Friday, August 30, 2013

And down the stretch they come

I don't know if Nate Silver is paying much attention to the Australian federal election, occupied as he would be by putting more zeroes into his spreadsheets post his ESPN acquisition, but if he gave us more than a cursory glance he would recognise some fundamental errors that pollsters made last year in the second Obama victory that local firms seem to be making all over again.

Silver's signature analysis for the NYT of the error rates of US poll companies in 2012 is not itself flawless, since there did appear to be a very late swing towards the incumbent of a point or so from the Hurricane Sandy aftermath which threw everybody out of whack even more than they already were, which is why all but four of the pollsters he listed showed a Republican lean. It showed that the methodology of a poll does carry its own problems - robopolls conducted via automated systems and/or those which exclude mobile phones both oversample conservative voters - but that in-house errors due to sampling techniques can be even more pronounced, up to a 7.2% gap between reality and the results of usually respectable Gallup.

We don't have a local version of Silver, a credible interpreter of the polls for a mass audience who has the statistical chops to back up his analysis. Antony Green is our closest, but he stays out of the daily hustle and bustle to concentrate on electoral process. William Bowe does his best at Poll Bludger over at Crikey with his BludgerTracker index updating for every new poll and hosting massive comment streams where partisans bludgeon each other with the latest figures, while Kevin Bonham goes more in depth in a weekly round up.

Kevin's article on the first week of the 2013 election campaign sums up the high point for Labor polling thus far, as it has been all pain all the time since then. Back then, even though they trailed slightly on the two-party-preferred, it was possible to posit a Labor victory given that they were going to gain more marginals in Queensland and WA than they would lose in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. In the weeks after, every part of that theory has been progressively attacked by national, state and individual seat polls.

If Andrew Elder's theory that Tony Abbott is never going to be the Prime Minister is any chance of coming true, not only does the 2PP need to swing back to somewhere near the first week's levels, there has to be something wrong with the seat-level polling which in marginal Labor seats has shown as much as a nine per cent swing against the ALP. These are all robopolls and/or have very small samples, so they are weak evidence. One wonders if their marginals are indeed hosting such a swing, why the national 2PP is so strong for Labor. Where are their extra votes coming from, safe seats? It's a mystery, not really helped by a strong base of diverse, comprehensive and credible poll sources.

Then there are the betting markets, which started off as highly favouring a Coalition victory even in the first week when the 2PP was 50:50, and have blown out to unbackable odds with one outlet already announcing payouts to those gambling on the Libs. Not that that is a sure fire sign, either: bettors on wins by Tiger Woods and Chris Judd in various recent markets have enjoyed early payouts for competitions in which their ticket didn't end up winning. Politics is a novelty market for bookies, conducted for promotional purposes only.

If I was Nate Silver looking at all of this, I daresay I would be going against the prevailing trend as he did last year and declaring the race as still too close to call. He would probably not have as much faith in the quality and breadth of Australian pollsters to make as confident a call as he made last year, that Obama had a 90%+ chance of winning. That is not to say that Rudd has much of a chance, mind you. The margin of error for Labor is their only hope at this point, but as the days count down and the polls don't narrow by enough, they are running out of doubt from which to take the benefit.

So many dumb ways to lie

I am not a fan of the advent of fact-checking sites we have seen in this election campaign. This is not because fact checking is not needed: in the modern age of slowly dying mass media, retreating to its partisan past, an independent source of fact checking is a necessary part of the post-MSM journalism landscape. My objection to the likes of Politifact, ABC Fact Check, and The Conversation FactCheck is the granularity of the rating systems.

Bronwen Clune's article on this subject for the Guardian was illustrated by a big image of a green tick and a red cross, and that sums up my problem with fact checking sites: that there is not enough nuance in the ratings allowable. Politifact has five possible ratings: false, mostly false, half true, mostly true and true. This leads it to conclude that the ALP line that the Coalition will cut 20,000 public sector jobs is false. The reality is more complex than that, however. If you just concentrate on what the Coalition has said, then you can't find much evidence of the 20,000 number. Labor's argument, however, is that the confirmation of the higher figure is implied by the sums in the Coalition's budget plan, based in part on Treasury analysis which has been running in the media for the last day or two.

For Politifact to look narrowly at whether the Coalition said it would cut 20,000 jobs misses the point, and allows the Coalition to sail by unscrutinised on the implications of its announced policies. Where is the analysis by Politifact on whether the Coalition can actually save the amount of money it claims will be saved by cutting only 12,000 jobs? That is a job for an economist, and Saul Eslake did that job, which earned him the opprobrium of the Coalition.

Politifact's concentration on the words, not the numbers, means that they are now setting themselves up in opposition to what Eslake said. We have duelling fact checkers, one checking the words which describe the numbers, and one checking the numbers which underpin the words. Who is right? They could both be right within the confines of the tasks they set themselves, but they both miss the broader picture.

In the new world of journalism after the giants fall, some will fall victim to the tendency not to tell the whole story. Journalism will become fragmented, an ecology of disparate parts instead of the omnibus juggernauts of yore. If you are setting yourself up as a beacon of truth, however, you should tell the whole truth, not just a part of it. The sin of omission will allow your words to be used by partisans in ways you do not intend. Be effusive in your ratings, please.

I am not talking about the ever-so-slightly better descriptors used by the ABC, like "outdated", or "checks out". These are just synonyms for wrong and right. Loosen it up a bit. Inject some entertainment. I was a fan of Australian writer Paul-Michael Agapow's Postviews back in the day when newsgroups were still a meaningful thing, which used in its movie reviews a Sid and Nancy scale to bring a non-linear element into end-of-review scoring. Thus, the 1996 movie Jude was scored as:
 [*/misfire] and a ski holiday without snow on the Sid and Nancy scale.
And the 1987 movie Mr India was:
[***/interesting] and Sauerkraut westerns on the Sid and Nancy scale
Not so difficult, is it? One other weakness of fact check sites is that they can be painfully earnest. Entertain while you educate! The funny bit may be the takeaway that is most memorable. Get that stick out of where it's lodged, stop pretending that you are cyborg high priests of truth, and add some personality back into these things.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Statement of Charges against Essendon supporters


To: Essendon Football Club supporters

1. You are charged with the following offence against Australian rules football:

Contrary to logic and common sense, in the period from about February 2013 to now, you engaged in conduct unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the Australian Football League or to bring the game of football into disrepute.

2. A statement of the grounds for the laying of the charge is attached.

3. There will be no hearing. Penalties have already been determined, and will be applied without delay.


1. The conduct described below constituted conduct unbecoming or likely to prejudice the interests or reputation of the AFL or to bring the game of football into disrepute on the part of Essendon Football Club ("the Club") because, having determined to support a club which evidence suggests has implemented a scientifically pioneering program relating to the administration of supplements to its players, it engaged in the following logical fallacies:

(a) Argument from ignorance: "You can't convict the players because we will never know if they really took the drugs." 
(b) Argument from incredulity: "I can't believe James would do this. It's just not possible." 
(c) Argument from repetition: "Aren't we all sick of this? Let's just let James get on with it." 
(d) Argument from silence: "The players will never admit to taking drugs, so you can't suspend them for taking drugs." 
(e) Begging the question: "The players have done nothing wrong, so they deserve no penalties." 
(f) Burden of proof shifting: "Demetriou has to answer for tipping off Evans in the first place."
(g) Circular reasoning: "James is a great man and top bloke, so he wouldn't do such a thing."
(h) Circular cause and consequence: "James won so many Anzac, Brownlow and Crichton medals that he couldn't have done such things."
(i) Continuum fallacy: "You can't say there was a pharmacologically experimental environment at Essendon unless you can quantify how many injections there were."
(j) Suppressed correlative: "AOD-9604 doesn't even enhance performance, none of these drugs do really. We don't know enough about them yet."
(k) Equivocation: "What's wrong with players taking drugs anyway? Headache drugs are fine. They take tablets all the time, not to mention cortisone and other injections."
(l) Ecological fallacy: "Jobe shouldn't have his Brownlow taken away, he was always big and strong so it wouldn't have affected him anyway even if it was performance enhancing."
(m) Etymological fallacy: "What does it mean anyway, performance enhancing drug? Sportspeople take drugs to enhance performance all the time. That's what food is. Sugar is a PED."
(n) Fallacy of composition: "Dr Bruce Reid is the most respected and moral doctor in the business. He wouldn't have let anything that bad happen."
(o) Fallacy of division: "Essendon is a strong club with strong people working for it, they wouldn't have let a bad egg in to screw things up."
(p) False dilemma: "Look, either Hird is innocent, or there has been a massive conspiracy by certain external elements of which he is only a mostly unknowing victim."
(q) If-by-whiskey: "Okay, if it comes out that James has signed a contract with the devil himself and sacrifices babies in the dungeons at Windy Hill, then of course I'll change my mind. Until then, he has done no wrong in my eyes and deserves my full support as an upstanding member of the football community."
(r) Fallacy of many questions: "Sure, Demetriou can put out this list of charges against James, but when is he going to stop putting the Bowie knife into him by leaking to Caro? When is Andy D going to stop the personal campaign against James? When will the AFL get off his back?"
(s) Ludic fallacy: "That story of the Mexican drugs is just too ludicrous. What are the odds of that happening?"
(t) Fallacy of the single cause: "The simplest explanation of this whole thing is that it's a witch hunt by Demetriou for a perfectly legitimate supplements regime. There are just too many elements in that charge sheet."
(u) False attribution: "Look at Andrew Garnham's testimony, he was an AFL employee! Well, he was working for Essendon at the time he was supposed to have got this info from ASADA, I know..."
(v) Fallacy of quoting out of context: "Dr Reid said, and I quote, 'I am sure Steve Danks believes that what we are doing is totally ethical and legal.' Come on, that's Bruce Reid talking!"
(w) False authority: "Gerard Whateley changed his mind the other day on AFL360, and that's good enough for me."
(x) Argument to moderation: "Demetriou should come at least half way between his sanctions and what Hird is prepared to accept. That's true compromise."
(y) Gambler's fallacy: "Every day it's another bad news story about Essendon. One of these days it has to turn around, so keep fighting."
(z) Hedging: "Dank was giving them Thymosin, and yes its injection schedule was consistent with the banned beta 4 type of Thymosin, but I think he actually was referring to the non-banned kind, and you can't prove otherwise."
(aa) Historian's fallacy: "James would not have gotten Essendon into this, knowing that this was the situation he would be putting himself and the club into, if he really did do all those things."

(bb) Homunculus fallacy: "There was an evil little man inside James' head telling him to do all those things, it wasn't really him in his right mind." 
(cc) Inflation Of Conflict: "Gerard and Robbo disagree with Caro and Patrick, who knows what to believe."
(dd) Incomplete comparison: "James is just a better coach with more morals and sounder judgement."
(ee) Inconsistent comparison: "James played in more finals than Bobby Skilton, won more grand finals than Kevin Murray and coached more finals than Andrew Demetriou. How can you not think he's worth fighting for?"
(ff) Ignoratio elenchi: "James was a great player and is a great coach, he deserves our moral support."
(gg) Kettle logic: "James is not the sort of person who would get mixed up with convicted criminals. And Shane Charters didn't supply him with PEDs in his playing days, anyway."
(hh) Mind projection fallacy: "Everyone's taking drugs anyway, what Essendon has done is no different to what Collingwood or Hawthorn are doing."
(ii) Moral high ground fallacy: "James will fight for the Club and its supporters until his dying breath, in the name of honesty and all that is good about the Club, against the unprincipled horde of haters."
(jj) Moralistic fallacy: "Drug taking is horribly dangerous and threatens the health of the players, so it is not in James' nature to do such a thing.
(kk) Moving the goalposts: "A more important issue is the AFL bringing the game into disrepute with its attack on the character of the game in the media."
(ll) Naturalistic fallacy: "Footballers and coaches have always sought an edge, it's part of the game, they shouldn't be punished hard if they stray over the edge a little bit."
(mm) Nirvana fallacy: "At this point we are going to lose people from the game no matter what happens, shouldn't we be figuring out how to win them back instead of bringing down the harshest of sanctions?"
(nn) Onus probandi: "Demetriou has to prove that he is fit to stand in judgement over a champion like James before anything else happens."
(oo) Post hoc ergo propter hoc: "I can't help but think that we didn't have much of a drug problem before Demetriou was made CEO."
(pp) Proof by verbosity: Gerard Whateley.
(qq) Prosecutor's fallacy: "You could go into any other big club and find a similar lack of governance, that doesn't mean James is guilty of all these things."
(rr) Psychologist's fallacy: "I watch the players all the time and I didn't see anything particularly different about the Bombers in 2011, they hadn't bulked up noticeably from what I saw."
(ss) Red herring: "What's this I see with Caro making these references to Essendon people being linked to the Liberal Party, is this a witch hunt or what?"
(tt) Regression fallacy: "The Bombers sucked in the second half of 2012, clearly the drugs didn't work anyway."
(uu) Reification: "The footy gods are on James' side on this one, he will pull through."
(vv) Retrospective determinism: "This was always going to bring the playing group together so we can win flags once again."
(ww) Shotgun argumentation: see above.
(xx) Special pleading: "James Hird is an ornament to the game and will become a Legend, he should be paid the respect that goes with his record."
(yy) Wrong direction: "James is right to be angry at Demetriou because the League has hounded him for months."
(zz) Personal Attacks: "Who cares about what the Fat Greek says anyway."


1. You are herewith sentenced to support the Essendon Football Club for the rest of your life.

2. You are concurrently sentenced to watch your club fall from its lofty height of constant premiership contender to the disgrace of deserved mediocrity, as happened to the Carlton Football Club a decade ago, through a series of savage sanctions that could have been largely avoided if the Club hadn't been so bloody minded about defending individuals.

3. Due to these Club sanctions, you are also sentenced to watch successive boards try and fail to subvert them to restore former glories, hiring has-been senior coaches and trading away draft picks for mercenaries and journeymen to top up an over-rated list.

4. You are additionally sentenced to witnessing years of endless speculation over the return of former stars to save the Club, destabilising the current hierarchy and undermining faith in incumbent personnel, not the least speculation about James Hird himself (that's if he hasn't been rubbed out for life).

5. There is no number five. Not any more.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

If I were Kevin Rudd right now

I am here today to define the course of this election campaign. I said at the outset of the campaign that the Labor Party was going to bring a New Way of politics, which has been interpreted in various quarters as being in opposition to negativity or realpolitik. The New Way is not about these things. I will now define what it is, starting with a bit of history.

The Labor Party has always been a broad church, with many points of view represented within it. In the last twenty or thirty years, you can see the various leaders we have had have been different characters with different views of what government should do. My predecessor, Julia Gillard, led a government that was seated firmly in the union tradition of the party, focused on building the future of this country through education and the social safety net. Paul Keating led a government that was focused on economic results, and how we produced those results was a secondary concern, which did not always benefit our union friends. Bob Hawke started as a union man, but the influence of Mr Keating as Treasurer and the development of the Accord cast him in a transitional role. Economic transition, caused by the opening up of Australia to the world by the lowering of tariffs and liberation of markets, was all started by Gough Whitlam. Transition is what the Labor Party is in right now.

I am here to honour, not repudiate, the legacy of all of these Labor Prime Ministers. The story running through the Prime Ministerships of all of these fine leaders is preparing and educating Australia to compete on the world stage, free of Menzies era protectionism and strong with the knowledge and skill that good education provides. Four decades after Gough set the country on a new course, our economy is the envy of the world. If you are 21 years of age or younger, you have never known this country to be in recession. We are in the late stages of the transformation of Australia into the most robust economy in the world.

The work of strengthening Australia to punch above its economic weight is not done, though. There is still much to dislike about the Australian economy, and what signals government sends out through its policies. There are big changes that can still be made to improve our lot as a nation.

The New Way is this: finish the job that Labor started four decades ago by doing the hard things, the things we have been putting off as in the too hard basket. Take that too hard basket, empty it and see what needs to be done to finish the job.

The Australian people understand how important this is, because they see all around them the benefits of economic transformation to date. We are all in this together. We all benefit from the improvements to the competitiveness of the economy. We all benefit from the removal of protections, including protections of some within the tax system. Traditionally, leaders have been reluctant to talk about removing undeserved tax loopholes for fear of getting people who exploit those loopholes offside. The New Way is about rising above that weakness, and trusting in the Australian people to understand why we are acting on behalf of all of them, not just a privileged few.

The New Way is about rising above special interests. To be a special interest is to seek to undermine the free market by securing special privileges for you and yours. Unions are a special interest, as are businesses, as are retirees, as are students, as are environmentalists, as are the unemployed. The way politics has been run is to give everyone special privileges, so that the economy ends up being blanketed in a patchwork quilt of protectionism. The New Way is to abandon this irrational practice and instead strengthen the economy by removing burdens from its back.

There are smart people around the place who have already thought long and hard about the details of things in the too hard basket, of course. Saul Eslake is one of a host of commentators who have figured most of it out already. The Henry Tax review contains many excellent ideas, some of which we have already implemented. More needs to be done.

Specifically - and I know you all want to hear more about programmatic specificity! - more needs to be done about housing affordability. Sometimes governments get things wrong, and negative gearing has ended up having the reverse effect than what was intended. Instead of making housing investment more affordable, it has led to speculation that has driven up the price of houses to an extent where an entire younger generation is largely excluded from the dream of home ownership. This must end. However, I do not wish to upset the long-term retirement plans of those with existing loans reliant on negative gearing, so any changes we make to negative gearing would only be to new loans made from today onwards. This is a prudent way to end what has been a drag on the Australian economy.

Also, while much has been said about the GST in this campaign already, the New Way allows for some rational discussion of raising taxes to fund the things that taxpayers expect to pay for, like education and the social safety net. The GST is currently exempt on food, and the explanation has usually been to protect lower paid workers and the unemployed, but when you look at the way this actually works in the real world, it works out as being regressive and in favour of upper income earners, since they more for food. Extending the GST to food is a sensible response to balancing the budget.

Finally, the Howard government made many mistakes in managing the economy while it was in office, and perhaps the greatest one was creating a loophole for retirees by completely lifting income tax on superannuation withdrawals for those over 60 years of age. This is not rational. No other country does this. Restoring what was a perfectly reasonable measure is a normal response to what was an unsupportable change by the Liberals.

You might be asking already, but what about Labor's support for the car industry that I announced only days ago? It is true that the car industry is a special interest, and our assistance package is a form of protectionism. However, the automotive industry is vital to Australia's interests in the region, as we need a healthy base of skilled workers to support our armed forces in the maintenance of existing equipment and the development of new technology. We would not want our troops to lack for support in logistics in a time of war due to the tens of thousands of workers in the car industry having lost their skills. Additionally, it is wise to invest in manufacturing R&D to build the exports of the future. If we are to look beyond the mining sector for growth in the coming years, manufacturing is one area we can not afford to ignore.

The New Way will come under criticism from special interests, each of whom have their own ways of communicating to the public, some even through their own media outlets. It will come under criticism from the Liberal Party, who are still stuck in the old way of representing some special interests and knocking others. I say to the Australian people directly: we may be a country full of special interests, but we are all in this together. We are not a nation of seagulls fighting over a chip. We are all part of the best country in the world. We have solved many problems and avoided many pitfalls that have befallen others, but there is still much to be done. We are all in this together. Thank you.

Note: this post is a fixup from my response to this Larvatus Prodeo piece. And yes, this is the second in a series of "If I" pieces, for which I have created a label.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Telstra: master at the art of telco suckage

Every now and then it seems prudent to remind ourselves why the National Broadband Network is necessary, by reacquainting ourselves with how screwed up the current Australian telecommunications industry is. Old mate Ben Barren provides in spades today, detailing yet another sorry story of monopoly and market failure.

BB's work is spectacularly difficult to parse in detail; in my experience, it is best to assume he knows what he is talking about and let his stream of consciousness wash over you to get the general effect, rather than get bogged down in his unique phrasings. (He's the reason Cliffs Notes were invented.) The story is one of Telstra owning the dominant mobile phone and data network hardware, at a scale so large that none has dared seriously challenge them for decades, and playing them like fiddles to control resellers within the ecosystem.
Unfortunately Australian telecommunications market always tends towards these types of monopoly or at best oligopoly. But as Telstra has the only quality mobile network at the volume end of the market with an adequate level of performance (the NextG 3.5G network urban and regional reliable coverage in dense city and remote country areas) - mobile telephony is tending towards a monopoly.
Just when you have a breakout such as Kogan’s $29 unlimited calls and text with 6gb mobile data, market forces are brought to eventually favour the monopolist not the consumer.
The NBN is not going to solve competition in the mobile network - at least, not in the short term - but this case is not materially dissimilar to the Internet service provider industry, which it will transform by turning Telstra into just another reseller. Gen Xers like me and Ben haven't known the broader telco industry to be any different in our adult lifetimes.

The NBN is Ethan Hawke, wearing that stupid daggy shirt but promising a much more interesting life than boring corporate dweeb Ben Stiller. Ethan is currently in Chicago attending his Dad's funeral, but hopefully he'll see the light and return home to start a beautiful relationship.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

AFL: league of extraordinary gentlemen no more?

As the Essendon doping saga drags on towards its inexorable conclusion, with many parties under pressure for all sort of reasons, the most pressure is not on any single person, but the sport itself.

The AFL is defined by a series of gentlemen's agreements, starting with but not limited to the Laws of the Game - which are capitalised in general usage in footy circles like an Act of Parliament, but not encoded in actual statute. This model of the league writing its own rules, which are knowingly orthogonal in many respects to the law of the land, continues from the basics of the game all the way up to the high level concepts of socialist equalisation on which the league is precariously balanced. It is not necessarily a crime to trip a man in the street, but it is a punishable offence under the rules of Australian football. The courts look with jaundiced eye upon restraint of trade in most situations, yet the AFL imposes its will on young men to send them across the country to play for much less money than they could command in a truly free market.

When sporting regulations are tested in the courts they can be found wanting, as in the Terry Hill case in 1991 which proved that the NRL draft was a restraint of trade and left that league looking like a laughing stock. Similarly, Essendon and Stephen Dank have strong defensive arguments on many fronts in the current drugs scandal, as I am sure their highly-paid lawyers are telling them. For one, the new powers ASADA has to compel Dank to testify at pains of a $5,100 daily fine can be seen as an abuse of several human rights, such as the right not to be compelled to incriminate oneself. Essendon and Hird have a point when they highlight the conflict of interest the AFL Commission has in determining sanctions against EFC officials for bringing the game into disrepute at the same time as they are leading the investigation with ASADA into the drug allegations.

The pressure is on Essendon to give in and Do The Right Thing by sacking Hird, agreeing to cop levels of sanctions even worse that the Carlton salary cap breaches a decade ago, and accepting that they will share Carlton's fate of turning into a mediocre also-ran. However, at the top of the Essendon hierarchy now is not the president Paul Little, but James Hird himself, since all those at Windy Hill who might have stood up to him in the past are now gone.

We used to call him Gentleman James. Is he still a gentleman, able to see the bigger picture of the sport and act on its behalf instead of his own interests? It must be so difficult for him, knowing how duplicitous the league has been in its dealings. The carpetstrollers at AFL House do not deserve the paternal post-siren handshake-and-bum-pat of a victor.

Stephen Dank is no gentleman. He is going to fight to the bitter end. He has nothing else to play for, no team around him or future to build. James Hird has a family, a club and his own conscience in his mind right now. He holds the integrity of the sport, the game he loves and that has given him so much to live for, in the palm of his hands. He is not bigger than the game. He is not even bigger than his club. The AFL officials are not bigger than the game either, just fallible humans like he is, but Hird is being asked to look beyond their petty concerns as well. To be the bigger man.

No one wins out of this process, it's a negative sum. Even if Essendon goes to court and wins, thus destroying ASADA and the drug testing process in Australia, the sport it is a part of would lose and the Bombers would become the pariah of the competition. At some point, someone inside Essendon has to say enough, this has gone on too long and it's not worth fighting any more. At this point, the only person capable of making that decision is James Hird.

UPDATE: Sinclair Davidson responds at Catallaxy Files, asking why this is so messy.
I don’t actually disagree with much of what m0nty says. But I do wonder: how dumb are the AFL? If you’re in change of an organisation that is legally fragile, why would you mess with people who have standing to sue in court? Why would you mess with people who have money to sue in court?
As Leigh Matthews suggested the other night – the AFL should have whacked the club with some or other nonsense charge and moved on – but when it decided to go after specific individuals it chose to have a fight.
The answer is that the AFL can't give in like that, because the integrity of the sport is at stake. If it allows Essendon to flaunt the gentlemen's agreement not to use drugs, then it opens the competition up to all manner of other abuses of the trust that holds the game together. The league may have annoyed Hird and some fans with the tactics they have used, but the principle is more important than the minutiae of who leaked to whom. After all, no one wants Australian football to become as disgraceful as rugby league!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Elysium: Obamacare 2154 (spoilers!)

Neill Blomkamp may deny that his movie Elysium has modern political parallels, but he is not kidding anyone. There are so many allegories with the modern fight over Obamacare that the audience can't help but make them on their own. The year is 2154, the Earth is exhausted yadda yadda, and the rich have retreated to a spaceship in a low earth orbit called Elysium, which has universal healthcare that is even better than that bulldust they have in Star Trek. Matt Damon plays Obama Max, not so much Mad Max as Rad Max. He gets irradiated working in a robot factory, the doc gives him five days to live, and is forced to agree to break into Elysium by going all Johnny Mnemonic on his boss by downloading his brain, but not before getting all Universal Soldiered up with a spiffy new exoskeleton. Serendipitously, his boss is about to start a coup on Elysium and has the virus in his brainstem that will shut it down, like in ID4 but looking more DOS than iMac. Jodie Foster is Delacourt, the Francophone Rumsfeldian head of security on Elysium, who is engineering the coup while wearing some killer business skirts. Sharlto Copley is Kruger, Delacourt's Afrikaaner muscle who steals most scenes he is in and causes considerable mayhem.

So, I was trying to work out which characters were which, if we're drawing the extended analogy here. Max is Obama, obviously, with Delacourt as the Beltway faction of the Republican Party trying to not only maintain their privilege, but secure rule for decades to come through subversion of democratic process. I'm not sure we can pin the Delacourt role on any single politician - John Boehner is more like the hapless President Patel. Perhaps she is a portent for Marco Rubio? Unfortunately for Delacourt and the GOP, however, Kruger is the Tea Party. It doesn't end well for Delacourt, and if life imitates art things aren't going to turn out the white way for the Republicans. Then again Max doesn't get a sweet ending either, though I guess Obama's presidency has an end point regardless.

Wagner Moura as ghetto gangster Spider also enlivens the spectacle, in a performance that I grew to like over time, and he and the other non-whites in the cast playing ghetto characters (with a fair few redshirts who buy the farm) represent the rainbow coalition of demographics behind the Obama presidency. This is not just about healthcare but also immigration, the echoes are too loud to ignore.

As for its general merit, I don't think you can say Elysium is technically or artistically groundbreaking. It doesn't stray very far from Blomkamp's last effort, with many action scenes in dustbowl townships that could have been the Soweto-analogues of District 9. As with many recent sf films, though, it is slick and competently executed from start to finish as a production, and most importantly it is grand entertainment in the spirit of Aliens and Terminator 2. We are getting movies that look as good as those last two several times a year now, which is a great thing and is a major reason the cinema in general, and sf in particular, is so strong at the moment. Finally: Afrikaaners make the best villains!

If I became leader of the Australian Greens

Thank you for attending this press conference. Lauz, Tingles, Kez, Uhlo, Bongo, Knackers, welcome all.

I realise my rise to become leader of the Greens has been sudden and precipitous. None of you predicted my rapid rise from recent membership to climbing the ranks, a parachuting mission into the Senate under what has become known as Operation Varsity II, and completing that particular analogy by invading Germany, I mean the Green caucus room. The inevitable Downfall mashup video chronicling the events surrounding my accession to the leadership over Ms Waters was rather amusing - I particularly liked the gag about how Greens really are watermelons, since we found out just how red Larissa was underneath her green exterior when she got backstabbed. Heh.

Anyway, all that is behind us now, and I would like to set out my policy vision for the Greens into the future. I would first like to pay respect to the founding father of the Greens, Bob Brown. However, what I am about to say may not jive with his recollection of what he set up the Greens to do. The Party has nonetheless moved on, and we have new challenges to face.

I see the Greens as the ultimate economic rationalists. You may protest and say that this is anathema to the history of the party, as we have traditionally opposed many aspects of globalisation and neoliberalism. While that is true, my view is that the Greens can and should be seen as superior economic managers of all parts of the economy. The crucial difference is that we, the Greens, include the environment in our economic models in a way that most economists do not. Most economic models classify natural resources, energy sources and biodiversity as assets to be mined, exploited and exhausted. In short, the environment is seen as an "externality".

This word, externality - which has become part of the language of the political class without much examination as to its meaning - means an economic effect, either bad or good, which affects an uninvolved third party. That is what the Earth is treated as in traditional economics: something external to the economy, something Other. Economics is, almost by definition, in opposition to environmentalism. It is, in the wrong hands, the science of exploiting the environment by pretending that it is a limitless resource.

The consequence of this in traditional economics is that their sums work while the environment provides, but once the resources dwindle and become more expensive to extract and exploit, markets fail and recessions happen. I am here to say: no more. The environment is not an externality. It is internal to our definition of ourselves. We are part of it, and it is a part of us.

I realise that this language sounds like that of many of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, and I acknowledge that the Greens have a debt that can never be repaid to them for teaching us how to value our land and to immerse ourselves in its many wonders with respect and appreciation. We must be careful never to get too mystical, but there is a time and place for a little bit of dreaming in what the Greens say and do.

Ah, you might say, but these are just words. How do you propose to combine economics and environmentalism if they are so opposed? The answer is that they do not have to be opposed. A synthesis is possible. In fact, I am a firm believer in the power of economics within capitalism to empower the powerless and grow a country better than any other system. Including the environment as an integral part of economic modelling does not break the models, it merely means economics removes a lie and becomes more grounded in reality.

This does not mean we leave all the coal in the valleys, all the oil under the deserts and all the trees in the forests. This means prudent planning for harvesting and renewing resources, and transitioning away from exhaustible resources and towards renewables where possible in a gradual fashion. Economics can also be seen as the management of energy, and cheap energy is a social good that the Greens should not reject, and will not under my leadership. The shale oil boom, in particular, is already starting to have positive impact on many smaller economies, which we can not forget in our zeal for ideological purity within our own country. To deny the world cheap energy would be to slow down the wholly positive process of globalisation inexorably lifting up the economies of those in developing countries. Shale oil can be extracted under the control of environmental safeguards even at levels we are comfortable with in Australia, and I will not stand in the way of another energy boom that could underpin the next decade of Australian growth.

You might be thinking that I am not saying anything new. It is true that we have already gone some way towards internalising the externalities, with the carbon price being the most prominent example. The Greens have been at the forefront of developing and implementing the carbon price in Australia and around the world, and I acknowledge the work my predecessors have done in this area. Far from repudiating this proud history of the Party, I seek to build on it to underline the economic credentials of the Greens. We are often portrayed as being at the far left end of the political spectrum, but I do not see it this way. We are a party of the centre, it is just that we define the centre as being centred and at one with the environment, with all of our economically rational policies flowing from that river source.

This is not sophistry, or wispy wishfulness. I believe that the Greens can successfully meld what is called economic rationalism with environmental concerns. How this impacts on individual policies is for a later day, but today I am here to say this: the Greens are the greatest economists the world has ever seen... we just take a longer view than most.

Oh that Orson, what a card

As a long time troll myself, I can only lean back in my chair and applaud as a master of the genre delivers a virtuoso performance. This Orson Scott Card piece is not just inflammatory, it is Red Wedding level of bastardry.
This is the column where I predict how American democracy ends.
No, no, it's just a silly thought experiment! I'm not serious about this! Nobody can predict the future! It's just a game. The game of Unlikely Events.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist. The greatest trick a troll can pull is to convince the world he isn't trolling. Card is mostly in full on slavering hellmouth beast troll mode, but at key points he breaks the fourth wall to reassure us he is just trolling. The flow of this technique is fascinating. The following section appears about 80% of the way through the essay:
All right, the game is over. We don't seriously think any such thing will happen.
But if we learn anything from history, it's this: Anything can happen. American democracy, already a pale shadow of what it once was, is only a couple of centuries old.
But right after it, Card goes right back into Unabomber/Breivik territory, the contents of which are irrelevant to the point of the essay which is to lampoon the quality of the current debate in American politics, and the Pavlovian aspect of much media commentary. He has taken us into the depths of depravity, then jolts us back out of it to what he coos lovingly is the real world, and THEN hits us with his real message of evil, which is just as insane as what he told us was just the thought experiment.

The denouement is similarly manipulative, down to the very last sentence.
Will these things happen? Of course not. This was an experiment in fictional thinking.
But it sure sounds plausible, doesn't it? Because, like a good fiction writer, I made sure this scenario fit the facts we already have -- the way Obama already acts, the way his supporters act, and the way dictators have come to power in republics in the past.
Just keep your head down, and you'll be OK. Unless your children repeat at school things you said in the privacy of your home. Unless an Obama crony wants your house or your job. Unless you tell the wrong joke to the wrong people. Unless you have already written or said dangerous things that will come back to get you shot trying to avoid arrest ...
Just kidding. Because if I really believed this stuff, would I actually write this essay?
This gives him plausible deniability, but allows him to revel in saying things that Serious People can't normally say. Is he trolling, or isn't he? Of course he is. But does he believe the terrible things he said or not? The reaction from the blogosphere has generally been to assume he is being serious and just playing word games to pretend he isn't, as in this Slate piece. Of course Slate, as a left wing site, finds it convenient to demonise Card as a "smart kook" due to his previous history. Does that simplification of the essay say more about Slate or Card? As The New Civil Rights Movement puts it:
Orson Scott Card has taken a few moments out of his busy anti-gay agenda to get his name back in the news, and we are only too happy to oblige.
Both sides are getting what they wanted out of this trollery. The left gets to blindly bash Card for his homophobia and racism for an audience that probably won't examine the source material closely enough to realise that it's not that simple this time, and Card gets to whistle Dixie for his audience and strengthen his position among those who understand the point of his piece.

As with much post modern art, trolling is as much about the reaction in the media that springs up around the piece rather than the piece itself. Card groks that, and is using it for his own political purposes. Applying a moral judgement to such playful tomfoolery seems old fashioned, to say the least.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Red Centrism: it's the new black

One underreported aspect of federal politics since Kevin Rudd regained the throne is how much the two sides have moved their policy platform away from extremes and towards the centre. This has not been accomplished just by copying each other's policies, as Rudd did again today with his Northern Territory economic zone announcement.
Rudd spoke of three pillars.
Here they are:
Create a Northern Special Economic Zone focussing on the Northern Territory to attract new Australian and foreign investment through simplifying investment rules, streamlining regulation and application processes for major projects, and introducing new tax incentives with the objective of reducing the company tax rate for Northern Territory based companies in five years.
Expand the Ord Irrigation Scheme Stage 3 by providing $10 million to the Northern Territory Government to help facilitate expansion of the scheme from its current 29,000 hectares to 43,000 hectares. This will increase economic output in northern Australia by an estimated $150 million every year, mainly through expanded sugar production and agricultural crops.
Develop twenty-year growth plans for the regional hubs of Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay. Infrastructure Australia will oversee these plans, based on the successful Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Development Zone supply chain model, developed in collaboration with the private and public sectors. These plans will target key industry sectors and include strategies for increasing trade, investment and employment in these regional centres.
Labor's Dubai Lite policy now has significant similarities with the Liberals' special economic zone policy to turn everything north of the Tropic of Capricorn into a Middle Eastern hellhole of low wages and FIFO ghost towns, but with key differences to wedge Abbott on his Coalition's internal divisions on foreign investment, as the Guardian goes on to discuss. Since the relevant Ord River project is controlled by a Chinese firm, this is just another aspect of the same issue (hat tip: dd from the Cat).

This gives Rudd a platform with which to talk about the policy but narrow the focus of discussion down to areas with which he is comfortable. This is also the case with the Libs' NBN Lite and Gonski Lite policies, in that they can keep bashing Labor on overspending on the last mile of broadband, and can maintain ideological purity despite pouring money into schools by borrowing from David Cameron's Big Society faff to empower local committees to have power over federal money.

A line can also be drawn with Rudd's announcement yesterday to follow Abbott's line in ruling out a parliamentary alliance with the Greens; the difference there is that Rudd retained the flexibility to direct preferences in individual seats, but overall he has given in to policy pressure from the other side. I didn't really understand Rudd's reasoning on that one, it seemed like he got bullied into a corner when it is still entirely possible that we will have another hung parliament. What would be the solution, keep having elections until one side wins? That favours Abbott, unquestionably. If Abbott wants to limit his options then good luck to him, but that was no reason for Rudd to do the same.

It is understandable to want to make yourself a small policy target. It seems that both Abbott and Rudd want the benefits of opposition - this is not a new insight, of course, but the extent to which they are both pilfering from each other's platforms has reached ridiculous levels. Rudd obviously wants this election to be as presidential as possible, so that he can engage in the same tactics as President Obama and achieve a similar victory over an out-of-touch tool of big business. Neutralising most of the differences in the respective economic policy platforms is one way to achieve this, leaving only personality politics and social issues.

The common thread running through both sides' attempts to move to the centre is that both require large amounts of money spent by government, with the differences restricted to bureaucratic style. So, arguably, this is not moving to the centre at all, or at least it is redefining the centre as the Red Centre. This is the dead hand of Julia Gillard, I think, her legacy writ large in daily headlines screaming that this or that side is going to spend taxpayer dollars to fund one or other of the policies she nursed through the processes, or go even further in Gillardesque fashion to announce boondoggles that can't be funded under present taxation arrangements.

Is there going to be a reckoning at some point during this campaign, where both sides are asked how they are going to fund this ratking of policies? Will any of the debates include a serious discussion of raising taxes, or will the prospect of scare campaigns prove too much of an obstacle to rationality? My money is on the craziness continuing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Kouk cracks into the Howard economic legacy

Economist and sometime Labor apparatchik Stephen Koukoulas has put the sword to John Howard's nominally impressive legacy of wiping off government debt today.
So how did the Howard government do it? It was very simple, with a three-pronged approach to debt elimination:
- A record high tax take - the Howard government was the highest taxing government in Australia's history.
- Record low spending on infrastructure - the level of public construction work done as a percentage of GDP reached a record low under Howard.
- A large-scale asset sale and privatisation program.
One thing the Kouk doesn't mention is that Howard was only able to raise the tax take and draw down on investment without causing a demand-side recession because Australia was undergoing a long boom, after Keating had instituted a number of reforms to make the country competitive and open it up to global markets. Howard surfed the tsunami that Keating had started, in short (Bermuda shorts?). But that wasn't necessary to say in the article I suppose, no need to run up the score when the win is so decisive!

Why do we care about this now? Because the prospective Liberal front bench in the current election is made up mostly of Howard era recalcitrants, most notably leader Tony Abbott and treasurer Joe Hockey. Their policy on economics - and pretty much everything else - hasn't changed much since then, due to the failure of Arthur Sinodinos to single-handedly develop new policy as he was parachuted in to do.

This dose of economic reality underpins the recent attacks on the Libs for secretly desiring to raise the GST. There has been no significant renewal of the Liberal caucus to flush out the Howardist mindset, so voters can be excused for refusing to believe the protestations coming from Hockey and Abbott.

The Kouk's point about lack of infrastructure investment causing inflation and lost productivity will most likely be lost behind the shouting about tax increases, but it is no less important. The Libs could even adopt the NBN model of public-private partnerships (albeit once removed via bonds) to keep infrastructure investment off the budget balance sheet, if they want to maintain the fiction that they aren't big-government tax-hungry statists. Abbott has shown a willingness in this campaign already to adopt Labor's policies, but that one might have to wait until after the election.

Or, if Abbott really wants to win big, he could embrace the Howard legacy to the fullest. Advertise himself as the man with the Big New Tax that will fund all of the social programs that Gillard introduced but we can't afford due to revenue problems with the budget. Want Gonski? GST goes up to 11%. Want the NDIS? 12%. Want the full FTTP NBN? 13%. Want the baby bonus back and an increase in the dole up to somewhere near the poverty level? 14%. Want a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme for everyone, not just the rich? 15%. Want the third airport for Sydney and the East-West Link in Melbourne? Hmm, well maybe not.

Joe Hockey could be the new Oprah Winfrey. "You get a per cent! YOU get a per cent!!" Now that's the Liberal Party I remember.

Great Ders of History: The 4.3%

I am fascinated by this graphic from a Business Spectator piece, detailing demographics that a company called Torque is using for their newly established political polling activities. You could see it as a magic quadrant on AOD-9604, or a mini golf course on acid.
To understand this picture, the firm’s methodology needs a bit of explaining. Torque normally specialises in market research for major retailers. If a supermarket wants to know where its customers are travelling from, their ethnicity, socio-economic status, hobbies, tastes or beliefs, the firm produces highly granular survey data that can identify even particular streets of interest with a retailer’s catchment.
For this election, the firm has applied a similar process to polling booths. Based on the swings of the 2010 election, and individual polling booth date released by the Australian Electoral Commission, it estimates that just 4.3 per cent of Australians will determine this election result.
Hmm, that sounds suspiciously like a 47% comment. I would see myself as #6, a Mature Affluent Urban. Apparently I'm not eligible to be a swing voter, because their research shows that only 11 of those 58 demographics are capable of being swung.

I'm not sure this is all that insightful, beyond that aspirational voters in the suburbs and INSERTLEADERNAMEHERE's battlers mostly live in marginal seats. Perhaps the leaders should appear in ads for supermarkets wearing guitars shaped like big red thumbs, or with an arm around a hunky celebrity cook? But hey, the parties have to spend all that money they raised on something. They might as well try something different than just relying on the likes of Hawker, Textor, or Australian Psychic of the Year 2013, Debbie Malone.

At least, now we know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

WADA and ASADA, harder and harder

We are currently in the late stages of private negotiation between the AFL, Essendon Football Club and related individuals from coach James Hird on down to determine the league's sanctions for governance issues relating to the ongoing drugs scandal, which are separate to any forthcoming sanctions from the drug authorities for actually taking the drugs. Andrew Bolt thinks the AFL should charge its own CEO rather than Hird, who created a "pharmacologically experimental" environment, with bringing the game of Australian rules football into disrepute.
If Essendon broke a rule, punish it.
But “bringing the game into disrepute” is just a “vibe” charge. Can’t prove anything, just don’t like the vibe.  This is saying something’s wrong just because the likes of Andrew Demetriou and The Age feel it is. This is a kind of witchhunt justice - a bone to thrown to the mob simply because it expects one. 
I don’t hold the game in any less regard because of what Essendon or coach James Hird did. The club was slack, yes, but has suffered for it and sacked people. But I still can’t see any real proof of a knowing infringement of any rules or a desire to cheat.
How would the AFL even prove the game was now held in lesser repute thanks to Hird and Essendon? 
This line was the same one used by Mark Robinson of the Herald Sun and Tim Watson of (let's face it) the Essendon Football Club yesterday on radio SEN: no performance enhancing drug (PED) use can be proven, so you can't punish anyone for taking them.

The Essendon case, and to a lesser extent the similar one at Cronulla, have sent the media in this country crazy, of which Bolt's reaction is only the most extreme allowed to be printed by a newspaper. The media has taken turns in joyfully printing leaks from inside the process, and hand wringing about how they wish it was all over and the destabilisation of sport would finish.

The position of requiring absolute proof to convict ignores the history of drug cases overseas, especially in America. No specific positive drug tests were used as evidence to convict Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Marion Jones or Alex Rodriguez. (Some did test positive much earlier in their careers, but their suspensions were for later periods.) The careers of all of these elite sportspeople, who were even more legendary than the great Hird was in their fields, are forever tarnished without definitive non-circumstantial proof of their guilt ever having been presented to a court.

The crucial part about this is that this is the way that the drug agencies work. The supra-national World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), and its national arms like ASADA, are not given the same powers as police. Drug cheats in sport operate in a grey area where they are technically not committing crimes, but they are doing society a great disservice by hoodwinking the public into cheering on a lie. As a society, we have deemed it suitable that we do not elevate sports drug agencies to the enforcement level of federal police, for better or worse.

The way they were nailed, these drugs cheats, was accumulation of circumstantial evidence, and months and months of ongoing pressure on the support staff and hangers-on of the cheats until the weight was finally too much and the cases broke open. These things take months and years, something which we in Australia hadn't experienced before but have copped this year in spades. Rather than burly men with badges hauling ne'er-do-wells in by their collars like real police, the work of sports drug agencies is as much about using the media to shame the participants into co-operation via targeted leaks and backgroundings. This is the price we pay for not giving them too much physically coercive power.

One consequence of this situation is that facilitators like Stephen Dank can dance their merry jig around the unenforceable regulations of sporting bodies without having to face up to Plod, as long as they are smart about not breaking any statutes along the way. Dank is flourishing like Michael Flatley in this regard, and even had the temerity to tell the media yesterday he felt sorry for Hird and advised the AFL on their strategy.

Bolt and others on the Right have taken the easy opportunity to side with Dank, wedging the authorities between their lack of power to compel evidence of direct guilt and society's desire not to see sports drug agencies kitted out in riot gear doing armed raids on bikie hideouts. Lost in the middle of all of that is the truth, which usually comes out afterwards from the likes of Armstrong, Jones and Jose Canseco that they were juiced up. Drugs in sport are never a black and white issue... until the confession comes out.

UPDATE: 1996 co-winner of the Brownlow Medal sacked! But it's not Hird, it's Michael Voss from Brisbane.

The AFL has charged Bombers coach James Hird, doctor Bruce Reid, football boss Danny Corcoran, assistant coach Mark Thompson and the Essendon Football Club with bringing the game into disrepute over the club's supplements program.
Note: this in no way absolves any player of guilt. In short, ASADA wants to haul Dank in using its recently beefed up powers to nail the case on use of PEDs. Until then, the sword of Damocles is still swinging in the breeze.

Australia's debt ceiling

Sinclair Davidson muses in a post about the PEFO on the forthcoming debate about the Australian debt ceiling.
For a start, public debt will breach the debt limit of $300 billion in December of this year. While the opposition will use this event to further criticise the ALP, the fact remains that post-election the government will have to raise the debt limit. More importantly the government (of either side) will have to, at some point, provide a narrative about the appropriate level of public debt that Australia should maintain. While the net debt should be low – even negative – it isn't clear what an appropriate level of gross debt should be.
To my mind there is an obvious answer to this question, at least on the high side. The ratio of debt to GDP should not rise much above 30%, and the evidence for this threshold can be found in the highly contested Reinhart and Rogoff study Growth in a Time of Debt, about which much has been said this year. While most of the conjecture was around the 90% "cliff", the data (once distortions were removed) did point to a significant drop off in average GDP growth of 4.2% for 0-30% and 3.1% for 30-60%.

Now, of course R&R could have chosen intervals of 25 or 33 instead of 30 and produced much the same result, so we should be careful about making the same mistake of marking the exact location of a dangerous precipice on our maps when it's more of a gently downsloping sand dune. Nevertheless, assuming we don't get anywhere near the destructive nature of the debt ceiling debate in America, hopefully a bipartisan tacit agreement can be reached in broad terms to try not to push the ceiling far beyond those levels.

The above does not, of course, rule out blowing the debt past that limit if Europe finally implodes and we get the double dip depression that some commentators have been soothsaying in sombre tones.

Note: along with some of the more traditional labels for posts here on Loaded Dogma, I have started one called Dog vs Cat for the posts I make in response to those from Catallaxy Files.

Turnbull and Albanese talking NBN on Lateline

Turnbull wants to punch the Internet in the face. And Albo too.

Malcolm Turnbull is far more knowledgeable about his communications brief than is Anthony Albanese, having not only had years in the portfolio but direct previous business experience during his time at Ozemail, so last night's Lateline NBN debate was always going to be lopsided in terms of detail. Emma Alberici tried to keep things relatively top level - she clearly struggled to do the sums that one gigabit is a thousand megabits - which was always going to benefit Albo. When Turnbull did try to nail the debate on detail, however, he exposed the underlying flaw with the Coalition's NBN policy: that it is based on an outdated view of the Internet which fails to address the needs of today, let alone the much-mentioned future.

I am old enough to have had several careers, one of the early ones being as a technology journalist in Sydney in the late 1990s as the first Internet boom happened. Back then, tech companies would sometimes invite journalists to general briefing sessions to improve their knowledge base, and subtly push their point of view on how a certain part of the industry should be reported. Telstra was one such company who had the funds to do this, and they invited me and many other journos along to some talks that their boffins delivered. I remember Geoff Huston, in particular, giving a presentation on carrying Internet traffic over frame relay, and as I watched something became clear to me: Telstra's strategy was to nobble the Internet.

This was understandable from their commercial point of view. Back then, they pretty much carried the entire Australian Internet across their networks. The AARNET section, pioneered by Huston and paid for in full by the government through the universities, wasn't the problem. Businesses paid through the nose for closed virtual circuits (CVCs, more on those later), so they weren't the issue either. The rapidly growing private version for everyday Internet users at home was the problem. It was threatening to cost Telstra a lot more money than they were making back in revenues in the short term, as they invested in hardware with the resultant profits skimmed off the top by consumer-facing retail ISPs. The more infrastructure they built to meet the influx of traffic demand, the worse their balance sheet looked, the worse their newly floated share price looked, and the worse their executives did in performance reviews. Media pressure was ongoing not to charge monopoly rents on third party usage of their infrastructure. Telstra employs a lot of bean counters, and the beans added up to an inescapable conclusion: the Internet was a cost centre to be minimised as much as possible.

To put the technical situation in readable terms, one only has to look at Geoff Huston's blog, where he wrote a long post about the competing NBN policies which contained this gem, which was used in a different context there but also applies to what I'm talking about:
This always strikes me as such a strange business model. It's like building a slow car by taking a specialised high speed racing car and bolting on additional leaden weights in order to slow it down, all to charge the customer a lower price than the price of the original high speed car!
This was not Geoff's fault of course, but his talk, and the argument we subsequently had about it, firmed in my mind the view that this was an untenable situation. Unfortunately, John Howard's association with the Telstra float meant that he was hamstrung from changing the situation even if he had wanted to. He had a choice between propping up Telstra's share price on one hand, and reforming the telecommunications sector on the other, and he chose the former to the detriment of the industry and consumers. Of course he was going to prefer succouring those middle class suckers whom he conned into buying Telstra shares. This policy of abandoning any thought of serious telco reform to protect Telstra shareholders continued all through Howard's long reign, and has become ingrained in the Liberal Party's culture.

It was only with the advent of the NBN concept that a solution to this impasse has been found. I will cover the NBN itself in more detail in another post, but for the purposes of characterising Turnbull's argument in the Lateline debate last night, I related the previous history to illustrate where he is coming from when he starts talking about 1 Gigabit per second CVCs costing $20,000 per month. Turnbull knows his stuff, but his mindset came from that era in the late 1990s when the Internet was seen as a cost centre to be squashed into a box devised by serious telcos who were embarrassed to have to deal with such riff-raff.

John Gilmore once said the Internet sees censorship as damage and routes around it, but telcos see the Internet as viruses and try to punch it in the face as if they are Agent Smith and the Internet is Neo. Turnbull is on the side of the losers in that debate, and it was lost twenty years ago. The copper wires of the POTS are those leaden weights that Huston talked about, and we as consumers demand to drive those fast cars at full speed whether the Libs like it or not.

The adventures of m0nty

G'day, my name is Paul Montgomery, also known as m0nty. Yes, I know that nickname looks dumb with the zero instead of the letter o, but there aren't nearly as many m0ntys out there as Montys. Googlejuice is important for names in this day and age.

I grew up mostly in the country Victorian town of Seymour (with two years in Bangalore). I will copy the start of this short biography from a post I made in 2005 at my other blog which is mostly about technology startups, Tinfinger.
I am a journalist by trade, having gone through the RMIT Journalism course finishing in 1995, and then spending a year co-editing the RMIT student newspaper Catalyst (the Web site used to be a lot more grotty in my day when I was its first Webmaster, but also filled with content which I coded and put up singlehandedly: Catalyst circa 1996). Before that I had an ill-advised year at the University of Melbourne doing Economics & Commerce, but after a year of arguing with lecturers about how stupid economics was, there was a parting of ways which benefited both sides.

After finishing with university, I was lucky enough to get the second job I applied for: journalist at a weekly technology newsmagazine which was then called Computer Week, later PC Week Australia (since folded). [...] I wasn't really cut out for the news grind, with my style more suited to the expansive feature where I got a chance to explore issues in depth and run really long quotes.

At the height of the dot com boom, I decided that I needed to try my hand at the business before everything went pear-shaped. I joined a business set up by medium-sized Australian Internet service providers to promote a peering network called AusBONE, acting as CEO. Unfortunately, partly due to my own inexperience and partly due to industry movements, it didn't work out. It was a valuable experience nonetheless. After that, I moved back to Melbourne to take up a job editing corporate newsletters with Delphi Consulting, which promptly went belly up less than a year later for reasons completely unrelated to anything I had done (anyone see a pattern here?).

I am now in Geelong, having spent a good amount of time in the interim working in sales for Neighbourhood Cable which, apart from keeping me fit hoofing it around the backblocks of Geelong, gave me a direct insight into what broadband users are thinking. Or so I tell myself.
 From there, the period from 2005 to 2009 is covered in this long post about my startups FanFooty and Tinfinger, and 2010 to 2011 on just FanFooty in this follow up post. Since then, the main change in my life has been finding my partner, to whom I will be married in September at the ripe old age of 40.

There, I think that was comprehensive enough!

Whyalla the fuss over a loaded dog?

In front of the vet clinic in Whyalla stands a two metre tall steel sculpture of the Loaded Dog, the eponymous hero of a famous Henry Lawson short story in which a dog picks up an explosive cartridge, runs past a fire to light the fuse and causes havoc at a gold miner's camp. I couldn't think of a more appropriate mascot for a blog, this blog, which will hopefully carry some ordnance into the Australian political blog scene.

This blog begins with a federal election under way, the culmination of three years of some of the most poisonous political debate ever seen in this country, the details of which I should hopefully not need to explain to you. If not, then you're probably on the wrong blog and I'm not going to explain it to you. Snipers, opportunists, rentseekers, carpetstrollers, lobbyists, ex-journalists and allround yahoos have all had their freedom of speech exercised from the Right, to the detriment of the quality of the national narrative. In this vein, Loaded Dogma is intended to fire back from somewhere more of the Left, not to silence those voices but to answer them, or at least present an alternative point of view. Everyone tends to think their point of view is the Centre, of course!

To expand, I characterise my political views as being an institutionalist. There are a lot of theories that go by this name or variations thereof, especially in sociology, but none that I know of that use it to describe a purely political point of view. This is what I posted about it recently:
I am an institutionalist. I believe society is only as strong as the institutions which define it, and keeping those strong and healthy goes a long way towards ensuring general society gets on. To the extent that you want to label me a lefty as a consequence, be my guest.
Neocons are, by the definition I understand, anti-institutionalists. They share a lot of conservative values with traditional conservatives, but one on which they differ is that neocons want to dismantle large parts of the web of social institutions that go to make up social democracies. In the Australian context, neocons want to tear down a lot of the building blocks of society which Menzies laid in place.
As you can see, it is a definition I make as much in opposition as supposition. While I expect I will have to write a few blog posts filling out this belief structure of mine, I would add here that I am very much a Labor man and have been all my life, albeit never joining the party. In my mind, this is perfectly compatible with trust in institutions as the bedrock of society, something that might otherwise be construed as conservative philosophy. To my way of thinking, it is a measure of the changes in the Right in the last two decades that conserving societal institutions is now the domain of the Left. As I said later in the thread that quote was taken from: Labor is now the party of institutions.

I have spent a lot of time over the past few years at Catallaxy Files, self-labeled as "Australia's leading libertarian and centre-right blog". I have sympathy for libertarian arguments, but it would be fair to say that I have been acting as a troll there, causing arguments and annoying the locals. However, I have a theory about trolls: we are all trolls, to the extent that trolling is merely the desire to elicit a reaction, which is after all the ultimate goal of all human communication. This unscientific classification of humans and trolls is not right. There is a bit of troll in all of us humans, and even a bit of humanity in the most vicious troll. It's a spectrum, like autism. Perhaps it is autism? Whatever it is, I will be posting articles which travel the length and breadth of that spectrum, from heartfelt pleas for humanism all the way through to blaggardly trollistic obloquies.

This does not mean that I will take a laissez-faire approach to comments. Freedom of speech only extends as far as everyone else's freedoms, and once you encroach on the latter you will get moderated. I also retain the right to moderate those who engage in personal abuse.

My next post will be a short biography, for those of you who don't know me from one of my other appearances on the Web.