Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Fri 16th Jul, 2010

The monkey on ones back

I've just been listening to stories from a friend of mine about his new place of work. Simple things like getting support have to go through other departments and are quietly filed and ignored. New software is anathema. Fixing problems is impossible, because it would admit that the problem existed. People are regularly bullied into doing things that are way outside their job descriptions. No-one knows the passwords to any machines and point the finger at other people in an endless circle. Managers actively suppress any dissent.

But the worse is yet to come. This place uses billions of tax-payers money and its budget continues to expand. Even revealing the name of this organisation or any substantiated claims can be considered treason and is a criminal offence. The money gets used on projects that regularly get cancelled, delayed and changed and often end up costing orders of magnitude more than originally budgeted. Any questioning of the spending is considered unpatriotic. Powerful people with distinguished careers have stood up to this organisation only to find themselves cut off and facing the sharp end of the law.

How does society get rid of this cancer? The theoretical function of this organisation and its actual activities are so different as to almost be antithetical. Yet it seems impossible to actually change it, fix it or remove the harmful elements from it. Surely the only thing to do is to scrap the entire thing and start afresh. Yet that too would be considered heretical or traitorous by some. What can we do?

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Fri 9th Jan, 2009

Rocket fuel to the fire

I am finally moved to ponder on the Israeli invasion into Gaza. Of course, I would like to see an end to the conflict and I think Israel's attack is fairly high-handed. But it seems to me to be an act of sheer lunacy for Hamas militants to fire more rockets into Israel. What's their logic? Do they think that Israel will suddenly be cowed by this display of defiance? That if they try to even up the 10:1 ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths in the conflict that Israel will get cold feet? That Israel will be pressured into withdrawing and then Hamas can try to get some kind of pathetic revenge? That there's far too many virgins in heaven and every Hamas militant should get their fair share? That while everyone is watching Israel a few rockets and civilian deaths will go un-noticed?

Really, it's not only stupid but actually harmful behaviour. It's the kind of moronic eye-for-an-eye retaliation that gives the lie to any claims to be the victim in the conflict. If I were in Israel's position, with a bunch of barely-controlled militant lunatics with delusions of importance and a determination to wipe my nation off the face of the earth whatever the cost, I wouldn't exactly be tippy-toeing and being polite to them in every circumstance either. The sad thing is that Palestine has brought this on itself - Hamas recieves considerable (questionable) funding, it got elected on the basis of spreading this money about, and then Palestinian civilians are getting caught in the cross-fire between their own lunatic fringe government and the hornets nest they decided to stir.

It's the same sad process of politics, really - you vote John Howard in because he said he wasn't going to put in a GST, and then he turns around and says it wasn't a core promise; you vote Hamas in because they said they were going to pay for hospitals and schools and instead they smuggle rockets and arms in and take pot-shots at Israeli civilians. And the world gets stuck with the fall-out.

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Sat 24th Nov, 2007

Im in ur tallyroom, chekin ur votez!

A friend of mine, visiting from Melbourne, and I decided to go to the Tally Room that the Australian Electoral Commission runs at the Budawang pavilion in the Exhibition Park centre in Canberra. Part of the motivation was the talk that they may be closing down the tally room in future; it is a big process to do all the security, the displays are small, manual and hard to read, and all the TV stations now have all the live links and stuff sorted out. The other part was wanting to watch the result, knowing that it might have been a ghastly loss but still too interesting to miss. So we went.

Overall it was really interesting for several highly significant reasons:

It was a great night, but made in part because of such a historic turn of the tide. I cannot help but feel smug that not only has John Howard caused the worst swing against Liberal in many decades, but that he has lost his own seat. To use your own words, John: the people of Australia want change.

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Tue 17th Jul, 2007

The Denialist's Deck of Cards

Starting with the two of clubs ('no problem', which I would call 'what problem') and working up to 'it's bad for business', you can now look at the complete, ordered list of the rhetorical arguments denialists use to squash debate on issues which affect their business. It also includes handy references to actual cases where industry lobby groups have used that particular tactic, just in case you thought no-one would ever be stupid enough, for instance, to try and assert that it was impossibly restrictive to require banks to actually keep their customers' details private.

As tempting as it is to make up some kind of card game using these cards, I feel too heated up about this kind of rhetoric-over-reason approach to dealing with problems to be able to actually use them. I can play a evil mastermind, but not a corporate psychopath.

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Wed 28th Mar, 2007

Misleading Names

There are 'students' wandering around the campus surreptitiously distributing copies of a broadsheet printed by the Citizens Electoral Council denying the existence of global warming and claiming - wait for it - it's a hoax perpetrated by people who want to commit genocide on our world's six billion population. They've also been seen eyeing off bikes and are suspected of stealing some things from other buildings.

It seems to me that this election campaign is getting really ugly. We've had the mud-slinging from the Prime Minister that succeeded only in damaging the reputation of his own party members. Now he's trumpeting the "the unions will win" line. In this age of Dog Whistle Politics, I get extremely suspicious when I see some new phrase come out of John Howard's mouth, as I suspect it's the sort of thing that is designed to leave most of us saying "how would that be possible then?" but send shivers running down the spines of a specific demographic.

Now, out of the blue, we have this little gem from a 'party' who can't work out if they're left or right. They want to repeal all the anti-union legislation that's been passed by the Federal government, but they turn around and claim that global warming is a hoax? Whose side are they on? They're associated with the LaRouche Movement and the Australian League Of Rights, all names which are impossible to judge alignment from. Rights - we should all be in favour of them, right? And a league for people who want them? Makes perfect sense. But instead you'd be rubbing shoulders with Holocaust deniers and Zionist conspiracy theorists, and Lyndon LaRouche himself has been locked up for fraud and tax violations. Sounds like just the organisation to join!

The thing that gets me the most is that the whole chain of wrongness implied in their actions. To get this ludicrous doggerel onto the kitchen table at work here, someone's had to write it up, someone's had to print it, someone's had to get these copies to the people who are wandering around campus now distributing it. All of these people have either been hoodwinked into believing it, or are deliberately conspiring to hoodwink others. And the truth of global warming is once again called into question, and once again scientists everywhere have to fight to make people believe the facts because there's this nonsense out there polluting people's minds. It's worse than a slander campaign.

It's times like this that I really want to emigrate off the planet and into a Star Trek drama. I'll even be a redshirt. There'll still be shadowy organisations trying to control the universe, but at least I'll be flying in a star ship.

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Fri 17th Nov, 2006

Broadband costs too much? Why would that be?

To Senator Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications,

Dear Senator, I was disappointed to read your comments on Mr Murdoch's statement that the price of broadband in Australia is a disgrace. You said in your interview with the ABC that people may not wish to pay the high price for broadband in Australia. This, I feel, rather puts the cart before the horse: you are not addressing the key issue, the fact that Australia's broadband is far more expensive than equivalent offerings in other countries. Even in the cities, where the arguments of distance and scarcity of people do not apply, people in the UK get two megabit per second for prices less than we get one quarter of that speed. The reason for this is quite simple: Telstra are artificially limiting the speeds of connections and are artificially inflating the cost. Graphs such as the one at clearly show that the actual speeds provided by Telstra are far inferior than that available to both their own equipment and to customer equipment (the light blue ADSL area).

I should point out that the other major method of internet connectivity - dial-up modems - not only costs the user more than the standard cheapest broadband offerings, but also deprives the person of a phone line while they are on the internet, thus severing links to the outside world. Thus any claim that people have a 'choice' not to pay for broadband but still receive internet access is a Hobson's choice - no choice at all. And while many people that don't have access to the internet at home do have it at work, often the use of internet at home is for activities which are not appropriate at work - looking for jobs or partners, for example. So for many of these people who cannot afford the high prices of broadband, there is no access to the internet at all.

The key point that Mr Murdoch is making, and one you are ignoring, is that the artificially high prices of internet access is disadvantaging all Australians. The range of opportunities for self-improvement and community involvement offered by the internet are both well-documented and considerable. An emergent example would be the number of training and self-education videos on everything from exercises with babies to Go playing offered on sites such as YouTube and Google Video. This is currently being denied to some people because of Telstra's artificially high pricing; many more people are on download-limited connections unsuitable to using much of this new content because they cannot afford larger, less restricted services. It is not a question of people 'wanting' these services, as you propose - it is a question of people being denied services that Telstra is charging too much for.

Telstra has been offered several chances to 'get on the band-wagon' and improve its services. It has refused these - the most prominent example being its recent backing out of a deal to provide ADSL2 services because it would 'hurt shareholder value'. Instead, it has embarked on the ludicrous 'Next-G' service, which not only proposes to spend more to provide less bandwidth to fewer people for more money than equivalent wired services, but also ignores the obvious evidence that 3rd Generation mobile phones are not only already available in Australia but fully subscribed - the estimates from Paul Butte(a highly-respected telecommunications industry analyst) put the number of people who need Next-G's services at 200,000 people, but the total base of customers already on 3G services through Hutchison, Optus, Vodafone and 3 already exceeds 500,000 people. It certainly makes a mockery of your statement that people may not want to pay for high-speed services, when Telstra's attempt at a "great leap forward" is to charge more for less.

I look forward to hearing from you when you've decided to get to the twenty-first century, where broadband isn't an expensive luxury but a benefit avaiable everyone.


Paul Wayper

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Fri 9th Jun, 2006

Close Someone Else's School, Not My Children's!

Sorry, Pascal, but I cannot agree that closing schools is absolutely disasterous and must be prevented at all costs. There are preschools out there with five children in them, and student per class numbers generally are lower in the ACT than any other state in Australia. When Belconnen and other areas were rapidly expanding and lots of new families were moving in, having a school in every suburb made perfect sense. Now, with that same demographic moving into outer suburbs, having schools in the inner suburbs is haemmorhaging money.

I live in Cook, which now is an 'old growth' forest suburb: the majority of people in Cook are older people whose children have moved out over ten years ago. Sure, having a school at the end of the street is convenient for the minority of people who live in Cook who have children, but it's economically disasterous. Schools require a level of maintenance and administration that starts at a high level as soon as the school has students. There's several schools that will remain open - two within two kilometres. This isn't "Students won't have anywhere to study," this is, "Students will have to go a bit further to get to school". Hardly sensational stuff.

Sure, I wish the Government had spent more on having schools and facilities where they were needed, so that it didn't have to build a ghastly gaping gash through bushland that some people call the GDE. This road was built to connect people living in Gungahlin with their work in Woden. For Sydneysiders this would be like building a special freeway for people living in Hornsby to get to work in Bankstown. I ask the question, "why aren't they living in Woden?" Or Tuggeranong, which is close to Woden but is as affordable as Gungahlin. Where are the governments that are demanding the money from developers for failing to put in schools, shops, hospitals, workplaces in local communities? Or forcing them to put them in in the first place?

I do have problems with government spending. But making better use of existing resources and stopping a lot of useless expenditure isn't amongst them.

(And yes, I'm aware that technically Route Six in Sydney does allow people to get between Hornsby and Bankstown fairly directly. But it's not a direct, no-traffic-lights, bulldoze-a-big-hole-through- pristine-bushland highway, is it Sydneysiders? And don't you wish it was? :-)

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Wed 17th May, 2006

Dear Attorney-General,

You feel free to criticise Labor for coming 'too little, too late' to support your police-state Sedition laws. And yet your proposed changes to the Copyright act are 'too little, too late' and you want a pat on the back?

At least you've made it to the 20th century - finally allowing people to do the format shifting and time shifting they've been doing on music and TV for decades. This is not anything to be lauded, though - most other parts of the world have had these fair use provisions for that time. And you still have to make it to the 21st century, where watching a show once is not enough and where people have an iPod, a home media centre, a computer and a CD player and don't want to only have one copy of the music they paid for to move around all these locations.

No artist, musician or video producer wants to see their hard work restricted and confined like this. Only the copyright agencies and the big media corporations, who extort the actual rights to a song or a video off the creator with mafia stand-over tactics, want this. Notice how they're the ones telling you that artists 'want' these contracts that take away their rights, and how consumers 'want' to have Digital Restrictions Management placed on the songs and videos they've paid for? Notice how they're also the richest companies with the richest individuals? And how they're also featuring in movies like "Outfoxed" and "The Corporation" for being psychopathic, uncaring money-hungry machines?

And they're the ones who are talking about 'piracy' - ripping off artists from their hard won earnings. If you still believe this, try reading Courtney Love's Salon article on the music industry and you will realise that the 'pirates' 'ripping off' the artists are the media companies themselves. Perhaps for a more visceral understanding of the actual tactics of the record companies in dealing with musicians, you should read Steve Albini's article, which shows that far from 'protecting artists rights', record companies are ripping them off for everything they can get. Now that's piracy.

Most people do not want to share everything they buy with everyone. Most people don't expect to get music or video for free. But in contrast to the procrustean actions of the record companies, who want to screw every cent they can out of whoever can be forced to pay (for instance, the Copyright Agency lobbying for being paid for school's use of the internet, based on its own estimates of how much of that is copyrighted material that they lay claim to), people rebel. The labels are barely touching the professional pirates who are making realistic copies of CDs, DVDs and other media; they're picking on the easy targets - unsophisticated consumers.

So I would like to congratulate you on getting to 1990. When are you going to get to 2006 and give the people what they actually want?

Sent via on 17th May 2006

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Thu 6th Apr, 2006

Parliament finally gone mad

I just read about the "Legislative and Regularly Reform Bill" proposed in the British Parliament. This is being called the "Abolition of Parliament Bill" or the "Doomsday Bill", because it basically means that Ministers can add, amend and delete legislation as they see fit, as long as it passes a few minor requirements (e.g. a new crime can't be punished by more than two years imprisonment - less than that is OK) and, basically, the Minister proposing it says that they think it's a good idea. Very little of the requirements apply to amendments, and the fact that the Bill applies to itself means that they can immediately alter it to suit as soon as it's passed. About the only assurance the British population has that Ministers won't be abolishing speeding fines if they get caught speeding, or punishing calling them names with eighteen months in jail, is that Jim Murphy, the Minister proposing the Bill, says that they reckon they won't do anything wrong.

It's just so freaking wrong in so many ways I'm at a loss to choose which one to rant over. It's so amazingly scary that anyone could even think of proposing this, let alone actually get it into Parliament, that I literally tremble in the core of my being. They're only allowing one hour of debate on it, too - it's being raced through Parliament. They're justifying it in terms of trying to deregulate business, which is not only transparent but is nonsensical - when business is unregulated, it's the people that suffer. The fact that most Ministers are not trained in law and have little idea of how to actually construct a good law, so that it sits neatly with the other laws and doesn't make things more difficult for everyone, is just the icing on the cake.

All I can think of is that there are lobby groups in big business in Britain that are laughing their heads off... And, if it gets passed, the British population won't know what hit them...

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Wed 5th Apr, 2006

Infuriated In Cook

I got a letter back from DEST today from an address known only as ''. I can only assume they think they're being chummy and helpful by calling it 'palsbox' and not 'replies' or 'useless-bureaucrats' or 'corporate-mouthpiece'. Because I certainly can't tell the difference between any one of those from this letter.

It answers none of my questions. It instead starts with a pallid and meaningless platitude about how they're already looking at some kind of strategy for using the internet in education. It's apparently called "Learning in an online 2003-06", which indicates even more bureaucratic mindlessness: not only can't they copy and paste titles correctly, but they don't even get it proofread. It then goes on to try to quote chapter and verse, before finishing abruptly to say that they're working on complying with Copyright Agency Limited's wishes. No signature, no information as to who sent it, no nothing. A stamped date - amazingly enough it's today's. I'm lucky it's a compressed black and white TIFF file, at 87 K, because at 2480x3507 pixels it could have been so much worse.

Part of me can accept that this is a busy ministerial office dealing with hundreds or thousands of letters, emails, faxes and phone calls all asking for individual attention. It's impossible to give them individual attention without spending far more time and money answering all the questions than actually doing something.

But that bit is overwhelmed by the feeling that the response is no response at all; that my question has not only been not responded to correctly but its actual import (that Copyright Agency Limited's request is not valid) has been completely ignored. That the form letter lacks so many hallmarks of a realistic response - signature and attribution, timeliness, layout, relevance - seems to me to indicate that this is not just bad work, it's active nastiness. To go any further along the road of the justifications in the previous paragraph is to invite the ridiculous: "They didn't even have the time to make it look like a personalised letter, or name who wrote it. They're obviously so busy that they weren't able to actually address anything I said at all but instead had to parrot the party line."

So my response is going to be a letter to the Prime Minister's department (which seems more ironic than anything) telling them that I am not happy with the standard of work from Minister Bishop's office. I'll probably try to find a nice way of pulling out the flamethrower, planting it firmly against the coccyx of the respondent, and lighting 'er up with a combination of napalm, nitrous oxide, acetylene and iron filings - a way of responding directly to the letter I received that says I was not happy with their service and to actually try to get a sensible, to-the-point response. There's a temptation to also claim that they've appropriated government stationary, since the complete lack of attribution makes it impossible to prove that the Copyright Agency Limited hasn't written this out holus-bolus.

It would help if I felt that any of this would actually change anything.

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