Monthly Archives: October 2011

Reasons to be happy you’re not stuck renting, like your kids will be

A glorious morning, where everything has turned out for the best. A couple of unions have been crushed – this time for daring to demand Australian jobs in a company that trades on the record its Australian workers have built up for safety. Glamorous and wealthy people will be visiting Melbourne for a horse race. And people questioning the status quo are being moved on wherever they gather.

So I thought I’d get in the spirit by sharing with you some happy thoughts to make you feel better about your lot in life, so long as you’re not a renter, locked out of owning your own home by the non-portability of your job and the ludicrous prices in Australian capital cities.

  • You own an asset that’s priced by real estate agents at a ludicrous figure! If you can find a buyer wealthy enough to pay it. And if you don’t mind the inflated house prices making your rates higher for pretty much no realisable gain for you.
  • Your housing costs remain roughly stable over the term of your mortgage. You can’t have your rent raised every year at the whim of a landlord. (And if a bank threatens raising interest rates on your mortgage, every politician in the land will fight to prevent it.)
  • You can save money by planting your own vegetables and trees and other things in your own back garden, not limited to pots but in the ground, where they can flourish – if you were a renter, you’d probably be prevented from doing this. And if you weren’t, and spent money nurturing such a garden, the landlord could, with a few months’ notice, just take it from you.
  • You can put up pictures without asking permission.
  • You can install air conditioning without the landlord raising the rent because the house now has air conditioning.
  • You can install solar panels and water tanks and otherwise reduce your living costs.
  • You can have pets without asking someone for permission as if you were a child.
  • You can relax, because you can’t be kicked out at a few months’ notice on the whim of a landlord.

See? Things are pretty good, after all. For you.

Why would the police stop someone from peaceful protest against the Queen?

A contrasting response to protest, depending on from what side of the spectrum it comes, appears to be demonstrated in the behaviour of the police yesterday while the Queen was visiting Victoria:

But the visit was not all smooth, with reports of several protesters removed from Federation Square by police before the queen’s arrival.

A group of anti-carbon tax protesters also assembled near Government House, armed with banners reading “Welcome, your Majesty, please dissolve parliament,” and “carbon tax corruption”.

Here’s hoping that report just leaves out the critical detail that those protesters who were removed were doing something illegal and deserving of removal, rather than simply protesting. Imagine if we lived in a country where you couldn’t protest against the monarchy!

Another corporate thinking fail

Check out the cunning in this business model for videogame publishers:

  • Sign deals with developers that make their pay dependent on a good review score average through Metacritic;
  • Force developer to add nasty, anti-consumer, obnoxious DRM and limitations to the game.
  • If reviewers pretend that your anti-consumer nonsense doesn’t matter, then you get away with it. If they don’t, if they penalise the game by lowering the scores, then you don’t have to pay the developer as much!
  • Profit.

Well, for a while. In the era of digital distribution, their ripoff strategy is actually costing them money – but trying to make these monkeys understand that would be like trying to teach a cockroach to type. Still, the question for those who care about the developers and products affected is – how do we break that cycle?

I suspect that the only way to tackle it is for reviewers to start punishing games that are infected with this sort of rubbish, even though that unfortunately will hurt developers in the short-term – but it’s the only way to let developers know to be wary of those sorts of contracts. Playing along with it isn’t in their long-term interests, anyway.

What are they protesting about, anyway?

So what’s the point of the “occupy” protests? Obviously they weren’t going to get a sympathetic ear – or any kind of fair hearing (did you know that if you buy a mobile phone or a computer you’re agreeing with anything done by corporate Australia and may never object to it again?) – in the commercial media, but what were they trying to achieve? What has standing around in a crowd chanting slogans ever achieved?

Well, for one, it shows politicians that it’s not just the far-right who are angry with where things are going. The anti-carbon tax and “tea party” type protests have obviously sunk into the feeling of some of our politicians, who might be tempted to think – if everyone else remains silent – that they have some kind of popular support for passing ever more right-wing policies. Because for every person on the fringe angry enough to let Alan Jones bus them to Canberra, they might reason, there’s probably a few more voters angry but too busy to come. This could be the tip of the iceberg! I’d better do what they want.

So a protest from the other side helps balance out that pressure. Even if that’s all it does, it’s still arguably worthwhile for that reason alone.

Second, it lets politicians know that there are people out there – possibly many more than have simply attended the protest, for the reasons above – who think we’re going too far down the American path. Who want them to consider the public sphere, the poor, the community as a whole, when deciding whether or not to support legislation that either redresses the imbalances in our society or which makes them worse.

The protesters don’t need to come up with a set of specific policy proposals to have an important impact. What they’re calling for is clear – policies to redress inequality. The opposite of what the so-called “pro-business” low tax advocates lobby for in Canberra. And when legislation comes before the parliament on economic issues, the politicians are on notice that they’re being watched by voters who want the balance to go back the other way for a change.

Sure, there’ll always be a few ratbags at any protest. They don’t have bouncers. We saw it at the anti-Carbon tax rallies, too (although it did seem to be more than a few of them). Even the police had their ratbags, giving the rest of them, the ordinary, decent members, a bad name – those who removed their name badges and thumped people. But so what? That’s no reason to give up on the idea of popular protest.

Protests tell government the direction in which ordinary, engaged people would like it to go. When we have three years between elections and the blunt instrument of a mostly two-party system even then, where the voters’ precise directions are sometimes difficult to discern accurately, protests are a necessary and important part of the process of democracy.

Even if they’re inconvenient and annoying.

Why cats have slit eyes

Apparently we now know why cats have slit eyes:

Almost all animals with multifocal lenses have slit pupils, which help them to make the most of their unique lens, according to the paper. This is because, even when contracted, a slit pupil lets an animal use the full diameter of the lens, spanning all the concentric refractive zones, allowing for all colours to be sharply focused.

When round pupils, such as those in human eyes, constrict, they cover the outer refractive rings of the lens, preventing the focusing of certain colours.

I used to be creeped out by cat eyes, back when I was more a dog sort of person. I wonder how much of the dislike for cats by some people is due to their alien-looking eyes.

But, once again, they just turn out to be better designed creatures than dogs.

Hard to believe this is still necessary

I’ve never participated in a rape trial, but if these questions are still being asked, then maybe this analogy needs to be pointed out in return:

(Via “I’m At Two With Nature, via Keri.)

The ombudsman and the Senator and the beatup

I don’t agree that an Ombudsman, concerned about the inadequate funding of his office, suggesting some “dorothy dixer” type questions he can be asked so that he can express the concerns of his office, is somehow “corrupt”. This is a political system where half of Parliament’s most prominent hour every day is taken up with “dorothy dixer” questions from the government to itself. And whilst an ombudsman isn’t supposed to be party-political, are they really supposed to be neutral on absolutely everything? Against the interests of the office they represent and the citizens it is supposed to protect? How else are they to get these concerns aired, if the big party politicians do not care?

THE Commonwealth Ombudsman has conceded he was unwise and compromised the independence of his office by actively colluding with the Greens, but said he had no other way to air his concerns about government policy.

Following revelations he scripted loaded questions on immigration, defence and taxation for the Greens to ask him during budget estimates hearings, Allan Asher called for a special parliamentary committee or some other mechanism so he could directly raise his concerns.

And until then, why shouldn’t he work within the system as much as he can? In the interests of the ordinary Australians on whose behalf he’s employed?

I don’t see that asking a Senator in a position to raise the office’s concerns to do so in the public forum of budget estimates is improper at all. Unless you define “holding the big parties to account” as “improper”. No wonder they’re united in smearing the Ombudsman and the Greens for daring to challenge them.

More for the copyright parasites

Naturally, the only sorts of shift we see in national copyright law are the ones making it easier for corporate copyright holders to screw over Australian citizens:

The Federal Government has proposed to modify federal regulations to make it easier for anti-piracy organisations to request details of alleged Internet pirates from ISPs, in a modified process which would make it easier for organisations such as Movie Rights Group and AFACT to pursue individuals allegedly illegally downloading content online.

No shifts to protect parallel importing and enable Australians to circumvent anti-competitive regional blocks that artificially prevent them accessing material at the same price and same time as those in other countries. No shifts to protect the public domain from ever-increasing copyright terms. Nothing to protect fair use from copyright trolling (as in the outrageous Down Under case). Just more help for IP parasites to rip off Australians and for non-commercial copyright infringement to be treated more seriously than theft or assaults.

There’s no balance in this debate, and the big parties are just giving the well-funded lobbyists everything they want, at the expense of ordinary (if unfortunately disengaged) Australian citizens.

How can Abbott’s Liberals be called “conservative” or “pro-business” after this?

They call themselves “conservatives”, but they’re trashing one of the most cherished, long-standing and critical traditions of government in Australia – that citizens and business can work with Australian governments because when, as is inevitable in a democracy, that party eventually loses power, its successor will honour the previous government’s commitments.

But Tony Abbott doesn’t like that tradition. He’d rather a system where businesses are punished by the Liberal Party for working with any other government. Where businesses have to choose whether to sabotage themselves now, under the Labor government, by not arranging their business to work best under the carbon price arrangement – or work with the government of the day and then, if Abbott becomes Prime Minister, have their investments declared worthless.

If you dare participate in this scheme, says Tony Abbott – we will do everything in our power to ensure you get nothing.

As far as Tony’s concerned, the country can burn for the next two years. Business should suffer complete uncertainty and increased risk (that they have to pass on to ordinary Australians via price rises) because Tony isn’t Prime Minister and will, if he ever is, punish them if they try to make a go of things now.

It’s not new to Abbott, of course. Tony and his band of wreckers have been running around trashing Australia’s reputation overseas in an attempt to damage investor confidence – so far without much success, since the investors aren’t quite flighty and stupid enough not to realise that Australia’s being managed very well, actually – but it shows that wasn’t a one-off.

Clearly, Tony Abbott’s Liberals do not care about Australia. They want Australia to suffer over the next two years to punish it for not making him Prime Minister. Things must not be allowed to work out under Labor! We must do everything in our power to make sure they don’t!

It’s almost sociopathic. This current Liberal Party would rather the country burned than it succeed under their opponents.

This is the man who wants to be PM. God help us all if he ever achieves his ambition.

ELSEWHERE: Other conserva… no, I think we’ll have to call them rightwingers now. They’re not conservative. Anyway, other Abbott supporters hope our tradition of stable democracy is trashed even further:

Maybe Tony should also warn any public servant who joins the team to administer this unmandated tax will join the dole queue immediately the tax is repealed – without any compensation!

They’re insane. This is what the Liberals’ lust for power at any cost has led to.

Big parties cancel each other out; their voters continue to get no value from their votes

Man, it’s a bad time to be a supporter of one of the big parties, isn’t it? You think you know what you’re getting, and then you get the opposite, even if it’s one of the things they were most clear about.

I mean – Liberal voters, right? How badly were they let down by the Liberal Party! If they really want asylum seekers processed offshore, then what the hell was the party they voted for doing choosing the status quo – onshore processing – over offshore processing? Man, you’d never want to vote for those guys again. You can’t rely on them to be as xenophobic as they promised to be. Why would anyone vote for the Liberal Party if they can’t even hold to their most deeply-held conviction?

And the Labor Party! It’s let down its supporters who wanted offshore processing by refusing to negotiate with the Liberals to get it through. It’s also let down its supporters who wanted to treat refugees humanely by doing everything in its power not to. Why would anyone vote for the Labor Party again?

I know that even though the Greens give their voters consistent, reliable advocacy for their political views, they’re not for everyone. Xenophobes, the greedy, authoritarians, bigots – the Greens probably won’t represent you in parliament either. Actually, they’d be pretty much consistently opposed to everything you want. But you should take a leaf out of their voters’ book and look at promoting your own smaller, more specific parties. Look what the Greens achieved for progressives that would never have been achieved if they just voted Labor or Liberal. Maybe you should be looking for your own “Greens” of the right, or wherever you are on the political spectrum.

Because, seriously, what value are you getting from your Labor or Liberal vote? It’s just a waste. Your representatives are jokes. Those guys have all but five of the House of Representatives seats, and agree on offshore processing, and yet they couldn’t work together long enough to give their voters what both sets apparently wanted.

That’s some pretty crappy representation right there. I’m glad my vote wasn’t wasted on them.