Happy 180th birthday, Melbourne: Remembering Batmania, the city that never was

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Much to be proud of from my chosen city. If you’ve never experienced Melbourne, you may be surprised by its history. And no, it’s not Gotham.

 

Flinders Street Railway Station

Happy birthday, Melbourne – 180 years old tomorrow! And perhaps, let’s be honest, not entirely sure what anniversary it is you’re celebrating.

Source: Happy 180th birthday, Melbourne: Remembering Batmania, the city that never was

Bye Bye Bronnie

It’s been a fascinating three weeks watching the Bronwyn Bishop farce unfold. And the longer it went, the more – ahem – questionable use of taxpayer funds for pollie perks have emerged. She sure likes helicopters, doesn’t she?

The news came yesterday that Abbott finally acted and gave her the boot, allegedly, – ahem – she resigned. But just from the speaker’s chair. She’s still in Parliament as the Member for Mackeller. She will still have access to those entitlements, only she won’t have it so easy to say she’s going on specific Parliamentary business, which she wasn’t able to back up with paperwork anyway. So in reality, nothing much has changed. Maybe a bit of a cut to her pay packet, but she’s set for life with the rest of her benefits provided by tax-payers.

And to think – this woman was once trotted out as potentially the first female Prime Minister! Think about that for a second.

Glad she’s gone (at least from such a biased seat). Abbott’s next, right? Pleeeeeese!!!

Australian Democracy at a Tipping Point – The AIM Network

If Prime Minister Abbott does cross this Rubicon, so will Australia and God help Australian democracy.

Source: Australian Democracy at a Tipping Point – The AIM Network

This article goes along w/ my latest post about the direction the country is heading. The topic is even more frightening than the gag on contractors. This threatens all of us: the citizens, with the potential for a government minister to take away our right to citizenship – be we born here or brought here or those of us like myself who chose to come here.

When that level of power, based on suspicion, ‘guilty until proven innocent’, is proposed and is spouted proudly by the minister as exactly the point when challenged by the likes of Barnaby Joyce, the descent into fascism is one step farther on the track.

Australian Democracy: Was It Ever?

Ten Reasons Why (Not Now)

We in western countries, at least the English speaking ones, are going through a clash of cultures. Not the ones that are normally thought of, such as religious versus secular or ‘East’ versus ‘West’, but corporate controlled governments versus the good of the citizens. AUdemocracy2The actions of conservative party governments, and some pseudo-liberal governments as well, are signs of this: participating in wars to keep the public on edge; national security excuses to rip away human rights; turning away starving boat people because they could be a threat to ‘jobs'; starving social services of funds to the most vulnerable of our own citizens in favour of subsidies to the wealthy…to name a few.

On an email discussion list, I posted my disgust with a new step toward government control and cover-up regarding off-shore detention centre staff (concentration camps in Nauru and Manus Island paid for in billions of Australian tax dollars to house asylum seekers and refugees) to keep those staff from exposing possible criminal activities in those centres under threat of jail – yes, criminal sanctions against whistleblowers. This is now law in Australia. If you work directly or indirectly for these contracted agencies, you are essentially gagged. Might upset national security, you know. Here’s the article:

Border Force Act: detention secrecy just got worse

As I said, I posted my disgust about this new law on an email list. One of the members there wrote back a summary of the range of things happening here (and elsewhere I believe) that expose how much we, as in all of us, not the special interests and faceless unaccountable corporations, are being led down a path, one step at a time, mostly unaware, and the complicit involvement of the ‘fourth estate’.

I asked Frank O’Connor if I could post his excellent summative reply here and he agreed. He’s also open to discussion for a wider audience, either in the independent press or possibly the criticised main stream media, should they dare. If you are in a position to  reach a wider audience, please get permission from Frank before reposting. Most of these words are his. But do feel free to let others know in your own personal circles.

Here is the exchange –

Me re Border Protection Staff Gag: (email, 28/05/2015)

Secret oaths, zero ethics, zero professionalism. This is tyranny. The DIBP (Dept of Immigration and Border Protection) ignores court orders (see other story today re Christmas Island denying court ordered lawyer access) and now they have perpetual gags on staff regardless of the circumstances. This is cover-up, folks, pure and simple, not different in principle from the child abuse fiasco w/ the Catholic church. Transparency in government is a complete joke under this government.

Let’s say you’re an IT professional or an accounting professional working in one of these departments. You find graft and corruption, say, like the FIFA arrests. What do you do if the department, police, DPP decide to hide it, which they can? Say nothing?

I am incensed by this. This is not the country I signed up for.

Frank re the Larger Problems: (email, 29/05/2015)

Well, yeah but … we’ll be saved by our media – won’t we? The old Fourth Estate, those guardians of the public weal, won’t desert us. Will they?

Maybe not …

1. In the press (both Fairfax and News Ltd) I see articles on a daily basis from the Fourth Estate, and/or retired politicians and bodies like the IPA condemning us … for condemning politicians, government and our betters on and in various Net forums – and lambasting us for not engaging with those who oppose us politically on a more ‘civilised and constructive’ basis.

2. We are also condemned for having the attention span of budgies on Speed with respect to politics, and told that our source for political information (presumably the media Commentariat) is what we should be listening to rather than the ‘noise’ of the Internet.

And let’s see how weak this attention span actually is at the next election, shall we?

3. The media got really excited recently about the data retention and snooping legislation ONLY when the provisions affected THEIR ability to report and engage with whistleblowers, and THEIR liability for prosecution. Prior to that, when the provisions affecting John Citizen were being implemented, largely without serious debate, the media was ‘lock, stock and two smoking barrels’ behind the government’s anti-terrorism measures and supportive of curbing the rights and privileges of Joe and Josephine public in the interests of ‘public safety’.

4. The Australian media seems to pretty much fall in behind EVERY manufactured crisis that this government (and indeed both the Tweedledum-Tweedledee political parties that we’re all so disillusioned with) seem to invent on a daily basis. A lone crazy gunman kills two people in Sydney, and we’re all gonna be KILLED IN OUR BEDS unless we introduce these measures and restrict our rights and privileges, and send a few hundred troops into Iraq, take on a sectarian war, oppose the sect that hasn’t done anything to us (the Iranians and the Shia) and ally with those who have been exporting terror (the Sunnis. Wahhabists, Salafists, Saudis, Qatar and Emirates etc) because they’re ‘our friends’ and the Shia, who haven’t tried exporting the violence, aren’t.

This bit of our laughingly named ‘Foreign Policy’ and ‘War on Terror’ is the one I really find amusing – especially how the Commentariat fall right in behind it. ‘Let’s kill all the people who aren’t doing anything to us, to support those who are.’ Makes perfect sense.

And the other solutions? The bottom is falling out of the government’s revenue … so the solution is to target expenses of the young, the weak, the poor and the sick. To nail education, health and social welfare … but provide handouts the rich and middle class.. Yeah, that’s gonna fix things right up.

5. The media fell in uncritically behind the last Budget, despite the fact that it pretty much included all the ‘unfairness’ of the previous Budget (yes folks – pretty much none of those provisions were rescinded by this Budget), didn’t address any of the economic structural problems (the collapse in revenue, destruction of manufacturing, cyclically low resource prices, ageing of the country, and various Sacred Cow handouts – like negative gearing, superannuation concessions, capital gains concessions and the like – and was largely comprised of handouts (read ‘pork barreling’) for voting segments important to politicians for the next election.

On the upside, the occasional article is now appearing which demonstrates an awareness of the Budget cop-out – but why it passed without comment for a couple of weeks is a ‘mystery’, isn’t it? Are our journalists incompetent … or complicit?

6. Little numbers like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will adversely affect all Australian consumers, taxpayers and the ability of any future governments of this country to actually govern, seem to be passing without comment. They are asking questions in the US (about why intellectual property and copyrights are so central to what is ostensibly just a trade treaty, and who benefits from same, and how IP and copyright is being extended by stealth with same etc etc), but not here in Oz. The American press is doing its job … but the Australian press (and obviously our politicians) don’t seem to give a damn. If everything’s OK for the multinationals and the Big End of Town, it’s OK by our media. (Of course, 70% of Australia’s media is owned by the biggest ‘tax risk’ multinational content provider and media empire in the world … but that has nothing to do with the coverage of little numbers like the TPP. Does it?)

7. The government is allowed to get away with egregious breaches of human rights, UN treaties, environmental obligations, and as Jan has pointed out, the rights and privileges of its own citizens, without comment – or, if there is any comment something that appears on Page 10 or later. The media simply doesn’t give a damn.

8. And those same multinationals and the Big End of Town are the ones who are benefiting. On tax evasion. On provision of services to the government. On provision of product to the government. On handouts, rebates, grants and other dipping at the public pot – for hundreds of billions of dollars.

For example … Pfizer sells billions of dollars worth of drugs to the Australian government, does what it can to get all its products listed on the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme), and pays effectively nothing in tax on its sales – so we’re effectively robbed from both ends of the equation. But there’s no suggestion that we should shut off the funds flow at one end or the other. I mean, that just wouldn’t do … would it. We’re here to be milked for as much as we possibly can be.

9. The Mining Council seeks to shut down conservation groups, and remove their tax exempt status, and this government falls in behind them like a shot. But there’s no suggestion that the Mining Council, the IPA and like bodies which are also very politically active should lose their tax exempt status. And no suggestion in the media that this should happen.

10. Pretty much every policy now proposed by the government and opposition is about the here-and-now. There’s very little investment in our young, our future and the like, and what there is tends to be for ‘user pays’ initiatives. And PR rather than policy seems to be the go. There’s a dishonesty in government funding, especially of funding for initiatives that have blatantly ideological bases (Lomborg, RET, subsidies to polluters, etc). Science, peer reviewed data and studies, and objectivity are out – politics, PR and money rule.

I suppose my point is that politicians will seek to get away with anything they can get away with … and that those who are expected to restrain this base impulse (the Judiciary, an independent Executive, the Fourth Estate, various so-called professions, etc.) have abrogated their responsibility for same, been politicised in their own right to an inordinate extent, and are no longer fulfilling their purpose.

It’s no wonder we are all so disillusioned, cynical and jaded. It’s no wonder we’re turning to alternative information sources and the Internet.

I still hold out some hope … the proportion of us voting for alternatives to the mainstream – Tweedledum and Tweedledee – has risen for 5% or so to 25% in the last election – and I expect to see it increase again in the next election. I’d like to see Gen Y and its successors registering to vote, and becoming the electoral force they should be – hopefully they’re not totally disengaged … but there are signs that the electorate is becoming intolerant of political abuse, corruption and self-interest. That they are rejecting big party politics, pork barreling and the electoral roundabout that is basically getting us nowhere and indeed compromising our general living standards, rights and privileges – whilst reinforcing the position of the few.

Frank O’Connor
francisoconnor3@bigpond.com
(published here with his permission)

“Real Australians say welcome – from Alice Springs to Dandenong” – The Guardian

This article from the Guardian is truly inspiring. It shows how community art can carry a message and get others involved, showing how people feel, even though public policy settings and MSM of some sorts may dominate the narrative far too much.

It started with 1,000 posters, but Peter Drew’s project has inspired thousands of Australians, artists and otherwise, to send their own messages to asylum seekers

Source: Real Australians say welcome – from Alice Springs to Dandenong | Art and design | The Guardian

The “Gone” Series by Michael Grant

I’m stuck into the Gone series by Michael Grant. I sucked down the first two, Gone and Hunger, and am now into Lies — all in a couple weeks, which is quite unlike me. I usually plod through a book at night before going to sleep. The stories are useful to learn how this author does a few things:

– writing horror for a young audience; these are listed as YA because the characters are all 15 and younger, but if I were a 12-14 y.o., I’d be having nightmares. I think I’d prefer more explicit sex to the blood and gore and emotional cruelty that happens in this story. Then again, maybe that is the catharsis that is needed — since much of it is about cruel bullying, and I mean cruel to the extent of outright murder.

– transition a series from book to book; I’ve been thinking about this since I’m writing a series — how do you do this so the reader who doesn’t start at the beginning isn’t at a disadvantage to understand the characters and the dependence on events from earlier books

– a cast of characters — introducing without overwhelming, letting them develop over time, introducing new ones along the way in a closed environment

Anyway, if you are into Stephen King (Under The Dome), Marvel’s Avengers, Animal Farm or Lord Of the Flies, this series is worth a look.

You’re Never Too Old (Or Young) To Learn

I belong to a computer user club for which I often give presentations (as well as organising others to do so). This month, I assigned myself the task to find out what was going on in the online learning world.

I spent many years of my career in alternative education programs, distance learning in all sorts of formats from TV to radio to audio- and video-teleconferencing, mostly pre-Internet, so I was curious to find out what had happened in the last 25 years. Just as I was leaving that role back then, online was emerging. One of my first forays into online teaching was organising a first year college English subject to be delivered to students in Moscow during the Glasnost period. It was just a glimmer of what was to come not long after with the emergence of the World Wide Web.

My research and preparation for the talk last week was an eye-opener. But I shouldn’t have been all that surprised.

Here is the PDF of my talk slides, complete with links. If you’ve wondered what a MOOC* is, you’ll find it here, along with free, fee, formal, informal, a range of countries and levels, in almost any subject you may have wanted to learn about on your own time (mostly) just for the love of learning it.

If you have a favourite or more to promote, feel free to leave a comment.

                                             Link: Learning Stuff Online

*MOOC: Massive Open Online Course

Australian Commonwealth Electoral Seats Margins – 2013

The link below is to a file that shows the electorate margins for all seats in the Federal House of Representatives from the 2013 election. It was saved from the Australian Electoral Commission website. The only manipulation I have done is to sort the chart so that the margins appear from smallest to largest.

This file is saved in .csv format. Feel free to download a copy and sort in any way you wish to answer your own questions.

Link: HouseSeatSummaryDownload-17496

Book Review: The Word Exchange

[also posted on Goodreads]

The Word Exchange – Alena Graedon

I picked this novel up at the library and decided to read it based on the back blurb. I’ve been working on a project about a dystopian story of a world without words, so I wanted to see how someone else handled this topic. The answer: very differently. But still, enjoyable themes. Plus I learned something as a writer from this book that I can apply to my own revisions from this author’s first novel, things I didn’t care for.

There are some really deep layers in this story, from philosophy of language, how important it is to we humans, to the impact of technology, our tools, on our ability to be human. Graedon exposes the risks involved when we don’t think clearly about those risks and what could go wrong.

I enjoyed the characters and dealing with occupations we don’t think about – lexicographers and dictionary publishing. Be honest now. When is the last time, if ever, you thought about who does this work?

The possibility that the really bad things that happen in this fictional world would/could really happen is probably at the low end, but there are already impacts of our technologies that we are experiencing: reduced emphasis on hand-writing, reduced reliance on memory, and poor spelling. These are forms of aphasia – damaged language centres – so maybe she is on to something and we are sleep walking into a major shift in our use of language. We may be communicating worldwide and with more frequency than in the past but are we really doing it well and clearly?

A good effort.

Queensland Election Miracle or Predictable?

[grrrr — had to fix my blog, several hours later, now working again – I hope!]

Last night was amazing! Not only did the Socceroos win the Asian Cup Final, the Queensland ALP came through with a slew of seats, going from 9 to at least 43, dispatching the Newman LNP government after one term.

Many pundits didn’t think this possible. They believed the landline-based polls, taking no notice of the swing in recent by-elections. Bob Ellis called it right recently, well before the last days of the campaign. Many of us hoped against hope this would be the result. But by the looks on the faces of some in the Liberal and LibNat Parties, they were in complete shock.

Tony Abbott is still Prime Minister. But if this is the sort of tide that the public is riding, he won’t be for long if his colleagues have any sense. Me, I hope he stays. It will ensure a one-term federal government, just like in Victoria and now in Queensland.