATO), or because they got a good job after having been on social security (and this averaged out over the course of twelve months to be higher than the fortnightly cut-off limit), or whatever. Things which probably could have been picked up very quickly and resolved with minimal fuss and bother to the person affected if there had been any efforts at inserting a human element in the whole process to just double-check the results of the first couple of weeks, and then remove the bugs.
megpie71: Denzel looking at Tifa with a sort of "Huh?" expression (Are you going to tell him?)
Wednesday, September 7th, 2016 06:21 pm
Just been reading through some back issues of "The Secret Teacher" on teh Grauniad website, and one of the issues which comes up repeatedly is "homework" - essentially, teachers think it's No Big Deal, parents either complain there's too much, or too little, and the kids always think there's too much.

More under the fold )

As so often occurs, what truth and peace there is in the whole argument lies somewhere in between the extremes of it - or at least within the overlapping spaces in the argument's Venn diagram. Homework and home study skills are useful - but they're useful in the same way algebra, geometry, geography, and learning the finer points of diagramming sentences wind up being. Yes, they're massively useful if you're going into education as a profession; they're peripherally useful if you're thinking of going into an area where you'll need the practice at self-motivation, goal-setting, and meeting self-imposed targets. But for the vast majority of people, they're skills you learn in school, for school, and never need again throughout your working lifetime.
megpie71: Avon looking unimpressed, caption "Bite Me" (bite me)
Monday, February 22nd, 2016 05:24 pm
So, I've been unemployed for six months (according to Centrelink, anyway). Which means, lucky me, I'm due to start my "Work For The Dole Phase" of the whole glorious process of being unemployed in Australia in the 21st century.

For those not in the know, "work for the dole" was an idea conceived back in the era of John Howard, by Liberal Party policy-makers who wanted to bring back the workhouses, but who didn't fancy the idea of having to shell out money to feed, house and clothe the undeserving poor (i.e. anyone on an activity-tested Centrelink payment[1]). Basically, in order to impress on the long-term unemployed how important it is they find paying work, they're required to perform up to twenty-five hours a week of compulsory, unpaid[2] volunteer work in order to be able to continue receiving their dole payment. I suspect whoever came up with this one must have woken up in the night and hugged themselves with glee[3].

Luckily for me, I'm on a part-time activity test (mental illness, such fun). I only have to do sixteen hours a fortnight worth of whatever the current equivalent of picking oakum, washing bottles, pasting labels or sorting rags is. Normally, the requirement is for fifteen hours a week for someone my age, twenty-five for someone younger. In my case, I'm going to be transcribing old (hand-written) court records from turn-of-the-century-NSW (i.e. early 1900s). Years of translating my mother's appalling medical handwriting into something legible has finally come in useful.

Basically, this sort of thing is supposed to... well, I have no idea what it's supposed to do. Punish me for the sin of not being in employment, one presumes. I have the site induction on Thursday, I suppose I get to find out then whether I'm supposed to be wearing sackcloth and rubbing ashes into my hair to show repentance, flagellating myself with a cat-o'-nine-tails, or whether just walking around wearing a sandwich board that says "I'm SO FUCKING SORRY" will do.

Yes, I am a bit cranky about this.

I'm cranky about it, because it's a bit of deliberate humiliation on the part of a government which has an ideological agenda, and will do anything in its power to get that agenda implemented. I'm cranky about it because I'm being forced into performing unpaid labour in order to ensure wage earners are frightened into accepting lower wages and lower conditions in order to avoid being put into this situation. I'm cranky about it because the penalties for missing work, or not being able to perform whatever work I'm supposed to be doing on the day I'm supposed to be doing it, are all on me (yes, even if my erstwhile "employer" doesn't have enough work for me to be doing, or the computers are down, or the office gets hit by a meteor falling from the sky).

Oh, and I still have to keep looking for 20 jobs a month, same as before. That doesn't change, either. About the only positive thing to note about the whole mess is that since the place I'm going to be physically doing my Work for the Dole placement is the offices of my JobActive provider, I'll be able to drop off my monthly lists with a lot less carry-on.


[1] Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, and Special Benefit.
[2] If your "volunteering" is organised through your JobActive provider, you get an extra $20 per fortnight on your dole payment to cover costs incurred (transport, lunches etc). If it isn't, you don't. There's a LOT of encouragement to find your own "volunteer work".
[3] A bit of googling reveals it was the brain-child of Tony Abbott. I must remember to write him a thank-you note.
megpie71: Animated "tea" icon popular after London bombing. (Default)
Thursday, December 3rd, 2015 04:49 pm
What happened in the Clementine Ford case was this: a bloke said something abusive about her on the internet, in such a way that it could be linked back to his employer. Namely, he had his employer details on his Facebook profile[1], and Ms Ford brought his online behaviour to his employer's attention. He got sacked as a result of his actions, because his employers didn't want to deal with the negative publicity involved.

Or in other words, this bloke did the online equivalent of yelling abuse at her on public transport while wearing his workplace uniform, getting snapped while doing so, and reported to his employers.

Now, we'd all agree that if someone did something like the second example above, should they get sacked, it was their own silly fault, and they should have behaved civilly in a public setting. We'd agree if a guy yelled abuse at a woman in a public hotel, or a shopping mall while wearing anything with their employer's logo (such as a uniform shirt or similar), the woman they yelled at would be within her rights to report it to their employer, and the employer would be within their rights to sack the damn fool for being too daft to work there any more. We'd agree that if a guy launched into a tirade of abuse at a woman for talking to her friends in the pub, he'd be due at the very least to be barred from being served any more alcohol, and more likely, kicked out by the management.

We readily agree that unprovoked personal abuse in a public context is unacceptable when it's in a face-to-face context, and that if someone does it while being able to be clearly linked to an employer, a professional organisation, a particular religion, or family or so on, then they should bear the social consequences of their actions being reported to those groups. We agree that doing such things while being able to be linked to employers, professional organisations, religions, disapproving family members or similar is something which is likely to fall under the parameters of the Being Bloody Stupid Act[2] - not only do you wear the consequences, but it's expected you're going to wear them politely, suck it up and bloody well deal!

Yet somehow, the apparent expectation is that this bloke (and the many others who do similar things, such as sending abusive and/or harassing emails from their work email accounts), who has done something Bloody Stupid (and Bloody Rude, while we're at it) should be allowed to not only get away with his actions, but that it's positively unfair of Ms Ford to have pointed them out to his employer. That this was somehow an over-reaction, and a vindictive act. That he should not have been forced to deal with the consequences of his behaviour (a behaviour he chose to carry out of his own free will, and which he wasn't, to the best of anyone's knowledge, coerced into by any other person) in an adult fashion.

To be honest, I'm with Ms Ford on this. He brought his problems on himself, and my sympathy is strictly limited.

(PS: Guys, women across the world have already learned this: on the internet, you have precisely as much privacy and anonymity as you can be bothered to carve out. If you can't be arsed to keep your online life strictly segregated from your offline life, then the only damn solution is to ensure your online behaviour is either beyond reproach, or something you would feel positive about defending to your employers, your spouse, your mates, your girlfriend, your mother, your grandmother, your kids, your work colleagues, and anyone else in your offline life who asks about it. Because otherwise, sure as eggs are eggs, your online sins will find you out, eventually).


[1] Strangely enough, not many women feel it's appropriate to have such details publicly available online. The main reason why not starts with "bl" and rhymes with "folks".
[2] Ankh-Morpork legal code.
megpie71: 9th Doctor resting head against TARDIS with repeated *thunk* text (Head!Tardis)
Thursday, October 1st, 2015 04:30 pm
The bits of Twitter I follow have been exploding in about twenty-seven different directions regarding "Peeple for People".

This article pretty much sums up what it's all about:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/09/30/everyone-you-know-will-be-able-to-rate-you-on-the-terrifying-yelp-for-people-whether-you-want-them-to-or-not/

"Yelp for People" is pretty much the elevator pitch version of the idea. According to their FAQs, they largely envision it being used by folks to be all positive and caring and nice about people they know (in the same way Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are at present). Which, I think, says it all.

Essentially, this is how it would work - someone wants to 'review' you, and so long as they fulfil the conditions, they can do so. What kinds of conditions? They have to be over twenty-one, and have a Facebook account. They need to know your name, the city you live in, and your phone number (or know a phone number they can say is yours). Then they can create a profile for you, if you don't already have one, and publish 'reviews' of you. If someone posts a negative review of you, that review will get texted to your phone number (or to the phone number Peeple has for you) and the onus is on you to respond to that reviewer within forty-eight hours and see whether you can "change a negative to a positive".

(Those of you who are busy attempting to beat yourselves unconscious by head!desk-ing, I sympathise.)

What possible problems could there be? Well, let's start with the idea that *there are more checks on, and privacy for, the person who is leaving the rating* than there are for *the person who is being rated*. From the way I understand things, if I had an iPhone, a Facebook account which said I was over twenty-one, and a plausible mobile phone number, I could conceivably create a Peeple profile for Santa Claus. (I'd love to see whether one of the "thousands" of beta testers they're bragging of actually does this, by the bye. Bonus points if the profile is created by the Easter Bunny). Let's continue with this: once you have had a profile created for you on Peeple, you can't get it deleted - they're thinking about adding this feature in future. They don't have a privacy policy up as yet (that's coming once they release the app). Once your profile is authenticated, app users are able to see both positive and negative reviews for you, and you have no way of removing that profile.

Even getting off the internet altogether won't protect you from these negative reviews.

(Meanwhile, the people behind the app started the day with a locked Twitter account - which they've since unlocked to a degree; have taken steps toward getting a parody account mocking them on Twitter deleted; and are said to be deleting non-positive comments on their Facebook accounts. Nice for some, clearly.)

The system as it is described at present is wide open to abuse by stalkers, abusers, online hate mobs or just people who are feeling malicious on a particular day. It's all the worst possible social aspects of high school, pulled onto the internet and made international.

You can read their version of the story here:

http://forthepeeple.com/#story
megpie71: Simplified bishie Rufus Shinra says "Heee!" (Hee)
Tuesday, September 15th, 2015 08:01 am
As many of you will know, Malcolm Turnbull did the people of Australia (as well as his own ego) a profound service yesterday by successfully challenging Tony Abbott for the leadership of the Liberal Party. He's now the Prime Minister designate, and the country is still a little giddy with relief (or at least, this particular bit of it is).

Some brief explanation for those who aren't aware how a parliamentary system works. Despite what Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey were saying yesterday in their press conferences, the role of Prime Minister is not a "gift" of the Australian people. In fact, constitutionally speaking, the role of Prime Minister is actually a very real "gift" of the Governor-General, in that if you read the strict letter of the constitution the GG gets to choose the inhabitant of the role without reference to any external forces whatsoever[1]. By convention, however, the Governor-General usually gives the role to the parliamentary leader of the political party with the functional majority in the Federal House of Representatives. The Australian people, in fact, have their role in the process cease entirely once they've elected their local members of the House of Representatives.

Tony Abbott may have said he was elected by the Australian people. This was an exaggeration at best, since the only people in Australia who had a direct hand in his election are the voters for the House of Representatives seat of Warringah (in Sydney), many of whom would probably vote in a dead emu should one be stood as a candidate by the Liberal Party, and the members of the Parliamentary Liberal Party during a leadership ballot back in December 2009 (by one vote).

In the vote last night, Malcolm Turnbull won the leadership of the Liberal Party by a comfortable 10 vote margin (54 votes to 44) and should therefore be reasonably safe from predation within his own party. The Nationals will probably fall into line (since their alternative is parliamentary irrelevance) and agree to remain in the Coalition, which means the Liberal/National coalition government retains a functional majority in the House of Representatives, and Malcolm Turnbull becomes the Prime Minister of Australia (and about our fourth one in a two year period... it's been a good time for political journalists).

Tony Abbott is no longer Prime Minister, and while he still holds the office of Minister for the status of Women (unfortunately) until at least the end of the week - Mr Turnbull has said he's not going to be re-shuffling ministries until the parliamentary week is over - he probably isn't likely to get a major ministry in the new cabinet. He remains the member for Warringah, unless he chooses to resign from that role and precipitate another by-election (or unless the Warringah branch of the Liberals get polling results which indicate the aforementioned dead emu will do better).

Policy-wise, Mr Turnbull has indicated his government is going to be very much "meet the new boss, same as the old boss", which is disappointing, but only to be expected at this stage. However, his presence at the helm rather than Tony Abbott's has immediately boosted the Liberal Party's chances of being re-elected at the next federal election (which is still scheduled for late 2016), particularly if their major rivals, the Australian Labor Party fail to either pull a leadership re-shuffle of their own (the current leader, Bill Shorten, has all the personality and political forcefulness of damp newspaper; he might have won on a platform of "at least I'm not Tony Abbott", but only if he were the only one occupying that particular platform) or come up with some policy points which demonstrate an appreciable difference from the Coalition. Given the chances of a leadership re-shuffle in the ALP are currently minimal (the last-PM-but-one, Kevin Rudd, put some nice little traps in place to make re-shuffling the ALP leadership a lot harder than it used to be) it's looking at this point like we can expect to see the Liberals re-elected at the 2016 elections (and certainly we're more likely to see a comfortable win for the Liberals in this weekend's by-election in the seat of Canning).


[1] This has been tried precisely once in the history of Australia as a nation. Google "Whitlam dismissal" for an explanation of what happened.
megpie71: "Well, when I was a little girl, I thought I'd like to become a scientist, so I became a scientist" (feminism)
Monday, June 8th, 2015 11:39 am
Found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/opinion/sunday/what-makes-a-woman.html

Okay, first thoughts about the first few paragraphs: this comes across as very TERF-y[1] at times.

Further thoughts on reading more of it: actually, come to think on it, this is not only a wonderful example of trans-exclusionary feminism, but also a wonderful example of the sort of feminism which makes me want to say "if this is feminism, I don't want to be identified as feminist!"

Read more... )

I agree with this writer there's a lot of work men need to do on the way masculinity is defined and presented (and if she'd pointed out the complete lack of enthusiasm for the job demonstrated by the majority of persons identifying as male, I'd have agreed with her even more). But quite frankly, I don't see that attempting to lock transwomen out of the definition of "women as a whole" is a good move to get this work started. Trans identity is already gatekept by the medical community and the psychological and psychiatric community, not to mention the trans-erasing radical feminist community. I seriously doubt mainstream feminism needs to step up to the plate.


[1] Trans-Erasing Radical Feminism - the sort of feminism which basically states flat out that transwomen aren't "real" women because they weren't born with the correct genitalia.
[2] Can I just say, I have to wonder about when organised feminism became, by default, a movement intended solely for those women who were considered attractive by men?
[3] This can include things like requiring the permission of her husband, if she's married, or of her parents if she isn't - this for a fully functional adult with no mental illnesses or developmental impairments.
megpie71: Kerr Avon quote: Don't philosophise at me you electronic moron; answer the question (don't philosophise)
Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 09:49 am
[Inspired by: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-11/abbott-defends-indigenous-communities-lifestyle-choice/6300218 - particularly the comment thread]

I was born in Western Australia, and I lived most of my life until I was about 27 in the south-eastern suburbs of Perth. I then moved to Canberra, in the ACT, and lived there until about mid-2006, when my partner and I moved back to Perth.

I hated it in Canberra. The land wasn't right. The way the sun rose wasn't right. The way the sun set wasn't right. The water wasn't the same. The seasons were all wrong. The city was put together strangely. I never felt settled, never felt "at home". I felt displaced.

I went to London for a month in August 2002, on holiday. I felt more "at home" in London during that one month than I had in three years living in the ACT, despite the different hemisphere, different latitudes, different everything.

I went back to the ACT, and lived for another four years in exile, before returning to Perth, Western Australia. Since then, I have come to wonder whether the profound feeling of "home" I feel living here is akin to the Indigenous notion of "country". Whether that horrible feeling of being displaced, of being exiled, is what they feel when they're forced by circumstance or government policy to move away from their country. I know that for me, songs like "My Island Home" now have a whole new meaning, because I hear them through the filter of my experience living in Canberra.

This is part of why I feel angry and upset about the WA state government's decision to close a number of remote communities. I would not want to push that feeling of displacement, of always being in the wrong place, on anyone else. It would be a wrongness, an evil, a wicked thing to do. I am angry the government of Western Australia is doing this in my name. I am upset the Premier, Colin Barnett, is implicitly claiming he has the support of white Western Australians to do this. His government does not have my support, or my consent.

These days I'm living in the south-western corridor of suburban Perth. The sun rises in the correct way, over the right hills. The sun sets properly, over the ocean. The ocean is there, within reach - I'm about twenty minutes drive from the beach, if that. The seasons flow correctly, from dry heat, to stormy heat, to gradually cooling dry, to cold and wet, to gradually warming and drying, to dry heat again. The city is the way it should be, the right mix of architectural styles and geographic features. I'm home. I would say I'm in my country, and I would challenge anyone to uproot me from it.
megpie71: Impossibility established early takes the sting out of the rest of the obstacles (Impossibility)
Monday, January 26th, 2015 07:36 am
Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, a fleet of eleven vessels illegally made land on the eastern shores of this continent. Approximately 1480 people landed in the area now known as Sydney Cove, along with an additional cargo of livestock (horses, sheep, cattle, pigs and rabbits - these last two are now known feral pests) without permission from the traditional owners of the area, and without consultation with their elders. This group of illegal immigrants proceeded to make camp, and to occupy the lands of the Eora people without permission.

They were the first of many. Battles between the illegal arrivals and the original inhabitants were inevitable. Who won? Well, whose language am I using to write this?

This story provides a lesson for people seeking to enter this country by sea. Stop meekly presenting yourselves to the customs cutters, stop meekly surrendering to the Navy vessels. Come in force, well armed. Dodge the patrols, and set up camp on the mainland, raise the flag of your past homeland, and refuse to acknowledge the government in Canberra. Claim the land was empty when you arrived.

It's already worked once. Who's to say it won't work again?

I recognise the house I am living in is built on land once part of the traditional lands of the Beeliar group of the Whadjuk Nyungar peoples. The name of the suburb I live in is a word from their language. Their land was taken from them without compensation, without recognition of their ownership, and without recognition of their essential humanity. This was wrong when it happened, and it is still wrong now. My direct ancestors did not necessarily take part in the actions of dispossession, but they benefited from them indirectly by being of the same racial and ethnic group as the dispossessors (three out of my four grandparents were born in England, and emigrated here at the invitation of the Australian government in Canberra).

Australia Day commemorates the day a bunch of thugs sanctioned by the government of a foreign power started a campaign of robbery with violence. What is there in that to be proud of? I stand with the dispossessed, and hang my head in shame at the lack of action from successive generations of Australian political "leaders" towards a realistic acknowledgement of the wrongs done to the indigenous peoples of this country, and the lack of work toward a treaty.
megpie71: Sephiroth holding Masamune ready to strike (BFS)
Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 06:45 am
In the hours following the cessation of the siege in Sydney, there's been a number of people crawling out of the woodwork wondering why the police didn't bring in a sniper to shoot the hostage-taker and bring the thing to an early end. The plaints tend to go along the lines of "if a television camera can get a good shot, so can a sniper rifle; why didn't they get a sniper in?". Unfortunately, the police aren't allowed to respond to such asinine comments with the equivalent of a good solid clip around the ear, due to reasons of public relations and all. So I've decided to do it for them.

(If you're one of the people who has been making such remarks, please read the following very carefully, using the "speaking to the hard-of-thinking" voice in your head.)

1) A sniper rifle and a television camera look very different.

Googling the terms "image television camera" and "image sniper rifle" will bring up galleries of pictures of each of those. Each search takes about 0.3 of a second to complete. Given a hostage-taking gunman wants to cultivate the press, but discourage police snipers, it's likely even the most daft example of the breed in this day and age will probably try to familiarise themselves with the differences between the two - you could call it a necessary job skill. Seeing television cameras is a cue to pull out your list of demands and make it clear the hostages aren't dead yet. Seeing a sniper rifle is a cue to start really threatening the hostages. It's important not to muddle the two up.

2) A sniper rifle and a television camera have different fields of view.

Television cameras tend to work best at medium to close range. Sniper rifles are designed to work best at long range. So the position a television camera operator is occupying in order to obtain a decent shot (even through a zoom lens) is likely to be a lot closer than the position a sniper would need to be occupying in order to obtain a decent shot. Indeed, the television camera operator might well be blocking the field of view for the sniper.

3) Television cameras and sniper rifles are affected differently by weather conditions.

Television pictures tend not to be blown off course by strong or irregular winds. Sniper bullets, on the other hand, do. A television camera can get pictures in conditions where a sniper wouldn't be able to get a shot. Contrariwise, a sniper is capable of getting a shot off in conditions where the television camera is useless.

4) Real life is not like video games.

In video games, if your sniper misses a shot, you can always have another try, or go back to your last save point if you got killed. In real life, death is for keeps. In video games, the aim is usually to kill as many enemy combatants as possible, and never mind the collateral damage or the civilian casualties. In real life, the aim of the police in such situations is generally to try and keep the death count down - I have no doubt the NSW police were hoping to keep the death count in this particular case down to zero.

5) Real life is not like movies.

In the movies, snipers never miss the crucial shot. In real life, they can and do. In real life, the target of a sniper drops to the floor, dead, before they know they've been hit. In real life, even a bullet fired from a gun fitted with a noise suppressor is loud, and gives at least some warning. In the movies, accidents don't happen to disrupt that crucial shot - civilians don't walk into the path of a sniper's bullet at exactly the wrong moment, the target doesn't move, and the whole thing goes perfectly. In real life, accidents can and do happen. In the movies, there's always a crucial shot to take. In real life, there may not be.

Incidentally, the reason both movies and video games are so different from real life is because both of these media are constructed stories, following a set narrative which was created by humans to be culturally satisfying. Real life runs on different rails, and doesn't have to satisfy anyone.

6) At the time the most-used television shot was taken, the siege was barely begun.

The passing shots of the gunman in the cafe were taken very early on in the siege. They were the first visuals the wider public had of the situation. The fact they were widely circulated is actually a marker of how unusual they were - if there'd been more shots, we would have seen more pictures of the gunman. As it was, we got that one rather blurry image of the gunman, positioned behind his hostages, which was repeated regularly throughout the day. It wasn't replaced. It wasn't superseded by something new throughout the course of the sixteen hours of the siege. So it's likely that shot was the ONLY shot the television cameras got of the gunman (and once he realised television cameras could see him, he made damn certain he wasn't in view of them again, because he's just as capable of doing the "if the cameras can see me, so can a sniper" math as anyone else).

7) How do you know they didn't call a sniper in?

It seems highly likely to me that the NSW police (who strike me as a competent force on the whole) would have called in at least one sniper to get a look at things and see firstly whether there was a suitable vantage for them to be working from, and secondly, whether they were likely to get a decent shot at the gunman without risking the hostages. If a sniper wasn't used, it was probably because in the professional judgement of both the sniper(s) themselves, and of the person in charge of the operation, the risks of using a sniper outweighed the potential benefits.

Essentially, my point is this: the people who are wondering about the snipers, or wondering why things were done thus rather than so weren't there and weren't responsible for making the decisions. Things turned out poorly in one respect - three people died, and another eight were injured or treated in hospital. However, in another respect, things turned out surprisingly well - only three people died, one of whom was the gunman; the majority of the injured were mainly taken to hospital for observation and monitoring; and at least five of the hostages escaped completely unscathed. It could have been better, and it could have been much, much worse.

We in the general public cannot possibly wish to find out what went wrong more than the police do. We aren't the ones who will have to live with the knowledge we were supposed to save the lives of the three people who died, and yet we couldn't. The police on scene did the best job they could. The back-seat driving and "Monday's Expert" commentary from various members of the general public most definitely isn't helping. If you think you could have done better, go speak with your local police force, and offer them your expertise for the next time (gods forbid) this happens. Or, alternatively, go join your local police force yourself. Put your life on the line, put your precious skin at risk, and put your money where your damn-fool mouth is. Otherwise, shut the merry hells up and stop second-guessing the people who do this for a living.

PS: For those bitching about the fact the gunman was out on bail - that's a problem for the justice system, not the police force. For those whining about the way ASIO didn't spot this guy as a threat - I suspect they're looking for people who are going to group together to create terrorist cells and undertake complicated plots. This siege, while it had some of the trappings of terrorist activity (the calls for the IS flag etc) was actually something which has more in common with the sorts of "lone gunman" attacks which are so common in the USA, and was probably undertaken for similar reasons to those. Namely, one over-entitled man decided other people ought to die or be terrified in the service of boosting his ego.

EDITED TO ADD (19 DEC 2014): One other little wrinkle about why the NSW police might have decided a sniper was a Bad Move - it's an extra-judicial killing, or to put it in more blunt terms, deliberate murder. We don't have the death penalty here in Australia; if the police kill someone, there's usually an enquiry into the matter (which is, in fact, the process which is being started in NSW now) and charges can and will be laid against the officer responsible. It can be a career-limiting move.
megpie71: Vincent Valentine pointing Cerberus toward the camera (BFG)
Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 08:35 am
The siege is over, three people (including the original hostage-taker) are dead, and the dust is starting to settle. Including, one must point out, the rather colossal amount of bulldust stirred up by the whole business in the media.

When I first heard about the siege, my first thought was "well, this is convenient, isn't it?".

Why was it convenient? Well, to start with it completely buried the MYEFO statement, something the Abbott government must be sighing with relief over (for our "the dog ate my homework" government, this must have seemed like the equivalent of Teacher calling in sick!). For seconds, it gives our PM a chance to look all concerned and serious on the telly, making statements about how the besieger had "a political motivation"[1] and so on. For thirds, it gives the tabloidosphere something to really chew on for the next few months (anyone want to bet we're going to be hearing a lot about Islamic "terrists" from the shock-jocks, the talk-back tabloids, and the Murdoch media? No takers?). For fourths, it neatly justifies all that extra money the government was handing ASIO a few months back. For fifths, it also neatly justifies any amount of crackdowns on public speech critical of the government, "undesirables", public protest and so on. The sixth useful thing it does is justifies increases to police funding (especially "elite" "counter-terrorism" units).

I can't help but think of the last time we were put under an increased security regime (under the Howard government, in the years following the September 11 2001 attack in the USA). At the time, one of the things people were saying was that there was no evidence of terrorist activity in Australia, and all this extra security theatre was a waste of money. People were saying the same things earlier this year when the government effectively doubled ASIO's budget. Will they be saying it now? Probably not as loudly...

And the MYEFO is still buried deeper than a dead thing.

The man who took the hostages, Man Haron Monis, is being demonised in the press. He's already being labelled as being mentally ill[3][4]. He had a history of violence and imprisonment (according to his lawyer, he was harassed and bullied in prison) as well as a string of charges against him. He also had a history of extreme ideology, but there's a strong thread running through things that this man was acting alone. He wasn't likely to have been part of an organised terrorist cell - indeed, he's just the sort of person a serious organised terrorist movement wouldn't want within a thousand miles of their active cells. But do you want to bet we're still going to see an increase in security theatre to prevent organised terrorist activity - one which will, purely coincidentally, result in a crackdown on "undesirables" (including the mentally ill) and public speech criticising the government?

It seems this siege was the action of one deeply troubled man with a history of violence. But it was still incredibly convenient for a lot of people, and I have no doubt they're going to be exploiting it to the fullest.


[1] I'm sorry, but I wouldn't trust the PM telling me the sky was blue without looking out a window to make sure, or to tell me water was wet without turning on a tap to check - to put it at its most charitable, his perception of reality is so very different to the consensus one it seems sensible to ensure his statements are well benchmarked against checkable data[2].
[2] To be less charitable, the man is a lying liar who lies and who wouldn't recognise the truth if it bit him on the bum.
[3] I'm mentally ill myself. The majority of mentally ill people are no more likely to commit violent acts than the rest of the population. Instead, they're more likely to be victims of violence.
[4] What I'm really disliking in seeing a lot of comments about this story in a number of places is the strong link being made between mental illness and any form of socially unacceptable or merely disliked behaviours. You don't have to be mentally ill in order to be an arsehole, and gods above the people making such comments are proving this in spades!
megpie71: AC Reno crouched over on the pavement, looking pained (Some days...)
Monday, September 16th, 2013 08:50 am
Apparently the Liberals are claiming the recent Australian election was a "referendum" on the various policy packages of the major parties, and that as they won the majority of seats in the lower house of parliament, they therefore have the right to implement all their policies (even the ones there's strenuous opposition to for practical reasons, such as their NBN-on-the-cheap one).

Let's just break this down a bit. If an election is a referendum on policy, then clearly these policies should be readily stated in detail, adequately debated, and fully costed, and all of these details supplied to the public at the beginning of the campaign. As it stands, neither of the major parties supplied all of this detail to the public even by polling day (and the Liberal party was by far the most egregious offender in this regard - there were more and better costed policies from the Greens than from the Liberals).

In a referendum, the winning answer needs to get a majority of votes nationally, AND a majority of votes in all the states. Referendums, being voted on yes/no questions, don't go to preferences, because they don't need to - it's straight first past the post all the way. Yes, there are a majority of Liberal and National party members in the House of Representatives at present (if we're going to be continuing with the "referendum" analogy, presumably they'd count as "yes" for the Liberals, and "yair" for the Nationals), and there are more of them than there are members for the ALP (who are presumably the "no"s in this analogy). But where does this leave the Greens, the Palmer United Party, and the other few Independent MPs in the chamber? They don't readily analogise to a straight yes or no response.

As regards to the majority of the states, the composition of the new Senate is still being decided (further complicated, of course, by the fact that only HALF the senate seats were up for contest in this election, so we still have a senate which is being half-decided by responses we made to questions asked back in 2010), but it seems likely the Liberals and Nationals won't have a clear majority there, and will be required to do some horse-trading with the various minor and opposition parties in order to get policies passed. Or, in a return to our referendum analogy, the Liberals did NOT get a majority of senators in all the states... and thus the referendum doesn't pass.

The Liberals don't have a simple "mandate" for their entire policy list. Particularly since at least some of their policy list is stuff which is disputed even within the party itself.

Now, if the Liberal party really does want each election to be a referendum on policy rather than the current popularity contest, here's a suggestion for how it would need to work. Firstly, the parties would be required to have their policies worked out, costed, and ready to defend at the beginning of each electoral campaign period. These policies would need to be summarised into single line items, and each line item policy would be placed (with its costing - no costing, no consideration) in a list, with tick boxes at the end of each line - one for yes, one for no.

Incidentally, this could be a big saving, because it would mean only a single ballot paper for both the House of Representatives AND the Senate, and only a single ballot paper Australia-wide. Yes, that does mean people in Melbourne and Sydney would be voting for and against pork-barrel measures aimed at people in the rest of the country. On the other hand, the rest of the country would be voting for and against pork-barrel measures aimed at people living in Sydney and Melbourne. Just think, winning Federal policies would most likely be the ones aimed at the entire country, rather than the ones aimed at winning individual seats.

In each seat and each state, the respective yeses and noes would be added up. For the House of Representatives, the candidate for the party whose collection of policies best conformed to the wishes of the voters for the seat would be chosen as the member for the individual seat. The current parliamentary convention of the Prime Minister being the parliamentary leader of the party with the greatest number of members in the House of Representatives could still apply. In the senate, the votes would be counted at a state level, and as each constellation of policy choices which matched a particular party's platform reached a quota, a senator from that party would be elected.

In addition, the AEC at the end of the day would have the ultimate opinion poll on which policies were supported and by which percentage of the population - and they could basically hand this to the incoming government with instructions that THIS is what they have a mandate for. Each individual member could also be given the same sort of run-down for their individual seat as well, thus indicating which way they were mandated to vote by their electors.

It would certainly change the How-to-vote cards.
megpie71: Animated: "Are you going to come quietly/Or do I have to use earplugs?" (Come Quietly)
Thursday, June 28th, 2012 08:45 pm
The Australian government is busy attempting to do nothing about asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Australia by boat (aside, of course, from trying to shuffle the responsibility for dealing with them off to Nauru). In the meantime, I've finally come up with the ideal solution to the problem.

Like so many problems, this one can be solved by a bit of education. The trick is to educate the asylum seekers before they leave on their journey. They need to be correctly equipped for the occasion, and they need to approach the Australian coastline with the correct attitude.

To start with, refugee boats should contain at least 5 - 10% armed troops (if possible, they should have better quality weapons than the Australian army). Rather than attempting to make landfall at any of the known ports, the boats should instead be aiming at landing on an unregarded bit of land. Once landfall is achieved, the new arrivals should set up a flag, and claim the area in the name of their former homeland. They should then make a camp, and set up a base.

If confronted by officials or representatives of the Australian government, they should deny the legitimacy of said officials, argue the land was vacant when they arrived, and point out that they don't recognise any extant governing body on this continent. Declaring the current occupants of the area to be sub-human vermin is purely optional, and is left up to the governor of the new country to declare.

While this plan may seem to be inhumane, unspeakably arrogant, and contrary to all known international law, it does have one major advantage: it's been shown to work in multiple circumstances across multiple countries and multiple centuries. When performed by white Europeans, it's called "colonisation". We know it's been successful in this country at least once.
megpie71: Vincent Valentine pointing Cerberus toward the camera (Bang)
Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 07:58 am
Does it strike anyone else that in seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, Julian Assagne is doing just about everything known to (highly privileged) humankind in order to avoid the consequences of his own behaviour?

I would hate to be in the position of the two women who reported his actions to the police in Sweden, watching as the man who violated their trust[1] twists and wriggles in every possible way he can to avoid having to answer for his actions. I would hate to be watching as he moves from one form of avoidance to the next, always trying to dodge the consequences of his behaviour. I would be as angry as all hell as one group of expensive friends after another comes to his rescue, offering monetary assistance, accommodation, legal aid, etcetera.

Oh, but he's lost so much, everyone says. He's effectively stateless, he's relying on the kindness of strangers, he's being persecuted by all these shadowy conspiracies, and besides, the charges aren't for anything serious so why should he have to answer them. To which I say: he chose to be where he is. He chose to start Wikileaks. He chose to poke sticks at a US government which had shown itself to be highly defensive, highly paranoid, and willing to go to extreme lengths in order to preserve what it saw as its rights. He chose to travel freely around the world (something not everyone can do) and to investigate any number of countries as potential new homes. He chose to rely on the hospitality of friends, and to abuse that hospitality.

Julian Assagne's current situation with regard to the US government is something he chose to get into of his own free will. He chose to poke a dragon with a long pointy stick. The dragon noticed.

His position with regard to the Swedish government is something he could have chosen to avoid as well. All he had to damn well do was keep his fucking dick in his fucking daks and not presume that all women exist in a permanent state of "yes, please!". He didn't do that. And he didn't do that in a country where the laws regarding sexual consent are different to the laws where he grew up - from what I can gather, the laws in Sweden presume that women (and men) don't exist in a permanent state of consent to sexual activity, but rather that consent is something which has to be explicitly granted each time.

Julian Assagne is not a martyred hero of the left. Julian Assagne is a highly privileged male who is trying everything he can think of in order to get out of accepting the responsibility for actions he chose to take. Julian Assagne's actions are not unique - there are countless other cases of privileged men fleeing justice in order to avoid being charged with and tried for rape. He's just one more highly privileged moral coward.

[1] I'm stating this as a definite because quite frankly, I doubt anyone would have gone to the same sorts of lengths Mr Assagne has gone to were they entirely innocent of the actions performed.
megpie71: Avon looking unimpressed, caption "Bite Me" (Avon2)
Thursday, June 7th, 2012 10:10 am
Okay, clearly I don't understand Big Business. There's an article in today's ABC newsfeed which is basically another round of the mining companies and the Business Council of Australia howling "we'll all be rooned" because things aren't going 100% their way. They're busy saying that the Australian economy costs too much to do business in, that it's too damn risky and too damn costly, and we should be altering our business to remove our "low productivity and outdated work practices".

They basically argue that resources projects here cost about 40% more than those on the Gulf Coast of the USA - and I'd argue that yes, there's any number of reasons for that:

1) I don't know whether they've realised, but Australia has a smaller population than the USA - we're about 1/15th the size of the US population, and we're at about the carrying capacity of the continent as it stands.
2) We're a bit more geographically isolated than the Gulf Coast of the USA - and certainly a lot of the areas where the resource projects are happening here are a lot further removed from large centres of infrastructure too.
3) We have different legal frameworks to the USA, being a different fucking country and all. This includes things like insisting that all staff be paid a decent wage and that things like environmental regulations and OH&S requirements aren't just optional extras that have to be dealt with if (and only if) you can't afford to pay off the inspector. Oh, we also don't have the concept of "at will" employment enshrined in our social support systems - so we ask that if people are going to be sacked, they're sacked for a reason, given a decent notice period, and paid their redundancy money. We also insist that the indigenous peoples of the location be compensated for any damage done to their tribal lands - and if you're not sure whether a particular location is part of the tribal lands, you can just submit a request to the Native Title Tribunal to find out, can't you!

They point to our labour being "35 per cent less productive" than the labour in the US Gulf Coast for projects near cities (it's up to 60 per cent less productive in remote locations) - and I have to admit I'd like to know what the yardstick they're using is, when the measurements were taken, which projects they're comparing and to what, and how they're categorising "near cities" and "remote". Or in other words, show me the figures, show me the original research - don't just give me the conclusions stripped of all possible context.

But the thing which really stuns me is the following:

"We are in a global competition for capital and in things like iron ore or in coal, we've got growing competition from other countries in the world. And if we become more expensive, or too expensive, then those projects may not occur or may go elsewhere," Mr Shepherd said.

It's the last bit, the notion of "projects going elsewhere" which really stuns me - what, do they really think it's possible to dig up the iron ore in Australia's north-west from say, Somalia? Do they really think that this petty bit of blackmail is going to succeed in basically turning around our entire culture and economic system, just in case one or two big companies decide they don't want to spend their money here? (Well, yes, probably they do. And what's more they're probably right in expecting it given the past track records of various Australian governments, which is depressing).

However, I'd point to a statement made by our PM fairly recently. Ms Gillard apparently located her spine, and pointed out to a whole heap of mining company executives that, contrary to their apparent belief (as expressed via their corporate behaviour) they don't own all the minerals in Australia. Instead, these minerals are owned in common by the peoples of Australia. Mining companies don't get freehold rights to the areas they mine. Instead, they're given mining leases. I think it's about time for the Government to grow a spine and basically point out to various mining companies that if they don't like the damn conditions here, they don't have to put up with them. There's bound to be someone else who's willing to pay the prices associated with doing business in Australia who'll come along and pick up the leases. Heck, if all else failed, there's still a chance that either the state or the commonwealth governments could go into the mining business themselves and start hauling in the wonga for all Australians, not just the shareholding few.

Australia has one of the most stable and productive economies in the world. We've managed to stay out of recession and actually had our economy growing for the majority of the time since we discovered that the US banking system had been playing ducks & drakes with the global money supply back in November 2008. We're a country which has a lot of resources available to exploit, we're also a country which is both tectonically and politically stable (we don't change governments with revolutions, we use elections instead) with a culture which is remarkably phlegmatic on a global scale (last reported riots were in Cronulla, back in 2005). When a company sets up a mining venture here, they don't have to factor in costs like bribes, armed guards, private armies, bodyguards for executives, or similar. They can generally rely on a lot of cooperation from both state and federal governments. We have a skilled workforce (even if it is a bit small for the demand being put on it at present). We have very good quality infrastructure, and we're willing to put money toward making it better (for example, the National Broadband Network project which is currently ongoing, as an effort to make it possible for just about everyone in the country to access high speed internet). If a mining company sets up business in Australia, they're going to get a good return on their money - mining here is nowhere near as marginal as, for example, farming.

They're just not going to get to keep all of it. We're going to ask for our share, in the form of wages, taxes, and so on.