Friday, August 31, 2012

Twitter, trolls and the hardly normal - 1

Today's post scans things of interest across the media and internet that link to the things I have been writing about.


Australian television host Charlotte Dawson was admitted to hospital after a sustained attack by twitter trolls. It appears that she fed them by responding in kind. (story here, here, here). Neil Whitfield drew my attention to this piece, Anonymity powers the cudgels in hatesphere, about another form of on-line attack. Actually, I want to come back to this piece later, for it raised some interesting issues re the current state of public discourse in Australia.

I have written a fair bit on manners etc in the on-line world. Those of us who write in whatever form make ourselves to a degree public figures. Those of us who write in an interactive environment expose ourselves to immediate response. It's not always easy.

In a post this morning on my Facebook page, I wrote:

Up very early this morning to complete my business solutions magazine column, this one linked to the new communications technologies. We all live in very different worlds. I don't mean different between us, just the varying worlds that each of us occupy - present or past, work and family, our interests. Facebook is an interesting case study because it is a link point between half a dozen different Jim worlds stretching over my whole somewhat variegated life. I needed time off-line to work out how I managed this, how to better integrate present and past, just what FB's role should be.

In a moment I will use this comment to segue onto a different topic, but for the moment I want to make a different point linked to my present discussion. Most active writers use different vehicles for often different purposes. We blog, we tweet, we facebook, we comment, we write for media. But what do we do when those vehicles start to merge elements of our visible life that we might like to keep separate in both our own minds and those we interact with?

I have decided to try my hand over the next few months at write a short training course or dummy's guide to survival in the on-line world. After all, I have made most mistakes myself! What do you think?

Hardly Normal and it's struggles with the on-line world

I said that my Facebook comment allowed me to segue onto a different topic. My business solutions magazine column dealt the impact of the new communications technologies. Now here Australian retailer Hardly Normal has a real problem.

For those outside Australia, Hardly Normal is the generally affectionate name give to Harvey Norman, an Australian retail chain. Hardly Normal has been struggling with the impact of the internet. Founder Gerry Harvey, should that be co-founder?, has not been impressed. This story, Gerry Harvey sick of internet 'spin', provides a remarkably candid perspective from a Chairman sick of the bullshit. His view - they have to do it, have an on-line sales presence, because everyone else does - completely misses the point. Can you see why?

Fairfax country paper web sites another Fairfax fail

In earlier posts I referred to the new web sites being introduced for papers like the Armidale Express. I will now mark them a fail. Check out the Express web site. It's a clean, modern web site yet I count it a failure. Can you see why? Hardly Normal provides a hint.

I am out of time tonight. I will continue this discussion tomorrow. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Musings and directions

With apologies to Ramana who had commented, I took yesterday's post back to draft because I wasn't happy with it. The post was triggered in part by a conversation at work, my present work group is mainly female, but I became a little side-tracked. The post began:

Tennis and then dinner tonight with Helen. Helen says thanks to those who congratulated her on her graduation. She is going to pass on some of my netball photos to her team, although my understandable focus on her reduces the photos' broader value. I have actually had a few good photos recently. It comes from taking a lot. You have to strike one good one sometimes!

A degree of hilarity at work today. We were talking about e-publishing and recent successes. I said simply that I was thinking of changing my writing genre. There was a pause "You mean mummy porn?" someone said. Instant amusement. But why not? I could do with a useful royalty stream!

The post went on to talk a little about changing styles in fiction, of the rediscovery of romance, of relationships before becoming side-tracked by the discovery of some past writing of mine that was only peripherally connected with the original topic.  I was glad to find it, but  it was a sidetrack.

As often happens when I'm working on a post, I do some digging around looking at the back story. That was why I came across my past stuff, but there was also other material I found that interested me. Karly Lane, Diane Curran, Bronwyn Parry, Jenn J McLeod, Helene Young in Bellingen

This is a photo from romance writer Bronywn Parry's blog. The caption reads: 

From right to left – romantic thriller author Helene Young, Jenn McLeod (watch for her debut novel next year!), me, Diane Curran (she’ll have a debut novel soon too, I’m sure!), rural romance author Karly Lane , and Jeanette McA, cheerleader, supporter, and great friend to us all.

I hasten to add that Bronwyn writes romantic thrillers, not mummy porn. However, that photo taken in Bellingen in fact part of the back story. It's also a part of a story that I have written on before in a different context, the romance writers of New England. They almost constitute an entire school in their own right!

You can see the mixture in my mind. So, in all this, I will let yesterday's post rest for the present until my ideas settle a bit more.


Other things seem to be bringing me back to this topic.  First was CityKat's piece in the Brisbane Times, Are romance novels as bad for relationships as porn?. Then Helen Dale (the original skepticlawyer) drew my attention to this post: Fifty Shades of Grrrrr. Do have a read. It's a very well written and honest piece.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Belshaws' World - a desperate fight at netball

This is the story of a netball game. Back in June 2010 in Saturday Morning Netball, I wrote of a part of a Saturday spent with eldest at the netball. This is another netball story, although it's really a story of and perhaps for eldest. Or perhaps for her Dad more so.

The day after Helen's graduation (Helen's graduation) I went to watch Helen play in the netball grand final. This has been something of a ritual - games, not always grand finals - for twelve or so years. This time it was especially important as a grand final. UNSW (University of New South Wales) 6 were playing, I think, Saints 1. UNSW had been minor premiers, so there was a lot at stake.

UNSW started in a nervous way, while Saints opened brilliantly, streaking away to a five goal lead. While the margin fluctuated, Saints held the lead to half time. Helen came on in the second half. Short of battery, I preserved the camera until Helen was on, but then ran out. Still, here are a few shots.

Helen started goal defence. As a defender, it's sometimes very important to get in your opponent's face. Helen in the brown and gold.


Saints stretch the lead. From memory, they managed to get about seven points ahead.


As a game, netball is all about tactics and positioning. Study the court, look and the game will open up.


And you have to run to the open court where the ball will be thrown no matter what the traffic. In fact, you have to charge to where the ball should be thrown. Helen on the way through.


By now UNSW was coming back, with the lead shrinking. In rugby, you always want to get your face into your opponent's face. In netball, you often want their face rammed into your back, stopping them getting round. The lead was still narrowing.


Sometimes desperate defence is required. That opposing centre was very good, by the way.


Sometimes defence is just not enough. There goes another one.


Then you just have to get on with the game. Sneaky, Helen? 


In the end, the UNSW efforts were just not enough. Saints by 2. Well done girls!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Helen's graduation

Just a proud Dad. From left to right, me, Clare Belshaw, Helen Belshaw, Denise North.

Notice that my mouth is clenched. I am looking forward to smiling again once my teeth are fixed.  P1000431

Friday, August 24, 2012

Julia Gillard - it's time to move on

Back in October 2011, I commented on the Australian's plans to introduce pay too view, and wondered how it would affect blogging among other things. Almost twelve months later, I can report that the main impact for this little blogger is that I stopped visiting the Australian. There just wasn't enough free content on the sight to make it worthwhile. Now that hasn't been a problem until now when the Australian itself becomes the story. 

It appears that some seventeen years ago, Australian PM Gillard was involved at law firm Slater & Gordon in some unwise business. This story by Phillip Coorey in the Sydney Morning Herald will give you a feel. I don't think that you need to know all the details, nor do I have the time to do the investigation to give them to your properly.

The Australian has apparently been campaigning on this issue for some time in its role as an objective source of political analysis. It appears to have made one assertion three times, withdrawing it three times. Now it has come out with an editorial justifying its position that is, for the moment at least, on the public record. All this largely escaped me since I have not been reading the Australian. 

All the pressure made the PM feel that she should do a full press conference to put the matter behind her. To quote the Australian:

JULIA Gillard's strong performance yesterday was a belated attempt to address questions surrounding the conclusion of her legal career at Melbourne firm Slater & Gordon in 1995. At the heart of the controversy is how she served the interests of her employer, those of her client (the Australian Workers Union) and how she has levelled with the public subsequently.

Canberra is a pressure cooker gold fish bowl. It is also an incestuous world in that everybody knows and feeds from each other.

In her press conference, the PM took a swipe at the blogosphere and especially Larry Pickering. Dear that took me back, back in fact to the seventies when Larry was the cartoonist for the Canberra Times. That, dear children, was when the Canberra Times was still a must read newspaper for those like me  with some pretensions of being in touch as a member of the political classes. Larry later broadened his interests to include calendars that combined his interests in caricature and genitalia. He was a very funny man - I still remember roaring with laughter at his cartoon on the chardonnay drinking socialists of Bungendore. We all knew who he was talking about.

I knew that Larry was back on the scene, but had no idea how much he had managed to annoy the PM. This doesn't mean he is either right or entertaining. I actually don't know on either. He could be tedious sometimes. Yet in a funny way, all this does put current Australia in perspective.

Round the world, there are a few problems. Consider the case of Greece, or of Mali or of changes in China. Consider Ramana's complaints about corruption and lack of direction in India. Here in Australia, we seem to be obsessing (among other things) about the question of why the PM didn't open a file all those years ago on Slater & Gordon. Now, and as an aside, Slater & Gordon was the first law firm to list any stock exchange anywhere in the world, Australians have always been innovative in these areas!

It appears to me that the PM didn't open a file because she was doing a freeebie and didn't want to the whole thing to get caught up in the matter management systems so beloved by law firms. Now leaving aside the changes that have taken place since then including the spread of computerisation, so what? This does not, as the Australian claims, go to the question of trust.

Is the Australian telling me that its journalists - leave aside the management - don't get drunk; don't have affairs; don't help their friends? In other words, that they are not human? Is there anything in this that would make me think other of PM Gillard that she is human?

We have the luxury in this country, a luxury shared by few others, of being able to focus on the small because in a day to day sense we do not have big problems. We can obsess with our navels

Now it may be that in all this obsessive digging that has been going on people will identify important issues of principle that need to be considered. Yet I doubt it.

Like the Australian journalists or even that paper's management, I am human with flaws. I couldn't survive this type of scrutiny. It would tear me down. It's been hard enough letting some comments stand, But does that make the things that I am working on less important? Does that make my beliefs or the things that I campaign for in my limited way less important? I don't think so.

I do not support many things that PM Gillard does. I wish to debate those things. As a member of what we might call the public chattering classes, as someone interested in ideas who cares, I wish to engage. I don't want to get involved in the minutiae of a normal human life of seventeen years ago with all its normal pressures and human confusions. It's just not relevant.

So let's move on. That's all I ask.


Over on skepticslaywer, Legal Eagle in Gillard and the AWU brought up a legal process assessment of those events seventeen years ago. The post and some, not all, of the comments are worth a read. I will bring up a short companion post on another blog and then reference it here.   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Radical Federalism in a world that stays the same

Coalition’s radical new federalism

Today a ramble on things that have attracted my attention.

According to Laura Tingle in the Australian Financial review, the Coalition has unveiled a radical new approach to Australian Federalism.

Don't hold your breath. It appears to be a shift in administrative functions back to the states with the Feds continuing to hold the purse strings, with Commonwealth dictates on policy enforced by flying squads of Commonwealth officials. It may improve administration, but it's hardly radical.There is also an apparent cost cutting element since it is expected to reduce service delivery costs. You can expect that to be mandated leading to state reluctance to participate.

I thought of kvd with the announcement that BHP had deferred the Olympic Dam and Port Headland harbour expansion proposals. It's just another sign of the end of the present Australian mining investment boom. The mining boom itself ended a little while ago.

In the meantime, Federal Treasurer Swan has warned the states not to gouge mining royalties. You see, the Feds need the money to fund the expenditure associated with the mining tax. In the meantime, Opposition Leader Abbott was on TV explaining why the sky was falling. 

In all, another of those days in Australian politics and public policy where nothing changes! 


As you might expect, the deferral by BHP of $50 billion in new investment dominates Australian front pages this morning. Here are examples - one, two.   

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Don Aitkin's "What was it all for?" revisited

Back in 2009 I was lent given a copy of Don Aitkin's What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia. (Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005). I thought it a remarkably good book, inspiring several posts. Now I see that blogging colleague and fellow New Englander Paul Barratt has discovered it as well.

Just to inspire Paul to extend the discussion, I thought that I should record the posts inspired by the book. don aitkinThere is some repetition among them, but readers may find them of interest as a set. The posts are:

Another of my history posts, Social Change in New England 1950-2000 3: Church, state and social change in Australia, dealt in part with a second one of Don's book. Don's writing has been quite influential in my own work. 

If you are interested, our can find out more about Don - Don Aitkin and here. In the meantime, I encourage Paul to respond.

Monday, August 20, 2012

An afternoon at the Rugby - TAS vs Kings

Saturday, my old school (The Armidale School aka TAS) was playing The Kings School in the NSW GPS rugby competition. I had decided not to go, just too lazy, but then found that I was going a bit stir crazy alone in the house, so finally jumped into the car and headed out mid morning.

I quickly regretted my decision. Kings is near Parramatta not far from where I presently work, but I go there each day by public transport. Now as I crawled down ParraP1000337matta Road through heavy traffic towards the freeway I became quite annoyed. I thought I had allowed plenty of time, but time just passed and passed. Then it took me a while to find the school. I hadn't actually been there before, so I was working from my bump of direction.

Finally, finding the school I parked and walked down the hill towards the rugby grounds. Dear it's a big place.  This is the private school par excellence that the public school lobby loves to hate. Mind you, when I was playing rugby at TAS we weren't too keen on it either. Both Anglican schools attracting boys from the same demographic, TAS boys tended to regard Kings as a bit snooty!

Now here I need to pause and introduce you to the first of a few arcane facts. GPS stands for Greater Public Schools. Now these schools aren't public schools at all, but private schools that adopted the GPS title back in the 1890s in the same way that the more prominent English private schools had been called public schools.

And rugby? This is a game played with fifteen players aside that, in some ways, resembles legalised mayhem. I must say that it's a game I greatly enjoyed playing. Within the GPS, the rugby competition attracts a thoroughly devout following, but there has been an emerging problem that I will become clear in a moment.P1000355

As I arrived, Sydney Boys High Firsts were playing Kings Thirds. Sydney Boys High is on the right defending their line at the end of the match. Now there is both the the problem and the immediate solution. 

As the GPS competition became more professional, a huge gap opened up between the top and bottom schools.

Sydney Boys High and Sydney Grammar are both schools that attract academically inclined kids. Both attract a significant proportion of smaller boned Asian ancestry students. As a consequence, the student pool available for rugby declined just as the other Sydney GP schools were becoming increasingly professional in their coaching approach. This led to a huge gap between High and to a somewhat lesser extent Grammar and the other Sydney schools. The competition became quite unbalanced.

TAS, a much smaller school, is a rugby school. But it faced a different problem. The official title of the rugby competition is the NSW GPS rugby competition.  Don't let that fool you. Everybody calls it the Sydney GPS rugby competition, and it is. TAS is the only country GPS school. With the exception of a brief period in the late 1960s, TAS could only play social matches against the P1000358other GPS. Then, when TAS did play for a brief period, it was effectively forced out because it introduced a bye into the competition. Further, while TAS normally lost, it did sometimes win, introducing a a new random element.

The growing imbalance in the competition finally created a new opportunity for TAS, the creation of what was effectively a multi-school participation. 

This photo shows the TAS first fifteen running onto the field to play Kings. Note the High Firsts cheering them onto the ground. After a trial cooperative arrangement last year, and some very careful negotiation, a new official arrangement was created that appeared in Saturday's program as Kings vs Grammar/Armidale/High.

The High First Fifteen has dropped back to the GPS Third competition, now an official competition for the first time. There High is competitive, although they lost the match to the Kings Thirds 42-3. That was a little misleading. The game was far closer than that. So High boys who want to play competition Rugby still can, but without the complications involved in competing at the highest level against far bigger boys.

Initially, Grammar was going to dP1000364rop out of the First Grade competition. However, the boys who had been playing together for some time wanted to continue in the first grade. In a way, this was a brave decision; TAS Firsts beat Grammar 68-12 in a pre trial match. Still, I can understand the boys' 'position. The Grammar decision opened the way for TAS Firsts to officially enter the GPS competition in the Second Grade competition.   

There was little commentary In the pre-match discussion about the TAS team beyond noting that they were expected to be competitive. And they were.

TAS Firsts lost their first match to Newington 47-7, won their second against Riverview 19-17 and were then narrowly defeated by Shore 13-7. Now came their biggest test so far playing the competition leaders.

  The game opened disastrously for TAS The big, fast, players on the Kings back line ran straight through the TAS defence to score two quick tries. My heart sank. Parents, kids and old boys all went silent. It looked as though a whitewash was coming. Then TAS attacked, spending long periods camped on the Kings line. Only desperate defence by Kings held TAS out. Half time score Kings 1P10003834, TAS nil.

The second half opened as the first had begun, with a quick Kings try. Kings 19, TAS nil. For a period Kings kept attacking. It took some quite outstanding TAS defence to keep them out. By now I was running up and down the sideline mixing yells with photos! 

TAS kept attacking. In this photo, TAS are in the dark blue and white. Slowly, the momentum started to swing back in TAS's favour. Rewards started coming in the form of a TAS try. TAS continued the attack, with Kings defending. A second try came. Kings 19, TAS 12.

By now TAS supporters had begun to hope for victory as the TAS attack continued. It wasn't to be. TAS simply ran out of time.

It really had been a good match, one of the best I have watched.

In the following game an iP1000395njury plagued Grammar Firsts were defeated by Kings 100-0. This lead to some subsequent discussion about the possibility of TAS replacing Grammar in the First Division competition.

I'm not sure about that, at least not as an automatic thing. My feeling is that the competition might be better off with Grammar, High and TAS moving up and down depending on the relative strength of the teams at the time.

Without the participation of the Grammar/TAS/High collective, the GPS comp is effectively reduced to two games and a bye. That's not really a comp. With the collective, you do get a more effective competition. However, for the moment I think that there are real advantages in the three schools maintaining the combined arrangement.

And, on a final point, how are TAS Seconds going? I was never quite good enough to make the TAS Firsts, but was good enough to spend over three years in the Seconds. Well, for the record:

  • TAS 2nds vs Newington 4ths 27-8 win
  • TAS 2nds vs Riverview 5ths 22-5 win
  • TAS 2nds vs Kings 5ths 20-8 win.

It seems to me that the 2nds are playing well below their proper level. But that's another story.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

London to a brick

Now for a number of reasons, part sentiment, I salt my spoken language with Australianisms. Well, it's London to a brick that I will be pulled up from time to time both younger and recent Australians. What do you mean, they say in puzzled terms? 

London to a brick, you say? It just means to bet on an absolute certainty. I don't know when it first came in, although my memory was that it came from a race caller. How very Australian! I bit like betting on two blowies crawling up a wall!

That would fit with this account, although it appears from Bob's advice that the phrase changed a little. I have never heard it with the word "on" added. Well, London to a brick, I'm probably wrong!


For the edification and perhaps confusion of my international visitors, kvd kindly referred me to this dictionary of Australian slang.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday Morning Musings - UNE alumni dinner

Today's meander is the story of a dinner. Very parochial at one level, but perhaps not without broader interest

On Thursday night (16 August) I went to a University of New England alumni and supporters dinner at Parliament House in Sydney hosted by Chancellor Richard Torbay. Richard is the independent member for the Northern Tablelands in the NSW State Parliament and the prospective National Party candidate  for the Federal seat of New England presently held by independent Tony Windsor, himself a UNE alumnus . More on this a little later.

UNE Alumni dinner

On arrival, I soon saw people that I knew. Our blogging colleague Paul Barratt is on the left in this first photo. Sitting next to him is Diane Fernley-Jones, Chief Information Officer at Leighton Contractors who did her MBA at UNE. 

Paul is, among other things, a former head of the Australian Defence Department. He had had a busy week campaigning on immigration issues, along with the need for an inquiry into the reasons why Australia entered the Iraq War. This SBS story on the call for an inquiry by Ron Sutton includes comments from Paul. He and others including former Defence Chief General Peter Gration have been calling for some time for decisions about Australian involvement in conflicts to be subject to the consent of Parliament. The call for an inquiry into the Iraq War is linked to this campaign.

I mentioned that Richard was challenging Tony Windsor for the New England seat. I have written before about the New England independents who for a time threatened to destroy the once dominant hold that the National Party held across Northern New South Wales outside the Labor dominated Lower Hunter. The decision by Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to back the Gillard Government and that Government's  subsequent problems polarised local opinion; one result was a resurgent National Party; a second was the decision by Richard Torbay to join the National Party and seek preselection for New England. Richard was quite up front about his motives: the independents were on the nose because of their decision to support the Gillard Government; if he wanted to do things nationally, the Nationals were the logical choice.

For his part, Tony Windsor is not backing down from his choices. In all the talk about the problems of minority Government, it is easy to forget that Tony has been absolutely straight in his position, providing the Government with consistent but not uncritical support. Labor's problems have been of its own making to the point that Tony has in fact been the most stable figure of all!

Tony is not going out without a fight. The day of the dinner in a debate on the Coalition's 64th attempt to suspend standing orders he rained on Opposition Leader Abbott's party in no uncertain fashion. Watch this ABC 24 video and you will see what I mean.

At one level, I can't help taking a very malicious pleasure in all this. As someone committed to the New England dream who writes a lot about New England issues, as someone who focuses on the complexity of Australian life with a particular regional focus, I found that my writing created a degree of amusement. I was dismissed as a quaint irrelevancy in the public conversation. Then when New England issues moved back towards that centre stage position they had once occupied, suddenly the chattering classes of which I am a member struggled to understand and interpret. Yet while I do take a malicious pleasure. I am also saddened.

In the words that follow you have to remember that, despite its size and population, Australia is made up of a series of very small gold fish bowls.  The fish in those bowls know each other. Sometimes when one bowl or a combination of related bowls achieve dominance, an apparent national or state pattern is created. Yet the individual bowls are still there. When you drop down to that level, everything is personal.

Chatting to those at the dinner who had come down from Armidale I was saddened by the nature of the personal divides. When speaking about people, I don't want to use names, just initials. Obviously anybody who knows the area or is prepared to dig will find out who I am talking about. It's not that I'm saying anything bad, just that I am providing some small veil of privacy.

RL, a National Party stalwart whose husband beat me in preselection and became member for Armidale, was distressed by the divides. "JB has resigned from the Party", she said. "The strong independents also won't support the switch. But it's the best thing to do."

RL was clearly very uncomfortable, for she has been campaigning against Richard for a long time. So far as JB is concerned, she was a Young Country Party (the previous name for the Nationals) organiser. I recruited her husband to the Country Party when she I was campaigning for preselection for Eden Monaro, and then introduced them. After marriage, they went to Tamworth and then to Armidale.P1000315 Later, husband PB put up his hand to run against Richard even though he knew that his chances of winning were small. I became involved in the campaign in a small way. By then, PB was involved in campaigning for a particular regional development initiative and had recruited me!  

On the other side of the fence, I know of one strong independent Torbay supporter whose dislike of the National Party is such that he is planning to vote Labor or almost anything to avoid voting for Richard. The public opinion polls suggest at this point that Richard will win by a huge margin. For my part, I set out my position in April in  Why I support Tony Windsor. This holds even though I know that Richard has been an outstanding local member.  

Returning to the dinner, Deputy Chancellor Scott Williams introduced the VC. If you go back to Aymever Days - a Xmas shot, you will get an earlier picture of Scott. He hasn't changed all that much! Richard Torbay is front left checking his notes.

The VC's session was organised as a conversation between he and alumnus Peter Wilkinson. Peter spent thirty years in TV before setting up his own PR firm in 2002. This was a good idea, but got a little side-tracked by yours truly. Listening to Jim Barber speak, I started to get very cranky. Then when Peter said that this was a conversation, people were free to ask questions at any point, I leapt to my feet. From this point, the conversation became a series of questions.

Why was I cranky? Let me eP10003212xplain.

UNE alumni have been a patient lot. Looking around the room, I had already noticed that the majority of those present came from what Mathew Jordan in his history of the University (A sprit of true learning) called the golden age. This was the period before the troubles that almost forced the University's closure through a combination of erratic government policy and bad management. We, the alumni, have stuck with UNE regardless.

The relationship between alumni and their school or university is a complicated one. Affections are formed through attendance.  But the qualification awarded is also part of the alumni's CV. If, as in the UNE case, the University stuffs up, then it hurts at both a personal and professional level. And UNE alumni have seen their beloved institution almost destroyed by what we might call university and policy games. Yes, UNE has come back, but the damage is still there. It hurts me especially because of my family connections with the place. 

Now I heard Jim Barber start by talking about the university as a business, abouP1000324t the on-line revolution, about the need to deliver a low cost product. UNE, he seemed to be saying, had to survive by delivering a mass, cheap, on-line product. There was not a single word in the first five minutes of business/CEO speak that explained to me why I should continue to support UNE.

From my question, the flood gates opened. It wasn't harsh questioning. It was persistent questioning. Under that questioning, VC Barber gradually gave us reasons for encouragement.

UNE was not going to become, as it first seemed, a low cost provider of mass on-line education. In fact, UNE had chosen to stay smallish. UNE was not going to become just an on-line institution, something that worried many alumni. In fact, UNE was going to use revenue from on-line delivery to cross-subsidise the redevelopment of the University's unique residential model.

And yet, all this had to be dragged out through questioning. Even then, there was no real recognition of the University's history, of what in management speak might be called its unique selling points.

I know that Professor Barber is a genuine advocate of the values of on-line learning, of the values of mixed modes, but in all this he has lost sight of the need to inspire. Jim, your alumni need to know why they should stay committed, what they have to promote. We can sell. but we have to know what we are selling. 

P1000328 As the evening wore on and the wine kicked in, we all began to relax.

I have written a fair bit about the UNE story. I suppose that I still feel frustrated at my inability to bring it alive. It really is a unique story that  has so far been poorly captured.

it's not really a question of history. although that's important. It's more the question of a texture of life, Of course, part of that is purely personal. It's my story. But it's also the story of  all those who went through the place over so may years. 

Maybe a novel is the answer to capture just one slice, my own, of UNE life. We shall see.


For Winton and other alumni who want more information on UNE''s plans, here is the last annual report, here is the current strategic plan

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The future of e-publishing with a dash of Facebook

Tonight was the last night of my e-publishing course run by David Henley for UTS. I will miss the course because of the way it generated new ideas. Tonight was a blue sky session looking at the future, while also summarising areas previously covered.

I don't know about you, but sometimes I struggle to articulate comments or questions in simple ways. This seems to happen most frequently in two circumstances: where I actually know a lot, but don't know how much audience knowledge to assume; or, alternatively, where I know very little but have the glimpse of an idea, but don't know how to express it properly.

Thinking about my fumbling attempts, I decided to use this post to express three questions.

To begin with, what is the future of the e-reader? Today we have a number of readers broadly relying on two standards, both limited. In asking my question, my underlying feeling was that dedicated e-readers actually  had a limited future, that consumers would demand content that could be delivered regardless of device.

My second question related to the future of e-publishing itself. Did it have one? Very precisely, in a world in which content was increasingly sliced and diced to meet specific requirements, wouldn't everything outside transaction related services become e-publishing? In a way, this is just another version of the old convergence argument.

My third question focused on the independent publisher. The first effect of e-books and e-publishing was greatly widened choice for writers or content creators. However, as the big end of town moves in, as network economics and economies of scale set in, will choice actually narrow and even vanish in key areas? 

Now that I have actually defined those questions, a few comments on demographic trends. As so often happens with me, during the course I have been studying people on public transport to see just what they did. I have then asked people questions and looked at other sources of information. Not very scientific, but enough to indicate a few clues to user demographics.

To begin with, e-reader users are generally older (often a lot older) people who already read books. This is the dominant e-reader demographic.

Younger users are more likely to use mobiles or iPhones. And what do they look at? According to my eldest daughter, they browse shopping sites! That's probably not far out, although I have seen a few looking at Facebook. And speaking of Facebook, it's just so 2010!

Why do I say this? I have ten Facebook friends under thirty who, between them, have something over 5,000 friends. I may not have access to those friends' Facebook pages, but I do see the general interaction between the them and the ten on my list. I also belong to a small number of Facebook groups and have liked a number of pages from which I get posts. I joined Facebook in September 2007, so have been watching patterns for coming up on five years. Now without being too precise, let me tell you the patterns that I have observed:

  1. The heaviest Facebook users are now older and also write in other fora including blogs and twitter.
  2. The use of Facebook as a very regular communications device among friends has declined, at least so far as the younger age cohorts are declined. I am not privy to the private person to person messages, but the pattern seems clear. People check in to see what others are doing, they still use it to organise certain things including parties. But they don't use it to communicate in the way they used too, in part I suspect because it is now not private enough where large numbers of friends are involved.
  3. The role of open pages or groups has increased.

Not sure what final conclusion I draw from all this, it's part of a natural pattern of change. Still, it's interesting.


In a comment, Legal Eagle wrote:

I can't believe that some people have 5000 "friends"! Those can't be real friends! And as I've noted here, it's difficult to let people drift off gracefully with FB.

I think that's one of the issues about FB - all your friends are in one monolithic bloc (as I've noted in the intro to this post.

I agree with you that there has been a decline in FB use. Part of that is because of the addictive nature of it. Also I agree that the main FB users (such as myself) are older, and write in blogs and twitter. I am also a user of an e-reader...but then I'm an older book reader who wanted to curb the number of books spilling out on to the loungeroom floor. I don't know that I've seen my students with any kind of e-reader.

The two posts LE cites above are worth reading. As it happened, on today's train I saw two twenty something with e-readers. But I reckon the broader point is still true.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Four reasons why policy towards Australia's indigenous peoples is condemned to continuing failure

This post is a brief follow up to one element in Big Birds, regional politics and the futility of "Freedom Wars".

Over the last few years, I have written a lot on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life, history and policy, 108 posts on this blog alone. Drawing together one thread in that writing, here without supporting argument are the four key failures that explain why policy towards Australia's indigenous peoples has failed and will largely continue to fail.
  1. Failure to distinguish between an Aboriginal specific problem and a general problem that affects Aboriginal people.
  2. Failure to recognise variation across space among our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  3. Failure to recognise variation in time - past, present and likely future - among our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  4. Failure to recognise that past policy failures are a key cause of future policy failures to the point that Australia's indigenous peoples would have been better off had Governments at all levels and at all times done nothing at all.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Big Birds, regional politics and the futility of "Freedom Wars"

A rather random meander today across things that attracted my interest over the last week or so, starting with a big bird. 

This photo comes from Bob Gosford's Bird of the week: the Indonesian Air Force Sukhoi SU-30 Flankers.

Exercise Pitch Black 12 (PB12) began on 27 July 2012 and will continue until 17 August. Held in the Northern Territory, this is the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF’s) largest and most complex air exercise. International participants will include the United States Marine Corps, the Republic of Singapore Air Force, Royal Thai Air Force, and Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Indonesian Air Force.

Bob notes the significance of Indonesia's participation, the first time Indonesia has let it's big birds into foreign airspace. He also points to the military significance of the Russian made Sukhoi aircraft in the region, something that had escaped me.

Staying with the Northern Territory, the election campaign there is now underway. It hasn't had a lot of coverage here in the deep south, in part because it's a long way away, in part because of lack of knowledge. The NT is just very different from the dominant  mindsets and experience of those in the south. It is almost 4,000k by road from Darwin to Sydney, over 4,000 from Melbourne. Just to put this in perspective for my international viewers, if you were to drive from London to Moscow, you would be well on your way back before you reached the same road distance!

Over on The Poll Bludger, William Bowe's Northern Territory election: August 25 provides a useful summary. By far the best coverage, far better than you will find in the main stream media, is provided by Ken Parish on Club Troppo. Now all this provides a segue into two apparently completely unrelated directions.

This photo shows the Parramatta (Sydney) CBD. This is actually where I am working at the moment, spending up to three hours each day travelling from the depths of Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. To those in Sydney's east, this is strange, bogan, country. Never the twain shall meet!     parraI first wrote about the challenges facing Western Sydney in consultancy reports back in 1991. Then, WSROC, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, was campaigning hard for coordinated development approaches for Western Sydney. These included a new airport, new development approaches, action to address jobs and improve communications.

Track forward twenty-one years. Now my friend and former work colleague, Alison McLaren as WSROC president,  is campaigning on just the same issues. Here WSROC has just released a report calling, among other things, for a Western Sydney Regional Development Authority to oversee and co-ordinate the regeneration and promotion of the region into the nation’s leading economic powerhouse.

Now the interesting irony, and I think that is is an irony, is that many of the arguments that I use in regard to New England are just those that Alison uses in regard to Western Sydney. Both areas are neglected and need to respond in the same way. Putting this in another way that links more directly to my NT starting point, so long as public policy in this country deals just with universals that fail to recognise diversity, then policy will fail.

Alison and I do not share the same political persuasions. She has been a doughty fighter for the ALP. Yet I do wonder why the ALP has not drafted her for political service despite the factional divides that bedevil that party. Alison is withdrawing from her council and community roles after long service to pursue other interests. I think that's a huge loss. If the ALP were to persuade Alison to run in a half-way decent seat, then she would have my total and active support despite party differences. We just need people like her.

I said that that Ken Parish's post was a segue into two apparently disconnected segues. I now want to bring in the second. Again there is a link to Alison, for in our different ways we are both fighting for Aboriginal advancement.

In the Northern Territory, a number of the electorates are majority Aboriginal. Problems of Territory Aborigines in particular and "remote" or "very remote" Aboriginal communities in general drive the debate about Aboriginal policy in ways that I have tried to counter.  Now in Freedom Wars, Opposition leader Tony Abbott  has bought into the question of freedom of speech using the unlikely figure of Andrew Bolt as one example. 

I find myself in a funny position here. The common perception of what are called Australia's culture wars is that they derived from US ideas that were then picked up and promulgated by the Australian right. In fact, as best I can work out the term was first used by the left as a ways of typecasting, discrediting, the purely homegrown views of those who had the temerity to challenge certain nostrums that had become built into official policy and were expressed especially by those from what we might call the soft left, the so called "progressives".

Now you might think that this would make me sympathetic to a call to join the "freedom wars", and I am sympathetic to some of Mr Abbott's points, but the time for this type of warfare has passed. It is just so 1990s or even 1970s. In introducing Mr Bolt, Mr Abbott is actually distracting from real consideration of highly sensitive issues that need to be examined objectively. I won't give the links now to my own writing; that would distract.

But if you want to get some understanding of the complexities associated with the definition of Aboriginality, have a look at at the transcript of this recent SBS Insight Program, Aboriginal or Not. I do not doubt Mr Abbott's sincere interest in Aboriginal issues, although he suffers from the pervading "remote" and "very remote" blindness. But it just doesn't help to take Mr Bolt as an example to support the idea that we have entered the era of the "Freedom Wars".

Some of the responses to the Bolt matter did display that instinctive "progressive" blindness to any form of challenge. It is very easy to suggest that someone is being racist when you disagree with their views. But there were far more from left and right who were prepared to address the questions raised in an objective fashion. That is where the debate should rest.   

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Robert Hughes reaches that Fatal Shore

Australian writer and art critic Robert Hughes (obituary here) died in New York on 6 August 2012. He was 74.

I didn’t read Robert Hughes’ 1987 best seller The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia's founding properly. Perhaps I should have. To me, his natural acerbic style had tipped over into a bitterness and even weariness in which the prejudices formed during his period at school and as a member of the Sydney push had reached a natural flowering. Perhaps that was unfair. I thought that his 1981 production, the Shock of the New, had been magnificent. Compare the tone there with his 1997 television series American Visions. I still enjoyed it, but I now found that Hughes’s prejudices were standing in the way. In any event, I put The Fatal Shore Aside in the bookshop and have not returned to it since.

I first read Robert Hughes during what I now think of as my Australian art phase, that period in my life when Australian art and the interaction between it, history and culture had become a fascination. I had read Bernard Smith and found him good because his work provided a coherent structure that fitted my own knowledge, experiences and no doubt prejudices as well.

Robert Hughes’ The Art of Australia (1966) challenged that structure. Whereas Smith reviewed Australian art and found it to be good, Hughes saw it as derivative, secondary, a minor by-blow in global terms. Hughes wrote brilliantly, the 28 year old enfant terrible challenging the old master; Smith was already fifty. While at the end I still preferred Smith, I did enjoy Hughes and his visual mastery; his ability to use words to bring a visual medium alive was quite remarkable. I also liked the way he set an international context even if I did not agree with his dismissal of the local.

There was must have been something in the Sydney water at the time, for Hughes was one of a number that would go on to achieve international fame. Clive James was another, Germaine Greer a third. I also suspect that Hughes’s time at St Ignatius played a part, for that school’s Jesuit tradition provided a framework for a boy who was brilliant but different, who might well not have fitted in at another more pedestrian place.

St Ignatius had another influence as well, one often seen among those leaving the all male strongly boarding environment for the freedom of university. He discovered women and promptly failed first year!

In all, Robert Hughes was a quite remarkable man, if also a very complex one.


Heartfelt tribute to Robert Hughes from Malcolm Turnbull

Saturday, August 11, 2012

kvd's chair

This is not a real post, just a note.

Last Monday in An outbreak of gardening at Astrolabe Road I reported on my plans to develop my garden here. In response, kvd wrote:

I do enjoy Ramana's comments! He lends some sort of philosophical credence to my own view on things - and I'm always grateful for that.

I see weeds, and grass, and a chair.

Now bearing in mind that my own experience (philosophy?) tells me that there is no job too small that it couldn't benefit from a supervisor, I hereby volunteer to observe your efforts.

(But only if you supply the beer)P1000311


I hesitated about responding because I have done so little. But, hey, this is a chat among friends and I did promise to report on progress.

This is the same bed with the first plants in. I am calling the chair kvd's chair. I imagine kvd in it, drinking beer and observing on life.

As I report on progress, I will carry the chair around with me, That way kvd will be there in sprit as supervisor, if not actually present. Mind you, I will have to drink his share of the beer. Still, that's a hardship that I can live with!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Blaxland Flat's girl and the remarkable contribution of Isabel McBryde

Yesterday's main post Belshaw’s World – New England’s Blaxland’s Farchaeological survey, Mick Moore Jim Belshawlat girl dies just eight hundred years ago, appeared on the New England blog but with a Wednesday date. While I finished it Thursday, as a renewed Belshaw World post I wanted it on the right day and that's a Wednesday.

It's not a long post, but took some time to research. I also wanted to tell it as a short, simple, story that might bring an aspect of the Australian past alive to a remote audience.

As I wrote, I thought again as I have done so many times before just what a remarkable woman Isabel McBryde is.

This photo is not of the dig on the Blaxland's Flat burial, but of just one of the survey missions I went on. I am on the right.

One of the distinctive things that Isabel did was to involved local communities and their historical societies in her work. This was time consuming work, but just so important.

Time consuming because her growing network of informants across New England expected responses. Important not just because of what she learned, but because she was educating key individuals and indeed entire communities in the importance of recognising and preserving Australia's Aboriginal heritage.

I became involved as one of her students because it was fun; fun camping; fun driving round across the bush in land rovers; just fun. It was many years before I realised just how important Isabel was at a local and regional level and beyond in changing attitudes, in the real nuts and bolts stuff of Australian heritage.

After Isabel left Armidale she went on to something of a stellar career in Australian prehistory, making many contributions. Yet I think that it is her regional legacy, her early work, that marks her greatest advance.

No one before or since has provided such a coordinated focus on the exploration of Aboriginal life in a single area. Much more has been written on, say, the Sydney Basin because it has such a development focus and most Australian archaeology now is linked to studies in advance of development.  But the detailed regional studies of Australian prehistory, the studies that go to build a national picture, have vanished. In a way, Isabel was both the first and the last of her type.

I have written before about the sheer productivity of her Armidale period.

She arrived in Armidale in 1960. Four years after her arrival came the first thesis, Sharon Sullivan's 1964 honours study on the material culture of the Aborigines of the Richmond and Tweed Rivers. By 1978, UNE students had written at least 22 theses on the Aborigines, 4 Litt.B's, 16 BA honours and 2 MAs. Isabel herself was awarded her PhD in 1967, laying the basis for a 1974 book, Aboriginal prehistory in New England. This was followed in 1978 by book of essays, Records of Time Past: ethnohistorical essays on the culture and ecology of the New England tribes mainly written by her former students. This included an article of mine, Population distribution and the pattern of seasonal movement in Northern NSW, drawn from my original work. The story does not end there, for there were also journal articles and monographs, including her pioneering study with R A Binns, A petrological analysis of ground-edge artefacts from northern New South Wales.

The citation for her award in 2003 of the Rhys Jones Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Archaeology justly summarised her work this way:

Her work in New England was remarkable for its extent and depth, and Isabel's examination of the interface of archaeology and ethnography in the region shaped not only the approach taken by many later researchers but also prepared the basis for the arguments about upland regions created by archaeologists such as Sandra Bowdler and Luke Godwin.

In our current academic world, there is little space for a woman such as Isabel. More precisely, there is little space for someone who wants to do the very detailed on-ground research, to promote such research, independent of the usual canons of current measurement. You have to go where the criteria for research funding takes you.

I was thinking just how I might explain this. Then I thought of Lismore's Leith Martin. Independent of any of the existing institutions, Leith did just so much of the basic survey work for Isabel on the Northern Rivers. I don't think that he was paid for this, I may be wrong. To my knowledge, he just did because he was involved. He enjoyed it and thought that it was important. In doing so, he benefited not just Australian prehistory, but many thousands of Aboriginal people.

It's late, and I must go to bed. But if you don't see what I mean, go back to Belshaw’s World – New England’s Blaxland’s Flat girl dies just eight hundred years ago. I never met her. I do not know who she was. But she is real to me. I can see her in that narrow valley with her family. I can imagine the sorrow of her death. I can imagine her family carefully wrapping her in bark, mourning a loss that that they don't really understand.

That's not a bad result.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Noddy ventures into e-publishing

I didn't make the e-publishing course last week. I was sick. However, I thought that I should continue my series to try to consolidate my thoughts. This will not be an exciting post and there will be errors. Further, I will be guilty of gross simplification. But I know that a few of my readers are interested.

We start with what might be called e-book stores. Examples include Amazon with kindle as a reader, Apple with iBooks, Kobo or Barnes & Noble with nook. There are Australian examples, but I will give them in a later post.

Now the next thing to remember is that you have to get your wonderful content into a form suitable for e-publication. Here there are two software standards, epub while Amazon has its own. The rules set by those software systems as well as the limitations of the various platforms on which people read have significant implications for the way you set out your work. You need to follow rules that can be quite constraining.

Putting that aside, how do you get your work into an e-store? You have two choices.

First, you can self-publish. Here you face two tasks beyond the simple act of preparing the original content. First, you have to get your content into the right form. This means translating the content with its imbedded software into the form required by the store. Secondly, you have to negotiate arrangements with the e-store. Both involve many tedious elements, but are not impossible.

Secondly, you can go to what is called an aggregator, the internet equivalent of a publisher.Examples include bookbaby, smashwords or in Australia Australian e-book publisher. The aggregator will assist you to put your content into the right form and arrange for its lodgment with the e-store.  Obviously you pay a price for this, but it makes things simpler and may increase the gross return.

This short description obviously conceals many complexities, and lord knows I'm not an expert. Still, it's a start. Any questions?  


Neil Whitfield sent me the following link - MONOPOLISH. Worth a read.

Monday, August 06, 2012

An outbreak of gardening at Astrolabe Road

To start this post with a photo. Just a photoP1000306

Regular readers of this blog will know of my sometimes sporadic but consistent interest in gardening. When I moved into my new house, one of the reasons for its selection lay in the fact that it had space for gardening. Almost two months later, I realised I had yet to begin. Sunday morning was a nice day. Inspired by a sudden fit of madness, I went and bought seedlings, some dynamic lifter and mulch.

Madness? Consider these photos. The first is the main vegetable bed. Note the unweeded state!  All that has to be weeded before I can plant. P1000308

Now the difficulty with the main bed is that it's actually in shade for much of the day. Not good, especially in winter. So I looked at the alternative in the following photo.P1000309

Not a big bed, But lovely and sunny isn't it? The problem is that that's grass. It's not a question of just weeding and fertilising, but actually hard digging. Sigh!

What is not shown in the photo is the beer by the chair. Looking at it all, I got myself a beer and sat down to contemplate all the reasons why I might not do anything. Wearily, I got the garden fork out and started digging. Then the bloody fork broke, twisted out of shape. Cursing, I got out the hand fork and continued. Two hours later, I had the first seedlings in.

I am too ashamed to show you the results. Really quite piddling. But I do promise to show you some after photos when I have some decent results to show!       

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Saturday Morning Meander - far too introspective?

Another Saturday morning meander. I just don't feel like writing a thought piece!

Here in Australia, there has been growing angst at the country's failure to attract more Olympic medals. Being beaten in the medal tally by New Zealand (Kiwi medal surge leaves Australia languishing) rubs salt into the wounds. Tsk. I am very happy to take my Kiwi half and cheer NZ on! I think that it was Trevor Cook who commented that Australians were behaving like bad parents at a school sporting event. There is some truth in that, although I think that most Australians are just enjoying the spectacle.

As I watched the early coverage with its focus on Team GB, I wondered idly just what all this might do to the Scottish National Party drive for independence for Scotland. In an earlier train reading inspired series (Train Reading - Norman Davies The Isles: a history 1) I discussed the idea of being British. The Games have restated the idea of Britain as opposed to the separate nations that make up the Isles. I find the evolving story of Britain interesting, for here you have a country (Britain) made up of nations seeking a balance between the two.

The PNG elections were interesting. In Stories of the New England diaspora 1 - introduction I referred to the attempts by Sir Kina Bona KBE to enter the PNG parliament. He appears to have been unsuccessful. That was just a local, parochial, interest on my part. More broadly, in DFAT misses an opportunity in PNG, Danielle Cave looks at the troubled relationship between Australia and PNG. The post begins:

The PNG-Australia relationship has had a pretty rough year. Comparisons can be made with the fragility of our relationship with Indonesia – seemingly small issues can trigger a large backlash. Despite the breadth and depth of the relationship and our shared history, there is a new tension in the air that I'm not sure has been there before.

I have written before about Australia's neglect of its neighbours, including PNG and Indonesia. It's not so much an official problem as a media one. There is just very little consistent decent reporting in this country on our neighbours. I read the Australian media, print as well as on-line, quite intensively. If I were to rely on Australian media reports, I would have no real idea as to what is happening in our block. I think that's a rather major failure.

Danielle's post refers to the influence of the social media in PNG in forming views about Australia. I found that interesting.

Will Owen's unDisclosed: the Triennial returns refers to a new exhibition on Aboriginal art at Australia's National Gallery that I had missed. I really like Aboriginal art. The difficulty I have, and it was one that that I referred to in conversation with an Aboriginal colleague a week back, is that the constant focus in discussions on Aboriginal history and life about the evils of the past creates a barrier to a real understanding of both Aboriginal people themselves and their contribution to Australian culture and life.

I have tried to respond by localising, by focusing on the Aborigines as people in a context. There is a demand for real information. I find it interesting that Report of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board, year ended 30 June 1940 is the highest visited page on this blog. With 5,107 page views, it is over 800 page views in front of the next highest visited post.

As a blogging independent, I cannot provide universal coverage at real depth. What I can hope to do, and perhaps this is not a bad thing given my personal limitations, is simply chip away. In a comment on the New England New State Movement Facebook page,  I wrote:

Thanks, Paul. It's interesting. We have both had our failures. But one of the things about having experienced dreams, visions if you like, that have been at least partial successes is that we know what is possible. However, dreams have to be refreshed, constantly restated, if we are to share them with other, if we are to move forward. It's hard. We just have to try, to drive!

I was writing this in a particular context, one triggered by UNE, its future and that of its colleges. That was my local concern. But, more broadly, the statement remains true.

This meander has taken me in a different direction from my that I had intended. I guess that reflects my current personal concerns. So I will finish with a comment that I have made before.

To my blogging colleagues and commenters, keep going. You challenge me. You keep me constantly refreshed. I may disagree with you, but without you my dreams, the evolving ideas that are central to my life, would be so much poorer. You are a remarkable lot!    

Friday, August 03, 2012

Top posts on Personal Reflections

Sadly but probably inevitably, there has been a noticeable drop on traffic on this blog since the start of the Olympics! Looking at the stats made me notice the huge difference in page views between the top and bottom posts on this blog.

Just for the hell of it, out of the last three hundred posts, here are the ones that exceeded 300 page views:

Not sure what I make of all that. Some were clearly topical, others less so.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Bring on the NBN - and now!

Sorry for the gripe, but dear it's frustrating. In the new house I am on Optus DSL broadband with a claimed high bandwidth. It's just not true! Even radio streaming breaks up from time to time, and I cannot listen/view video material.

I really don't care what Messrs Turnbull and Abbott say. If I were in Armidale I would have access to decent NBN broadband, if at a price. Here the only solution appears to be to pay for a pay tv connection, that will get cable into the place if at a significant price, and then add phone/internet.



Comment from Gordon Smith:

Being a rural type I'm constrained to using Telstra NextG for my household internet connection (and it can be as congested as anything else).

A couple of people that work with me have 100/40 Mbit/s NBN connections and, using, record nearly 100 MBit/s downstream.

One of them consumed his entire month's *terabyte* download quota in six days.

As a matter of curiosity, I ran a SpeedTest check on this connection - officially 100mbps. It recorded 7 mbps download, 0.69 mbps upload! 

That mysterious punter's club

I noticed reports on this story a little while ago and had been meaning to share it. It reminds me of an earlier group of Australian punters, as well as a key plot line from two of dick Francis’s novels.
I will quote just the first paragraph form the SMR report:

“The head of a secretive "Punters Club" which uses sophisticated software to make thousands of calculated online bets across the globe each day, allegedly made more than $36 million over three years from the venture but did not declare a single cent of it to the Australian Taxation Office, court documents reveal.”
The standard of maths teaching at the University of Tasmania is obviously impressive!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Friedman, freedom and paternalism

Milton Friedman turned 100 yesterday. Over on Skepticslawyers, Lorenzo's Friedman centenary commemorates the birthday with links to some other reviews. On Freedom and Flourishing, Winton Bates's What did Milton Friedman have to say about human flourishing? looks at Friedman's views on freedom. Another affectionate personal blogging view is provided in Remembering Milton Friedman on His 100th Birthday.

Professor Friedman exercised a considerable personal influence on my thinking when I was working in the Commonwealth Treasury, although my focus then was on his thinking about macro economics. 

One of the issues arising in comments was the question of freedom and paternalism.

David Drummond, the main writer articulating what I call New England populism, made the point in 1926 that all laws affected human freedom. He also warned against what he called the oppression of the minority. If Governments had powers, they would  use them. In democratic systems, this inevitably meant that minority groups were likely to be oppressed by the majority. Drummond was not opposed to Government action per se, far from it. His focus lay in the development of constitutional systems that would better match government to needs, that would control what he saw as the evils of power and oppression.

When I read Drummond's views in the early 1980s as part of my research into his life, they chimed with my own experiences. Among other things, governments and their officials believe that they are right, believe that the will of government should be observed and are inclined to exercise coercive power to achieve their ends even if that power is in fact being misapplied.

Thinking about the comments on Winton's piece in the light of my own views, I decided that I wanted to make a simple point in this post.

The provision of assistance to a group such as the unemployed or single parents on social grounds does not breech freedom except in the very broad sense that those payments limit someone else's freedom to spend their own money. Nor is that provision paternalistic because the state is not acting as parent, is not telling people what to do. Peoples' freedom is unaffected except to the extent that those receiving the assistance have choices that they would not otherwise have.

Things change, however, when behavioural rules are attached to the support. Requiring unemployed people to look for work is one class. Since the purpose of unemployment assistance is to provide people with a safety net until they find a new job, it is perfectly appropriate to require them to look. Whether the exact rules applied are reasonable is a very different question.

Welfare quarantining is a very different issue. Here we move into a new field, for we we have rules applied (we will dictate how you spend your money) that actually have little to do with the original purpose of the assistance. It may be a good thing that people send their children to school. We have laws and processes to bring this about. But this is a different issue from dictating how people should spend their money.

As a matter of general principle, the use of a public policy instrument designed to achieve one thing to achieve a different thing is always suspect. More broadly, when that use is intended to constrain behaviour, to make people conform to socially acceptable norms, then the smell of paternalism is in the air.