December 27, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

Creamin’ it in Canberra

I hope your Christmas or holiday season has been as mellow as mine. Pleasant gatherings, abundant food and good wine, people you care about and of course, good conversation.

Canberra post-drought is as good as it gets, at least to me. Sydney was wonderful for the day and the party I attended, but Canberra is home.

How peculiar that much of my reading is about apocalypse. Most recently The Trillion Dollar Meltdown by Charles Morris, who sounds like an insider. That puts the climate meltdown in perspective. The global economy, or at least the behemoth of the US economy, is painted as a giant Ponzi scheme, fed by cheap loans.

A related video exposition, called The Crash Course by Chris, available on You Tube, gives a wider background. Together they reinforce my understanding (my first degree was in mathematics) that exponential curves lead to bifurcations. That is, all the parameters that are accelerating at a steady percentage every year produce graphs that eventually are off the chart.

Pick your variable: money supply, use of essential metals or fuels, fish consumption, land use, water, China’s economy, or even my favourite: population.

Canberra now has at least two world class galleries: the National and the Portrait. Every proud nation needs a place to display its heros, be they celebrities like Heath Ledger or Nicole, or Kay Cottee of yachting fame. It was a walk through Australia’s history and the leaders who took us to this peak of affluence.

Such a wealthy lot we lucky ones, no earthquakes, famines, election riots or tsunamis here. Not a machete in sight, just polite public servants, neatly signalling their exits from the roundabouts. Some of them track the data of their various departments. I wonder if it spills over into concern about where it is all going. Sometimes they ask our opinion, and I’ll be offering some views on urban planning as part of the peak oil group submission here. A study just released by the Planning Institute of Australia warns that without a serious rethink on urban design Australia’s cities and economy are headed for big trouble. (exponential curves can go downwards, too.)  Maybe they’re listening in that department.

Lots of data is being plotted on lots of graphs. Retail sales, building loans, numbers of flowers imported to give to beloved friends. I received roses from Peru on Christmas Eve, and was not going to say no.

Metaphorically I offer you, dear reader, a sweet rose and best wishes.

Enjoy it while it lasts, and read the charts.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 9:07 pm | Comments Off on Creamin’ it in Canberra |

December 14, 2010 | Graham

Some other effects of global warming

A recent blog post I was reading appealed for newer and more innovative potential effects of global warming. Can’t find the post now, but I’ve had my eye out, and low and behold, came across two today while scanning blogs.

At Delusional Economics the anonymous author implies in It’s not the price, it’s not the debt, it’s global warming that the SMH is blaming a slump in housing construction on global warming. They don’t actually, but it is only a matter of time until someone does.

Then I came across this unsatirical post – Is Ice Melt Causing Volcanic Eruptions? . . . Maybe So! – which makes a serious case that glacial melt may in fact have contributed to recent volcanic activity.

If anyone can find the blog offering the prize, maybe we could enter these two theses. Happy to split the prize with the successful Googler.

Posted by Graham at 12:26 pm | Comments (9) |
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December 12, 2010 | Graham

Human Rights Awards, Chris Sidoti, Pauline Hanson and On Line Opinion

Congratulations to Therese Rein, winner of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s 2010 Human Rights Award, and all the other winners. It was particularly interesting to see the Internet get a look in with GetUp winning the Community (Organisation) Award.

Other winners included Nina Funnell, an occasional contributor to On Line Opinion. You can read about the awards, and see Ms Rein’s speech here.

On Line Opinion was a sponsor of the awards, which might seem a little strange. Why would an organisation that struggles with its own budget sponsor something as high profile and well-established, and well-funded (the awards lunch was at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney)?

Well, the sponsorship allowed us to give value through one of our most under-estimated assets – our readership. We gave the commission 500,000 ad impressions over the course of 5 months. That’s a lot of ad impressions, and the commission got a lot of click throughs to their site from them. We were able to do this because while On Line Opinion is a good advertising proposition, we don’t get as much demand for our space as we should, so there is generally inventory available that doesn’t get filled. (We’re currently filling it with Google ads, but if you have something you want to get out before Christmas, please email me now).

So it was a good deal for the commission, and a good deal for us.

But there was another reason why I responded favourably when approached for sponsorship. The Human Rights Commission, or at least some people associated with it, had a part to play in the beginnings of On Line Opinion, and I was very happy to catch-up with one of them, former Human Rights Commission Chris Sidoti, at the function. So I felt like we had some sort of a debt to repay.

I met Chris in 1998 through Margie Cook, who was the Communications Manager for the Commission, but who also had a contract to manage election night coverage for Channel Nine. 1998 was the year that Pauline Hanson burst onto the stage in Queensland with One Nation winning a larger share of the vote in the state election than either the Libs or the Nats, and I understood more about the dynamic of how that happened than just about anyone else in Australia.

As One Nation was obviously going to be a factor in the federal election Margie picked my brains a lot and involved me in the Channel Nine coverage of the Federal Election that year. Chris Sidoti was also personally concerned about the One Nation surge as well and we had a number of conversations about how you should deal with its  rise.

At a tactical level my advice at the time, which formed the basis of a number of op-eds, was to stop talking about One Nation. The greatest force behind Pauline was publicity.

The second greatest force was the propensity for the elites to look down on her and talk down to her.

That is partly where On Line Opinion came in. I saw Hanson as a symptom of a problem in society, not the cause of it. And the problem was that people refused to engage with people with whom they disagreed, and worse, denigrated them and denied them the right to hold their opinions. With the cultural megaphones of broadcast and print media in the hands of the elites this created enourmous tension which erupted in One Nation. (As a result of the One Nation phenomenon and the movement it forced in public discourse, one can now see similar tensions building up on the left).

On Line Opinion was an attempt to level the playing field, at least in one corner.  Our underlying proposition has always been that no matter how wrong it might be, you are entitled to hold a particular opinion, and to personal respect, even if the opinion might be seen by many as objectionable.

We reason that it is better to get opinions out in the open and discussed than to allow them to fester in private and eventually explode. We also figure that with enough argument and discussion opinions will change.

We won’t publish everything but we do publish widely within the law.

The first edition of On Line Opinion was in April 1999, and Chris Sidoti was one of the five original contributors via a piece on his “Bush Talks” project, which was an outreach project by the commission to hear the concerns of people around the country – just the sort of approach that I was recommending. In an OLO tradition I also wrote a piece criticising some of Chris’s ideas – discussion and dissent, particularly amongst friends, is healthy and necessary.

The OLO approach is one that many find difficult to accept, and we are currently under attack from a number of gay activists because we dared to publish this piece by Bill Muehlenberg (which is mostly a pastiche of comments by gay activists) even though the majority of articles that I can find on the site on the issue support gay marriage.

And by attack I mean attempting to intimidate me, sponsors or advertisers.

How ironic at a time when we are sponsoring the Human Rights Awards.

Posted by Graham at 9:30 pm | Comments (14) |

December 10, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

Julian, do you want to know a secret?

Australians especially are feeling a certain frisson as the furor over Wikileaks unfolds. Aussies know about underdogs, the bullying of the state, and the necessity for collective action. An Irish taint, the Eureka Stockade and our memories of a strong and socially sympathetic union movement testify to that.

For most observers it was merely interesting when Wikileaks revealed climategate emails, embarrassments to North Korea or the depredations of a violent African dictator. The world press gobbled it up.

But opening the Pandora’s box of American hypocrisy about its wars, economy, and climate change is a bridge too far for the US and its great obliger, OZ.  There is a head to point to, and it must roll, to preserve the status quo at all costs.

Assange, of course, is just the messenger. He is also at the sharp end of the redefinition of journalism , and a benchmark in the  Wiki/open source/literally distributed information and intelligence model. In effect, the flip side of Al Quaeda. That’s a common enough observation. We are seeing the precursor of yet to be invented forms of democratic global governance, if the gods of the internet remain willing.

What’s at stake right now is my right to be part of that emergent system. At this moment, I can neither access Wikileaks nor locate a way to donate to them.

And that really pisses me off, because it removes my possibility of participation in this battle. Although the cyberattacks on financial institutions that are trying to cut off funding for Wikileaks are illegal and destructive, the principle and momentum of radical transparency is unstoppable.

What could be more cut and dry illegal, not to mention a violation of democratic free speech principles, than companies cutting off services to a group that has not  been charged, is not breaking any law, and is acting on democratic principles?

The bad guys might win this one, it ain’t gonna end here. We’re living a thriller, and we’ve all got characters to unfold.

As Stephen Colbert pointed out: you can donate to the Klu Klux Klan.

Bob Ellis is another good guy.  He has told it like it is:

The outpourings of support for Assange, including the cyberattacks on financial institutions that shut him off, indicate a frontier where a new  new rule of law is being forged.  The TV series ‘Deadwood’, which was inspired by the struggle to impose order on the Wild West in the US. Not so long ago, either.

For those who love reading history, Elizabeth Eisenstein on the impact of the printing press on early modern Europe reveals the attempts to stop the spread of literacy among the rabble.

But today is not the Middle Ages nor the Wild West. I suspect that you already know the secret, Julian, now that you have made a martyr of yourself for all the right reasons. The movement without a head can become the distributed, and collective brain. We must all learn that lesson, as Napster did and Amazon did, and become the Long Tail and whip end of democracy.

Solidarity forever!

But first I need to donate – can anyone help me on that?

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 10:20 pm | Comments (6) |
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