Feelpinions on the Coalition NBN Policy

Malcolm Turnbull’s – and therefore the Coalition’s – alternative policy for a national broadband network was finally released this morning.

As a policy, not a bad one. In fact, it was a good policy way back when John Howard’s government proposed the same thing, Fibre to the Node.

It is also markedly better than the Opposition’s idea early in Abbott’s tenure which was to rely heavily on wireless, a policy that Turnbull knew – proven in this FTTN-reliant policy – to be flakey.

The problem is, FTTN was something we should have had some time ago and any responsible national telco should have done it. We know Telstra had that responsibility removed from it some time ago via the magic of privatisation and the systematic failure of both Labor and Coalition governments to enforce structural separation on Telstra before privatisation.

The fact there is just one single copper network means that the incumbent doesn’t have to do anything. So they don’t.

In fact, one of Turnbull’s older arguments about broadband is that the market will sort it out, which we know to be false. The philosophically similar hybrid fibre cable (HFC) networks of both Foxtel and Optus were halted before passing a really meaningful market penetration, with Foxtel in particular opting for satellite for cable television delivery.

Just so we’re clear, FTTN means that fibre will be rolled out from the existing telephone exchanges in both party’s policies. The Coalition’s policy will terminate the fibre at the node, or one of those green boxes or barrels you see around the streets. From then, your existing copper strand to your premises remains. However cruddy that might be, which in my case, is very.

Labor’s NBN brings the fibre to your home, meaning a far more stable, robust and inherently faster connection. No attenuation, so silly jiggery-pokery to fool the line into thinking it’s much fatter, it just works, because it’s not a radio signal down the line, it’s light.

The Coalition is playing a lot of silly games with this policy release. They say FTTN will cost significantly less than the $70bn-$90bn they say the Labor NBN will cost, and therefore are running with fantasy rather than reality.

They say their FTTN will cost just a tick under $30bn which is interesting because Howard’s FTTN was just over 20% of that, so attacking Labor for cost blowouts feels a little hollow.

They are asserting that broadband prices will rise by 2021 somewhere in the order of 50% when the market history defies that trend. My 500Gb plan is half what it was two years ago.

Crucially, the Coalition are not saying whether the wholly inappropriate line rental charge will still be charged on a FTTN connection. On the NBN it will not, so their price comparisons are dodgy for two reasons 

1. they’re made up; and 

2. ignore reality

So they don’t even make the grade as a decent deception let alone as a policy.

The policy also states that there will be no change between the plans users choose now (12mbps) and in 2021. That is rubbish and requires no explanation at all. Most of us get that on ADSL2.

The policy claims that Labor’s NBN destroys competition in the infrastructure, which is kind of true, but there isn’t any now because of the patchy HFC network and the wholly Telstra-owned copper network and exchanges. 

The difference is, the Labor NBN makes the providers compete on price rather than infrastructure, which is what consumers care about. In the real world, people just want to switch it on and make it go, they don’t care how they get it, as long as it’s good. FTTN is good but FTTH is better.

The Coalition also scraps the wholesale price limit, meaning that if you’re outside metro areas, good luck seeing either better broadband or lower pricing.

Turnbull has gone on television and radio today to sell the policy and keeps telling us how there’s plenty of life left in copper and with VDSL technology with vectoring, we can get to 100mbps.

 Great. The Labor NBN can and will easily hit 1Gbps, which not many of us need now, but it will be Something Many of us Need before too long. Oh, but if you live in a greenfield site, you’ll get the glass because it’s better than copper.

 Yeah, I know. Consistency is not a strong point in this policy either.

The other bit that sticks in my craw is that if you want FTTN in a place like mine, you can pay for it yourself. I’d say that this will cost somewhere in the region of $2000-$4000 and if you’re not getting it to run a Telstra service across it, heaven help you getting it before the continents return to the formation of Gondwanaland.

But what it comes down to for me is this: the overall situation for broadband users in this country will not improve. The vast majority of us get somewhere around 12mbps already and pay the same on ADSL as we would on fibre, less the Telstra line rental of $35.

The Coalition’s mix of technology ensures a fundamental inequality. If I’m further away from the node than next door is, I get a lesser service for the same money.

If my strand of copper is awful, but next door’s isn’t, I get a lesser service for the same money. If I live in a greenfield site, I get 100mbps on fibre. If I don’t I take pot luck with VDSL and vectoring voodoo.

Let me put it another way. In a race car, grip is important. The FTTH policy, the Labor policy, gives the race car all the grip it needs to go fast for the ENTIRE track. It’s a brand new, FIA approved Formula 1 track, if you’ll pardon the awful analogy.

What FTTN does is provide a half tarmac, half dirt track. It’s a road all right, but you can’t run an F1 car over the dirt bits, so that’s the end of your fun, so you have to go back to driving something higher, slower and less capable of going really damn fast. And on that dirt bit, where the grip is low, not only can you not go as fast, you’re still fare more likely to crash.

 That’s FTTN. A dirt road over the last mile. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s a mile or a foot – copper constrains the bandwidth. And if you compare financial reality – $42bn versus $30bn, there’s no genuine contest.

The trouble is, the Coalition are much better at selling a bag of poo and telling you it’s a bag of lovely chocolate. The Labor government has proven itself incompetent in every way in effectively selling the NBN. The fact it was an election issue last time around was because the Coalition didn’t *have* a policy, so Labor’s looked great by comparison.

Australia is an undoubtedly difficult place to do broadband equitably. The Coalition have abandoned the idea that 93% of the country should get the same and are happy for the status quo to remain. 

It’s not good enough for a modern economy increasingly reliant on services delivered across the internet where we need quality, stable, fast and less lop-sidedly asynchronous connectivity.

The Coalition policy is here. Let me know if I’ve got anything (genuinely) wrong:

Click to access The%20Coalition’s%20Plan%20for%20Fast%20Broadband%20and%20an%20Affordable%20NBN%20Summary.pdf

Pay or paid to publish?

As usual I’ve got myself into a fairly inarticulate state on Twitter over the Mamma Mia no-pay-to-publish thing. There’s a bit of history to it, just for context.

Marieke Hardy, of all people, kicked off on Twitter the other day at Mamma Mia founder Mia Freedman for not paying her contributors.

I was surprised at this. I thought MM was a pretty big site (Freedman claims 1.2m visitors) and I would have thought at least paying a nominal amount to say thanks is fair. 1.2m is a big number in the Australian web scene, so the site must be doing alright. Freedman does not appear short of a bob or the influence her position affords.

Now, nobody holds a gun to these people’s heads. Bern Morley and Meshel Laurie both stuck up for Freedman, saying it led to bigger and better things. I can believe that and am pleased it worked out for them.

Freedman then wrote a lengthy piece about how she employs a number of full and part-time writers and then casually dropped that she has “about a dozen” unpaid interns. Which, in raw numbers, doubles her staff, but they’re obviously  part time.

Still, this made me extremely uncomfortable.

Most of the writers laying into her are people who make a living being paid to write or are very close to doing so. Freedman’s counter-argument is that this is the sort of exposure money can’t buy and anyway, she’s not the only one.

She’s right, unless you’re Jamie Packer and you spend lots of money advertising in Fairfax papers.

I write for free and have done so for 20 years. The vast bulk of my writing in that time has been for zero dollars. Four hundred game reviews over several sites, (some that were in a position to pay, I might add), many film reviews and probably millions of words about Formula 1.

I’ve been paid less than $15,000 in 20 years of writing. I won a writing award in 1997 which paid, I was paid a nominal amount for a play to be toured by ATYP, a magazine article or two and now am paid regularly to write about cars. It’s a nice feeling.

I’d say about 95% of the money has come from writing about cars, if you’re interested. I am extraordinarily thankful for that. And 95% of that from a website with far fewer visitors than Freedman’s claimed audience and over the last 7 months.

(I’m not including the scripts and unpublished novels, by the way)

Anyway, the point is, there has to be a line somewhere. In fact, two. One must be drawn by the writer – how much are they willing to do for free, for how long and why are they doing it for free? Only the writer can decide this and it’s really nobody else’s business. Some say those who write for free undermine other writers, but I don’t think that holds any water because that’s not how business or publishing works.

The second is for the publisher: how much free labour am I going to harness before it gets a bit silly?

I’ve been both. I published a video game website for a few years that I inherited from an impressive younger bloke and had to be completely upfront about the fact that there wasn’t a red cent in it, despite being one of the most successful sites around at the time. I felt bad.

Thing is, I’m really lucky. I have a good income from other sources that keeps me better than well-fed and housed and clothed and I am extremely grateful for that. Writing is a hobby for me and I am always pleasantly surprised by the payments I do get.

But, because I’m an egomaniac, the reward for me is that my name is in lights or pixels or whatever and my thoughts are being read by others who don’t know me and never will. I get a kick out of that.

What I don’t get a kick out of is exploitation. Sites like Mamma Mia (and I am picking on them unfairly here and on Twitter) make a lot of money (if 1.2m is true, etc etc) and have a responsibility to check themselves. And not cry about it on TV.

The power, in the end, is with the writer. If you’re not prepared to do it for nothing, don’t. If you are, but are uncomfortable with Freedman et al, don’t write for them. That doesn’t pay the bills, but neither does The Punch or The Drum or whoever else.

What does pay the bills eventually is the exposure you get for judiciously choosing your targets and setting yourself a goal – “if I am not paid after n pageviews, I will say thanks, but I’m off.” Or whatever. It’s up to you.

I just wish it didn’t have to be this way and I don’t honestly think Freedman takes delight in not paying, she just thinks it’s the only way.

It isn’t, but she, and many others, are looking after their own financial interests.


I hope Kate Middleton ONLY has morning sickness

DISCLAIMER: Before I get going on this, let me be clear that I think the already over-reported Kate-Middleton-pregnant thing is rubbish. It’s so utterly tedious and while, yes, she knew what she was getting herself into, the pressure to tell the world about this stuff is tedious for us and pretty galling for her. This isn’t about Kate Middleton being sick, or to get you to understand how HG  affected us it’s about thousands of women worldwide who suffer what she is suffering today.

So yeah, I’m not here waving a Union Jack and telling you to feel sorry for her because she’s rich and posh and whatever.


Kate Middleton does not have a simple case of acute morning sickness. I hope she does. But if the papers are to be believed, she has a terrifying condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. I’ll tell you why it’s terrifying.

When a woman has hyperemesis gravidarum, she cannot function because she is constantly throwing up. It is unstoppable. She dehydrates, she can become anorexic and even when hospitalised, HG can and does lead to organ failure.

How do I know this? My wife went through it several times. She tried everything, and I mean everything.

Western medicine is largely useless when it comes to HG because the anti-nausea and anti-emetic drugs will most likely either disable or kill the foetus. Lots of baffled doctors, though, especially the women who think women with HG are bunging it on. When they realise the truth, they run, they don’t want a failure on their hands.

She tried Eastern medicine, she tried things that she knew to be mumbo-jumbo, but she tried everything in an attempt to trick her mind or body into thinking that it didn’t need to be doing this to her. All failed.

She spent months lolling on couches and beds, talking to women the world over via HG forums, a group of women desperately trying to keep themselves and each other going through this tortuous time. Some women got through it at 12 weeks, some at 28, some didn’t stop until 40 weeks. Or they lost their children either through termination or miscarriage and had to pick up the pieces and be expected to just get on with their lives.

When our son Max was born, she was still throwing up an hour after. She weighed less with him on board than she did before she fell pregnant.

Over the next few years and several pregnancies, she would spend over six months in hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne, full of tubes, still throwing up because that’s what her body was doing, whether there was anything to throw up or not.

When there was no food, her stomach lining and oesophagus came up.

Her liver and kidneys both came to the point of failure in each and every pregnancy after our son was born. She could not go to the bathroom unaided because she had such low blood pressure she would faint and hit her head on the floor. There was nothing – nothing – anyone could do.

She could die, they told us, and so could our baby. Could became would and we had to terminate pregnancies to save her life. It was heartbreaking and she has never forgiven herself for what she sees as a personal failure to carry her children.

In April 2007 after 24 weeks of sheer bloody-minded determination to get through the HG, we suffered a stillbirth. I can’t tell you how painful it was for us to get that far, to feel we were turning a corner with her condition, only to lose our baby boy, who we named Gabriel.

We still have his ashes, we can’t bear to part with him and the box full of toys and clothes we bought for him. We were told a good strategy is to create hope, a future – buy things for the baby so you have something to look forward to and crash through the pain.

We still have the things her friends from the HG forum sent her, from all over the world, to say how sorry they were. A beanie to fit his tiny head still moves me to tears when I see it or think about it.

My wife, once so happy and confident, became a shell, each and every time and had to be rebuilt. Neither of our families understand what it has done to her and can’t or won’t take the time to find out. It’s too confronting. Her experience has alienated her from friends and family because she finds it difficult to cope with their inability to empathise. She doesn’t want to be that way, but she is.

She suffered post-traumatic stress, still does. She has panic and anxiety attacks.

She wants to kill pregnant women who, dressed, groomed, make-up on and otherwise okay, are standing in front of her, upright with a glass of wine in their hand telling her how sick they are.

It’s not their fault, but they don’t get it or understand her reaction. She couldn’t even wash her hair, she couldn’t cope with it. Have a shower? Forget it. Her sense of smell became hyper-sensitive, the chlorine would make her chuck.

She couldn’t leave her hospital room or our bedroom for months at a time. She went weeks without seeing our son, she couldn’t stand noise or light or the smell of sheets washed in certain powders. Every day I sat with her as she drifted in and out of consciousness or going stir-crazy, waking only to throw up or try and get some food or water down.

She had suicidal thoughts, the rolling nausea breaks down your will and your soul. She lived in a half-light, a twilight, but she so badly wanted another child. It was not to be. We called a stop to it after the fourth pregnancy, when she mercifully miscarried but still had to go through a procedure to clear her womb.

Women still die from this, some of them courtesy of some insane religious extremism relating to terminations, some of them because they refuse to give up and some of them because they are simply not believed.

It’s not fair. While it’s hilarious to stand back and laugh at the idiotic reporting of Kate Middleton’s condition, to say that it’s only being reported because she’s posh and she probably isn’t that sick, if she’s got hyperemesis she’s in deep, deep trouble.

Because it doesn’t matter if you’re Charlotte Bronte, who died at four months in a dank room in nineteenth century England, or you have the best care in Australia’s maternity hospitals or you are carrying the heir to the British throne, nobody knows why this happens or how to stop it. Anyone who says they have an answer is either deluded or a liar.

Middleton is in the same boat as my wife and only a slightly better boat than Bronte. It has nothing to do with twins, social status, diet, ethnicity, nothing at all.

William is in the same boat as me, having to stand by and watch it all unfold and being able to do nothing. Doesn’t matter he’s Prince William, today he’s a very worried husband and potential father hoping this all goes away soon.

HG is not an attention-seeking version of “acute morning sickness,” it’s so awful many sufferers are consigned to cancer wards because that’s the best place to deal with the constant vomiting and nausea.

Doctors will confidently stride in to see Middleton today and tell her she’ll be fine, in a week they’ll give up having tried everything and hand her over to another doctor who will do the same thing. It will happen to about twenty women in Australia every month, hundreds more in the US and the UK.

I genuinely hope we can go back to being snarky about Mrs Windsor at some point in the future because all of this will be a false alarm brought on by over-enthusiastic reporters and she was just a bit wobbly and needed a shot of fluids or vitamin B or something.

Because I can tell her – and you – she’d rather a bit of derision than what’s ahead of her if she truly has hyperemesis.

I Watched The Newsroom!

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this and I have come to the following conclusion about Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.

Strap yourselves in, because I don’t think anyone else has said this about it.

Here goes. This is my opinion, and it is mine and I do not believe anyone else has expressed this.


Seriously, just that.


I’m not a West Winger, I watched precisely thirty seconds of Studio 60 and I have no predisposition in either direction about Sorkin’s talents as a writer.

Some of his dialogue is great, whip-crack sharp and delivered by a cast I quite like.

Some of The Newsroom is painfully expositional and deliriously earnest in its intent.

Sam Waterston is perfectly cast for that role, given his long history on Law & Order delivering some pretty dumb lines for the benefit of its brain-dead audience segment.

“Show don’t tell” is what I learned about writing for television and the theatre, Sorkin does and awful lot of telling, mostly via statistics that make my head spin.

The cast, as a whole (and I include Waterston) in my assessment, is terrific. Everybody plays their part well and the male characters are well developed if, in a few instances, irritating.

The women, unfortunately, are not well-written or developed. This probably makes their performances even better, struggling as they are under weightily sexist storylines.

They mostly seem to be rushing about trying to impress the men in the office and this drove me a bit nuts. They certainly weren’t confection or eye-candy afterthoughts, they just seemed to be there to support the male stories and their egos.

I suspect that Sorkin just doesn’t know how to write women who aren’t subservient AND unbearably masculine.

I think the crux of my ‘meh’-ness was that it just doesn’t entertain me on a sustainable level. The episodes are really up and down and are only lent tension by the event that they are covering.

The Osama Bin Laden Assassination episode was very good but was utterly ruined by a wave of self-indulgent, cloying do-gooder moments from various members team in the direction of peripheral cast expressly injected into the story to support those moments.

I can handle sentimentality but it was saccharine and ruined the show.

And that’s kind of where I left it. I went to watch episode 8 but thought, why? I know what’s coming, I know Sorkin’s position about the events that are unfolding in a media that is free from responsibility and I agree with him.

It’s an extended attack on the hollowness of modern (read Fox) news, but we get it from Mackenzie’s first production meeting with the new team. We get it.

News is crap, and dumbed down and often riddled with lies. We know, we have the same problem in almost every single English-speaking Western country that has bought into the news culture of the US.

I can’t keep nodding and saying, “Yes, so true,” without then asking, “Can we move on now?”

It kind of turned into Q&A without the right-wing troll. So extra boring, then.

Also, I don’t believe for a moment that Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy is a Republican, not for one second. Not because I despise Republicans in general (many of them are very sensible people) but because he talks like the Democrat that Sorkin obviously is.

And that’s all the show has turned out to be – a mouthpiece for Sorkin, masquerading as balanced rhetoric.

So yeah.


This Is How It’s Done – Meet the Superhumans

My ever-patient Twitter followers have seen me banging on about this video.

It’s called Meet The Superhumans and it’s the promo for the UK’s Channel 4 coverage of the 2012 Paralympics.

I don’t mind telling you, I was completely blown away by it, and for a number of reasons.

I don’t have much truck with the whole “I’ve worked so hard to get here” schtick that most Olympics promotional stuff is full of, particularly in Australia.

Networks like to run this line that elite sport doesn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars thrown at it by adoring governments and billions more from adoring sponsors because it’s all down to the individual athlete and their lovely genes, isn’t it?

It’s poppycock of course, in all but the most obscure of sports. Professional athletes participating at an Olympic level have made a choice to be that person, participate and devote themselves to that sport because they were spotted as kids and had free trainers and free education thrown at them.

The Paralympics is very different. The athletes at the Paralympics have really had to fight – prejudice, ignorance and their own disability.

Meet the Superhumans nails that message home in a bold, uncompromising and unpatronising way. Nobody’s smiling warmly, there’s no blonde rich girl with sponsors dripping off her bitching about the 4am starts at the pool, it’s telling us the truth – these are people with a disability, not disabled people.

These Paralympians aren’t necessarily pretty but they’re not standing there asking for your pity or mithering applause. We see explosions in Iraq, car crashes, stumps. We see people routinely ignored by the corporate gloss of the Olympics.

We see people who really have had to work very hard indeed just to live, to survive. It’s awesome. I love it. It’s a fantastic job and it is abundantly clear that Channel 4 aren’t just along for the ride, the people running the coverage not only care but they understand.

It’s a huge leap forward for the promotion of the Paralympics and the portrayal of the people with a disability is refreshingly free from right-on politics or patronising back-patting.

Nice work, Channel 4. Nice work.

This is the Telstra I Know

Being a bit of a mobile worker I begrudgingly switched to Telstra just on two years ago. I always hated them and their arrogance but unfortunately, their huge superiority over the hopeless competition and the money I was losing every time I lost a call, drove me into their sticky arms.

They had become almost good value and the premium, while still there, was meaningful because you could see what you were paying for, at least on their mobile plans.

It was with an almost loyal fervour I slipped in their reasonable-value micro-SIM for the iPad. $150 for 12Gb over 12 months promised okay value but good convenience.

Today I got an email that reminded me of how much Telstra could be disliked.

“On 12 June, a 365-day recharge on the Telstra Pre-Paid micro-SIM for iPad will increase from $150 to $180.

At this new price, you’ll still receive 12GB of included data – so you can enjoy great value surfing on Australia’s largest national mobile network.”

Oh, happy day! You’re charging us more but assuring us it’s great value? Wonderful. Not even ‘still’ enjoy but, ‘enjoy’ as though the price had gone down and this announcement is a good thing for us as Telstra users.

Any excuses as to why, when everything is getting cheaper, this is getting more expensive? No. Nothing.

It goes on to tell me that I must be SURE to MAXIMISE my value.

By spending a lot more money for data I won’t need.

“You might also consider our other economical options on your next recharge. With a 30-day expiry, you can receive 12GB for $100, 9GB for $80, or 6GB for $60.”

Um, no thanks. 

It’s almost as if nobody stood back and thought to themselves, ‘I wonder why people use this particular plan?’

I’ll tell them – normally I’d charge for this sort of advice, but it’s so obvious, they can have it for free.

It’s because we use this as an adjunct to our web life, not as the centre. The iPad – any tablet really – is, for many people just another device that we use to get emails, tweet, FB or LinkedIn when we’re out and about. We don’t need a stupendous amount of data, it’s a casual device.

I’m not complaining of the price increase per se – it is Telstra after all – but the fact they don’t even know who is buying that plan or why. 

The worst bit is, sending us an email advising is to spend 40% of what we used to every month for something that is of no value to us. The use of “economical” is the most egregious piece of smoke-blowing I’ve seen in an email for a long, long time.

So, I guess, it’s welcome back to the old Telstra we always knew. Thanks for the year or two of not being unself-conscious jerks.

Qantas loves hating its customers

It’s almost like Qantas wants us all to hate them. It’s the only possible explanation I can come up with for an airline that has ceased to care about its customers and turned into a business run with the mentality of a bank (MOAR PROFITS! SACK MANY PEOPLE!) combined with the management mentality of a television network (VIEWAHS? WHAT ARE THEY? WE ONLY KNOW ABOUT ADVERTISAHS!)

I’ll not rake over the epic stupidity of grounding the entire airline ‘for its own good’ nor its going to war with the people that have the power in their hands to make Qantas great again – the staff. Nor will I recount the huge disaster that was #qantasluxury, one of the greatest things ever to happen on Twitter. I can’t recall having more fun in an afternoon while at the same time feeling so sorry for the members of the social media team who inevitably opposed the idea on the grounds it was colossally stupid.

Qantas took steps over the past week to have the @QantasPR account wiped from our Twitter feeds. As Leslie Nassar pointed out (a man not unaware of the perils of running a fake account), Qantas have used reasoning that basically implies that Qantas customers are incredibly stupid. Obviously, we are. Because the occasionally very funny account,  adopting the mumsy and officious tone of the terrible @qantasairways, absolutely nailed them and was apparently so good that we will believe what they were saying. Yeah, right.

I have a couple of theories but first up, let me be clear as to how the account broke what I would term ethical or unwritten rules for a parody account – the username should really have the word ‘fake’ or ‘not’ or something to indicate that it isn’t real. I don’t think it’s enough to put it in the bio, I don’t think it’s enough for the bio not to explicitly state that it’s parody. They also used a Qantas trademark without obvious modification meaning they left themselves open to a successful legal challenge. While I agree with many commentators that satire shouldn’t have to point out that it’s satire, but Twitter, like the world, has plenty of idiots to keep the lawyers going.

What they were doing right was that the person behind the account hasn’t done it out of blind hatred but instead wants to have a bit of fun and wants the airline to be better.

Anyway. Theories.

While this may be a long bow to draw, I have a deep and abiding belief that Australian PR companies and PR people have almost no sense of humour. For many years I wrote video game reviews for a moderately successful gaming website. When we were unable to find a redeeming feature of a game we would say so. Then we battened down the hatches. You cannot, in this country, have any fun at the expense of ‘the brand.’ This then breeds an attitude within that brand’s PR machine that they are untouchable because they have successfully shut down any sort of fun-poking so they then go to market with things like #qantasluxury and the Woolworths Facebook debacle of finishing a sentence. I think part of the problem is that these companies are so keen to keep their often gigantic and/or multinational accounts happy, they develop an incredibly sensitive attitude to those brands.

I once told someone that Top Gear Australia wouldn’t work because of that same reason. There are plenty of rumours to suggest that I was right because a number of car makers were very unhappy at the damage meted out to their cars. Clearly Top Gear in the UK doesn’t have as many issues because plenty of quite new cars are damaged and there seems little in the way of backlash. TGA were (allegedly) threatened with a few manufacturers pulling out. I clearly remember a BMW 135i, a car brutally kicked sideways on Top Gear UK being taken for a very leisurely amble through the forest by the Australian presenter Steve Pizzatti. Ahem.

The other theory is that Qantas takes itself very seriously. While I am all for an airline taking the business of keeping aircraft in the air with utmost safety, I don’t think Qantas quite understands that the public face doesn’t have to be so, well, authoritarian. I flew Qantas regularly for years and whenever a flight was late or cancelled, the officious desk jockey would say, without fail, ‘We don’t fly unsafe aircraft.’ End of discussion. Qantas wants us to take them as seriously as they take themselves and when we don’t, we must be punished.

Twitter reminds me of a year 9 boys school classroom. Testosterone abounds and pack mentality rules. The over-confident maths teacher who says, without warning, halfway through a class, ‘hands up who likes me’ (yes, this happened and no, I did not put my hand up) is the real life equivalent of #qantasluxury. Those who didn’t put their hand up got booted out into the hallway and called arrogant. This is what happened to @qantasPR because they cut too close to the bone – they mimicked the feel and the tone of the real and outrageously poorly executed Qantas twitter accounts and got people talking about the brand for all the wrong reasons (as determined by Qantas and their ambulance chasing lawyers).

What it comes down to is that Qantas don’t like dissent from its customers, its prospective customers or its own staff. Qantas hates anyone who disagrees with the agenda of the board, the CEO and institutional investors. It isn’t enough that we don’t fall for Joyce’s patronising sky-is-falling routine or planting of stories in the Murdoch press praising his ludicrous style, we now have to view the airline the way they want us to without actually putting in the hard yards to do something likeable. Not falling out of the sky anymore doesn’t cut it – Virgin do a good of that and make less of a fuss doing it. The difference is, they don’t treat everyone like dirt.

The Taliban Take Qatar

Those delightful scamps, the Taliban, are to open an office in the Gulf state of Qatar.

My brain is a wonderland of rabbit holes, so I present to you a little exchange between the Taliban rep and a real estate agent that I had in my head when I read this news. Yes, I should get out more.
Real Estate Agent: So, Mr…Smith, was it?
Taliban: Smith, yes. Smith.
Real Estate Agent: Mr Smith, what sort of premises are you looking for?
Taliban: Outside of town, you know, somewhere dusty, room for plenty of Toyota sport utility vehicles.
Real Estate Agent: Oh, so a compound?
Taliban: Yes, something like that.
Real Estate: Room for a growing family?
Taliban: Er…yes. People will come and go. Trucks, mostly.
Real Estate: Any particular hobbies?
Taliban: We like shooting…
Real Estate: Photographers are we?
Taliban: We hunt for infidels, mostly.
Real Estate: Not sure they’re native to Qatar…
Taliban: Oh, we find them everywhere, they’re like a pest.
Real Estate: Great! You’d know more about it than me, you sound like an expert.
Taliban: We like shooting planes, too.
Real Estate: Oh, I could take photos of planes all day long, such amazing machines.
Taliban: Yes, although they are built by imperialist scum from the West.
Real Estate: (pauses)…(laughs)
Taliban: (laughs)
Real Estate: Very funny. We do have one place that might fit the bill. Here’s some photos. Lots of storage…
Taliban: Oh, some very nice places for the guns and rocket launchers. And enough space to park a stolen Russian tank!
Real Estate: Very spacious compound indeed.
Taliban: I like it. A few tents here, a rifle range there, a commando course in the north corner, it’ll be lovely.
Real Estate: I knew you’d like it. So I have your name here already on the form…occupation?
Taliban: Tricky. Bit of this, bit of that. Let’s leave out the opium trading, child marrying and arms trading, shall we? (laughs)
Real Estate: Oh, you are a funny one, Mr Smith.
Taliban: Just put ‘crusher of imperialist dogs.’
Real Estate: Perfect. Middle Management, then?

Don’t Turn Away

Something has been boiling away in the background for me, professionally, for the last six or eight months. It’s the first thing I’ve felt really connected to (again, professionally) for a long time because it is something worthwhile, something that will actually help and something that I have been able to apply my experience to in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve done something utterly lacking in moral worth.

I don’t do immoral things – I’d be a much wealthier man had I decided to take those gigs with a certain tobacco company, a certain booze company or a certain gambling company. Whether you deem that immoral or not is your problem, not mine (and vice versa), but the point is, I try and take a principled stand.

So this thing that I got caught up in was partly due to white hot anger. A digital services company had taken a non-profit for a fairly substantial ride on a project. I ran through in my head how it should have gone and realised that if I had been in charge, we’d have had it out the door for 60%, still made money, paid everyone properly and we would have had something to be proud of.

Anyway. Every now and again, I hear a story that reminds me why I am doing it. It’s not my full-time thing, I am effectively consulting to it for nothing but don’t wince about it. It’s worthwhile. It’s devilishly clever. And hopefully, it will stop things like this happening:

Ned is a guy who lives in Sydney. He’s 50, and he’s intellectually disabled. I don’t care what you want to call it now, but he’s not like “everyday people.” He works in a workshop and gets a ride to the workshop everyday. Everyday, he gets a ride home in a cab – with a cabbie who knows where his home is.

One day, Ned asked a cabbie whether he was going to his home suburb. When the cabbie said yes, Ned thought that the cab was the right one. It wasn’t.

After 45 minutes driving around, the cabbie got annoyed. We know that – because we saw the footage. The cabbie dropped Ned at a station. Not the police station. It should have been the police station. But it wasn’t. Ned went missing for 10 days. It’s thought he went interstate. We don’t know that – but we know he was missing for ten days. They think he’d made it to Brisbane. He was found 5 minutes from his home. He was one of the lucky ones. He was safe.

What is important in this story isn’t only that Ned was found. It was that at no time in ten days did any member of the public care to call the authorities. Clearly Ned is a person who needs, needed, help.

A few days ago, someone who does understand ‘duty of care,’ failed to notify authorities. It turned out very badly. I would ask that we all are aware of what can happen when we ignore the extraordinary.

When you see someone who is distressed, or who is seemingly distressed others, please don’t ignore it. Please call for help.

Call for help. Sometimes these people are very intimidating or we’re just not sure how to handle them, but even if you just call the police and make sure they arrive, you’ve done something. I know that I’ve let these things pass me by, wrapped up in my own world and not wanting to get involved. They’re brothers, sons, uncles, fathers, grandfathers. Sisters, daughters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers. They are loved and sometimes the very reason they are out and about is because they are loved, because their carers were able to let go for long enough to let their loved be a part of a society that doesn’t want to know them.

This thing that I’m doing, that we are doing, will hopefully save Ned from going missing for ten days and the pain and suffering this caused his family. I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m awesome – I most certainly am not – but to say to you, don’t turn away. I must learn to practice what I preach, too. And this project is holding me to account.

Richard Dawkins is Finished….Apparently

Professor Richard Dawkins is an incredibly clever man. He is a pre-eminent evolutionary biologist, with a gift for speaking and a gift for the written word. He is erudite, can be very funny and, as I have already said, he is very, very clever. He is perhaps the world’s most famous atheist and probably has made more money from his atheism than anyone. He has a pretty impressive temper and doesn’t mind going into a frothing rage in front of a television camera.

He can also be vile, abrasive, unpleasant and rude. This week he was firing away on a reasonably prominent science blog (I don’t read these things, so I am relying on the internet to tell me it is so), ripping into Rebecca Watson who calls themselves Scepchick.
Scepchick had complained about somebody asking her to his hotel room at 4am after a party. She thought it was creepy and fair enough. Dawkins didn’t think it was enough to complain about, so posted this:

Dear Muslima,

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so …

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

It isn’t particularly witty or funny and despite me not being a fan of his at all (well, I wouldn’t be, he thinks I’m an idiot), I consider it beneath his usual level of communication. The patronising inverted commas are his as is the irritating correction to ‘proper’ spelling.The post is unpleasant, cranky and hyperbolic. At no point in Watson’s complaint did she compare herself to anybody in such circumstances. Empathy doesn’t appear to be Dawkins’ strong point, as though this is something that we hadn’t already worked out. Even some of his fans will accept his rhetoric is a teensy bit overblown.
Well. It kicked off something of a storm of protest across Sceptic and Atheist websites. There have been calls for boycotts of his books (no differentiation was made between his scientific texts and his ranty atheist ones), speaking engagements (again, no differentiation) and television programs.
It seems the Sceptic/Atheist community does the same thing to itself that it does to the religious community. There is some assignation of blame to reprehensible behaviour to the religion itself rather than the people in it. Dawkins was ripping into Islam, as though all Muslim women suffer the awful fate he outlined above.
It’s fascinating, I think, that any member of a particular school of thought, can be surprised about the views and approaches of someone in that same school of thought. Like the Christian church, Atheism is a, ahem, a broad church and is full of just as interesting and wide a range of characters as any religion. Dawkins is a leading light in New Atheist thinking. It also turns out he’s sarcastic and weirdly sexist.
Some Atheists paint themselves as holding a monopoly on clear and rational thinking, as Dawkins only just stops short of doing himself. The mortal pain with which some of his followers have felt over the past few days is exceptionally strange – the guy hasn’t lived up to a set of ideals they have set for him and so he must be cast in the pit of pariah, his every spoken word now derided as invalid because of his indiscretion in a blog comment.
Was he drunk? Was he high? Was he in a bad mood after a fight with Lalla? Was it jealousy or a professional disagreement with a prominent blogger who isn’t a professor at an English university so shouldn’t be as famous as she is?
Who knows? It’s not really the point.
You see, it’s interesting how we build people up to be something they aren’t. Julia Gillard was expected to deliver much in the way of what the Left were expecting from her, and she hasn’t. The asylum seeker policy is probably worse than even the Liberals, she’s still holding out on same-sex marriage and she has so far failed to soften many of the hard edges filed onto Australia under the Howard Government. Whether you agree with those agendas or not, there is much howling from the groups who wanted them and derision from the other side when they don’t happen and cries that go something along the lines of the pearler Charlie Pickering tweeted on the same-sex marriage.
‘How an atheist can be anti-gay marriage is beyond me’
Well, Charlie, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns out there. The Atheist community has climate-change sceptics, racists, rapists, misogynists, any prejudice and criminality you want to name. Atheists, just because they choose not to believe in God, do not automatically become left-leaning beams of sweetness and light. They remain human and susceptible to human foibles and frailty. And in Gillard’s case, political realities. Just like people who call themselves Christians. Funny, isn’t it, how we’re all the same when you peel back the labels.
Dawkins is a product of his time and place. He has entered his eighth decade on planet Earth, lives in the rarified atmosphere of academia and has a truckload of adoring fans who praise his every move. He thought he could get away with being a bit of a jerk (because, in my opinion, he has done so for years) and has paid the price. He’s probably slightly bewildered how he managed to get it so wrong.
Dawkins has done what most heroes do – he’s trodden in it good and proper and then, to make it worse, refused to listen to why people are upset with him. It hasn’t changed my opinion of him – I think he’s abrasive, uncouth and generally unpleasant. What it doesn’t make him is a scientist we should ignore. Christians shouldn’t be afraid of his science and even less afraid of his anti-religious dogma. Mao and Stalin with their armies and reigns of terror couldn’t stop religion, he can’t either.
(N.B . I am not comparing Dawkins to Stalin or Mao – the point I am making here is that they had far more power and might and tried to stamp out religion with violence and repression. They failed – China’s pre-Communist Era Christian population was tens of thousands, by the time of his death it was nearing a reported 50 million. Dawkins has words, books and television and apart from his terrifying temper, is otherwise a reasonable chap when not talking religion. As in not a murderous psychopath.)
I was surprised that he was so offhand about Scepchick’s incident but I was more surprised about the reaction. I think people are tiring of his constant, greying monotone about how religion is terrible. He hasn’t produced anything new on the matter, just said the same thing, over and over. I should imagine following the Dawkins tour is like touring around behind a stand-up comedian – it’s the same jokes, the same stories and the same old thing. You can go to a good church for ten years and not hear the same sermon twice.
Dawkins probably isn’t finished – the cosy, self-congratulatory atmosphere of University life will see to that, and his dedicated acolytes will return because they have nothing else to believe in. I will say I’m mightily impressed with the Atheist and sceptic communities – they treat their own like they treat those with whom they disagree. That’s the sort of consistency I can respect.