Monday, December 22, 2008

Mickey Rourke wrestles his past

Thanks to the Melbourne Film festival and Hopscotch Films we attended a preview screening of The Wrestler in Melbourne. It opens nationally in Australia on 15 January 2009.

‘Bout The Wrestler

Darren Aronofsky’s latest film takes us into a world where suspending disbelief is the chrome://foxytunes-public/content/signatures/signature-button.pngcore element. Wrestling culture, though superficially like boxing, is more like the circus. A strange mixture of comedy, farce and sometimes tragedy. The Wrestler is all of these and more. Portrayed as a macho world, it has always had plenty of female fans. Just as Mickey Rourke had in his younger days and will doubtless have again with the release of this touching story.

The director has made this Rourke’s film. He is in virtually every scene. The camera explores his body in intimate detail. If his scars and breaks seem too real, perhaps many of them are a legacy of Mickey’s pro boxing career in the early 1990s during a movie hiatus. It isn’t quite type-casting but becomes clear why Aronofsky was so keen to get him for this part.

He isn’t the early sex symbol of 9½ Weeks or the brutal Marv of Sin City. For ageing Randy "The Ram" Robinson is more gentleman than stud despite the expectations of some of his female admirers. There is no doubt that Rouke’s reputation as a bad boy and loose cannon on the set adds a special dimension to his performance. We sense from the beginning that there will be explosions.

If you’re expecting a wrestling version of Rocky, forget it. This is not about underdogs or champions. Randy is fighting his own demons more than his opponents in the ring. Too old and too sick to continue his chosen career, he is just trying to maintain some sense of personal and social identity. As an unskilled worker, he struggles to find other employment.

Through his relationship with Pam, a bar dancer aka Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), he makes one more attempt to re-establish contact with his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Somehow we know that he promises her too much and that his self-destructive side will see him crashing his own skull into a turnbuckle or two.

The fight scenes are spectacular but gruesome. Knowing that the wrestling is scripted and that we are watching actors doesn’t minimise their impact. Shades of the real thing! For all the pretence, the crowd and the movie audience must have blood and there is plenty of it.

It’s a world of good guys and bad guys. The plot centres on a rematch with his nemesis from the eighties, The Ayotollah, who waves an Iraqi flag as he enters the ring. Young Cassius Clay taunting Sonny Liston and Ali rumbling in the jungle with George Foreman would have loved the showmanship and histrionics.

Robert D. Siegel’s screenplay milks the visual elements. Two scenes stand out:

Washed up and retired heroes of times passed sit at tables in an American Legion hall. They are selling memorabilia, signing autographs and posing for photographs with fans and their children. With their wounds barely hidden, they look more like civil war veterans.

The Ram walks through corridors and down the stairs of a supermarket on his way to serve at the deli counter. His bleached shoulder length locks are covered by a hairnet. His shame badge sports his real name ‘Robin’. Aronofsky lays the stadium imagery on thick. We laugh or cry or do both.

The director clearly established strong rapport with his female leads. Marisa Tomei doesn’t miss a beat as her character’s attempts to build a solid life for herself and her son are complicated by Randy’s attentions. Evan Rachel Wood’s brooding performance as his estranged daughter symbolises the Ram’s wasted years and wasted opportunities.

Their dysfunctional relationship is juxtaposed with his affection for and genuine interactions with the children of his trailer park. They clearly admire and respect this old warrior.

The Wrestler will appeal across generations. This is a movie for baby boomers who grew up on a weekly diet of world championship wrestling as their virtual reality television. It is also tailor-made for Gen X who loved Fight Club and Gen Y who love disgraced celebrities on the comeback trail. The advertising poster proclaims, “Witness the Resurrection of Mickey Rourke”. A clever marketing ploy but the film stands up without this inevitable, forced metaphor. Mickey was neither washed up or dead as his filmography clearly shows. Not Lazarus, just a naughty boy!

It won the Golden Lion at the 2008 Venice Film Festival. The Wrestler is a certainty for academy award nominations. It’s straight out of Million Dollar Baby territory; the kind of stuff Planet Hollywood loves. It’s very sentimental and very good. Like Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Wrestler” which closes the film.

cinematakes1 More film reviews at Cinema Takes

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tweet Minister

Lindsay Tanner has been blogging about enhancing government accountability through use of the Web. He also blogs regularly on the BusinessDay Blogs of The Age. It might be time to get an Australian version of Britain's Tweetminster to push this process along a bit:

TweetMinster is a public service that makes it easier to connect the public with Members of Parliament using Twitter. We want constituents to find their MPs (or invite them to use Twitter if they're not already doing so) and through encouraging participation and open conversations, promote better and more transparent communication between voters and elected representatives.
or Germany's abgeordnetenwatch:
With voters, citizens, anybody can talk to their MP's on line at any time. All they have to do is give their name and their e-mail address. You log on. You give your zip code. The voting precinct is found by the computer. You see a profile of your MP and fire away your question.
There are OZ sites with some of their features but we have a long way to go to establish real communication. GetUp has Project Democracy where we can watch our Senators but it's one way.

Apparently Malcolm Turnbull was one of the first of the tall timber to start twittering. His latest: "Just visited Bondi Public to see their new garden plans. On 380 into city now."

Kevin Rudd twitters as part of his new website:" Penny Wong and Jenny Macklin have just recorded a new vpod about the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme at" Of course none of this is interactive. At least you can ask questions of the British and German pollies.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Future of World Indigenous Education

Shaping the Future of World Indigenous Education is an update on the World Indigenous Peoples' Conference: Education, held in Melbourne last week.

Cross posted from Global Voices, "a leading participatory media news room for voices from the developing world. Global Voices is an international, volunteer-led project that collects, summarizes, and gives context to some of the best self-published content found on blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, and videoblogs from around the world, with a particular emphasis on countries outside of Europe and North America."

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

International Migrants Day

18 December is International Migrants Day. Australia has a lot to celebrate today.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sock and Awe: Only a game?

If you haven't played Sock and Awe yet, now's the chance. Hours, well perhaps seconds, of holiday fun. It's not nearly as clever or elaborate as Sarah Palin as President in the oval office. But in these tough times it's free.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Australia's National Priority: About Ben Cousins

Our National priorities were clear on the 6 pm Channel Nine News in Melbourne last night. As Robert Merkel posted at Larvatus Prodeo about the drafting Ben Cousins It’s more important than the CPRS…

Nine had Cousins as the lead story, followed by Chopper Read, with the 5% CPRS a lame third. In fact the climate change report had a graphic of a $6 rise for household costs, timeframe unspecified, plus the National Press Club protest, but little of substance about the targets. Have to get your priorities right.

It is little wonder that the Rudd government is prepared to squib the global warming challenge with yesterday's lame effort, when it receives such shallow media treatment.

Footnote: When we lived in Western Australia, Ben Cousins was one of the three lead stories almost every night on the ABC News. We were convinced that it stood for 'About Ben Cousins'. It seems this has followed us to Melbourne.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Special Places: Honeycomb Gorge

Honeycomb Gorge is located in the Kennedy Range National Park in the Midwest of Western Australia. It is 150 km east of Carnarvon on the way to Burringurrah (Mount Augustus).

Music on this video is from 'West Nile Papyrus' by the Dejunair Project.


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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Indigenous Education Conference Concludes

The World Indigenous Peoples Conference: Education 2008 has finished with a spectacular ceremony.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

World Indigenous Peoples Conference: Education continues

The second video from Black Tracks of the World Indigenous Peoples' Conference: Education 2008 being held in Melbourne this week is now online. Please click here for other posts about the conference.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Indigenous Education - Respecting Tradition, Shaping the Future

3000 delegates from around the world continue to share their experiences at The World Indigenous Peoples' Conference: Education at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. There has been little coverage from the mainstream media. If you see any please let me know through comments. Carbon Media are producing video for National Indigenous TV (NITV) that is screening at Black Tracks.

Dropped in yesterday and watched Dr. Chris Sarra, of Indigenous Education Leadership Institute of Australia and former principal of Cherbourg School in Queensland talking about how we can have both stronger and smarter education that values both strong culture and smarter schools.

The Conference finishes on Thursday with a Closing Ceremony Concert hosted by comedian Sean Choolbura. It's open to the public with tickets through Ticketek. As I understand it the Key Note Speeches are also open to the public. The conference theme is "Indigenous Education in the 21 st Century - Respecting Tradition, Shaping the Future'.

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Our Special Places: Burringurrah

Burringurrah in North Western Australia, aka Mount Augustus, is the world's largest rock or monolith. It is twice the size of its better known cousin Uluru, aka Ayers Rock, in Central Australia. The drive around the rock is nearly 50 kilometres. The walk to the summit is 12 kms return from its base.

The North West of Australia has some of the most unspoiled areas of the country, if not the world, as well as some of the largest mineral and energy deposits. We need to know our special places before we lose them. Burringurrah is one of the little known gems.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Howard's End: Join the Tallyroom Spectators

The National Tallyroom in Canberra on election night 2007 was a rowdy, raucous place. The crowd were after scalps, none more so than the Prime Minister John Howard's. Every time one of the TV monitors showed the latest counting in the PM's electorate of Bennelong or the ALP candidate Maxine McKew, there was loud cheering and screaming.

The Tallyroom was divided into three sections. The media were roped off at the front near the traditional wall of tally boards for each House of Representative seat. At the other end were most of the national TV panels, perched high above the crowd. The poor cousin SBS were on the side with the other media.

The guest politicians were barely visible from the public area but when shots of Julia Gillard, deputy leader of the opposition, appeared on the screens the revellers erupted. Added to these catalysts were the shenanigans of The Chaser who taunted the likes of Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, Howard's close friend and head-kicker. In fact ABC anchor Kerry O'Brien blamed them for the crowd noise that disturbed his coverage. The irony was that his own TV monitors were a much greater cause of the jubilation.

The noise level did not abate until John Howard came on to the screens to give his concession speech, having lost government and his own seat. Calm and quiet fell as the crowd watched this seemingly impossible event unfold. 'Tallyroom Spectators' records this silent celebration.

This is final reprise from 'The Poll that Counts' video series to mark the last episode of The Howard Years - Walking On Water

For those who can't bring themselves to watch the ABC program, try this instead. Should bring a smile to your face if you've read this far.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

World Indigenous Peoples' Conference: Education

Off to the opening of The World Indigenous Peoples' Conference: Education today. It starts in Melbourne with a Traditional Welcome to Country Ceremony, Sunday December 7 2008 at the Aborigines Advancement League 2 Watt Street, Thornbury. 10am – 7.30pm.

Come along. It's an open event today. Visit the ICV (Indigenous Community Volunteers) stall if you can.

3000 delegates from around the world will be attending the 5 days event. For details click the link above.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Suburbamania: Choking Australia

The Victorian Sustainability Commisioner was stating the bleeding obvious:

A DAMNING report on Victoria's environmental health has called for a halt to urban sprawl and dramatic changes to the "unsustainable" materialism and consumption of the state's citizens.

Just two days after the Brumby Government announced an extension of Melbourne's urban boundaries, the state-appointed Sustainability Commissioner has warned of serious environmental damage on the city fringes and called for the boundaries to be fixed.
Brumby told to halt the sprawl (The Age 5 December 2008)
We have travelled extensively throughout Australia during the last 20 years, mostly by car. Two clear messages stand out about how we are choking our continent. Our obsession with living in suburbia is strangling our cities and regional towns and destroying the surrounding environment. Flowing out of these is an endless traffic grid-lock.

The suburbs:

Western Australia is state of the artless. Perth, plus most regional cities and larger towns, is now surrounded by the new suburbs. They are expensive spec developments. The pillared entrances display the obligatory double-barrel names on either side: Dolphin Waters, Floodplain Flats, Pacific Palms, Platypus Park, Pirates Cove, Redgum Ramble. They cluster around mega shopping centres. Strolling through the Karratha, Port Hedland, Mandurah, Esperance or Albany plazas, I often wondered which town I was in as the same franchises canyoned before us. You needed an advanced driving course just to negotiate the car park.

At South Australia's lower lakes, Hindmarsh Island sports the inevitable suburban style marina. Ironically the boat launches behind the houses have quite a drop to water because of the sad state of the Murray mouth. Exmouth has the latest marina residential development, the envy of the old Gold Coast white-shoe brigade. Both noble attempts to tackle the nationwide marina shortage.

The traffic:

Regional cities like Geraldton can now boast peak hour traffic, bumper to bumper. Civilisation has arrived. The mania forbids straight lines in the new suburbs as the Crescent and the Courts mimic Canberra's curves and roundabouts. A rule of thumb: move on when they put in the second set of traffic lights. I challenge you to drive into Pelican Waters near Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast without getting lost. Broome now has a multi-lane road to the Port that splits Cable Beach from the other new suburbs and the old town.

Between Geraldton and the iconic Shark Bay is Kalbarri, which has its own Kalbarri National Park. It also has suburbia. Eco Flora estate is an example:

We have lost our way since the intense debate about alternatives that took place in the 1970s. The sprawl is supreme.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

America Limited: Conservatives Consorting

Americans for Limited Government is a U.S. organisation that believes "that the bigger you get, the better it is for all of us who value individual liberty, constitutional rights, and the free enterprise system."

They're not talking about the size of government, but rather the blogging community they're putting together.

I received this email earlier in the week and their Net Right Daily email yesterday. At first I thought it was a practical joke but it's probably conservative spam. Perhaps they are more than a bit confused about the nature of my blog.

For Immediate Release Contact: Adam Bitely
November 24th, 2008 Phone: (202) 689-9266

Dear Fellow Blogger,

It is my distinct pleasure, as the president of Americans for Limited Government, to invite you today to become a key member of the exciting new conservative “bloggers central,”

At ALG, we recognize the critical role you as a blogger play in gathering, assimilating, and disseminating news and commentary. And I, personally, am deeply grateful to you for taking the lead in fighting some of the most important battles our country has faced over the past decade, and more.

That's why I am so pleased to announce that is providing bloggers like you, the mainstream media, politicians, and other opinion leaders free, instant access to nearly 60,000 conservative blogs nationwide. And counting.

As a complete service bureau, NRN provides you a wide new array of blogger opportunities. As a featured blogger on NRN, you will be able to post your own blogs and interface with other like-minded bloggers nationwide. You will soon be able to “claim” your blog and customize your blog profile.

Information on NRN – blogs, as well as Twitter feeds -- will be divided by state, as well as by issue, to make it easy for you and others to access. NRN will also include a sophisticated search engine function and will soon have the capability for you to subscribe to customized email blog feeds on your topics of choice. Stay tuned, for these features will soon be online!

And all of that is just the beginning. In fact, I have asked ALG's Director of New Media, Adam Bitely, to follow up on this note with a letter of his own providing you the exciting details on how NRN can help you grow your own blog.

Above all, we want to make sure NRN is all that you, an important member of the conservative blogosphere, want it to be. So, as you visit, I urge you to please give us your input on how to make it the valuable asset we are committed to providing, at absolutely no charge.

Thank you for all that you are doing. I look forward to hearing from you.


Bill Wilson
President, Americans for Limited Government


Americans for Limited Government is a non- partisan, nationwide network committed to advancing free market reforms,private property rights and core American liberties. For more information on ALG please call us at 703-383-0880 or visit our website at

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The claim to 60,000 bloggers may be a bit exaggerated. Adam Bitely's twitter is currently following 2000 people and has 777 followers. Not quite bigger than Texas.

This "Conservative Bloggers Consortium" should be a source of endless nonsense for Andrew Bolt, Thoughts on Freedom, A Western Heart and similar Australian conduits of conservative and libertarian ideas. Anyway they've just had 8 years of very limited government in America. A real success story. Oops, shouldn't use irony - they'd never understand.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Vale Frank Crean

Frank Crean died today aged 92. He was a common-sense Treasurer in a ministry of big-spending, charismatic adventurers. He was a loyal, honest Deputy Prime Minister in the dying days of Gough Whitlam’s government. He was a humble man who put party before personal ambition at a time when immense egos dominated the political arena.

Frank was the Federal member for Melbourne Ports when I joined the Prahran branch of the Australian Labor Party in 1972. The electorate stretched from Port Melbourne south to St.Kilda, east to parts of South Yarra, and south to Windsor. It was still predominantly a working class area. The local ALP campaign committee were mostly trade unionists, especially waterside workers, with a sprinkling of university educated Whitlamites.

Mary and Frank Crean and their family lived in middle class Middle Park, befitting the accountant Frank had been before entering parliament. Their home was open house on election nights just as Frank’s office door was always open. His quiet manner and sense of humour are still reflected in the unassuming smile of his son Simon, the Trade Minister.

Born in the midst of the Great War, he grew up in the depression and Second World War. Frank Crean was an old-fashioned Labor man who will be remembered affectionately by those who were lucky enough to know him.

Vale Frank Crean.

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Howard on top: Luck, Lies and Latham

Watched Part 3 The Howard Years: Commander-in-Chief last night. Decided that my post yesterday should have been called: Luck, Lies and Latham.

Tony Blair and George W. Bush were his political referees for the Iraq war. Funny how the three of them are still sure that they were right about WMDs and Saddam Hussein's support for Al Qaeda. Howard is still not prepared to accept any responsibility for the debacle.

The children overboard spin tested the government ministers' memories again. Peter Reith, the Defence Minster in 2001, must have old timer's disease. The blatant political misuse of the military was obvious. The removal of captions on the photos of refugees in the water was disgraceful. This attempt to make them appear to be throwing children into the sea speaks for itself.

Looking forward to Howard's self-destruction next week. As Peter Costello might have suggested, the Prime Minister should have walked before he ran himself out.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

John Howard's Commanding Performance

Tonight is Episode 3 of The Howard Years: Commander-in-Chief

So here's another installment in 'The Poll that Counts' video series: Tallyroom Tension. It has a small contribution from Fran Kelly the narrator of the ABC program.

The lead up to the 2001 election was a hard time for John Howard. We saw the ultimate pragmatist who avoided a post GST recession by spending his way out, after a quarter of negative growth. Yes, Johnny could be a Keynesian when survival counted.

In John Winston Howard : the definitive biography by Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen, Peter Costello criticised Howard's budgetary adventures in 2001 and 2004 as unsustainable. But they were effective.

That was Howard cunning working overtime. In 2001 we saw Lucky John emerge. In August the Tampa arrived with its ship load of Muslim refugees. He was in the States for September 11 and didn't go into hiding like George W. Bush. What a double! All it needed was a large dash of jingoism mixed with a twist of lies for Labor's chances to go overboard.

His good fortune with ALP leaders also helped to build his reputation as the consummate politician. First, Kim Beazley adopted a small target strategy during 2001. His me-too approach to terrorism and asylum seekers made him appear irrelevant during the election.

2004 saw the Mark Latham experiment which Howard exploited cleverly. He seemed unbeatable after the comfortable Coalition win that year.

But many Australians had other ideas. And Howard's luck was about to change. But that's next week's story.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Without the hot air: the energy numbers

Thanks to openDemocracy, I found and downloaded Numbers, not adjectives, the first part of David MacKay's book Sustainable Energy - without the hot air.

If the rest is as interesting and readable as Chapter 1 Motivations, it could prove to be a real gem. His take on the debate about renewables versus nuclear as energy alternatives:

This heated debate is fundamentally about numbers. How much energy could each source deliver, at what economic and social cost, and with what risks? But actual numbers are rarely mentioned. In public debates, people just say “Nuclear is a money pit” or “We have a huge amount of wave and wind.” The trouble with this sort of language is that it’s not sufficient to know that something is huge: we need to know how the one “huge” compares with another “huge,” namely our huge energy consumption. To make this comparison, we need numbers, not adjectives.
Later on he claims:
I don’t want to feed you my own conclusions. Convictions are stronger if they are self-generated, rather than taught. Understanding is a creative process. When you’ve read this book I hope you’ll have reinforced the confidence that you can figure anything out.

... Debates about energy policy are often confusing and emotional because people mix together factual assertions and ethical assertions.
The rest of the book can be downloaded from his website above.

Good reading!

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Howard Made History - Happy Anniversary!

From 'The Poll that Counts' video series from the National Tallyroom in Canberra, to celebrate the first anniversary of the election of the Rudd government.

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The Howard Parrots

Another video from 2007 to celebrate The Howard Years: John Howard's Dead Parrots Society.

They're not dead, they're resting!

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fugitive Pieces: Laying the Ground Work

A warning to those given to feelings of depression. The slow, bleak, heart rending journey of Fugitive Pieces to its uplifting finish may not seem worth the effort at times. Jakob Beer (Robby Kay), a seven year old Polish Jew, loses his family at the hands of Nazi troops. He is spirited away by a Greek archaeologist Athos Roussos (Rade Šerbedžija), first to Greece where he is house-bound hiding from the Germans and then to post war Canada. The adult Jakob (Stephen Dillane) continues to be haunted by this experience, with nightmares filled by memories of his sister Bella (Nina Dobrev).

He combats the dark side by writing. The path takes him from private journal to successful author of his autobiographical Ground Work. Jakob's Toronto Jewish neighbours mirror his struggle with the legacy of the holocaust, in particular their son Ben (Ed Stoppard).

Jeremy Podeswa was both screenwriter and director. The script is based on Canadian poet Anne Michaels’ novel of the same name. His use of flashbacks is well controlled, as Jakob relives the war years and different periods of his later life in Canada and Greece.

This is another multi-lingual film. English is the main language but Polish, Yiddish and Greek are used extensively with sub-titles. The sombre music by Nikos Kypourgos underlines the gloomy tones of Fugitive Pieces.

Stephen Dillane, known for his roles in Welcome to Sarajevo and The Hours, gives a very severe performance. Rosamund Pike as Alex and Ayelet Zurer as Michaela are the two serious attempts by Jakob to sustain a stable relationship. Their bright portrayals help to moderate this severity.

Fugitive Pieces is worth the effort but go prepared for an intense exploration of the depths of human experience.

cinematakes1 More film reviews at Cinema Takes

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Labor Responses to Internet Filtering Outcry

Sent out email last Friday to most Federal and State ALP members of parliament with a link to Internet Censorship Will Haunt Rudd Government. Have received 5 replies so far:

  • From Amanda Fazio, New South Wales MLC, supporting the dumping of the policy. Her speech to the Legislative Council can be found at: Internet Censorship
  • The second was a very private email that went astray, from the office of a Victorian MLA . Didn't receive a reply when I bounced it back. My lips are sealed.
  • A response from Senator Kate Lundy's office, offering to forward any messages to Senator Conroy.
  • From my Facebook friend the Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner. The text seems to be a media release but was appreciated anyway.
  • Chris Hayes MHR for Werriwa has sent the same response.
They are "aware that the proposal for ISP filtering has attracted some criticism from those, like yourself, who are concerned that it will lead to censorship of the internet. However, the Australian Government has no plans to stop adults from viewing material that is currently legal, if they wish to view such material.

The Government regards freedom of speech as very important and the Government’s cyber-safety policy is in no way designed to curtail this.

The internet is an essential tool for all Australian children through which they can exchange information, be entertained, socialise and do school work and research. The ability to use online tools effectively provides both a skill for life and the means to acquire new skills.

However, while the internet has created substantial benefits for children it has also exposed them to a number of dangers, including exposure to offensive content. As such, parents rightly expect the Government to play its part in the protection of children online.

The Government has committed $125.8 million over the next four years to a comprehensive range of cyber-safety measures, including law enforcement, filtering and education. Measures include:

· Australian Federal Police (AFP) Child Protection Operations Team - funding to detect and investigate online child sex exploitation;
· Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions - funding to help deal with the increased activity resulting from the work of the AFP to ensure that prosecutions are handled quickly;
· ISP level filtering - funding to develop and implement ISP filtering, including undertaking a real world ‘live’ pilot;
· Education activities - funding to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to implement a comprehensive range of education activities;
· Websites / Online helpline - funding to ACMA to improve current Government
cyber-safety website resources and to make them easier for parents to use, and to provide up‑to‑date information. ACMA will also develop a children’s cyber-safety website to provide information specifically for children, and improve the online helpline to provide a quick and easy way for children to report online incidents that cause them concern;
· Consultative Working Group - funding for an expanded Consultative Working Group. The Group will consider the broad range of cyber-safety issues and advise the Government, to ensure properly developed and targeted policy initiatives;
· Youth Advisory Group - funding for a Youth Advisory Group which will provide advice to the Consultative Working Group on cyber-safety issues from a young person’s perspective; and
· Research - funding for ongoing research into the changing digital environment to identify issues and target future policy and funding.

These initiatives will tackle the issue of cyber-safety from a number of directions to help clean up the online environment and protect Australian children from the dangers of the internet now and into the future. This approach acknowledges the key role parents and carers have in the online safety of children, and provides them with the necessary information to assist with this task. This initiative also recognises that there is no single solution to ensure children can access the internet safely.

A key part of the Government’s plan to make the internet a safer place for children is the introduction of ISP level filtering. The policy reflects our community’s growing belief that ISPs should take some responsibility for enabling the blocking of illegal material on the internet. Filtering would cover illegal and prohibited content using an expanded ACMA blacklist of prohibited sites, which includes images of the sexual abuse of children.

Consideration is being given to more sophisticated filtering techniques for those individual families who wish to exclude additional online content in their own homes.

The Government wants to ensure that Australian parents can access a ‘clean feed’ internet service. This will be informed by the technology adopted in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Canada where ISP filtering, predominantly of child pornography, has been successfully introduced without affecting internet performance to a noticeable level.

The Government’s ISP filtering policy is being developed through an informed and considered approach, including industry consultation and close examination of overseas models to assess their suitability for Australia.

ACMA recently completed an extensive laboratory trial of available ISP filtering technology. The trial looked specifically at the effect of a range of filter products on network performance, effectiveness in identifying and blocking illegal and inappropriate content, scope to filter non-web traffic, and the ability to customise the filter to the requirements of different end-users.

The laboratory trial indicated that ISP filtering products have developed in their effectiveness since they were last assessed in 2005. The Government will now proceed with a ‘live’ pilot in the second half of 2008 which will provide valuable information on the effectiveness and efficiency of filters installed in a ‘real world’ ISP network. An Expression of Interest will be released in due course seeking the participation of ISPs in the pilot.

The Government is committed to working closely with internet industries to address any concerns, including costs and internet speeds. These concerns will be carefully considered during the pilot and will further inform the Government’s cyber‑safety policy."

As yet there is no response from the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy. Perhaps his email is vetted too well or perhaps not well enough. Or perhaps the reply went astray. It does happen.

By the intensity of the opposition on the blogosphere, his office is probably receiving a lot of hostile email. There are now more than 20 Facebook groups against the internet filtering proposal.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fake New York Times Online

In case you missed last week's fake The New York Times, THE IRAQ WAR ENDS, this is an online version.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reprise: John Howard: not, not... responsible

For those who missed some of my videos from last year, The Howard Years has prompted me to give them a re-run. Also if you missed Episode 1, Change the Government, Change the Country, you can watch a broadband version by clicking the link.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Howard Years: first impressions

Some first impressions on the 1996-8 first term of The Howard Years:

  • Peter Reith says he didn't know Dubai was a port. But he had the support of the children which meant Janette's favour.
  • Graeme Morris, JWH's Chief of Staff in the early years is a real charmer. His machiavellian behaviour eventually resulted in his forced resignation. He would have enjoyed shooting parties with Dick Cheney.
  • Speaking of guns: his response to the Port Arthur massacre was Howard at his authoritarian best and worst. Set the tone for the rest of his regime. Johnny decides, they follow.
  • Peter Costello's portrayal of himself as gallant hero when drawing up the 1996 budget cuts and the tax reforms which gave us the GST. The El Cid of the Liberal Party.
  • The weakness of the Cabinet. Even in their lack of support for Reith and Corrigan during the waterfront dispute. The PM is still not amused.
  • The Pauline Hanson factor: JWH's refusal to take her head on. He even had words with Alexander Downer.
  • The impotence of the National party when dealing with Howard, especially Tim Fischer and John Anderson. Their role was to soften up the bush over anything controversial.
  • Howard's near hysteria at the Reconciliation Conference when the audience turned their backs on him.
  • How the GST almost got rid of his government.
The program has been touted as being in their own words without commentary. Yet the voice over "history" by Fran Kelly accepts a very conventional view of what happened. Most of it could have been written by Howard's old press office. There is no coverage of any opposition from the Labor Party. It's hard to imagine how Kim Beazley won the two-party-preferred vote in 1998.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Relentless Cross-promos for The Howard Years

What do the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and John Howard have in common?

They are relentless!

The cross-promotions for the documentary The Howard Years on ABC TV and radio are ubiqitious. Not just ads but ceaseless items on the News and other programs. Even the News-in-Brief. For a sample try the online promo which was under 'Just In' yesterday: Howard dug heels in after 'deal' note revealed

ABC2 Breakfast is interviewing the program producer Deb Masters as I write. One of the key participants in the Howard story who would not talk for the cameras was Janette Howard. I wonder what her one word is to describe little Johnny. Obedient? Please feel free to add your suggestions in Comments.

Virginia Trioli called it "ummissable".

Was thinking of just watching the fourth and final episode. That's the one with the happy ending. We have to learn from history. Don't we?

This is not a paid promotion. Unless the ABC publicity department chooses to send money, of course.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

MIT: Carbon Trading is economically viable

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

Researchers at MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research have produced a report concerning key design issues of proposed "cap-and-trade" programs that are under consideration in the United States as a way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The first contribution of the three-part study found that, based on an examination of the European Union's system and of similar U.S. programs for other emissions, such a program can indeed be effective in reducing emissions without having a significant economic impact.
MIT analysis shows how cap-and-trade plans can cut greenhouse emissions
This is presumably just another load of left-wing fantasy.

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Internet Censorship Will Haunt Rudd Government

During the early noughties I was teaching Year 12 English Studies at Katherine High School in the Northern Territory. A very useful website for studying Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was The Republic of Pemberley. One year the site was blocked by the NT Department of Education. Apparently their black list was outsourced to a U.S. firm in silicon valley.

Presumably the website was inappropriate because it mentioned prejudice or pre-marital sex or shot-gun marriages. It was possible to correct this gross case of censorship and incompetence and have the site put on their 'White List' but it was too late for the students’ examination revision. This is the inevitable result of politicians and bureaucrats trying to decide what we should have access to on the Internet.

Sometime in the near future the Senate may have to vote on the controversial internet filtering regime currently under construction by the Rudd Labor government. For a range of reasons let’s hope that either it doesn’t come to legislation or it is buried there.

Senator Stephen Conroy’s current trials are unpopular with a diverse range of people.

The criticisms include:

  • it goes too far: it is not just about hard-core pornography; it may censor so-called illegal sites such as those advocating euthanasia
  • as an opt-out system it infringes our freedoms, that is if individuals are able to opt-opt at all
  • it is censorship and like all censors they will start small and grow fast especially if there is no public scrutiny or accountability
  • what is being censored is likely to be kept secret
  • it is impracticable according to many of the ISPs
  • it appears to be made it up as they go along
  • it has numerous technical problems
  • it may slow the internet
  • it will not achieve its goals, uncertain as they are, in particular regarding child pornography
A visit to the Facebook group No Australian Internet Censorship will give some idea of the strength of opposition. A quick 'internet filtering' or "clean feed" web search will reveal a host of negative voices.

Now is the time for the government to walk away from this proposal. Keep or modify the opt-in system that exists now, if they wish. My views on that white elephant can be found at Filtering the Internet or my blog archives.

Kevin Rudd and Stephen Conroy have to drop this scheme now or it will haunt them for years to come. It is incredibly unpopular with many of their own party members and supporters. Even anti-Labor commentators such as Andrew Bolt are against it!

Asher Moses sums up recent opposition in an article in The Age yesterday:
As opposition grows against the Government's controversial plan to censor the internet, the head of one of Australia's largest ISPs has labelled the Communications Minister the worst we've had in the past 15 years.
Net censorship plan backlash
Recent articles at GetUp! detail the growing concern.
From Irene Graham:
If Labor implements non-optional ISP-level filtering, which would be contrary to their 2007 election policy, they will prove beyond doubt that Labor is not trustworthy. Accordingly, regardless of the type/s of material Labor says will be on their secret compulsory blocking list, such statements will not be trustworthy either. Labor's intention to mandate non-optional ISP-level blocking must be opposed.
Secret, unaccountable, censorship is incompatible with democracy
From Colin Jacob:
Technologically, Internet filtering is a real nightmare. Regardless of the scheme adopted, a slowdown in Internet speeds is inevitable, and the more aggressive the filtering, the slower the network access becomes.

...But would the scheme protect children? All signs point to no. Even if the bureaucrats could somehow devise filtering criteria acceptable to all parents, the filters would let too much material through, and would be easy to circumvent.
Filtering at Odds with Broadband Revolution
In these dire economic times, save some money. The money would be better spent on the digital revolution in schools.

Sink this before it helps to sink the government’s credibility.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ken Henry postscript

When denying the "suspicions" of the opposition about the budget forecasts, Treasury Secretary Ken Henry made two attacks on their current tactics. Firstly, their undermining of the public service was "unhelpful". In Yes Minister terms that equates to the strongest criticism.

His second point, though not directly mentioning his Liberal Party critics, touched on the irresponsibility of white-anting financial institutions such as the Treasury and the Reserve Bank at a time of financial crisis.

Fundamentally, what is driving weaker economic outcomes globally at the moment is fractured confidence. So anything that can be done to help restore confidence in real growth in the strength of the economy right at the moment, is valuable.

We can talk ourselves into worse outcomes; of course we can. People do; it wouldn't be the first time. But we don't have to...
Henry slams Opposition's manipulation claims
The key people talking down our financial institutions in Australia are the Federal Opposition. Malcolm Turnbull must know the implications of this.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Turnbull's pit-bulls off the leash

It is fascinating to see Malcolm Turnbull's emerging style as leader of the Federal Opposition. As fairly progressive on social issues he is defining his leadership through economics as we would expect from a former merchant banker. However, it is the less the content of his policies on the financial crisis than the tactics he is using to gain some traction in the debate which makes him appear to be stakinga claim to pit-bull status. His endorsement of government responses to the crisis, followed by immediate criticism of the detail is what we want from a credible, functioning opposition.

The bitter attack on individuals and organisations who are expected to act independently of government spin is defining the new Liberal guard. Malcolm and his frontline spokespersons, Andrew Robb, Julie Bishop and Helen Coonan are on dangersous grounds at present. By questioning not only the integrity of both the Federal Treasury and the Reserve Bank but also of key people such as the Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, their tactics are undermining those institutions at a critical time.

Public confidence in the economy is at rock bottom. Turnbull seems willing to destroy any public trust in Treasury and the Reserve Bank for short term political point scoring.

They had better back up their accusations with some tangible evidence. Ken Henry's address to the National Press Club in an hour's time is impeccable timing.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oh! What a Lovely War

11th of November

Remembering the dead of the Great War.

The war to end all wars.

Remembering the waste, the sacrifice, the insanity.

Not the glory, not the myths of nationalism.

The end of an imperial war and the slaughter of a generation.

War and Peace. Both a disgrace.

Richard Attenborough's 1969 film Oh! What a Lovely War is still worth watching.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Hunger: For a cause

Steve McQueen’s film, Hunger, is a very powerful but draining telling of a sad moment in an even sadder history of Northern Ireland. Our initiation to the conflict starts with prison guard Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham) checking his battered knuckles and his car for an IRA bomb. We are quickly introduced to the pattern of passive resistance and systemic violence when novice inmate, newly convicted paramilitary Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan), joins Gerry (Liam McMahon) in a cell totally decorated with faeces.

We see the personal horror of both captive and gaoler in their eyes. This historical drama is a story told visually with little dialogue used to further the tension.

The exception is a remarkable 22-minute exchange between protagonist IRA prisoner Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) and Catholic priest Fr Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham). For most of the scene the camera does not move, as Bobby defends his decision to organise a hunger strike to the death.

Some understanding of the historical context certainly helps but it is strong enough to reach out to an audience without that background. The time: 1981. The place: Maze prison, outside Belfast. The action: the protest against wearing prison uniforms as part of the Provisional IRA’s campaign to achieve political status for its incarcerated members. The theme: violence against and by the State; political terror and the ugly responses to it.

This is not a pretty picture. Blood, excrement and urine flow freely. Violence and murder are presented graphically and unsentimentally. There are no good guys. This is not In the Name of the Father. There are no innocents. There is no redemption. This is the dark side writ large. Hate seems to be the main driving force for both sides.

It is easy to react to this film in terms of modern politics. The Independent’s film review saw it in these terms:

This enthralling account of Sands' 66 days on hunger strike to try to get better conditions for IRA prisoners, seems especially pertinent at a time when the atrocities of Abu Ghraib remain vivid.
However, if you're looking for a partisan political message this is the wrong place.

It would also be easy to blame religion, history, or politicians for all the inhumanity of the “troubles”. This film tries to tell what happened without judgment. Yet it leaves the film goer feeling as battered as the inmates after running the gauntlet.

Hunger is not a particularly sympathetic portrayal of Bobby Sands or his cause. The exception comes in the flashbacks as he waits to die. We meet Bobby as a boy, the young cross-country runner who stands up for what he thinks is right. It is the single-mindedness of a martyr but Hunger is not really about heroism and martyrdom. They are all victims.

McQueen, who is also co-writer, told Timeout:
‘I’m not concerned with balance,’ he says. ‘I don’t think people are bad in general, but circumstances make them do what they have to.’
Director interview: Steve McQueen
The opening credits reverberate as metal rubbish bin lids are hammered onto the road. This was a signal used in Belfast communities to warn locals that British military or police were prowling republican areas. Later, riot squad police echo this siren when they beat batons onto shields in unison, before using them on the prisoners. A younger member of their cohort hides during the slaughter, a solitary objector to the madness all around.

Hunger is a brutal experience. Do not go expecting some triumph of the human spirit. In this case the clichés mostly belong to the reviews.

cinematakes1 More film reviews at Cinema Takes

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Three economists and a hoyden

Another cross-post for Voices without Votes. Please write Your One Thing at Hoyden about Town:

Bloggers in Australia have been looking at what Barack Obama might actually be going to do as President.

Harry Clarke’s ‘commentary on economics, politics & other things’ discovered an Obama policy that is already under challenge. He seemed attracted to the idea of community service though his source didn’t:

Gregory Mankiw points out that Barack Obama supports the conscription of youth into community service. I wonder how many aged lefties will now dump on Obama on the basis of past Vietnam Moratorium ideals. Well of course its not this aged lot who now face the prospect of being conscripted so that a certain amount of soundly-justified hypocrisy is plausible.

Maybe spending the last week in China has dented my democratic ideals but I think the Obama suggestion makes a lot of sense.
Obama supports conscription
Nicholas Gruen, CEO of Lateral Economics who posts at Club Troppo focused on the one big thing which Obama has done since Tuesday:
Paul Krugman was always critical of Obama for not being more partisan. We’ll see what happens. In my ignorance I’m expecting Obama to be like Clinton - a pro when it comes to policy who hires the best advice he can get unlike Republicans who haven’t done that since - well perhaps someone can remind me. But I don’t expect him to be particularly bold. But who knows. The thing that always struck me as ridiculous about Krugman’s critique is that being all post-partisan was a good way to build a coalatition and get into power. You find out how people are going to govern after they get into power - or hasn’t Krugman noticed. FDR was elected on a platform of balancing the budget.

And now we get to see how Obama governs. And his first decision is to go for a hard man as a chief of staff - Obama plays the good cop and everyone is telling us that Rahm Emanuel gets to play the bad cop. I’ll be interested to see if Krugman has anything to say on this - I’ve not seen it yet. But it’s a first sign that Obama is under no illusions about how lovely the Republicans will be towards him.
Rahm Emanuel - the enforcer
Another economist, John Quiggin, whose blog presents itself as a ‘Commentary on Australian & world events from a social-democratic perspective’ looked forward to:
a revival of the progressive politics of the New Deal, in retreat ever since the 1970s. If Obama can combine an economic recovery with a new commitment to social equity, his election victory could prove more significant than any since that of Roosevelt in 1932.
He mentioned several policy areas, one of which is global warming:
… looming over all of this is climate change. Obama has promised a cap-and-trade scheme, and a return to world leadership at Copenhagen. But, as in Australia, there will be powerful voices calling for a continuation of the Bush policy of delay and denial, and putting the financial crisis forward as a pretext. Neither the world nor the position of the US as a world leader can afford this.
A tough road ahead
I feel a ‘three economists in a boat’ joke coming on. So let’s give Tigtog at Hoyden About Town the punch line. She speculated about what Obama’s priorities should be:
Just like a gazillion others, I’ve been thinking about what Obama could/should do, in his first 100 days in office, that would be small in terms of the effort required (falling within executive powers entirely, no Congressional courting/approval required) but that would make an immediate, huge, difference to many people.

I ended up deciding that there were so many things that needed fixing, that I would be better off focussing on what I would be horrendously disappointed to find that he was not going to do. So here’s my One Thing that I will be broken-hearted if he does not do it:

1. negate the Global Gag Rule (aka Mexico City Policy)

Our continuing research shows the gag rule is eroding family planning and reproductive health services in developing countries. There is no evidence that it has reduced the incidence of abortion globally. On the contrary, it impedes the very services that help women avoid unwanted pregnancy from the start.

What's Your One Thing?

Just one thing
According to the blog, a hoyden (hoid’n) is a woman of saucy, boisterous or carefree behavior. A match for 3 economists anyday.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Australia welcomes Obama, well most

A post for Voices without Votes:

Australian bloggers found their voices after being glued to the media or live-blogging the election for most of Wednesday our time.

Man of Lettuce, Sydney taxi driver and author of Cablog, joined work and pleasure as usual on election night:

Last night the City was awash with the intoxicating ambience of Barack Obama’s victory. An earlier invitation to the Democrats Abroad celebration party on Oxford Street had alerted me to a premier content source...sheer exhilaration plus alcohol - perfect.
His account of an encounter in his cab with an African American couple should be read in full on his unique blog. He finishes on his own note of hope:
…Let’s pray he can fulfil this vision and unify all Americans, thereby becoming one of their great Presidents.
An Onymous Lefty, Jeremy, raised a sour note. Known for his sarcastic posts, he put that aside to express his disgust at the California vote against gay marriage in straightforward language:
…the fact that many of his voters (he won California, after all) turned out to take this basic civil right away from gay people seriously tarnishes his victory. It implies that had he been more principled, and really stood for civil rights - and asked his voters to genuinely consider why, at a moment of the triumph of African Americans as a previously-persecuted group, they would even consider turning that persecution on others - then the gay people of California would not have just lost theirs.

I stand by my earlier refusal to get too excited by the election result.
Obama refuses to stand up for civil rights; Californians lose theirs
Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo looked at the impact of the web on the elections and possible future directions:
No doubt one of the big stories about the US election will be the influence of the blogosphere and the netroots. In many ways, the rise of the intertubes in politics was an unintended consequence of the Rove approach to politics…

All technology is shaped socially. Blogging, YouTube, and other social media have been enablers and not just causes of this invigoration of democracy. I’d like to see some research and analysis focused on the wellsprings of activism we’ve seen bubbling up. I think that would be, in many ways, a more productive frame through which to look at what’s interesting, distinctive and exciting about this campaign than yet another round of “journos v. bloggers” style articles.
US election: Yes we can!
Andrew Bolt has been posted on Voices without Votes before. He is a daily newspaper columnist with Melbourne’s Herald Sun and media spokesperson for the right wing in Australia. He is a climate change denier, a critic of anything progressive (the dreaded left-wing, latte and chardonnay drinking socialists) and has “issues” with race.

Just before conceding Obama’s win yesterday, his blog featured a video clip outside a polling booth with the following comments:
Should McCain win, against all predictions and the polls, there will be trouble:

Toledo police are gearing up for possible “civil unrest” during and after tomorrow’s elections.

Indeed, the menace outside one polling booth, patrolled by Black Panthers, is palpable
Obama or McCain. UPDATE: It’s Obama
The old politics of fear and prejudice still live with us. Judge for yourself.

Finally, Miriam Lyons, from the Centre for Policy Development, also shared her thoughts on the Obama presidency at Larvatus Prodeo:
Today’s election result heralds the rise of Green Keynesianism. The US economy is in the toilet and smart economists are advocating direct investment over a more consumer-based fiscal stimulus.

The Obama campaign’s target for emissions cuts was 80% by 2050 - a fair way ahead of Oz Labor’s as-yet-unaltered election promise of 60% by 2050. With the Arctic ice-sheet melting rapidly even an 80% target is too low for a developed country like the US, but it should certainly give Professor Ross Garnaut reason to revise his pessimism about the likely outcome of the Copenhagen round of climate negotiations. It’s worth noting that the Obama campaign’s climate and energy platform specifically called for 100% auctioning of permits.
This is serious stuff. Miriam also reflected on possible impacts on Australia by Obama’s approach to war, economics and international relations. As a think-tank person herself, it was no surprise that she concluded with their likely role in the Obama era:
Just as an aside, it will be interesting to follow the relationship between progressive think tanks & the new administration. Expect to see the traditional influx from conservative think tanks to Republican administrations mirrored on the Democrat side this time around.
Guest Post by Miriam Lyons: What does an Obama win mean for Australia?
If George W. Bush represents the Dark Ages in terms of intellectual progress and political awareness, Barack Obama seems squarely planted in the Enlightenment.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama: Teacher not Preacher

One of our TV presenters has just suggested that there was a fair bit of evangelical fervour about Barack Obama's victory speech. What really impressed me was that he didn't rev up the crowd. He chose not to join their attempts to turn the slogan "Yes We Can" into a mindless chant. He challenged them with ideas not theatre. His performance was controlled and rational. He is the teacher not the preacher.

For world reaction please see President-Elect Barack Obama: The blogosphere reacts

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

World Waiting for Obama

This article from Guardian correspondents around the globe has been picked up by Melbourne's Age newspaper as Change they want. Some of the comments include:

From Kabul

"I think we have almost reached the point of no return. There are no good solutions left," said Ali Padsha, 19, who was raised in America. "The longer foreign forces stay, the more problems will be created. When we [Afghans] see foreign forces in our country, it makes us crazy, it always has.

"The new Taliban are smarter than before and not as hardcore. They know what to do to keep the people happy."
From Paris
"We don't lynch Americans in the street," said Charlotte Lepri, a US specialist at the French thinktank, Institute for Research in Integrated Strategies (IRIS). "But there are certain associations with Bush. Now there is a turnaround and real enthusiasm for a black candidate who represents France's ideal of the American dream."
From Gaza
Like many Gazans, Mohammed Telbani, the factory's general manager, says he has little interest in the election. "Presidents have changed but no one did anything for us," he said, waving his hand dismissively. He doubts that a new president will have the power or the will to reverse decades of US policy in the Middle East which he, like most here, sees as decisively pro-Israeli. "Without pressure on Israel there won't be any solution to the problem," he said.

The world holds its breath as America decides
For more views from outside the United States please visit Voices without Votes, where bloggers from around the globe analyse the US election.

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Last polls before the one that counts

Barack Obama has a decisive lead over John McCain in both national and state opinion polls. My preferred poll for the finish line is Pew Research Center. It is objective and authoritative. Their 52%/46% shouldn't be far off the mark.

Poll junkies can use my Delicious polls bookmarks if you wish.

It’s no longer a case of will Obama win but by how many Electoral College Votess. Even Zogby has the battleground States Obama’s way today with a comfortable lead in the national vote.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

McCain praying for rain

The Republicans are supposed to be praying for a miracle. Perhaps a less supernatural event would be enough for McCain to win. According to a U.S. study rain affects voter turnout by up to 1%:

The relationship between bad weather and lower levels of voter turnout is widely espoused by media, political practitioners, and, perhaps, even political scientists. Yet, there is virtually no solid empirical evidence linking weather to voter participation. This paper provides an extensive test of the claim. We examine the effect of weather on voter turnout in 14 U.S. presidential elections. Using GIS interpolations, we employ meteorological data drawn from over 22,000 U.S. weather stations to provide election day estimates of rain and snow for each U.S. county.

We find that, when compared to normal conditions, rain significantly reduces voter participation by a rate of just less than 1% per inch, while an inch of snowfall decreases turnout by almost .5%. Poor weather is also shown to benefit the Republican party's vote share. Indeed, the weather may have contributed to two Electoral College outcomes, the 1960 and 2000 presidential elections.
The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather, Turnout, and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections
All good right-wing evangelists should be praying for rain on Tuesday!

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The World Votes

Jillian York of Voices without Votes has reported on Huffington Post about websites which cover global election maps tracking world opinion:

A quick glance at Voices without Votes or the global blogosphere and it's clear who the world wants for president: Barack Obama. It seems that, despite the relative closeness of the race in the United States, the rest of the world likes his charisma, his foreign policy, his take on the issues, and perhaps most of all, the fact that he's so different from George W. Bush, whom it's clear the world does not approve of.
The World Is Not Undecided

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Take Away Election Predictor

This looks like fun. You can get your own at The Take Away

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Demolishing Democrats with Explosive Politics

This video is at Talking Point Memo's TPM election Central

The Republican ad for one of its congressional candidates is about as subtle as it gets.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Latest Poll: Shamen dance to Obama's tune

According to the BBC's Dan Collyns, Peruvian shamen overwhelming support Barack Obama with only a few for John McCain:

As the US presidential election nears, the shamans of Peru have been displaying their own methods for ensuring the success of their chosen candidate.
Peru's shamen send US election vibes
My Quechua is a bit rusty so we'll have to trust the translator. Click the image or the link to see the video.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Grocer’s Son: the way we were

The Grocer’s Son/Le Fils de l'épicier

Director Eric Guirado has given us a slow-paced film. Slow like life in rural France where it takes place. Slow like the developing romance at its centre. Slow like the rebuilding of the family's relationships. Slow like the emerging self-discovery of its main characters. Slow like the growing bonds between the stand-in mobile grocer and his customers.

Antoine Sforza (Nicolas Cazalé) has been sacked from his waiter’s job. When his father is hospitalised, he returns to help in his family grocery in a rural French hamlet. He brings his friend Claire (Clotilde Hesme) with him, hoping to establish a sexual relationship.

He's not a a prime catch. The men in Antoine’s family are all dysfunctional. His bitter, misanthropic father (Daniel Duval) wants nothing to do with him. His brother François (Stéphan Guérin-Tillié), who is a local hairdresser, blames Antoine for deserting the family. Antoine is disorganised, unmotivated and a poor communicator with atrocious inter-personal skills.

The village is a dying community in many ways. The grocery and a motor mechanic’s workshop are the only remaining businesses. Most of the customers of the mobile grocery service seem to be octogenarians. Yet it’s the elderly who breathe life into Antoine, with a lot of help from Claire. Clement (Paul Crauchet), an elderly farmer, and the highly eccentric Lucienne (Liliane Rovère) reawaken his humanity and his good humour. It was refreshing to see a movie that did not involve old people either in or on the way to a nursing home. The recent baby-boomers' flick, The Savages, came to mind immediately.

Before the inevitable crisis in their romance, Claire joins Antoine on his truck rounds and teaches him how to interact with people. She also helps to turn on his tap of self-reflection.

Unhappy marriages are the order of the day. Antoine’s mother (Jeanne Goupil) has been long-suffering support for her hostile, combative husband. Claire had four years of unhappy marriage before a new start as a student. François is in denial, hiding the fact that his wife has left him. He suffers severe depression, which seems to be both a cause and a result of his marriage breakdown.

The Grocer’s Son is very predictable in many ways. It moves inexorably towards a happy ending for most of its main characters. However, this didn’t seem to spoil the experience as the story is about personal discovery. It finishes on a strong note of hope. It is a pity that this happens in a part of society that is fast disappearing even in France. This is not the world of unbridled consumption or conspicuous wealth. It’s the world of 19th Century romanticism. If it still exists somewhere, then let’s hope they can keep it secret.

Another foreign language film that’s worth a visit to the cinema, if you can find it.

cinematakes1 More film reviews at Cinema Takes

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Obama: civil rights to terrorists

Talking Points Memo reports that John McCain has sent a robocall to voters in his home State of Arizona. This part of the recording sounds like desperate stuff:

If Democrats win full control of government, they will want to give civil rights to terrorists and talk unconditionally to dictators and state sponsors of terror.
It's also strange that he appears to be wasting money in his own State where he should have a comfortable lead.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wildcats strike against pit-bulls

Indiana apparently doesn't allow robocalls. So the McCain/Palin campaign asked a call centre to read out the latest smears. They underestimated the determination of the local workers . Three dozen walked out in protest. Still strength in unity. No wonder employers will do anything to make wildcat strikes illegal.

Fellow Voices without Votes blogger, Qwaider, is blown away by this small skirmish in a dirty war:

And they actually decided to walk out! Sacrificing so much in this fragile economy

That's something no robot can match. Moral Integrity!
WOW Moment!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Whole World Blogging: Voices without Votes

If you haven't logged onto Voices without Votes yet, there's still a week to go of world bloggers tackling the U.S. elections. A report from The Washington Post explains the context:

Voices Without Votes was born in early February -- yep, in time for Super Tuesday -- and it's edited by Amira Al Hussaini, a 35-year-old journalist from Bahrain who currently lives in Canada. The site's motto reads: "America votes. The world speaks." Recent elections in Zimbabwe and New Zealand have attracted some attention online, Al Hussaini says, but not nearly to the extent that the battle for the American presidency has.
The Election That Has the Whole World Blogging
The coordinator, Amira Al Hussaini, has been doing a fantastic job!

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Steve Fielding: chief censor

It would be ironic if the government's opt-out internet filtering system is blocked by the conservatives, especially Senator Steve Fielding. The Age reports:

Family First Senator Steve Fielding wants hardcore pornography and fetish material blocked under the Government's plans to filter the internet, sparking renewed fears the censorship could be expanded well beyond "illegal material".

The Opposition said it would most likely block any attempts to introduce the controversial mandatory ISP filtering policy, so the Government would need the support of Senator Fielding as well as the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon to pass the legislation.
Net filters may block porn and fetish sites

Populists politics, wowserism and moralising have made this issue into a hot one for Stephen Conroy. Despite the problems with an opt-in filtering system, it is time for the Rudd government to reconsider.

There has certainly been a strong reaction around the blogosphere:
I have a simple message to Senator Conroy. Stop bullying opponents of the scheme and take time to listen to those affected by this hideous plan.
iTWire: Mandatory Content Filtering in Australia

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Robocall Rants: e-lectioneering 2.0

I knew that robocalls had arrived in Australia. Nevertheless, when Prime Minister John Howard rang me before last year’s election I was startled by his voice at first. Because it was a recorded message, my colourful response was wasted.

It’s the electronic age in political campaigning these days. We are now well acquainted with the political use of the Web. Party and candidate websites, blogging, social networking pages, online videos, and internet advertising are just some of the techniques used.

It has been a multi-media frenzy in the U.S. this presidential election season. Opponents of Barack Obama have even been direct-mailing DVDs to spread their smears. As Huffington Post reported recently:

This week, 28 million copies of a right-wing, terror propaganda DVD are being mailed and bundled in newspaper deliveries to voters in swing states. The 60-minute DVDs, titled Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West, are landing on doorsteps in a campaign coinciding with the 7th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Pro-McCain Group Dumping 28 Million Terror Scare DVDs in Swing States
Jillian York captured some of the reaction at Voices without Votes:
Almost immediately, newspapers began receiving complaints for their inclusion of the DVD, which was funded by The Clarion Fund, a group set up to combat “the most urgent threat of radical Islam.” Bloggers in the U.S. and abroad have expressed anger at both the distribution of the DVDs and the related crime. Global: “Obsession” Propaganda Film Incites Anger
Political Spam via email is also part of this Campaigning 2.0. Organisations such as Moveon in the U.S. and GetUp! in Australia use direct email to their subscribers as a major campaigning tool. You can also sign up to SMS or text messages from political candidates, such as Obama’s Vice Presidential announcement. This kind of email is supposed to be sent with the agreement of the recipient but unsolicited messages have become more common:
I recently received a spam that supports the case of Michael Skelly for Congress, saying negative things about incumbent John Culberson. What's interesting: this is my home precinct. These people are actually competing for my vote. This leads to the question: how on earth did the Skelly people manage to map my work email address to my home mailing address? Privacy Digest: Targeted political spam
Robocalls are now on the frontline. These phone calls use computerized auto-dialling and a computer-delivered recorded message. In other words, telephone Spam. They have become a major smear weapon:
It was perhaps predictable that the task of recording the worst of McCain's robo-slime -- the worst so far, at least -- would fall to Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani has recorded a new McCain robocall in which he suggests, in effect, that Barack Obama doesn't think sex offenders, drug dealers and murders should have to go to jail, according to Jennifer Henderson, a stay-at-home mom in Maine who tells us she received the call.
In New McCain Robocall, Rudy Giuliani Suggests Obama Opposes Jailing Murderers And Rapists
The Washington Monthly reported on the twists and turns:
John McCain hated robocalls eight years ago when they were used to smear him and his family. John McCain hated robocalls nine months ago when his rivals for the Republican nomination used the tactic against him. And yet, McCain loves robocalls now.
It turns out, when Bush used robocalls to destroy McCain eight years ago, he relied on a firm called FLS, run by a Republican activist named Jeff Larson. And who is McCain paying now to smear Barack Obama with deceptive robocalls? Jeff Larson's FLS. Political Animal: ROBOCALL IRONY....
There is even an anti-robocall YouTube video from the Obama campaign replaying a robocall smear and calling for a fight back: McCain's Robocalls: An All Out Assault. In fact there is compelling evidence that negative campaigning can be counter productive. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 56% of registered voters polled thought McCain was “too personally critical” of his opponent compared with 26% who felt that about Obama. Growing Doubts About McCain's Judgment, Age and Campaign Conduct

The latest allegation of robocall smears also comes from the Huffington Post, an unashamedly anti-McCain source:
The McCain campaign has authorized another vicious robocall that claims Barack Obama and Democrats would cut off funds for the military, have accused American troops of "war crimes," and pose a threat to national security.
New McCain Robocall: Obama "Accused US Troops Of War Crimes"
There is already a bias against Spam email based on user experiences. Certainly we are all sick of having to listen to a recorded voice or music which goes on interminably. A political robocall is likely to come in between two nuisance ads from Call Centres given their frequency. These kinds of communication have inbuilt negatives which can destroy the message. But would they be doing it if their focus groups or sales figures indicated that these methods don't work? Direct mail through the post has a low take up but advertisers still find it very effective. Canada Post certainly think so. By the amount of traffic, the same must be true of telephone sales.

Australia has laws against Spam and unwanted phone calls. There is an opt-out service for telephones services called the Do Not Call Register but many organisations are exempt, including political groups. The U.S. has a Federal Do Not Call Register that similarly does not block political organisations. There is a private group, The National Political Do Not Contact Registry, which offers to contact politicians for free asking them to stop sending robocalls.

There has been one case where apparently a group was fined $100,000 for sending anonymous robocall messages to voters in North Carolina during the primaries this year. Women's Group Pays $100,000 Fine For N.C. Robocalls they had breached laws requiring them to identify the source of the call and provide contact details.

Spam is illegal here:
Under the Spam Act 2003 it is illegal to send, or cause to be sent, unsolicited commercial electronic messages. The Act covers email, instant messaging, SMS and MMS (text and image-based mobile phone messaging) of a commercial nature. It does not cover faxes, internet pop-ups or voice telemarketing. Australian Communications and Media Authority: Spam & e–Security
Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t stopped the flow of unwelcome messages but the flood seems to have receded. coincidentally I received one from Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) offering me a slice of $US 2.5 million. Pretty attractive given the current exchange rate. Strange that it has a Yahoo China email address. Obviously easier to get things out of there than in.

It will be interesting to see if these responses will be enough to protect Australians from intrusive political messages that are often mischievous and misleading. No doubt we will follow the e-lectioneering trends from across the Pacific.

The vexed issue of how the law should deal with false or misleading claims in new digital-age campaigning must wait for another post.

It's bound to be one step behind the technology.


The New York Times reports on spam politicking at its worst:
A new e-mail making the rounds among Jewish voters in Pennsylvania this week falsely alleged that Mr. Obama “taught members of Acorn to commit voter registration fraud,’’ and equated a vote for Senator Barack Obama with the “tragic mistake” of their Jewish ancestors, who “ignored the warning signs in the 1930’s and 1940’s.”

At first blush, it was typical of the sorts of e-mails floating around with false, unsubstantiated and incendiary claims this year.

But where most of the attack e-mails against Mr. Obama have been mostly either anonymous or from people outside of mainstream politics, this one had an unusually official provenance: It was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Republican Party’s “Victory 2008” committee.
Pennsylvania Republicans Send False Anti-Obama E-mail

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