Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Focus on Australia Foundation/The Exclusive Brethern

John on Vox has expressed interest in finding more information about the Focus on Australia Foundation and its links with the Exclusive Brethren, and possibly the Australian Liberals as well.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Focus on Australia Foundation has a website

From a commentor: http://www.imsure.com.au

The site doesn't show up easily from a Google search because it's all done in Flash. I mean its all done in Flash. Yick.

Whois lists the registrant of the domain name as Allan David Green, same person that owned Focus on Australia Foundation's trustee company Kuduru Pty Ltd before he handed it off to Gayle Le Bon on October 23. All their claymation ads are available from the site: anti-union, pro-Workchoices, anti-green (or possibly anti-dodo, it's kind of hard to tell), pro-mature aged education. That last one seems kind of random.

Their policies are in that Flash awfulness as well, which makes copy-and-paste hard: they aim to "promote and foster" things like "freedom of contract between commercial parties", "fair and equitable workplace relations laws", "public policy which supports and encourages families as a social unit in Australia", access to high quality healthcare and education and..oh hell I'm not going to type all that out, suffice it to say that they're looking to give money to institutions and people that promote their goals and to enter into alliances and what have you with organisations that promote similar goals to their own. Their main schtick seems to be pro-business, which seems intermingled with a pro-family agenda too. That's an odd combination. Well, maybe not for Hillsong, but they're a New South Wales outfit aren't they? These FOAF people are in Queensland.

Anything else? They're wanting FOAF to be "a collective voice that reaches out to our nation promoting Values that sustain our Australia's abundance" (the capital V on Values and the use of the grammatically weird but plausibly accurate phrase "our Australia's abundance" are both in the original website). Their contact address is a PO Box, which is different from their registered place of business in Coomera.

My tentative impression is either astro-turfing body or (far less likely) slush fund. I'm not sure for who.

That fake "Islamic Australia Federation" ad

Courtesy of my boyfriend Nick, here is the full text of the leaflet that Federal Liberal MP Jackie Kelly's husband, Gary Clark, and member of the NSW Liberal Party state executive, Jeff Egan were distributing in St Marys (a place where I very briefly went to high school, incidentally). Full details are in many Australian papers, including the Daily Telegraph somewhat suprisingly to me:Libs handed out fake Muslim flyers.
UPDATE: here's a PDF which includes the graphics used and the "Ala Akba[sic]" at the end: click here

The role of the Islamic Australia Federation is to support Islamic Australians by providing a strong network within Islamic Australia.

Muslims supporting Muslims within the community and assisting and showing christian Australians the glorious path to Islam.

In the upcoming federal election we strongly support the ALP as our preferred party to govern this country and urge all other Muslims to do the same.

The leading role of the ALP in supporting our faith at both state and local government levels has been exceptional and we look further to further support when Kevin Rudd leads this country.

We gratefully acknowledge Labor's support to forgive our Muslim brothers who have been unjustly sentenced to death for the Bali bombings.

Labor supports our new Mosque construction and we hope, with the support or funding of local and state governments, to open our new Mosque in St Marys soon.

Labor was the only political party to support the entry to this country of our Grand Mufti reverend Sheik al-Hilaly (sic) and we thank Hon Paul Keating for over-turning the objections of ASIO to allow our Grand Mufti to enter this country.


Jackie Kelly's response has been that it was all a "Chaser-style" prank. The Chaser's response: "It's a bit of a worry when the best argument you have to defend your ethical practices is that you were doing what The Chaser does".

In any case, it should be possible for people to judge for themselves whether or not they agree with Mrs Kelly's claim of the text printed here that "If you read it you would be laughing".

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Article on Focus on Australia Foundation: "Small business funds trust behind television ads"

Full text of the Australian Financial Review article found in the Deep Web (gotta love that database access). This probably isn't that big a deal given the extremely primitive nature of the ads, but I think it should always be possible to have at least some idea of who's responsible for political advertising.

***
Small business funds trust behind television ads
Fleur Anderson
159 words
20 November 2007
Australian Financial Review (Abstracts)
11
English
Copyright 2007 Media Monitors Australia Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved

A number of small businesses have funded an anti-union advertising campaign that has been running on commercial television networks and on SBS in recent weeks. The Gold Coast-based Focus on Australia Foundation's ads urge voters: 'Don't give your vote to unions' and 'Thinking clears the vision, WorkChoices is a bright idea.' The campaign was authorised by Gayle Le Bon, the sole director, secretary, and shareholder of Focus' trustee company, Kuduru Pty Ltd. Australian Securities and Investments Commission records show the company was previously set up, owned and run since 1997 by Allan David Green, who resigned as director and secretary and transferred his three shares to Ms Le Bon on October 23. No suggestions of improper conduct were made against Mr Green.

Political ads: who is "Focus on Australia Foundation"?

I was watching the morning news and was a little surprised by the sheer number of ads that the Coalition has apparently bought - I swear there was at least one warning about a Labor government run by "union fanatics" (Gillard), "environmental extremists" (Garrett) and "learners" (Swan and Rudd) every single ad break. But I also saw two odd political ads from an outfit I've never heard of before. I can't find the first ad on youtube, but it featured a short claymation skit of a voter putting his vote into some sort of monster thingy that had "union" written on it, which got activated by the vote getting put into it and then ate the voter. The voice-over message was something like "know what it is you're voting for". Pretty standard anti-union/anti-Labor stuff, except it never mentioned Labor even once.

The second one got put up on Youtube by someone because they thought it was so odd:"it's a green dodo!".

So: anti-union/anti-Labor, and anti-environmentalist/anti-Green I guess, although it is kind of hard to tell what the hell that green dodo's supposed to be about. It's very childish.

Both ads listed the sponsor of the ad as something called the "Focus on Australia Foundation", based in Coomera, Qld. Standard google search turns up, in total, someone asking about them on pollbludger.com in the comments about an AC Nielson poll on Wentworth, and noting that they seem to be very much an "under the radar" sort of set-up.

Google blogsearch comes up with this person also wondering what's up with the green dodo crap. He says he found something in ASIC but I can't find what he's referring to as yet.

I did find this in the ABN register: the ABN of the Trustee of the Focus on Australia Foundation Trust: 19 779 196 982. Postcode for this is 4209, same as Coomera. The ABN has been active only since 24 Oct 2007. It's a "discretionary investment trust" per the ABR. A discretionary trust is apparently a "A trust that is neither a fixed trust nor a hybrid trust and under which a person or persons benefit from income or capital of the trust upon the exercise of a discretion by a person or persons, usually the trustee." As a discretionary investment trust "the main source of income of the discretionary trust is from investment activities" (thank you ABR help glossary).

I'm really not sure what this is about, but I don't like it. Independent organisations putting up political attack ads isn't bad per se, but I generally like to know who's doing it and why (case in point: Getup). For this FOAF thing, there's no website, no contact details and the only easy-to-acess business record suggests that money's being funneled to it via a trust. Am I correct in my suspicions that this set-up very effectively conceals the source of its funding and the identity of the person who's running it?

The only other lead is that the actual person who authorised the ads was named "G. Lebon". I don't expect much luck in tracing that. I have my suspicions about who's behind all this naturally: Family First or The Exclusive Brethren would be the people I'd name as willing and able to do these sorts of under the table shenanigans. But as yet there's no proof of anyone's involvement.

I intend to keep looking through other sources of information available to me as time permits.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Social study of emo

Last semester I didn't get a chance to do some at least vaguely academic study of "emo" in the wake of those two teen girls in Victoria committing suicide earlier this year. This semester I may get a second chance if my Contemporary Cultures tutor lets me expand an essay supposed to be about "moral panics" and goth/metal/punk subcultures to include the newly-created media conception of an "emo" subculture.

Why focus on emo? It seems like a subculture regarded with contempt rather than fear by most internet denizens. Mass media representations (the means by which the majority of the population still gets their news) on the other hand are a little different.

A few of the headlines from Australian and New Zealand newspaper headlines that came up in my initial forays into the databases to which the university so helpfully gives me access:

Sinister messages and warnings in self-loathing world of Emo
Internet an outlet for the darkest teen angst
Fears for teens in dangerous subculture
Teenagers' secret world
'It's over for me, I can't take it!' The tragic last words of MySpace suicide girls
Lost in cyberspace: Fears that new networks are breeding grounds for real-life tragedies

To be fair, there's also:

Music takes another trip down the scapegoat road, and
Ignore the scaremongers Emo is not a dirty word

but the "moral panic" aspect is pretty clear. I hope I have room in the essay to illustrate the role of the Internet as the "folk devil" for the panic, in the absence of any human being to fill the role.

Anyway, these are my favourite two quotes from the newspaper search so far based on just how poor they show elite understanding of the issue really to be:
From Tasmanian Catholic Schools Parents and Friends Federation president, Bill Button: "Parents are concerned because all of a sudden their child, if they have access to a computer, can turn into an Emo."
From Tasmania's Department of Health and Human Services Community Resilience and Mental Health Promotion, project officer Dion Butler: "I understand that some Emo groups require youth to cut themselves as an initiation -- if they don't cut, they can't join"

Monday, September 03, 2007

APEC Protestors allegedly admit "violent" plan

Headline from news.com.au of a few days back: APEC protestors admit "violent" plan.

Somebody found an online post circulating from Melbourne anarchist group claiming that it endorsed violent action. The allegedly incriminating line is "By the very praxis of stepping out and challenging their control of space, we are committing what is regarded as a violent act".

It seems dubious that this is an intention to cause harm to person or property. They seem to be saying that they'll be CALLED violent, but not actually advocating it.

The full text of the anarchist group's announcement is here. I'll quote again, adding the next sentence that news.com.au left off: "By the very praxis of stepping out and challenging their control of space we are committing what is regarded as a violent act. It is the violence of articulating resistance; it is a violation against their understanding of our lives."

I think that reads slightly differently.

Curious how the way of talking about the APEC protests has neatly categorised the possible protest into one of only two categories: peaceful and good, or violent and evil. This group is advocating something that doesn't fit neatly into that dichotomy: from my reading, their intention is not to cause direct harm or damage, but to deliberately trespass. That's not violent. It is, though, definitely illegal, and dead certain to provoke a forceful response from police.

So...is it "violent protest" if a person knowingly commits a non-violent but illegal act which the police will, I believe, be obliged to respond to with force?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

For uni, I'm reading about sati, a practise in India where a woman who was widowed was burnt to death. The British forcibly put a stop to the practise when they were occupying the country in the 19th century.

Reading Sir William Bentick's reasoning on enforcing a ban on the practise gives me a strange feeling about the whole affair. I'm happy with the result, but the reasonins seems so...nineteenth century: the argument against trying to enforce a ban was that it might lead to a revolt and end to British supremacy in the region, which would have deprived the natives of even more "benefits of civilisation" than just the abolition of this one practise.

I can't help thinking of modern-day justifications for attacking Islam on the grounds that it oppresses women either through enforced wearing of a burkha(the view on this varies by sect) or through toleration/advocation of honour-killing (not a practise actually condoned by Islam). Sure, I think both such things are problematic, but it seems like something else is at stake, ideologically speaking...

Is it common for Western concerns with injustice in other civilisations to focus so specifically (and, it seems, exclusively) on the injustices suffered by women?

This post is on less certain ideological ground than I'm accustomed to being on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The reason for Last.fm's popularity

I've been thinking about last.fm and about how such a fairly simple concept has so many people, including me, going "wow that's so cool!".

A lot of the stuff at last.fm is pretty standard web 2.0 stuff: friendslists, blogging, tagging, etc, but the key feature that sets it apart in my eyes is the scrobbling: the way it aggregates the music you listen to and provides handy charts to display based on this aggregation.

The coding to collate and display this data probably isn't that complicated, but the result seems to me to have a social resonance that goes well beyond something I'd expect from a "mere" aggregation of data.

Part of it's obviously the type of data. Musical preference is a much more personal thing than, say, a person's preferred shopping habits, so that has an impact. But I think it's also the way in which we talk about music that allows last.fm to augment music buff's intercommunication about music so effectively.

There are two main questions that a music buff wants to answer, even without being asked: "what are you into?", and "what are you listening to right now". Last.fm's overall chart and weekly chart provide a neat answer to both. The assumption is that your musical preference can be quantitively scaled by collating the number of times you listen to each track and each artist. The process can be cheated obviously, but the overall result translates extremely well: Artists and tracks you like score highly while less well-liked artists score less well.

It seems so obvious, but I only really thought how useful it is to do that when I saw Last.fm (then Audioscrobbler.com) doing it. A few other things that make the process so effective:
It's transparent. Once the plug-in for music player X is installed, the process of collation(scrobbling) is automatic. Many of the modern linux players even have the process built-in, so that commencing scrobbling is as simple as checking a box then forgetting about it.
It's efficient: the time it takes to detail musical taste, even to the point where you can point out what's currently tickling your eardrums and providing an approximate ranking of your taste, is practically instantaneous.
It's emergent: neat word that. Basically it means that you don't know what the chart's going to look like until after it's completed. You can actually be surprised by the results and think things like "wow, I didn't know I was listening to Muse that much!".
It's "push": I guess by this I mean that you can provide this neatly aggregated and quantified snapshot of your musical taste to people without them asking for it. Just lay it out on your blog, Myspace or whatever and you answer the two questions above to anyone who looks at your personal space whether they were going to ask you or not.

I guess overall that it seems to me like last.fm combined some fairly obvious ways to use software in a manner that allowed people to communicate about music in a way that had never been done before. That really is cool.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Oh dear, Israel/Palestine again (again? Yes, again)

Palestine just went kablooie again. Metaphorically speaking.

On the Israeli side, little of immediate note beyond the election of a new Labor Party leader who's calling on current Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to resign. That's not really new: most prominent Israeli citizens and politicians have had it in for Olmert ever since his unsuccessful military campaign failed to eliminate Hezbollah.

On a non-headline note, I had opportunity to watch a documentary on SBS called "Judah/Mohammed" a few nights back. The documentary traced the lives of two 15-year olds - one Israeli named Judah, one Palestinian named Mohammed - for a time, without them ever actually meeting. What struck me most about their leaves was how their whole society seemed destined to mold both of them into thinking of each other as the enemy.

In Judah's classroom at school, students were taught about the Israeli war of independence and how the new nation of Israel defended itself against unprovoked attack from Arab nations. The teacher was tried to get an analysis going of the pros and cons of various peace plans but was constantly battling against complaints about any attempt at peace by students yelling out things like "but teacher, you know what Arabs are like!"

Mohammed for his part seemed a lot more well off than what I would have expected given what I know about the demographics of the Palestinian territories. He wasn't from a poor family - lower middle class would probably be about right - and went to a typical Western-style school, where he learned about the creation of Israel, or as the Palestinians refer to it, the Catastrophe. Mohammed himself was arrested at one point for participating in a demonstration against occupation - we got a lovely camera shot of a pursuing Israeli army officer laying the boot in - and being held in detention for a few days before returning to his family and school, pending trial. He was officially welcomed back as a hero for the Palestinian cause by his school and community. The charges against him were upheld, but the Israeli judge took into account his physical mistreatment at the hands of Isreali captives while he was in detention. He was given a fine and forbidden from participating in any demonstrations for, um, I think it was six months. Mohammed was at a demonstration again a month later.

All things told, my main impression was how much effort went into instilling a deep sense of pride in the respective heritages of both Israeli and Palestinian youth. So much pride, and so much destruction because of it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The passive aggression of Cardinal Pell and his defenders

Let's see, how did it go down?

1) Cardinal Pell warns that there would be consequences for Catholic MPs who voted in favour of NSW legislation that would allow therapeutic cloning.
2) Catholic MPs, including those who were planning to vote against the legislation, react angrily to Pell's attempt at intimidation. The bill easily passes in the NSW Lower House.
3) But now people, including our possible future Prime Minister, are leaping to Pell's defense, insisting that he "had every right to speak out on behalf of the church".

Which would be a legitimate complaint, if the angry reaction was a response to Cardinal Pell expressing an opinion. But the angry reaction was never about Pell merely expressing an opinion: it was about Pell making threats.

I guess the fact that Pell never outlined what he specifically meant by "consequences" makes it easier to get away with misrepresenting his threat as a mere "forceful expression of opinion". But Pell made a threat, and it's passive aggressive behaviour to try and portray legitimate hostility to that threat is somehow unfair on Pell.

Friday, May 25, 2007

PR by redefinition of words

Minor newspeakification of note: Some commercial sites such as salon.com and forbes.com redirect you to a page devoted entirely to serving up an ad before letting you proceed to the article you want to read. Both at least give an option to click a hyperlink that skips past the adpage with minimal fuss. The text for the hyperlink that lets you at salon.com is "Skip this ad".

The text for the hyperlink at forbes.com is "Skip this welcome screen".

I can accept the need for acquiring revenue by force-serving advertising, but trying to redefine the imposition as a pleasing "welcome message" isn't going to make me suddenly start wanting it. Let it go, Forbes.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Citizenship test

The sample questions for the proposed Australian citizenship test confirm my impression that it's ideologically-driven bullshit. First point of note: despite the Herald Sun calling it an "exclusive look" at the questions being considered by the Federal government, now that people have had a chance to look at them and criticise them Howard and Andrews are claiming that "those questions in the paper this morning are not ours". Riiiight. Handling backlash 101: disclaim all responsibility.

But most disturbing is question 15:
15. Australia's values are based on the ...

a. Teachings of the Koran

b. The Judaeo-Christian tradition

c. Catholicism

d. Secularism

The answer should be (d) in my book. But the government says it's (b). Andrews is standing by this Christianist revisionism of Australia's secular history, according to the Herald Sun: Significantly, Mr Andrews said immigrants would have to acknowledge the Judeo-Christian tradition as the basis for the nation's values system.

That last link claims majority support for the citizenship test based on an online poll. Hoo boy. The news.com.au arm of the Murdoch Empire on the other hand has the headline "readers slam citizenship test", so at least there's some effort to recognise that this whole farce isn't necessarily being dumbly accepted by the majority of the Australian public.

Jeez, what a joke. I can only hope this pointless theatrical display only means something to people who believe that anything with the label "keeps foreigners out" is automatically good. Especially pathetic considering it won't even do that: the test isn't a barrier to immigrants arriving here, just a barrier to them gaining citizenship afterwards.

The conflict between democracy and religious extremism in India

A reporter concerned about the rise in power of Hindu extremism in India, providing some info about the current status of the world's largest democracy. An insightful article, here.

Nice to see someone noticing that the overall problem isn't "Islamic extremism" or "Hindu extremism" but extremism, period.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Kids these days are so narcissistic"

I hear that every so often: that the way youth plaster their lives all over the Internet these days is a sign of their incredible narcissism. I suppose it's an easy way of fitting the way new media is currently used by youth into an understandable framework. It seems premature to dismiss it as just that though.

"Narcissism" implies self-indulgence: that the sharing of sometimes very intimate aspects of their lives with the entire world is an exercise in completely unnecessary ego-gratification. Ego gratification maybe, but unnecessary? Wanting a child so that your name might live on could be called ego gratification, but it wouldn't be called "narcissism" unless that's all that it was.

What else could be involved in youth expression on Myspace et al that would go beyond mere personal aggrandisement? I see three possibilities:

(1) Power. It's hard not to notice that in today's mediated world, media exposure and power in society are directly related. A person might readily conclude that amassing an audience could today lead to as much influence in society as amassing wealth has in previous years - assuming the audience likes what you have to say.
(2) Existentialism. Again a product of today's mediated environment, summarised by a quote I read somewhere describing the situation in high schools in the US today: "if you don't have Myspace, then you don't exist". Asserting a person's own personal life online might be seen as asserting their existence in a world which by and large doesn't care about them, or even know who they are, in an environment where they're surrounded by people who are asserting their existence, and validating the existence of others, through online media such as Myspace. Previous generations only needed to assert their existence to those relatively few people around them whose lack of validation might have led to existential uncertainty. Today's youth are connected to the entire world. Is it any wonder that they want the entire world to validate their existence?
(3) Identity formation. Tricky, this one. Premise: the process of growing up involves an adolescent defining their identity not just to others, but to themself. Premise: successful self-definition requires self-differentation: I am this, I am not that. Premise: successful self-differentation can only be done through reference to an external source which can describe to a person what certain aspects of their identity are or are not.

The peer group can be helpful here in determining whether someone, for example, is emo or is not hardcore, but the Internet offers new opportunities to ask more people the question "Who am I"?. In this approach the online exposure isn't asserting an identity so much as asking what that identity is: "here are my likes and dislikes in music, books and TV. Who does that mean that I am?", "In this blog entry I say I did this today, this is who I think that makes me, do my friends agree?". That's not the questions asked, but that's the subconscious subtext.

So there's more than one way to examine the embrace of "exhibitionism" online by modern youth without leaping to the conclusion that it's something negative like "narcissism", or for that matter, "exhibitionism".

Bad media coverage

My media environment seems to be awash in hysteria about (a) the Internet (b) emo subculture, and (c) the Internet and emo subculture of late. I had the misfortune of having my intelligence insulted when someone presented me with this woefully bad Today Tonight segment on the emo subculture in the wake of the double suicide of two teen girls in Melbourne. Last night my lecturer suggested watching Difference of Opinion on ABC as it was covering issues concerning new media, and both my boyfriend and I found it so cringe-worthy that we had to stop.

I'm no longer youth, but I was part of an "alternative" subculture, as well as currently being a heavy user of the Internet, and really, the reporting conventions for "evil youth subculture" don't change much. Henry Jenkins wrote a post on a similarly overblown US report on the emo subculture in "Dissecting a Media Scare", which basically describes Today Tonight's coverage as well - the only real difference being that Repentant Recanter didn't get a play in the Australian coverage, while Overwrought And Overtaxed Parent did. I guess the goth kids are feeling kind of thankful that they're not in the media cross-hairs this time, although they probably shouldn't relax just yet with headlines like "Drug use and gothic culture led to WA murder" starting to crop up.

The emo kids themselves are for their part distinctly unimpressed. Here's one Myspace user who seems to think that the trouble he's facing in life stems far more from the "concern" adults show at his subcultural identity than it does from the subcultural identity itself. I can just hear the cries of thousands of misunderstood teenagers facing off against their newly concerned Today Tonight-watching parents with that old teen trope "why can't you just let me be who I am?!!".

As for Difference of Opinion's "The Digital Revolution: Communications Breakthrough or Breakdown?", I really think it's the adult "experts" that have got things wrong there. The main argument against youth adoption of new media was the claim that they didn't understand the full implications of what those media were capable of doing. I respectfully disagree: I think they understand the implications better than those of us who haven't grown up immersed in them by virtue of having more experience with them, and perhaps also by having no preconceptions about how they "ought" to work.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gay in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Gay activist goes into hiding.

How many people use the global nature of the Internet to actually examine the rest of the globe I wonder? Here's an article from Zimbabwe, where scarcity of resources has apparently led to a comma shortage. But I shouldn't sneer - not until I'm capable of understanding what the non-English parts of the comments say I guess. I find it a stark reminder of conditions for people in other parts of the world, particularly gay people in this case.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

American interest in the refugee swap

Wildframe is an Australian blogger, but they present an interesting perspective on how the refugee deal might go down in the US. The post Republican's export Cuban refugees to Australia makes me think more seriously that this bizarre "refugee swap" is intended to benefit the US government more than the Australian government.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Australia, USA organise "refugee swap"

Okay, this agreement between Australia and the US makes absolutely no sense. Does John Howard seriously expect us to believe that offering boat people the possibility of ending up in America rather than Australia will have a negative impact on people-smuggling?

The conspiracy theorist side of me wants to say "no, it'll encourage it, and that's the whole point". The Coalition's had a lamentable lack of potential terrorists asylum seekers trying to enter Australia of late which they can struggle against with great fanfare. Nothing like trying to encourage a few to try it in an election year in order to recreate Tampa 2001.

Less conspiracy theoryish, but still in that kind of paranoid territory, is the thought that this is more about what the US government wants than what the Australian government wants, which would explain why Howard is doing something that doesn't look like it'd be very popular in Australia even among the "go back where you came from!" mob. Some kind of quid pro quo for David Hicks perhaps? This hasn't been reported in American media at the time of writing - no idea how US citizens will view it.

More prosaic - and therefore probably accurate - is the possibility floated by Asylum Seeker Resource Centre spokeswoman Pamela Curr in the article linked above:
Ms Curr said political pressure from Nauru had prompted the island nation to set boundaries on the processing of boat people bound for Australia.

"I think (Australia) is worried that Nauru's going to cut up rough and put pressure on the government to get these young men and boys off Nauru," she said.

Doubts in the US over the future of Guantanamo Bay may also have come into calculation, she said.
Besides the problems with their respective offshore refugee processing regimes, it strikes me as an awfully convenient way of basically ensuring that a potential refugee from Australia (or the US) can get further delayed from receiving refugee status by requiring them to restart the entire process of seeking asylum anew in the US (or Australia).

I can only guess at any of this, but even these kinds of possibilities seem less absurd than the reason the Australian government is trying to get Australian citizens to swallow.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Social networking site aggregators

I was expecting something like this:
Loopster Makes Friends of Social Networks. Techcrunch profiles efforts in creating "meta-social-networking" sites which try to transcend the limitations of having multiple disparate and incompatible social networking sites in existence. Various strategies of aggregation are discussed, with the featured site being a thing called Loopster

From the Techcrunch article:
Once you’ve registered with Loopster, you hand over your credentials for MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, Live Journal, or your Blogger user name and click “Add”. This gets Loopster’s crawlers working.
Just hand over your credentials? Just like that? I would've thought there were privacy and security concerns to worry about. Not dealing with those issues is one way of dealing with those issues I guess. Then again, efforts that actually try to deal with these issues, like OpenID, don't seem in any hurry to get off the ground. Then there's the issue that the OpenID approach relies on co-operation of the social networking site to work, while Loopster's approach just needs a user's username/password combo to access any site that they can support, no site co-operation required. The Techcrunch article actually mentions Myspace's active resistance to this sort of arrangement:"MySpace doesn’t have an API for its site, and has been known to send some nasty C&D letters to people who crawl their network."

These meta-social-networking sites highlight an incompatibility between the desires of social networkers and the desires of the companies that maintain social networking sites. Your typical social networking site user wants as wide a selection of people to meet and services to use as possible. Your typical social networking site company wants people to meet other people on, and use the services of, its own site and no others to as great an extent as possible. The tendency for new social networking sites is for segmentation and specialisation, like the specialised services for dog-lovers, families etc mentioned in the Techcrunch article. I don't think that's what users want at all.

What users seem to want is compatibility between sites, but the sites themselves rarely if ever offer tools that facilitate this. Even where cross-site tools exist within a social networking site, the tendency is to use them in a way that promotes one site at the expense of others. Vox, for example, allows automatic crossposting to other blogs but defaults to a setting which posts only part of the entry with a "read the rest of this entry on Vox" link appended (an option to cross-post the whole post has since been made available at the request of Vox users, although it's not the default behaviour).

The whole compatibility issue may become moot if Myspace continues its role as the Windows 95 of the social networking world and becomes the only social networking site that anybody uses, but I'm sort of hoping that doesn't happen. It'd be nice to see consumers able to make their own choices about how they want to segment their social spaces instead of having it foisted on them by incompatible social networking regimes. It'd be nice too for people to be able to start using new and possibly superior services without having to address the "but everyone I know is on Myspace, not [different service]" issue. Vox, as noted above, sort of does this by easing migration to the new service through convenient cross-posting, but even Vox tends to sandbox its services by, for example, only allowing comments on the Vox blogs from registered Vox users.

One of the commenters in the Techcrunch article wondered if the meta-social-networking site would meet the same unsuccessful fate as the meta-search engine. I don't think it will. A meta-search engine doesn't really add any function to that already provided by a search engine, but a meta-social-networking sites actually provide a necessary functionality that social networking sites don't (won't?) provide in their current form: that of convenient cross-site communication.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Howard on Iraq

John Howard gives a speech on Iraq the night before I'm drawing up some notes for a discussion on Ausralia's involvement in Iraq for uni. Timing, huh? Plenty I could vent about, but suffice it to say that I'm amused by the headlines describing Howard's speech as a commitment to stay the course in Iraq. Didn't take long for that particular buzzphrase to return, did it?

Also, from Howard's speech:
In Kevin Rudd's case, it's unclear whether he is auditioning for the editorial board of The Weekly Standard or to be Australia's answer to Michael Moore.
Strange that Howard would compare Rudd to American political institutions rather than Australian ones. Was his speech perhaps more for the benefit of an American audience than an Australian one?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Viacom sues Gootube

YouTube/Google sued by Viacom for a billion bucks

I'm not remotely suprised that Viacom was the content provider who did this, given their strident, shortsighted, longstanding, not to mention abusive attitude to copyrights and copyright law.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Howard's powergame as seen by a first-year uni student

One useful aspect of starting to study humanities at university is that it exposes me to far more thorough and far more rigorous investigations of concepts that I've been previously been mulling here. Take a little concept by a person named Steven Lukes about "the three faces of power", for instance. He described power as having three faces:
1. Decision-making. The most obvious face, where an entity makes a decision and enforces it.
2. Non-decision-making, or agenda-setting. A more subtle exercise of power where the actual decisions that can be made get constrained somehow.
3. Shaping desires. An even subtler face, in which power is exercised not to coercively over-ride someone else's decision, but to actually change what they want, so that they come to the "correct" decision.

I'm pretty sure that the Howard government has actively focused on exercising the second and third face of power: convincing people that the most important issues on the agenda (agenda-setting) is the economy and anti-terror, and that economic rationalism and a militant attitude to tackling jihadism will give people what they want out of life (shaping desires?). I note that Labor under Rudd has apparently made some inroads on Howard by some agenda-setting of their own, specifically Rudd's repeated references to "compassion" as being something which should shape government policy.

GooTube

Users are going to make copies of your copyright content, so you may as well get used to it and embrace it. Video content companies ought to make it even easier for “fans” to use unauthorized copyright content uploads, instead of trying to deprive them of the content they are “fanatics” about.

What will the video content owners really get out of their “fans” exploiting unauthorized uploads of their copyright content? That is still Googley “unclear.”

So sayeth Google CEO Erich Schmidt, as reported by one of ZDNet's blogging types in this article: Why Google will never pay for content.

Content owners are far from thrilled at the idea that Google can basically make a profit through advertising via people watching the video content on Youtube which Google didn't purchase and which is very frequently in blunt violation of copyright law (and I was enjoying those illegal uploads of entire episodes of NBC's series "Heroes" until the uploader's account was suspended, too. Damn the Man!).

I'm not sure how Us copyright law works in this situation. The DMCA provides a safe harbour for Google from prosecution for contributory copyright infringement if they're not notified that a copyright violation is occurring on their system I think. But if they're provided formal notification, then the allegedly infringing content must be removed (a so-called "DMCA takedown").

It seems both Google and content owners feel that this system as it currently stands is unworkable. The'yre probably right. The sheer volume of content involved makes formal notification difficult, and formal policing costly. A lot of the dispute seems to revolve around the policing. Content owners want Google to do the policing, but Google wants content owners to pay for the policing. Google call this a "service" I guess, but content owners apparently prefer to call it a "shakedown".

I suspect that there'll be a lot of lobbying for changes in US copyright law from both parties. Interesting to see who wins out. Content providers seem better established to demand a stricter enforcement regime than the DMCA allows through its pro-business position, but, bluntly, Google's CEO basically articulated what the vast majority of Youtube users actually want, ethics and law be damned. To quote from one of the many people who left comments praising the "Heroes" uploader's efforts in providing full episodes to those not in the US and who are blocked from watching at the official NBC website: "dude, you're the Robin Hood of Youtube". Google would have popular opinion on its side.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Iraq the Model, and its fans

Iraq the Model, one of the few Iraqi blogs still supportive of a US presence in Iraq wants the "surge" to work, and rails against what they perceive as the "unrealistic expectations" of the "Surge" plan's many critics. Mildly interesting as a study in Strawman Argument 101, but what's especially fascinating is some of the commentary.

Some samples:
of course you will read or hear nothing about this glaring reality in the enemy-i mean mainstream-press.

The mainstream press isn't just "biased", it is an actual ENEMY.
The use of the term "last chance" is meant to convey how very discouraged all of America is in Iraqis' individual failure to step up to the plate and assume responsiblity for your own country.

It is uttered in the tone of the adult parents chastising the recalicitrant delinquent teenager standing defiantly before them, having just totalled the family car ... again.

Iraqis are all immature children who need a stern dressing down from those who command parental authority over them: the US.
You're correct. The phrase "last chance" is defeatist and is being used to undermine our mission in Iraq.

This of course blatantly contradicts the previous comment's explanation for the "last chance" rhetoric. But there was no attempt to resolve the contradiction. Unsurprising, really.
The surge will not be a test of the
Anerican military, it will be a test
of the loyalty, integrity, and bravery
of the Iraqi Army.

"Blame the Iraqis" is in full swing.
If you want to know whether a surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad will make a difference, listen to Iraqis like taxi driver Ali Mansoor, 38.

Did someone seriously suggest that we should be taking advice on military strategy from a taxi driver? Yes, they did.
the test is not for the US military and political effort, it is for the Iraqi govt and military and PEOPLE.

Just in case anyone was thinking that the "blame the Iraqis" game was limited only to blaming the Iraqi government.
People,
Do we have to install another dictator to get u guys to get along?

Speaks for itself.
The Left is getting desperate. They used the Diebold Machine and propaganda to gain control of Congress and IT DIDN'T DO THEM ANY GOOD.

!

But I think I'll let the one and only person claiming to be an actual soldier in the US army have the last word:
Marhaba....I'm a soldier stationed in Iraq. I've been here over 10 months, and will be here for six more, extended as part of the troop surge. I work on a Tactical Human Intelligence Team south of Baghdad.
Yes, this is the last chance. Quit whining about the choice of words. Fact: American soldiers are being killed by IED's on the roads, in my area. The Iraqi Police know who are planting the IED's, and do nothing. Fact: Iraqi police alert Jaysh Al Mahdi terrorists by cell phone when Humvees pass their checkpoints on raids. Iraqi culture is a zero sum game between tribes. Jaysh Al Mahdi is the biggest "tribe." Fact: Our civil affairs projects fund terrorists - bribes, shoddy work, protection money, corruption. At the end of this deployment, I will have been away from my family for 24 months. I have seen comrades blown apart by IED's. All for a people who are incapable of fixing themselves. I challenge anyone here to argue. I will inundate you with facts. I am non-political. I don't care about democrat/republican. -Masaalama.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

German has such interesting lingual constructs

Learned a new word today: dolchstosslegende. It very roughly translates to "mythology of the stab in the back". Born in Germany to rationalise why the "invincible" German army was unable to win World War I, the myth has since migrated to another mighty nation which needed to explain why its "invincible" military failed to achieve victory in Korea, Vietnam, and soon, Iraq. Here's an old link describing the myth's origins and applications, as well as a reason for why the dolchstosslegende may not be successful at rationalising failure in Iraq.

Stabbed in the back!

A thought on neonconservativism

Ex-neocon Francis Fukuyama writes that neoconservatives have
a view that ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and often undermines its own ends
.
It occurs to me that this statement isn't an entirely accurate description of neoconservative ideology. There's one form of "ambitious social engineering" which neoconservatives do back completely: government-sponsored violence against foreign nations. War, in other words.

It's interesting to note that the neocons' "ambitious social engineering" in Iraq (aka invading it and overthrowing the government) has led to the (in the neoconservative view) unexpected consequences of an Iraqi civil war and a newly powerful Iran, which are undermining the ends of democracy promotion in the Middle East that the invasion was supposedly aimed at achieving.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Surge strategy as explained by World of Warcraft players

Kung Fu Monkey has found a perfect way to summarise Bush's Iraq Surge strategy: George Bush is Leroy Jenkins.

Observe:

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Australia supports Bush's "surge" strategy?

From the Age:
Australia won't send more troops to Iraq but has has given its backing to an expected US plan to bolster its forces in the war-ravaged nation by up to 20,000

Hmph.

The token person with an actual military background that the Age spoke to was less than enthusiastic for the plan:
Former senior defence official Allan Behm is doubtful a change in US strategy will solve the violence tearing Iraq apart.

"The US decision will probably to put some additional forces but personally I don't think it's the right decision," Mr Behm said.

"I don't it will make any difference at all.

"I think that 20,000 is a number but the sort of forces that they need to pacify Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands not in the tens of thousands."

Couldn't the Age find a current defence official willing to express an opinion?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Is Bush a neoconservative hawk on Iran?

I would like to believe that the Bush Administration isn't actually trying to start a war with Iran. Threaten it, sure, but actually start a war? Surely even Bush can see that America, for all its strength, can't actually invade Iran and succeed at anything except creating more chaos, especially when it's not even able to control the chaos in Iraq at this point.

Maybe there's enough acceptance of reality in the US government to understand that invasion of Iran is not an option. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case for Bush's neoconservative backers, the ones who convinced so many people, including me I'm sorry to say, that a democratic Iraq was possible through military invasion.

Urgings for a military confrontation with Iran have been popping up in neoconservative online dens such as Real Clear Politics and National Review Online. All of the writers seem to take it as given that such a fight will be won by the US, so long as the US has the will to win. This bizarre belief that the US can do anything it wants to just so long as it wants to do it strongly enough has been dubbed Green Lantern theory of geopolitics by Matthew Yglesias. It's disturbing to think that there are people who want a confrontation with Iran on the basis of that theory.

But is Bush one of those people? He's still hanging out with the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute, the people who convinced Bush to basically wipe his ass with the Iraq Study Group report in favour of a "surge" strategy which is predicated on the assumption that "victory" is still an achievable goal in iraq, so it does seem like he'd be willing to buy an invasion of Iran if it's wrapped up in enough sweet-smelling bullshit.

And the bullshit coming out of the Corner and others smells especially sweet. Take this offering from Real Clear Politics: To Win in Baghdad, Strike at Iran.

Now there's a brilliant way to sidestep the festering issue of Iraq when talking about invading Iran: you don't have to worry about fixing Iraq before invading Iran because invading Iran is what will fix Iraq! Tally ho! Too bad it's such a tunnel-view of the situation. But that does seem to be a hallmark of neoconservative thought: complex reality gets ignored in favour of simple-sounding summations, in this case boiling down all the troubles in Iraq to Iranian interference.

Reading through, Mr Tracinski also has a clever way of saying why a declaration of war against Iran should not be viewed as a declaration of war against Iran: because we're already at war with Iran because of actions taken against US interests in the Middle East. Somehow I think that excuse will fly even less well at the UN than the excuse for the Iraq invasion did. Not that neoconservatives care about even token respect for international institutions of course.

Trackinski's article does seem to have an appeal if you believe that the world is engaged in a struggle between Good (the West and democracy) vs Evil ("islofascism" in all its forms). It also works if you believe that the US will decisively win an armed conflict with Iran. Bush believes the first. I don't know about the second. But given that he's still talking about "victory" in Iraq when the overwhelming majority of American citizens have given up on that being an achievable goal....well, it doesn't look good.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Saddam Hussein's death takes on a life of its own.

At the time I wrote my last post I was thinking the media dust would settle over Saddam Hussein's execution within a few days. I was expecting the execution to be a straightforward, if somewhat distasteful, procedure.

I was not expecting the execution itself to be so badly handled as to become a media issue in its own right.

An unofficial filming of the execution has reportedly surfaced, recorded on a mobile phone, in which I'm told the whole affair looks more like a lynching than a dispensation of justice (I have not seen this film and have no desire to see it unless absolutely necessary - snuff films are so not my thing). Even the local Murdoch press, hardly given to worrying about standing up for justice over vengeance when reporting punishment of people who are "pure evil", has registered a story which shows some concern in its own way when the truth about the execution came out: Jeers nearly stopped Saddam hanging".

I've spent an entertaining few days watching the fall-out, and especially watching the fledgling democratic government of Iraq falteringly try to emulate the example of the proud US democracy in dealing with events that reflect badly on the government in power: shovel as much bullshit at the public as you can.

From Yahoo News on Wednesday we have:"BAGHDAD, Iraq - The person believed to have recorded
Saddam Hussein's raucous execution on a cell phone camera was arrested Wednesday, an adviser to
Iraq's prime minister said."


From the Irish Examiner on Thursday we have
:"Earlier, it was reported a man had been detained over making the video, but an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, Sami al-Askari, denied this."

Do these advisors even know the truth themselves?

Never fear, the Iraqi government is definitely investigating (at least until someone else in the government denies it I guess). Although, to hear that "the Shi'ite-led government, embarrassed by images that show a composed-looking Saddam subjected to sectarian taunts as a noose is put around his neck, has set up a committee to investigate who filmed and leaked the video" doesn't really bode well for me. The main problem from the government's perspective was.....that people got to see what really happened?

The official spin at the moment for the actual taunting and shouting that went on is that (a) Shi'ite militias infiltrated the execution and it was they, not government officials, who are to blame for what went on in the execution chamber:

"There was an infiltration at the execution chamber."

Echoing those accusations, a senior Interior Ministry official said the hanging was supposed to be carried out by hangmen employed by the Interior Ministry but that "militias" had managed to infiltrate the executioners' team.

"The execution was carried out by militias and outsiders. They put aside the team from the Interior Ministry that was supposed to carry it out," the official said.

An official execution video, which had no sound and ended before Saddam falls through the trapdoor, boosted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's authority among his fractious Shi'ite allies.

and (b) the shouts and insults didn't occur in the execution chamber at all:
Prosecutor Munkith al-Faroon, who also attended the execution and told Reuters he saw two senior government officials film the hanging with their mobiles, said on Wednesday the taunts came from guards who were outside the chamber.

"These shouts were spontaneous. The guards who called out were outside the chamber," he told Al Jazeera.

Hmmmm. The blog Talking Points Memo is doing a far better job of tracking the confused and conflicting statements coming from Iraqi government officials than I can.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Obligatory "Death of Saddam Hussein" post

Coverage of Saddam Hussein's execution has reached a media glut. Today's Daily Telegraph front-page hawking the executioner's statement "HE WAS AFRAID, I SAW HIS FEAR" suggests that the media is going to wring every last drop of interest over the event of his death and anything remotedly connected to it that they can.

Really, things in Iraq have moved so far beyond the situation where Saddam is still relevant to current events on the ground that it's not funny. People are talking about the execution all over the place, but was Saddam anything more than a symbol of...something or other, depending on the viewer's perspective....by the time it came to execute him?

Commentary on the left-wing side of the blogosphere, apart from the expected principled opposition to the death penalty, has also included a hefty dose of speculation about the timing. To serve Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki's interests? To serve the Bush Administration's interests in Iraq? In Iran?

I doubt it's anything so Machiavellian. Most likely it was simply a desire tfor vengeance upon Saddam Hussein on the Iraqis' part, and a desire to salvage any kind of dignity over the disgraceful handling of the Iraq invasion on the Bush Administration's part.

But one small point for speculation: Bush unexpectedly delayed his announcement for his new plan of attack for Iraq until an unspecified later date, sometime in January. Is it possible that Bush was betting on a death penalty for Saddam Hussein being handed out in the December-January period? By delaying his announcement of a new strategy until, well, now or anytime after now, the last thing that the public will remember hearing in media reports for Iraq will not be the damning indictment of the Iraq Study Group, but the "Mission Accomplished"-esque event of Saddam's successful execution for his crimes. He is likely to have more support for increasing troop presence in Iraq now.

I wonder how many times Bush will mention Saddam Hussein's trial and execution in his announcement of the new Iraq strategy? I'm going to take a guess at...ooh, let's say eight. Fifteen if he takes questions from reporters.