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Going Nowhere

Public transportation is a complicated business. Liam examines Melbourne’s much-maligned network, stepping past the anger and obfuscation to think clearly about the shape of the problem.

Going Nowhere

A lot of things have been said about Melbourne’s public transport. Whether you think it’s good or atrocious depends on what you compare it to and what sort of criteria of quality you want to apply. It is, in a lot of ways, good. A lot of people have also gone to great pains to diagnose and describe problems with the network. The main newspapers in Melbourne, The Age and The Herald Sun, have run a lot of articles highlighting the notable service failures, the mistreatment of commuters by ticket inspectors and the minimal government response.

The tone of the discussion reminds me of a cheap perfume bought on sale — sharp, shallow and repugnant whilst ostensibly respectable. This is a fact that is in many ways more interesting than the object of the outrage. It’s the shape of the problem that I’m interested in discussing here, rather than the ‘substance’ of horserace-like commentary. I’ll do that by setting out a few aspects of the state of affairs and then attempting to formulate some questions with which to ask what can be done about it.

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Landline vs Internet


“How do you scare a Bellhead?” he begins. “First, show them something like RealAudio or IPhone. Then tell them that right now performance is bandwidth-limited, but that additional infrastructure is being deployed.” Then “once they realize their precious voice is becoming just a simple application on data networks,” point out “that the Internet is also witnessing explosive growth combined with 45 percent returns on investment, compared to 5 percent growth and only 12 percent or so returns for voice.” In short,” says Doran, make Bellheads realize they are witnessing their extinction.

“How does a Bellhead react?” he continues. “Usually a ‘hmm’ or even a polite ‘that’s neat,’ followed by desperate attempts to kill the Internet in any way possible.

This article is from 1996. This problem hasn’t been neatly resolved, it has become a bramble over time. I note, with some hilarity, that the idea of locking up information has never really gone well, and has typically been hacked away at (literally). I look forward to more of that.


The Guardian:

Call me a pessimist, but every now and then I see something and think: “Yes, well, there’s something that’s inexorably destined to kill me and my family and everyone I’ve ever met or glimpsed or thought about, in wretched, shrieking, unimaginable and horrendously protracted agony.” Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t happen that often: every few days at the most.

I remember reading somewhere about someone seeing ‘Predator drone strike kills 10′ on a news ticker somewhere, and noticing how they didn’t find it all weird. I guess it isn’t, and as the above article says, the list of drone kills on Wikipedia is pretty extensive. Look, I’ll be honest, three lines of commentary isn’t going to neatly wrap up the whole drone question. However, it’s pretty interesting, and there is going to be a hellish accident in future. I’d put money on it.

I too enjoy pistachio ice-cream

The ABC:

Israel’s prime minister says the country’s security forces must be allowed to get on with their work “quietly” after an explosion of interest in the case of an Australian who died in a secret prison cell.

“I ask everyone: let the security forces continue to work quietly in order that we can carry on living in peace and security in Israel,” he said.

“Overexposure of security and intelligence activities can damage, and damage badly, state security and that is why in every debate we must not underestimate the security interest.”

The Age:

The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stands accused of dipping into state  coffers for an ice cream budget of $US2700 ($2600) a year.

Pistachio, it was revealed by the proprietors of a gourmet ice cream parlour  a couple of blocks from the Prime Minister’s official residence, is his  favourite (presumably not made with the Iranian kind of nut). Mrs Netanyahu,  they said, appears to prefer French vanilla.

“From the moment that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became aware of the  agreement his office had signed with the ice cream parlour for supplying ice  cream for hosting at his official residence, he gave an instruction for it to be  cancelled at once,” officials at the Prime Minister’s office said in a  statement. “Prime Minister Netanyahu said that this was an exorbitant  expenditure that he found unacceptable.”

I actually can’t express how banal an article about ice-cream is, although if I was on Benjamin’s PR team, a light-hearted scandal such as “artisanal” pistachio ice-cream might be a nice distraction from the issues which, in Israel, are the subject of a media ban. If that’s true, then I can only imagine what advanced and hellish de-moral-ising processes are involved in a public relations degree.



Basic moral points

ABC’s The Drum:

In 2010, more than a dozen condolence notices for Ben Zygier appeared in the Australian Jewish News, including from major organisations such as Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the Jewish Holocaust Centre, and the National Council of Jewish Women. Yet, according to The Age, last week none of these groups were willing to comment on what had been done to him.

As Bill van Esveld from Human Rights Watch points out, secret detention without trial and without access to lawyers is a flagrant breach of international law. Whatever the crime, whatever the circumstances, disappearing someone like that represents an egregious affront to civilised judicial norms. There’s all sorts of reasons why states should not be allowed to keep anonymous inmates in hidden jails, not least because of the potential for prisoners to mysteriously die in custody.

This should not be controversial. It’s as basic a moral point as opposing murder or torture.

Cynically, I am not surprised by this story about Israel. I have to say that I don’t take the moral point to be as basic as the author – not because I don’t agree, because I do, but because I think that idea is probably not taken very seriously by the people who should, i.e., Israel. What does that mean? I actually don’t know how to respond to such disregard, and saying that the point is basic obviously isn’t cutting it, because its actually a very modern idea and its application appears to be quite complex.

Bliss or something like it.

The New York Times:

Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

I literally could not make this up. Reading this rather pithy article is a bit of an indictment upon American politics in general – I would say Australia is better but, well, this:

Elections today are probably more ruthless and relentless than ever before. But that’s not because big ideas get put up for debate. On the contrary, it’s precisely because the parties agree on so much that minute rhetorical or stylistic advantages become crucial, with all the resources of modern marketing devoted to exploiting them.

That’s awkward. I mean, the truth has always been unpopular, explosive and generally not to be discussed in polite company, but I am also burdened by the belief that in times of crisis, the bullshit must eventually stop. I am constantly wrong – do not listen to me.


The Atlantic:

The white paper further claims that it can carry out operations “with the consent of the host nation’s government,” and then moves on to declare that such operations would still be lawful “after a determination that the host nation is unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual targeted.” In other words, we will ask your consent, but we don’t really need it.

A close reading of a recently leaked US government paper on drone strikes, with Orwell’s own ‘Politics and the English Language’. It does a good job of damning the white paper, and when you think seriously about how headlines like ‘Predator Drone Strikes kills 20′ raise so few eyebrows, one wonders whether this damnation will have any effect.


The Age:

AUSTRALIA’S corruption watchdog is borrowing staff and equipment from the agencies it oversees to run major probes, with the number of customs officers being investigated greater than its entire workforce.

Labor MP Melissa Parke and former Commonwealth ombudsman Allan Asher are concerned about the resourcing of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and have called on the federal government to consider a broad-based national anti-corruption body.

Their comments come as Fairfax Media can also reveal:

A woman who got a customs job after a Sydney crime boss’s wife gave her a character reference has been suspended after allegedly tipping off the crime figure that police knew of his plans to flee Australia on a false passport.

The federal police clashed with customs late last year over its initial failure to search a shipping container later found to contain drugs worth $230 million.

The federal government was warned in a classified 2010 report of ”weaknesses and gaps in aviation security” two years before systemic customs corruption at Sydney airport exposed continuing flaws in airport security.

This isn’t it.

Just news

The Age:

An unmanned British stealth drone that can fly faster than the speed of sound  and go undetected by radar will soon have its first test flight in  Australia.

The £125 million ($190 million) Taranis, named after the Celtic god of  thunder, can attack targets across continents, automatically dodge missiles and  other efforts to bring it down and independently identify targets. It can refuel  in mid-air and carry weapons including laser guided bombs and missiles.

Speaking of keepings things in mind, this.  I wonder how hackable these are.