Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Category: Politics (page 1 of 6)

Blue Sky Mine : The Wittenoom Tragedy

Every time I hear Blue Sky Mine by Midnight Oil,  about the Wittenoom mining tragedy, I’m taken back in time.

By <a href="//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Five_Years" title="User:Five Years">Five Years</a> - <span class="int-own-work" lang="en" xml:lang="en">Own work</span>, <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0" title="Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12650545">Link</a>

Asbestos Warning Sign

To 23 May 1988, to probably the saddest TV interview I have ever seen.

The interview featured on the ABC Four Corners episode called Blue Death.

Blue Death was about the Wittenoom tragedy in Western Australia which was built around a blue asbestos mine (hence the Midnight Oil song title).

Unfortunately, miners were exposed to asbestos and started becoming sick and dying.

Sadly, as this interview illustrated, they weren’t the only ones.

I can see her now. In a hospital bed being interviewed. Her thoughts are on the lingering death of her husband.

And in tears she says, “No-one should die like this.” Sadly that was her fate too.

Out of 20,000 workers and residents, over 2000 have died (See http://www.asbestosdiseases.org.au/the-wittenoom-tragedy.html).

Despite the authorities being aware of the dangers, they didn’t have the power to shut down the mine. Nor did the owners (CSR through its subsidiary Midalco)  itself comply (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSR_Limited#Wittenoom_controversy ).

The Four Corners story was about the fate of miners and residents taking action against the company. The story stated that the company delayed legal action for as long as possible. In the hope that the litigants would not survive.

The most upsetting aspect to me was how the company stayed only focused on shareholder value only.

What worries me  is that this could happen again. And then I read and listened to this…Four degrees should be ok!

 

 

Don’t Blame the Media

I arrived at work last Saturday. In the corridors, I heard the cleaners talking about the Paris attacks. I went into the tea room and the TV was showing a rolling coverage. I stopped and watched but as time was short I left.

After I finished my training session, I checked the latest news. I was drawn in by the coverage. I was interested in Paris. My sister and her husband had only been there a few weeks ago. My cousin is visiting now. I have friends who have lived in France. I have friends now living in France.

Since then there have been articles decrying the media focus on France. One article led to a discussion about the lack of focus on Beirut or Sinai or Kenya or even the events in Mali: that it was the media’s fault that attention was mostly focused on France. I did know about the Beirut car bomb and was following the latest information on the downing of the Russian airliner in the  Sinai and remembered the Kenyan atrocities from earlier this year. But I still focused on France.

And today the topic recurred with the media coverage of the Reclaim Australia and UDP anti-Islamic rallies and the corresponding counter rallies.

Again the same comment was offered that it was the media’s fault that these rallies were getting unwarranted publicity. My response to both was this:

It’s easy to say it’s the media’s fault : they’ve done their market research and focus their message accordingly. Much like market researchers for the low-end Australian current affairs shows such as A Current Affair (ACA) or Today Tonight : their focus was to find the right people and stories to satisfy that given audience: journalism doesn’t come into it at all.

The truth is the media are following the audience. The other stories were there : it’s just that less people were interested. Me included.

All the media does is reinforce our existing prejudices. For example, if Reclaim Australia, UDP, Trump, Carson, etc, etc want to find facts that denigrate Muslims and Islam, they will. The media following the audience will report that.

There’s a passage in Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 that describes it perfectly. In it the hero’s boss describes how the media gives people exactly what they want to hear.  At first it appears that the media does the thinking for its audience. But the audience doesn’t want to think for itself! Read it.

For me as an adult educator, it’s no surprise.

It’s exactly the way we learn : we fit facts to what we already know and believe.
Until we chance on information that doesn’t fit our prejudices. Then and only then, we choose to change or ossify.

The media can provoke our thoughts and feelings enabling us to confront our prejudices as good journalism and good education (dare I say it) should.

But for the media really to change, our prejudices must as well.

National Insecurity, the Internet and Data Retention

UK and Australia have introduced internet monitoring and data retention laws.

Data Storage

Data Storage

Canada too is introducing a similar bill. France as well.

The UK has had the High Court throw them out. But the Conservative Government is fighting back. Europe is also throwing out such laws.

The USA is trying to postpone its response to the controversy over the actions of their intelligence agencies after the Edward Snowden revelations.

From my perspective as a ex-system administrator, ex-desktop support operative and ex-service manager for a web site, these laws are made by people who neither understand the Internet nor its users. So why make these laws?

Let’s look at Australia….

Australia has introduced laws blocking certain web sites. These can be easily circumvented by changing Domain Name Server settings.

As well, Australia has brought in laws monitoring internet usage. Again, these laws can be easily avoided. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam through a series of questions detailed the easy ways these laws can be avoided.  Besides which any hacker or terrorist can take even further measures to avoid surveillance.

As well, those laws laughably cover the storage of metadata. Here in Australia, ISPs are in the process of determining the Government requirements and getting nowhere fast despite a closing deadline. Unfortunately, the responsible minister Attorney-General George Brandis may be of little help here as this incredible interview illustrates.

But in all of that there are two issues that are overlooked.

First is best termed as the KGB problem. Reputedly, the USSR spies ended up amassing so much data that they couldn’t make sense of it.  And even with the mega oceans of big data that surveillance will yield, it will still require analysis. It won’t be as simple as looking for keywords as this example shows. Suppose a company runs software that checks emails for offensive words. Suppose it looks for the word butt. Emails found would cover smoking habits, porn or mutual admiration! Further analysis would be needed, perhaps something like the following : a phone call to florist, phone call to removalist then trawling internet dating web sites may mean a break up or a reconciliation.

The second is best termed as temptation. Such a vast amount of data would be a  Hacker Hackinghacker’s prize. So it better be secure. But almost certainly such data will be treated with disrespect by its stewards. Why? It’s just backups that we can access online. So ultimately hackers will break into it. After all, if hackers can break into the US personnel database, what’s stopping them breaking in to the stored metadata. Then you will have untrusted strangers looking at your deleted Facebook and Twitter posts.

So I return to the question, why has a Government who doesn’t understand the internet and its inhabitants made these laws?

Clearly, not to catch terrorists and hackers. They’re smart enough to get around them. Perhaps, its the opposite, to catch people who aren’t hackers and terrorists. People like you and me.

The Best of Enemies : Movie Review

It’s 1968 and America is in turmoil. Martin Luther King has been shot, riots have broken out across the country, the Vietnam War is faltering, Robert Kennedy has been assassinated and Richard Nixon is campaigning for President.

The American Broadcasting Corporation also has its troubles. As the third (or fourth) network of three, it is struggling. As one pundit says, “If the ABC fought the Vietnam War, it would be cancelled in 13 weeks.”

To improve their ratings during the two political presidential conventions, they come up with an idea that will change TV forever. That idea is to put together William F Buckley, arch-conservative interviewer and writer with Gore Vidal,  the Oscar Wilde like enfant terrible of the political and literary scene as convention commentators.

There’s one small problem. Both men loath and detest each other.  Yet despite their earlier clashes, they agree to work with each other for the ten days covering both conventions.

This is the basis for the documentary, Best of Enemies

which covers the debates between Vidal and Buckley. Both men had clashed before but this was the first time they would be withing arm’s length of each other. And what results is electrifying and ultimately disappointing.

Two intellectual giants trade brilliant put downs and swap clever put downs. But at no time is there any meeting of minds. In fact the debate created an unbroken animosity between the two men.

Best of Enemies, showing at the Cinema Nova, Melbourne is fascinating : a super sugar hit for a political junkie with an unfortunate climb down. Scarily, the commentary offered on the politics of the day still is relevant now, despite the change in word and phrase as well as manners over the years.  Sadly, too, the dynamic of pitting two protagonists, neither of whom will listen to the other, is now the basis of present media political commentary.  Finally, this dynamic has resulted in a fragmentation of media coverage (both mainstream and new).  As  Nick Davies has pointed out, the media no longer provides multiple points of view for multiple audiences, it now provides what people want to hear. Which began with Vidal versus Buckley.

Best of Enemies is an enjoyable, extremely well put together but ultimately dis quietening documentary.

 

 

 

The Best of Enemies : Movie Review

It’s 1968 and America is in turmoil. Martin Luther King has been shot, riots have broken out across the country, the Vietnam War is faltering, Robert Kennedy has been assassinated and Richard Nixon is campaigning for President.

The American Broadcasting Corporation also has its troubles. As the third (or fourth) network of three, it is struggling. As one pundit says, “If the ABC fought the Vietnam War, it would be cancelled in 13 weeks.”

To improve their ratings during the two political presidential conventions, they come up with an idea that will change TV forever. That idea is to put together William F Buckley, arch-conservative interviewer and writer with Gore Vidal,  the Oscar Wilde like enfant terrible of the political and literary scene as convention commentators.

There’s one small problem. Both men loath and detest each other.  Yet despite their earlier clashes, they agree to work with each other for the ten days covering both conventions.

This is the basis for the documentary, Best of Enemies

which covers the debates between Vidal and Buckley. Both men had clashed before but this was the first time they would be withing arm’s length of each other. And what results is electrifying and ultimately disappointing.

Two intellectual giants trade brilliant put downs and swap clever put downs. But at no time is there any meeting of minds. In fact the debate created an unbroken animosity between the two men.

Best of Enemies, showing at the Cinema Nova, Melbourne is fascinating : a super sugar hit for a political junkie with an unfortunate climb down. Scarily, the commentary offered on the politics of the day still is relevant now, despite the change in word and phrase as well as manners over the years.  Sadly, too, the dynamic of pitting two protagonists, neither of whom will listen to the other, is now the basis of present media political commentary.  Finally, this dynamic has resulted in a fragmentation of media coverage (both mainstream and new).  As  Nick Davies has pointed out, the media no longer provides multiple points of view for multiple audiences, it now provides what people want to hear. Which began with Vidal versus Buckley.

Best of Enemies is an enjoyable, extremely well put together but ultimately dis quietening documentary.

 

 

 

Why Same Sex Marriage Is Now an Election Issue

As promised, Tony Abbott put the proposal of same sex marriage to the party room. But not his own party room where in all probability the motion would have been lost anyway.  But quite cleverly or perhaps fearfully, the PM put it to the joint LNP party room. In doing that, he knew the same sex marriage would be lost as most National party members and senators are against the idea.  Perhaps in gratitude, Warren Truss could stand aside and nominate Tony Abbott as the new leader.

And then once that was concluded, Abbott equivocated. He had stated that parliament should decide the issue, after the Irish referendum. Now after circumventing his party as well, he suggested a referendum or plebiscite.  A referendum would be unnecessary and a plebiscite could be easily ignored.

But with a private member’s bill on same-sex marriage shortly to be introduced into the House of Representatives and perhaps the revival of a Senate bill, Abbott’s manoeuvres have only bought him time. He believes that his tactics have ensured that the issue will be put aside perhaps until the next election or beyond.

But strategically, he has failed to see the long-term effect of his actions. He has offended senior members of his cabinet who are publicly disagreeing with his actions. Now he may threaten them with dismissal if they cross the floor and vote for the legislation but that will only create more and more publicity and a greater backlash. That could create a revolt within his party and another leadership spill. But that can be addressed tactically as he has done in the past.

But strategically, Abbott has failed to realise the following. His divisive actions with regard to same sex marriage has created an election issue.

In non-rainbow colours, the choice is clear…

A vote for the National party and the other conservative party (now now longer a Liberal party) will ensure there will be no same-sex marriage.

 

 

 

Bernie Sanders? President?

About two years ago, on Twitter I started following this odd American politician. A man named Bernie Sanders.  I thought to myself this man can’t be a Republican or Democrat. He’s saying what neither party could ever countenance let alone tolerate. Neither of the two conservative American parties would touch him for a second.
Then I found out that Sanders is the independent senator for the state of Vermont. And then after that I researched him a little further. He’s been around a long time. It’s clear and consistent what he stands for. And tellingly he’s saying now what he’s been saying for years.
And surprisingly enough that gives Bernie Sanders an almost unbreachable shield. It’s difficult to mount attack ads and craft slogans against someone like him. Voters will nod dully. They’ll say we heard Bernie say that before. He’s being saying these things for years. Besides it’s difficult to criticise someone who’s so far ahead of his time that now the world has just caught up to him.
And now he’s running for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Against the already presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. And people are waking up to this truly maverick politician. And something very interesting might happen.
Clinton is almost unbeatable for the Democratic nomination. She has too much money, a massive network, extraordinary media clout and a long record of experience. Her campaign has already learnt the lessons from her defeat in 2008 and Obama’s victories then and in 2012. They have obviously learnt how to capitalise on her time as an effective Secretary of State and new York senator. Further Hillary Clinton cleverly has already ensured that President Obama has more or less endorsed her. But she won’t be able to touch Bernie Sanders. And that is why her campaign is worried.
Her main threat should be from the Republicans. As a party, they have prepared for her candidacy for a long time in fact since she was First Lady and senator for New York. They’ve readied the attack ads and slogans.
But that won’t matter. It won’t matter regardless of whether the GOP has a Tea Party candidate, running mate or both. It won’t matter as the GOP will appear to be as they actually are. Divided and unelectable as shown by the antics of Donald Trump. Even if Trump’s latest tantrum results in him running as an independent, it will probably make things worse for the hapless Republicans. Besides they can’t even pass laws on road repairs (with a majority in both Houses!).
In normal times, a divided and ramshackle Republican party would mean an easy run for Clinton.  In theory, that is, unless Sanders loses and listens to his followers. They will clamour for him to run as an independent. And Sanders being an independent will do just that. Then it will become interesting indeed.

A True Internet Fable: Don’t Mention the War, We’re Too Busy Collaborating

Last week, at work, the Aarnet (Australian Academic Research Network) is mentioned.  In my mind I slip away from the meeting and go back in time. To 1990, in fact, where I was witness to a remarkable episode of collaboration.

My then work colleague had done the unthinkable. He had talked management into connecting to the internet. But the only way to do so was through the Aarnet.

We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. The internet wasn’t the sexy World-Wide-Web as we know it now.  The internet seemed to be like a fairly disorganised library. It was made up of e-mail, news groups, search tools and file servers, all great tools that worked separately but never together.  That was to wait until the advent of the World Wide Web. 

Some of us used email. My colleague used the search tools and file servers to find software. Everyone else used the news groups.

We could find out anything. We also could share anything too. But not just in our area of expertise, or interest or locality but internationally. This level of collaboration was best shown by an incident which could not happen now.

It wasn’t long after connecting to the internet that the first Gulf War began. We had the radio on to follow the latest updates. It was then we heard that Scud missiles were being fired at Israel. One work colleague spoke up and said he had a friend in Haifa.  We became nervous as events might have escalated very seriously.

But on the news groups it was a different story. Iraqi students had no idea what was going on. They were asking questions. American and Israeli students were answering them. It didn’t matter that a war was going on.

That’s what happens when you give people the ability to collaborate.

National Insecurity, Citizenship and Exile

As posted on Gumption-inc

With less than eighteen months remaining in its first term, (or less according to some commentators), the Australian Government has been determined to show that it is tough on national security. One of those measures is legislating to strip citizenship of anyone who has joined the fighting in Syria and Iraq. In this action, all they are doing is following the lead of Canada and Great Britain.

UN Passport

UN Passport

Great Britain’s response to the increasing number of citizens joining the war in Syria was to try and ensure they didn’t return. One tactic in the case of dual passport holders was to revoke their British citizenship. In fact, revocations have increased in Great Britain since 2013.  The power to revoke citizenship resides with the Home Secretary and utilises existing powers. Despite provision to appeal the decision through a court process, due to the decision occurring while the person was abroad, the result is that many individuals have been left stranded overseas.  In some cases individuals have been left stateless. The justification is that of protecting national security and/or deterring potential and actual terrorists. As a consequence of those grounds, little is known of those people who have had their citizenship revoked.  Great Britain is now in the process of enacting and enforcing even more strict laws.

Passport and Handcuffs

Passport and Handcuffs

Following the British example, Canada introduced new rules for revoking citizenship again citing terrorism and national security concerns. Again most cases will be decided by the Minister with a provision for a courts process. No provision is made it seems for dual citizens who are overseas. As the Canadian Bar Association states such actions in effect will exile citizens effectively through a paper based process. As the Toronto Star states citizenship has now been criminalised and is effectively been used as a tool to achieve Government objectives, such as deporting undesirables. But as we are seeing in Australia, once citizenship becomes expendable, then proposals to revoke it on trivial grounds appear from nowhere. However in Canada, those grounds remain terrorism offences overseas,  national security offences and serving overseas in armed forces against Canada. Again note that neither Canada nor Great Britain are considering the revocation of citizenship for single nationals.

Claiming that it is extra tough on national security, but really following suit, the Australian Government introduced a proposal to revoke citizenship from dual nationals who had travelled overseas to fight. This proposal was put to the Cabinet and involved an administrative process with no provision for appeal. After a rebellion by some ministers,the proposal was amended to include a judicial review process.

In the meantime, there has been many views expressed including that the legislation was unconstitutional. But then the legislation was introduced and it appears flawed. Grounds for revocation of citizenship now include terrorism, national security offences, serving in the armed forces of another country and being in a so-called prescribed area such as Raqqa, the capital of Islamic State. But the extent of offences now may include whistle-blowing and the vague phrase of using a thing (undefined) to commit an act of terrorism (a paper glider flown through Parliament perhaps?) noting that offences may be applied retrospectively. So that means a person could visit Iraq or Syria for religious reasons but then lose their citizenship as the war has spread to their location.

World Wide

World Wide

In all of that the Australian Prime Minister was quoted as still pursuing means to strip the citizenship of single-nationals who have left Australia to fight overseas.

This is troubling for democracy. In Australia, at least, a law will be enacted that imposes penalties and offences without recourse to court. This law too will mean that potentially Australians fighting overseas will be rendered stateless and have no means of regaining their citizenship. The law provides no means of holding these terrorists to account for their crimes by extraditing them back home. This law, and such laws like it, fails to deter and in fact provides more grounds for fighters to leave a country, commit terrorism and not return.

This government don’t know what they are doing. If they suspend the citizenship of dual nationals who have committed crimes overseas, how will these people be brought to justice? They’ve effectively got away with their crimes internationally. Such suspension effectively rewards (not punishes) these people with exile. Such people contemplating going overseas may be more motivated if they lose their citizenship. And now they want to impose restrictions upon those with single citizenship through an quasi-legal accounting of their actions which could potential break international law (again).

These laws and laws like it are stupid and destined to fail.

 

 

 

The Potential Radicalisation of News Limited?

In truth, I take little interest in the activities of Islamic State. They simply are another group that uses any religion to justify any violence. And yet another group who commit violence in the main against their fellow believers.

So I find myself agape and aghast at News Limited’s unmitigated obsession with them. Every single day, either on the News.com.au web site or the front pages of the Daily Telegraph or Herald-Sun or Courier Mail, there is a yet another story on Islamic State.

In truth, it’s enough to make one hearken after the good old fashioned days of so-called bum and tit journalism. I even have wistful wishes for those strange and odd stories about penises and vaginas which used to adorn the News.com.au web site. Even a few lines about one of the Kardashians/Wests/Jenners would do.

But all of those hopes were dashed after the recent ABC Q and A controversy. This time News decided to take the high moral ground (which in a sea of beheadings, drownings, burnings, Kardashians, penises and vaginas is quite hard to find) and declared (using their usual badly written headlines and poorly photo-shopped clip art) that the Australian Broadcasting Commission support Islamic State.  But any reading would show that (as I tweeted), “Its News Limited who generates free publicity for Islamic State not the ABC:)”

Shouldn’t we all be worried about the potential radicalisation of Australia’s largest media outlet?

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