Gerard Henderson contends today that Malcolm Turnbull has no hope of being Prime Minister after his appearance on Lateline last Wednesday:

Turnbull’s lack of political judgment has blinded him to the fact that his body of support is located outside the joint-party Coalition room in Canberra. Most Liberals and all Nationals parliamentarians who watched Lateline on Wednesday would not have regarded themselves as viewing the performance of a potential prime minister.

There’s something to be said for Henderson: he consistently writes for the insider’s point of view. Henderson’s main contention is that Turnbull stands alone in his view on Climate change, and so he has misjudged the politics of the party that he belongs to, and doesn’t have a hope of regaining leadership.

On December 1, 2009 Turnbull lost the leadership to Abbott by one vote. There is little doubt Turnbull would have survived the year if he had not decided to criticise his senior colleagues. This was widely regarded as poor judgment and mismanagement.

It certainly would be regarded by political hard-heads and those who lust for power at any cost to be poor judgement, but I would suggest that it rather won him many a moderate, centerist voter, myself included. Turnbull stood on principle, and staked his job to it – the result may have been for him to lose it, but it certainly showed him to be a different breed of politician, one rarely seen these days.

The Westminster system is geared towards party lines and groupthink, but occasionally it throws up oddities like our current government, holding on by a slim majority at the mercy of a small band of independents. Each independent truly is so, and their actions have demonstrated as much – they may have agreed to the common cause of the government, but that doesn’t stop each of them having their own agenda. Collectively, that is driving change in Australia (or, well, at least the discussion of it) more strongly than any time in the past 10 years.

Turnbull appeals to many voters who Labor is losing to the Greens – voters who would have once numbered the box for the Australian Democrats, disenfranchised by that party’s collapse as polarisation drove people out of the centre as quickly as the major parties themselves dove for it. Henderson appears to frame it as Abbott’s appeal:

Abbott’s political strength is his ability to appeal to traditional Labor voters in the outer suburbs and regional centres…

Without question, Turnbull’s approach to climate change enjoys considerable support within inner-city electorates, like his own, among well-educated voters in relatively secure financial circumstances. But this stance does not enjoy anything approaching majority support within the Coalition, which is looking to gain votes in the suburbs and regions.

The votes in the suburbs are bought through simple baiting: a tax break here, a government subsidy there, and soon enough the Coalition of “conservatives” resembles nothing so much as a hand-out and patronage machine. Ironic indeed that Labor is cutting hand-outs, where once they stood as proxy for the socialist agenda, while the Coalition argued for fiscal restraint. The heavyweights of the Liberals’ leadership are lightweights on the policy front.

Abbott’s appeal is in opposition, in declaiming the doubts that the government is doing a good job: repeating a thousand pub conversations that once meant nothing, but now appear to define political debate. Abbott does not show why he must be the alternative prime minister; the relentless demonization is to simply bring down the current government in a huff of anger.

Henderson also had a shot at Turnbull’s argument that a conservative British government introduced a cap-and-trade scheme, much as Howard once proposed, by arguing that “we’re not like them… we’re like someone else,”:

Turnbull overlooked the fact that the British economy is quite different to Australia’s. Britain has a large financial services industry, which benefits from trading in energy. Also, Britain does not export coal or iron ore and relies significantly on nuclear energy for power. The Australian economy is closest to Canada’s – where Stephen Harper has just led the Conservative Party to a significant victory with a promise not to proceed with a cap-and-trade scheme until the US does.

This overlooks the fact that we are different again from Canada. Canada too relies on nuclear energy for power – indeed, they are out there as innovators in the field. Canada’s economy is tied to the US in a way stronger even than our own economy is tied to China. And finally, the most cynical view, Canada potentially stands to gain from a marginal increase in temperature, whereas Australia only has reason to fear.

Canada’s northern expanses are vast and unused; warmer temperatures would make more of this accessible, though I can only imagine that is never going to be brought up as a reason to delay in any public or on-the-record discussion. Australia stands to lose – greater droughts, more uncertainty over rain, and destruction of fragile lands at the fringes – the semi-arid areas, the Great Barrier Reef, and the expanses of arable land in the interior turning slowly to salt plains.

I don’t contend for a minute that Australia imposing a carbon price will cause climate change to disappear, but without leaders who at least consider all the aspects of a solution, such as Turnbull has consistently been, we’re not going to be able to influence the outcome at all.

Turnbull might not be able to lead the Liberals and the Coalition as it stands today, but I’d much rather have someone who can think through and hold to a principled stance than an opportunist ready to jump on the latest bandwagon – and that goes for both sides of politics.


Out with the old…

… in with the same old story.

You’ll have to pardon me if I’m somewhat cynical about government, newly elected in a historical landslide, coming in and saying there’s a $4.5 billion dollar “hole” in the budget not revealed by the previous administration, and that means all our policies have to be “reviewed”.

It sounds like the perfect excuse to abuse the broad mandate handed to the incoming government. The spin is already revving up – the “hole” is over forward projections:

In December the half-yearly review of the budget forecast a surplus of $432 million for 2012-13 and $129 million in 2013-14 (see report, page 4).

However, yesterday’s briefings revealed the updated prediction is for a deficit of $405 million in 2012-13, which is forecast to rise to $1.2 billion in 2013-14.

The Treasury briefings show that by 2014-15, the budget will have fallen $2.4 billion into deficit. However, this is beyond the scope of the forward estimates, which only run to 2013-14.

The government reached its $4.5 billion figure by adding up the forecast deficits between 2012-13 and 2014-15.

And further to this is the obsession with a AAA credit rating, for which they say we don’t want to threaten by borrowing. What’s the point of a credit rating if you don’t use that credit?

Labour was full of incompetent fools, but let it not be said that the Coalition is not above petty old politicking.

opinion quickie

Misplaced Obsession

Alan Kohler:

…in Australia, the budget is in a wonderful position – heading back into surplus in a couple of years despite one of the world’s biggest and most successful stimulus programmes during the global recession.

But you wouldn’t know it. Five billion dollars needed in flood recovery spending and … oh dear, we need a levy. Can’t possibly wait a year or two to go back into surplus. What would Tony Abbott say?

Completely straightforward in my mind: the idea of a “flood levy” when Australia has such low levels of government debt is ludicrous and pure politicking about a number that is being held at an artificially precise amount ($3.1bn “predicted” surplus in FY2012-2013).

opinion tech


If you know the FTFF acronym, you’ll know exactly why I’m posting this today.

If you don’t, I suspect this post will be largely irrelevant. Feel free to wander over to somewhere you get some damn posts, like Kottke or Dooce or something.


Apple, please, Fix The Fucking Finder for 10.7. And fixing the Finder doesn’t mean getting rid of it or obfuscating it or rendering it pointless by making everything in OSX work just like iOS.

I’m not saying that as a purist or a ranter. I love my iPad, despite my earlier reservations to the contrary. It’s perfect for those little things – you’ve just thought of a random website you want to check out, so you pick up your iPad, flick the slide-to-unlock, jump online, do your thing, put it down, you’re done. It’s light enough that you don’t even think about it as a fantastic computer as powerful as your desktop was just 10 years ago.

The problem occurs when I want to get anything… serious done. Well, not even serious, just something requiring more than one program to interact with a unit of data that goes beyond a couple of lines of text on the clipboard.  For that, I need to deal with files. Not just files on an arbitrary and abstracted system that may as well be a data-store for specific binary blobs actionable by a particular application, I need honest-to-goodness files I can throw around. Move, copy, rename, edit, export, upload, email, back up. I want to be able to do that without relying on APIs and frameworks and implementations of these to work coherently together.

These two models of interaction can coexist peacefully, even with overlap. But take away the higher-functioning mode, and you’re asking for trouble, or at least people to migrate away from your service.

So when I see things like the Mac OSX App Store and Launchpad, I get worried. One way to look at these things is that it’s just an evolution of things that have gone before, and not just in Apple’s world. The App Store is a package management system with a nice interface and a payment mechanism built in. Launchpad is really just an app launcher, recreating a now-familiar paradigm on the more powerful computers; or it’s just an extension of the stacks/folder pop-overs for the Applications folder (or it’s a graphical update to the App menu from the classic Mac OS days).

What I don’t like is where this might be going. I don’t want to fix the finder by replacing it with a simpler paradigm, or removing the “need” for it. I just want to be able to do things I can take for granted in other OSes, and have it done consistently. I don’t want to get Mac OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion and find that the majority of the interaction is through an abstract system where everything is “managed for you”.

I’m not stupid, and I’m not so distracted that every task must be performed one-app-at-a-time. I want to be editing a photo while music plays and a torrent downloads and a movie converts and a chat is open with my friends while my mail comes in and I see any twitter updates slide into view through Growl. Multi-tasking, it’s why you have OSX in the first place.

The reason we complain and yet still prefer you, Apple, is that you’re still the one for moving this industry. A plethora of MP3 players have died at the iPod scythe, where once Creative led; smartphones now inexorably follow the Apple lead of the iPhone, where once Palm blazed the trail. No-one has come close to matching the slickness of the MacBooks or iMacs.

Mac OSX showed you can have Unix with a usable graphical interface not beaten with the ugly stick. So we need a leader who is able to keep options open, operate with diversity, not just a single focus that a belies a company with a $50 billion balance sheet.

So, Apple: in the next 6 – 9 months leading up to the launch, don’t shy away from new features, like you did with Snow Leopard. This is the king of the savannah we’re talking about here: there better be some features worthy of the label “Lion”. And Fix the Goddammed Finder!


Getting What They Deserved

I’d say I’m not surprised that we ended up with a hung parliament given the disgraceful campaign we just had, but I’d be lying; the truth was I was expecting more would be swayed by Abbott’s message and we would end up with a coalition of dithering in power, but instead we’ve been given a result that could be the start of a shift in Australian politics.

That of course is the emergence of the Greens as a solid force. With 11% of the primary vote, most of it stolen from Labor no doubt, the Greens have shown themselves to be adept at getting a clear message out: this is our policy, and this is why you should vote for us. Sticking to principles is something that the electorate has clearly endorsed here.

Third parties in the Senate have come and gone before – the Democrats after all had 9 senators just a decade ago, and three elections later disappeared off the map. What gives some hope here however is that the Greens have managed to take a seat in the House of Reps, something the Dems never managed to do.

You could argue that the Greens are but a fifth column for Labor, but clearly what happened in this election was that Labor thought they could get away with shifting rightwards to the centre and could rely on Greens preferences from the left they’ve abandoned to get them over the line. In a few key electorates, this hasn’t happened.

Melbourne, obviously, was the big one, and without a conclusive primary vote Labor was screwed. Two of the seats still potentially up in the air, Denison in Tasmania and Lindsay in Western Sydney, don’t have Greens preferences flowing to Labor and the net result may be a loss of these seats, or a severe cutback of the margin. Labor have been dumped by part of their ideological core because of their lack of principles in attempting to retain power.

The point to be made here is that the previous status quo in Australian politics was unusual by global standards – two major parties (never mind the Nats, who haven’t had an independent voice in years) alone dominating the executive branch of government is rare, with fluid coalitions far more the order of the day and perhaps even could be considered more democratic.

However, that is not to say government determined by a small number of independents is automatically a good thing. The temptation for pork barrelling is great, both for the parties to buy them off and for the independents to demonstrate a return for the electorate, but I think in this case we’re lucky in that the key people are men of principle and intelligence.

Windsor, Katter and Oakeshott appeared simultaneously on the 7.30 Report last night, and performed admirably. Windsor showed gravitas and experience, Katter passion for the people he represents and an independent mind, and Oakeshott an idealism for improved parliamentary process combined with a pragmatism for getting the job done. All three emphasised stable government and the need to avoid a quick re-run of the election (some suggest because there’s only so much campaign funds available to these independents).

Labor’s situation is such that it can afford to breathe a little easier in all this. The Greens MP has indicated that he would prefer to work with them, which gives them one more seat by proxy. If the result in Hasluck falls Labour’s way, that leaves Labor as the only credible side able to form government. Denison may yet fall to Wilkie, and his politics are unknowable – a former Liberal party member, a whistleblower on the Iraq war against Howard, a former Greens member and now standing as an independent. You’d suggest he’s shifted left-wards, but it’s by no means guaranteed.

The independents in the country have made a point about the NBN being favoured, which has me hopeful, as much of Abbott’s economic case is dependent on dropping that to pay for other policies. I personally hope Labor gets over the line on the back of this alone, but the compromises that occur on the way will be fascinating to watch for.

opinion tech

Back to the Future

We’ve been here before. I wonder if anyone else recognises it?

(Well, I haven’t, though I’ve read about it. Let me explain…)

There’s an eerie sense of deja vu about the computer industry right now, if you look at it the right way.  The PC wars were pretty much over by the time I was born, definitely so by the time I was old enough to be conscious of a computer, but from what I’ve gleaned from my history books and a little recent reading, things weren’t always so straightforward in the computer industry as they’ve been over the last few years.

Once upon a time thirty years ago, there were many computer manufacturers, almost all with significant differences in key technology components of their machines. The chips inside were different, the operating systems weren’t compatible, and if you made a bet on technology occasionally it didn’t pay out – the computer you bought today might be gone tomorrow.

Apple was there, as was Microsoft. That was the genesis of these two giants of the industry, and their approach to the computing world at the time led to their wildly differing fortunes in the 90s. Apple worked as it does now – to control the whole process end-to-end, with the hardware and the software all under the Apple umbrella.

Microsoft on the other hand tied up with a key partner in IBM and picked just the software side of the equation. Someone else would build the hardware, but anywhere Microsoft’s operating system ran its programs could run, too.

Hardware manufacturers were quickly sidelined as Microsoft defined their interaction with the machine. In the end, even IBM was sidelined as “IBM PC-compatible” quickly became the “Wintel” world.

It all looked like a war that was over until the smartphone redefined what a personal computer was.

Today, we’ve got something very much like the 80s playing out again in the tablet and smartphone market – competing, incompatible OSes, different hardware architectures, and a market that is quickly proliferating with options.

Apple’s got a head start like they did last time, and are controlling the end-to-end chain even more strongly than before. They’ve got a major competitor that is selling only the software, not the hardware. Only this time, Google is Microsoft, with Android the biggest challenger amongst the pack.

There are differences, of course. IBM is no longer in the consumer hardware business, and there’s no Big Blue equivalent for either the consumers to go with or Google to work with as a premier hardware partner. Microsoft is still around of course, though not competitive in the segment where the battle is being fought.

And it almost goes without saying, the Internet has changed everything – no longer does your computing platform determine what applications you can use, as increasingly the complex logic is available in a device-agnostic form. No longer is it necessary to be tied to a single platform if what you do is simply accessed through a browser, more than ever a proxy OS environment for the web.

All this is also within the lifespan of the people involved the first time around, and they’re not likely to make the same mistakes twice, especially not Steve Jobs.


The Decoupling of Reality on the Right

Between the birthers, deathers and the general right-wing lunacy on show in the US, I think David M. Green picks up a few important threads that we’ve seen:

Can we really live in a country populated by so many fools, people who can so readily, proudly and belligerently be made into tools of their own destruction? Can the greatest political, economic, cultural and military power on the world’s stage possibly be so incredibly backward at its core?

This is what I don’t get: where have all these … nutjobs come from? What makes these people, who ostensibly have some education, behave in such an irrational manner, especially over a topic as apparently uncontroversial as health care?

[W]hat seems to me new about this moment is the political road rage, the thuggishness of masses of Americans who not only are venting about insane nonsense, not only are undermining their own interests acting as marionettes of laughing corporate predators, and not only are taking down democracy around themselves in order to do so, but are in fact also destroying the entire Enlightenment project of rationality-based management of public affairs as well. The single most frightening characteristic of this movement, to my mind, is that fact that no amount of evidence or logic could persuade these folks to abandon the lies they’ve attached themselves to[.]

It’s certainly astonishing to me that these people are arguing against a government service. Virtually everywhere else in the world, government services are considered good, exemplary even. You pay taxes, and in return the government provides services. Sure, commercial entities might be able to do the same deal, but at least you know with the government they’re not looking to make a buck out of it.

But I think the point being made above is that some time in the last 40 years, logic disappeared from the public sphere. It’s as though the last generation to witness truly involved war refused to educate their children about some basic things about respect for others and their views; that or some were taught too well and ended up on the left side of the nominal fence, while those who didn’t pay attention to lessons about humility and the importance of reason ended up on the right side. That or these people truly are pawns of a vaster conspiracy.

Anywho, go read the whole article before I repeat it word for word.

opinion politics

Caveat Lector

A response to this rather infuriating article:

Paul Sheehan has a rather glaring contradiction in his article on Monday, accusing “Comrade Rudd” of being a great illusionist. To claim on the one hand that the Prime Minister falsely represented himself as an economic conservative, but argue on the other hand that following Keynes’ General Theory is not economic conservatism appears somewhat contradictory.

Keynes’ ideas of macroeconomics had been largely displaced by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Business’ laissez-faire monetary approach since the 70s, so it seems that a return to older ideas would indeed conform to the ideas of conservatism in the field of economics. Applying the approach used to solve the Great Depression of the 1930s seems like the very model of conservatism.

It is also telling to read the full text of Niall Ferguson’s quasi-blog-post. Sheehan very selectively quotes from the source, which is primarily focused on proposing a solution for America and its banks.

Niall Ferguson’s article focuses on the fact that the US and UK governments are deeply indebted, along with their banks. He proposes that the US Government effectively seize American banks known to be holding large volumes of potentially bad debt, rewriting mortgages in more favourable terms for borrowers, and reprivatizing seized banks in 10 years. It’s an idea that is widely circulated, and has the backing of Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize for Economics winner for 2008.

Does Sheehan expect that Kevin Rudd follow this example for the Australian banks? The solutions Sheehan hints at in Ferguson’s “solution” have nothing to do with Australia and the Government’s attempts to stimulate local demand, and would have Sheehan screaming about socialism by any other name. To imagine that these solutions could be brought about without increased government spending and debt is also fatuous.

Australian banks not affected to the extent of their international peers, for which regulation is but one factor, so Ferguson’s proposed solution is largely irrelevant to Australia, despite the allusions Mr Sheehan draws to solutions which “space precludes listing.” Ferguson’s contention that more debt is a problem, which Sheehan has latched onto, is only to set up the argument that the further debt should be targeted more directly at fixing bad loans in America. Paul Sheehan seems to have missed that part.

Caveat lector – let the reader beware – ought to proceed Sheehan’s article.

opinion rant

Freedom is not Free

I’m sure you’ve heard by now of the Mumbai terror blasts and shootings yesterday – the situation still continues today, with a seige at the two hotels targeted still underway. Over 100 are dead, scores injured and the damage both physical and psychological as yet uncounted.

I’m usually one to argue in favour of civil liberties and ensuring fairness, but right now, the only feeling I’ve got is that these scum deserve to die.

The crime is simple: indescriminate murder of innocent civilians in their ordinary places of work and play. There is no defence for this crime, and the callous nature indicates that the perpetrators are dangerous to society and clearly mad – without any respect for human life.

Their shallow claim to a justification is that the anti-terror task force in India is unduly targeting Muslims – apparently oblivious to the irony of their very actions.

The freedom that these people have been allowed in India’s tolerant society and democracy has been abused and exploited. These people, their associates and all who sympathise with their actions deserve whatever they will get in vengence for their contempt for human life. Bastards.


The Great Firewall of Australia?

Under the guise of won’t-somebody-think-of-the-kids, the Australian Government is pushing ahead with plans to put in ISP-level filters that block “illegal content” which you can’t opt out of.

In the grand scheme of not living in a marginal electorate, my vote counts for diddly-squat, but this is not something I would’ve voted for. It would appear the transition of Australian Labour from progressive to conservative is complete, along with fully emboldened ministers’ departments seeking to silence dissent. It would appear Chinese is not all that Rudd learnt from his 10 years in China.

From a purely legal stand-point, the valid question to me at this point would be “why is this a bad thing? isn’t stopping illegal activity a bad thing?” A valid question, quite apart from the fact that this is a slippery slope of censorship. I hesistate to think what “illegal content” means – the current definition appears to be:

Australian Communications and Media Authority’s official blacklist, which is in turn based on the country’s National Classification Scheme.

Given that our classification scheme bans games which show a level of violence considered acceptable on movie screens, this absurdity promises to play out across the internet, too.

Given also the behaviour of the communications minister’s department at attempting to silence a dissenting voice, you’ve got to wonder how much this is capable of becoming something in line with The Great Firewall of China, used to silence dissenting political voices.

[Communications Minister] Senator Conroy has himself accused critics of his filtering policy of supporting child pornography – including Greens Senator Scott Ludlam in Senate Estimates this week.

That is a line used to cover anything – you can almost here the cry of “paedophile!”

Political parties nominally left of centre (“liberal” with a small l) that start to try to impose restrictions on dissent put themselves squarely in the spotlight of hypocrisy, and feed the notion of a police state. How far around the corner is Minitrue, Thoughtcrime and pre-crime?

The other fear I have is that this will be used to pander to MPAA and RIAA, and all the other industry groups collectively either as MAFIAA or Big Content. Their tactics in hunting down and imposing $200,000 lawsuits against individuals who’ve downloaded maybe 10 songs in their lifetime are an abuse of the legal system, and more often than not they’ve been denied repeatedly in the courts. This seems to be an open path for their lobbying to try to stop all “illegal content” coming through in the hopes of exploiting consumers for every dollar they’ve got and foisting needless DRM.

The question again arises: “it’s illegal – what’s wrong?” What is wrong is an open secret: it doesn’t work. One:

But neither filter tier will be capable of censoring content obtained over peer-to-peer file sharing networks, which account for an estimated 60 per cent of internet traffic.


[N]one of the filters [tested] were completely accurate. They allowed access to between 2 per cent and 13 per cent of material that should have been blocked, and wrongly blocked between 1.3 per cent and 7.8 per cent of websites that should have been allowed.

and Three:

Only one of the filters tested resulted in an acceptable speed reduction of 2 per cent or less. The others caused drops in speed between 21 per cent and 86 per cent.

The tests showed the more accurate the filtering, the bigger the impact on network performance.

2 percent is acceptable? 86% is possible? Australia’s broadband is slow enough as is, without this unnecessarily hinderence slowing it down all the more.

In Senate Estimates, Senator Ludlam expressed concern that all sorts of politically-sensitive material could be added to the block list and otherwise legitimate sites – for example, YouTube – could be rendered inaccessible based on content published by users.

“The black list … can become very grey depending on how expansive the list becomes – euthanasia material, politically related material, material about anorexia. There is a lot of distasteful stuff on the internet,” he said.

Senator Ludlam, you’ve got my vote.