peteg's blog - noise - politics

Paul Keating interviewed by Kerry O'Brien on the ABC.

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The timing of the screening of these interviews surely did the ABC no favours. Keating himself is mostly in fine form and O'Brien sometimes manages to keep him to account, which is impressive in its own way. I certainly miss Keating's efforts at communicating his vision and policy agenda to the public at large; the last three governments came to power as policy-free as possible, having learnt from his doing Hewson slowly. Gillard's recent travails demonstrate that the ALP cannot then switch on the sales pitch and charm. I wondered why Anna left him and what he's been doing since. The piggery did not get a look-in.

Conroy cans the internet filter

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Finally. I'll be happy if more of these internet regulations are similarly successful.

The Liberals can the internet filter

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Apparently the small-l Liberals have prevailed and the tubes won't be getting filtered in the near term. This effectively neutralises the issue as far as the election goes, for Labor cannot possibly muster the numbers in the Senate, so Hockey et al can only hope for more votes because they're making the right noises; he made a simple coherent argument in favour of the old model, of free filters running on people's local machines.

Nevertheless I am still putting Conroy last, even if it takes me half an hour to number the Senate ballot.

More worrying is the proposed expansion of spying powers, the recording of internet histories, and so forth, being driven by the Attorney-General. I liked McClelland's early noises about something-or-other, but he has morphed into a latter-day John Ashcroft.

Conroy: Too Dumb To Fail

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Well, the fantastic filtering from earlier in the year have ground through the wheels of governance, making mandatory blacklist-based censorship seemingly inescapably imminent.

Argh, they've even ceased the earlier, much more sensible, policy of providing client-side filters to anyone who wants one. How many people are going to vote on telecommunications issues now?

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Computerworld has devoted a page to the National Broadband Network. This is fantastic, seeing all the arguments lined up in one spot. Nothing says awesome quite as much as not doing a cost-benefit analysis, and keeping the dirty paws of the Productivity Commission off our precious tubes which will likely be swinging from the trees (so to speak).

Taking a breath, the arguments Conroy provides when pressed are more to do with pervasive internet than fat pipes. In a parallel universe Telstra's near-enough universal coverage is fairly priced to all comers, and pigs' wings are the new frogs' legs.

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Conroy might not be smart enough to implement or kill off the Great Firewall of Australia, but perhaps he is pigheaded enough to actually split Telstra along its natural cleavage, viz retail and intertubes. I'm curious as to what kind of restitution the Government will offer the dudded shareholders; the stock is held far and wide, which might make for some electorally-significant anger in a year or so.

Incidentally the Smage's much vaunted National Times masthead seems to think that recycling aged (but no less insightful) John Quiggin opinion is worthy. Fairfax's skillful rebranding of the emperor's clothes remains threadless.

Web Censorship: the other unflushable turd.

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This is hilarious: apparently the censorship test came out awesome. It won't slow down the tubes, those nickel-and-dime ISPs have proved it!

I'd like to be able to say Exetel is above the fray, but a quick googling will turn up all sorts of contradictory attitudes from the company. I must admit I haven't noticed their content filter, but it makes me distinctly uneasy.

Vale, Robert S. McNamara.

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I read today that Robert S. McNamara is dead. Kaplan's piece in Slate gives a reasonable account of what made him such a pivotal figure; I can't say the same of his counterpart writing for Salon, whose portrayal of the broader history of the Vietnam War is much, much weaker than his stridently polar conclusions.

Perhaps it is time to watch Fog of War again. I definitely won't go as far as to re-read In Retrospect.

Censorship as comedy

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Well, that took longer than I expected: a derivative of the ACMA blacklist has been leaked, or least that's the claim; WikiLeaks is presently overloaded, and Conroy is not saying otherwise. I guess that if this censorship gambit is going to stake a some kind of claim to legitimacy by being consistent, they must start down the path of blacklisting Slashdot and all the other sites that, however indirectly, point at this list. Heh, they'll also need to make sure all the derived web filtering software locks it down properly too. Good luck with that.

Censorship as reflex arc

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Seems I was too hasty last month in welcoming the slide of web censorship further down the crapper; the latest is that ACMA will fine you $11k a day for linking to black-listed sites. The scary bit was the turn-around time, between the plant, the complaint, and ACMA's response. One wonders just how routine this is going to become, especially while an increasingly erratic Fielding First remains in the senate.

Vale, Web Censorship?

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Apparently Senator Xenophon has decided to withdraw his support for Conroy's censorship legislation. I have a bad feeling we haven't seen the end of this one though, especially if Conroy's career is riding on its implementation.

Here's more from the ABC.

On the balance I will take this as evidence that my subscription to the EFA is doing some good...

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Today I signed up as a life member of the EFA, the Australian version of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This is the one — and perhaps only — good thing about joining the cashed-up classes, being able to funnel some resources to worthy organisations. Damned if Conroy is going to get an easy ride on this silly filtering idea, when even the previous bunch of muppets had the much better idea of freely providing local-to-your-computer filters to those who wanted them; far more congruent with things-as-they-are-and-should-be.

UNSW speaks of canning free WiFi.

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According to the Smage, the free WiFi at UNSW is being abused something fierce. I especially liked the quote from the MIPI muppet (the local thus-far stealth-mode piracy mafia) to the effect that all the young-uns are one-third unoriginal sin. Missing, I felt, was any mention of that other internet evil, porn, and a statement from the Eros foundation about how their industry is somehow printing money despite large-scale free access. (Don't look at me like that, go tell Conroy (not) to censor Google et al. already.) I'm guessing the general lack of private spaces on the UNSW campus, by design or accident, makes it difficult for the youth to check more boxes on the list of proscribed activities.

Slightly more amusing is the spillover effect that such a decision to cut off the tubes would have on some other groups (coughCSEcough) that took the central admin at their word and began decommissioning their home-grown network access points. I'm sure the university is truly efficient over the long haul, but it must hurt to have to pay those setup and tear-down costs, time and again.

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The ALP has pulled out all the stops to win this election; Sydney gets a spray from Paul Keating, and Melbourne one from RJL Hawke.

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I voted in the Australian Federal Election at the Consulate just now. According to the lonely Kevin07 guy out the front, that 45 people lined up on Monday morning to vote signals a change of government.

Peter Andren, R.I.P.

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And here was I hoping to see how his Senate campaign unfolded...

Fiascos at UNSW.

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This is so strange; somehow in these past few weeks UNSW has garnered a lot of press for what look like pretty shitty reasons:

  • The Arts faculty can't afford teaching support staff (tutors). While I sympathise with this predicament and fully expect the students' experiences to slide even further down the crapper, I'm not sure Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Social Sciences Dr Sarah Maddison is completely right to sheet the blame home to the Feds:

    "The Federal Government has abandoned the humanities in higher education funding and we are bearing the brunt. It has consistently underinvested in this area over the past decade and we are now at a structural disadvantage when compared with other disciplines."

    My understanding (and I'd like to be corrected if wrong) is that the funding decisions at the Faculty level are handled by the Chancellery, within the uni. Sure, the Feds may well have decided that a NICTA-like entity for the social sciences would be tantamount to offering an arse-cheek to a tiger, but that is about research, not teaching. Let them blame Professor Fred Hilmer, I reckon, then sack the lot of them.

  • In the same Smage article, the uni has announced that it will reduce the academic session to twelve weeks from the current fourteen. Justification?

    The staff cuts follow the announcement of a number of streamlining measures at the university, including the reduction of the teaching semester from 14 to 12 weeks and a review of the bachelor of arts degree. Under the review, the number of courses in which students can major will fall from 45 to 37 in 2009.

    The university administration claims the changes are designed to "streamline teaching and learning".

    In a message sent to students on Monday, the pro-vice chancellor, Professor Joan Cooper, said the reduced semester would bring "UNSW in line with other Australian universities" and "facilitate new pedagogic practices".

    Yep, I regret that my education was not streamlined. According to JAS the main operational implication is that all courses need to be adjusted (mangled) into this new format, and apparently the Chancellery is yet to propose how this will be funded. Blame Professor Fred Hilmer I reckon. You'll note the reasoning is similar to his world class policy on general staff numbers. Still, I'm sure the clown will be all cashed up for another year of hijinks. "I came to UNSW for the morale of the student body," I can hear it now.

  • Strangest of all is the closing of the Singapore campus (UNSW Asia) after less than a session:

    The university has already spent $17.5 million on the project, but it had guaranteed a further $140 million for the construction of a permanent campus in South Changi.

    Professor Fred Hilmer said the university had lost $15 million in not reaching its anticipated enrolment numbers, and as a result it was unable to borrow the money it needed. "I don't want to play a blame game [but] I inherited a situation," he said.

    Those enrolment numbers, from an email he sent to staff:

    The UNSW Asia campus currently has 148 enrolled students, with some 100 of these being Singapore residents. The anticipated enrolment for the initial intake in 2007 was 300 students. Second semester enrolments were anticipated at 480 students but it is clear that this target would not be met.

    Those enrolment numbers, from the advertising agency:

    Singapore - The University of New South Wales Asia (UNSW Asia) has awarded its regional creative and media accounts to AGI Communications - the agency won the business without a pitch.

    The new tertiary institution made the retainer appointment - understood to be valued at around $1.5 million - on the back of its launch in Singapore, in an effort to achieve its first year admission target of 1200 students through attracting students from across Asia.

    Still, I'm glad he can exercise the wagging figure this time, for otherwise one might get the impression there's something rotten in the administration of this world-class institution.

Now, if they were in any way serious about bringing "UNSW in line with other Australian universities" or being even more world-class they'd be looking at the University of Melbourne's "Melbourne Model" and wondering if they couldn't interest the Sydney market in something similar, or perhaps even better.

Awareness creeps into drug politics.

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Police Commissioner Ken Moroney says more responsibility needs to be taken for the problems caused by binge drinking.

"I've made no secret of my feelings of the role of alcohol in anti-social behaviour, hooliganism and crime in all of its manifestations," he said.

"I believe it is a greater scourge than the illicit drug problem."

Seven years ago:

"It was quite amazing," a senior Bondi police officer told the Herald after Sydney's millennium celebrations in 2000, one of the most trouble-free New Year's Eves in years. "The big topic of conversation among the officers on the night was how the widespread use of ecstasy has really calmed things down. It has changed the whole scene."

(There was an incredible backlash to this observation at the time.)

Peter Andren runs for a seat in the Senate.

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Instead of, as expected, resolving which of the two re-distributed parts of his current seat of Calare he will stand for, Peter Andren has opted to stand for election as a Senator for NSW. The Smage spins this as a failure to do something useless, viz becoming the "most successful independent of all time". I think they mean "electorally successful", which is not the same thing.

UNSW hires a clown.

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Is anyone else disturbed by this?

A recent survey of students at the University of NSW found an invisible malaise had fallen over the campus.

"Students felt that university had become too serious, too purposeful, too qualification-driven and there wasn't enough fun and joy, so the vice-chancellor responded to that in a number of ways and I'm one of those ways," says corporate comedian Rodney Marks, who this year took up a post as a visiting professor at large at the university.

Marks will give 52 comic hoax lectures on campus as part of a plan to bring a little more frivolity to study.

"I am the 2007 version of the wizard who was at the university 40 years ago and he took a lot of the anger out of rebellious students in the late '60s and early '70s, and the university was the most successful campus in managing that revolutionary angst."

Oh well, Vice Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer's usual idea of "fun and joy" is sacking general staff, so I guess this is an improvement. Somehow the powers that be have slept through the last ten years.

On a related note I was a bit shocked to find that UNSW has an oral history project, complete with an interview with the Wizard (bio). Still can't find anything much about the upside down tree though.

I think we need an apathy index, drawing inspiration from Schmidt's work on sting pain.