where australia went wrong, one ex-pat's view (and a rant)

The Observer | International | Why I've fallen out of love with Australia: With Prime Minister John Howard predicted to win October's general election, Bill Condie analyses the climate of intolerance and racism which has soured his home country. (link via belegdel)

Minor rant ahead.

I don't think racism is quite so rampant as this piece suggests, or at least I don't think it has increased the way this suggests; and I'd be interested to see this person's views on racism in Britain. But the sad fact remains that Australia is sliding into xenophobia, a widening rift with its indigenous population and an increasingly stark class system.

After a flawed referendum, Australia has returned to its subserviant colony role within the Commonwealth; even while a series of Prime Ministers have kissed up to the USA. Our fate is now linked to that of the largest, most aggressive and hated nation in the world. We have become a target of America's enemies and yet we have rewarded the US by agreeing to a one-sided Free Trade Agreement.

We have bought into the worldwide fear of terrorism which has served primarily to excuse massive losses in civil liberties and increased military expenditure. Combined with our own apathy and consumerism, we must be the most docile electorate in the world - except America, maybe. At least voting is compulsory, making our elections less vulnerable to well-organised lobby groups; admittedly a bittersweet fact.

We've been suffering under a PM who blatantly lies whever he feels like it. Who knows where our tax dollars go, because the quality of state-run services like health, education, welfare and communications are horrendous, with increasing levels of privatisation feeding the rot.

Why aren't more people in Australia mad as hell?

news bits

  • Labor's radical vision may prove a hard one to sell - Election 2004 - It will be a difficult policy to sell for Labor, mainly because it is complex and a radical repositioning of the principles of school funding. I disagree - how the fuck is this complex? Labor wants to take money from the 67 richest private schools—we're talking about schools which charge more than $12,000 per year, per student—and give it to the poorer schools, while also increasing funding for public education. What is complex about that? Howard is an elitist fuck who knows he and his family will never need publich health or education, and it shows in his policies. Meanwhile people are arguing that Labor's policy is 'penalising parents' for paying for private schools - actually, that's only the case if they are being massively charged by the school they choose. Private schools with lower fees don't get funding taken off them. So actually this is putting pressure on schools to lower fees to keep the government funding.
  • Our broadband shame - Perspectives - : Two generations ago the entire Korean peninsula was one of the poorest places on earth, today the south at least, is one of the richest countries. And on one measure, internet connectivity, it is streets ahead of anywhere else. ... Compare South Korea's experience to Australia's. We have dropped in rank in levels of broadband penetration in each of the past five years, and are now ranked 21st in the OECD. Thank you, Mr Alston. Thank you, Telstra. Australia's flagship broadband products are still measuring downloads in megabytes-per-month, charged massively or shaped down to modem speeds after that despite huge setup fees and high monthly costs (abysmal value for money). The automotive equivalent would be to have everyone buying Model T Fords at $50,000 a pop.
  • | Man held for entering lion's den (September 15, 2004): [L]ions growled and snarled as a man scaled the fence of their enclosure at Melbourne Zoo yesterday. Crowd should have chanted: "Darwin! Darwin! Darwin!"
  • | Bird flies to wrong continent (September 15, 2004). "'Instinct' my feathered arse!" said the pissed-off starling.

news bits

  • ALP pledges $2.4bn for schools - except rich ones - Election 2004 - : Opposition Leader Mark Latham today promised $2.4 billion for the nation's schools while taking $520 million from Australia's richest schools to help pay for the package. Rather than commenting one way or the other, I want to get you to think of this idea: what would life be like if state-run education and health services were just as good as private options? Would you have to work yourself so hard to pay for everything? No. Would it mean the government had done what it was supposed to do? Yes.
  • Ban on assault weapons expiring in US - World - America's 10-year-long ban on ownership of military-style assault rifles expired on Monday night. It's been said: anyone who needs an Uzi to shoot a rabbit shouldn't be allowed out of the house without adult supervision. They sure as hell shouldn't be given a sub-machine gun.
  • FOX SPORTS | League | Cowboys get home brew (September 14, 2004): [The] match between North Queensland and Brisbane will be played at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
  • | Oprah gives entire audience cars (September 14, 2004): US talk show host Oprah Winfrey has celebrated the premiere of her 19th season by surprising each of her 276 audience members with a new car. Now that's a drawcard. Not much else would make it seem like a good idea to sit in that audience...

standards vs. conventions

The Need for Web Design Standards (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox): Unfortunately, much of the Web is like an anthill built by ants on LSD: many sites don't fit into the big picture, and are too difficult to use because they deviate from expected norms. Several design elements are common enough that users expect them to work in a certain way. Keep in mind that Jakob has become focussed on e-commerce sites which need to capture users in seconds and then extract money from them. He doesn't address the issue that people are frequently accessing sites which are the only source of certain information. This would back up his statements to a great degree.

confessions and diaries collection

I've already blogged some of these, but a conversation at morning coffee prompted me to collate them into one post.

  • Enter the Cow-orker, one man's personal diary in hell. How an office job can be turned into torture by having to work with an utter moron. The author's ability to turn a phrase lends biting wit to a situation which would make me scream.
  • Acts of Gord. Gord ran a game shop, sales and rental. The sheer idiocy - and his retaliation - make for incredible reading.
  • Driver Down, included particularly for Mark Driver's tales of life as a bartender in a seriously shitty, dangerous dive. Think of it this way: no matter how dodgy you think the punters are, some poor sod has to serve them drinks and swill the place out after closing.
  • Making Light: Tae, the paramedic from Hell. These are quite flippant and graphic, but most of us wouldn't last one day as a paramedic so we don't get to judge.
  • Improv Message Boards - True Porn Clerk Stories. You'd think working in a video rental store would be totally banal and uneventful; but as this diary shows, that probably depends on exactly what is stocked.

Most of these are net nutshells. You've probably seen most of them before. But they serve as a reminder that the net is an endless canvas which allows anyone to publish what's on their mind. The fact that millions do it has obscured the fact that thousands are actually good at it and a smaller number are truly incredible.

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breakfast, the good and the bad

  • The Regatta (Toowong) street cafe menu is pretty good, plenty of options, good coffee and friendly staff. Regatta is ok during the day - too busy late afternoon/evening though.
  • Blu Grotto (Rosalie) breakfast buffet is good, has a big range and heaps of everything; but finishes at 11.30am so get there early enough to take your time and enjoy it. Note that buffet price is based on you purchasing a drink as well, which personally I think should be included in that sort of deal but hey they are trying to make money.
  • Oliver's Cafe at Milton... cheap fucks, don't bother. They advertise all-day breakfast for a certain price but on the day it wasn't available at that price. Their "big breakfast" option is listed on the menu as coming with fried/poached/scrambled eggs, but it costs $1 extra for scrambled. It cost another $1 since I had the temerity to ask for tomato sauce. You only get one piece of tomato, my girlfriend only got one slice of bacon and - while very thick and tasty - a lot of it was fat. She paid for two hash browns (they're extra) and received one hash brown cut in half. Crappy attitude from lone staff member who clearly couldn't deal with the stress of a service job. Skipped coffee after seeing crap technique. Probably should have demanded money back (you pay first) but didn't feel up to the argument. I hope they're happy - they got a few extra bucks from us and we'll never go back. Had planned to try their dinner menu but fuck that.


random thoughts

  • After using for... shit, must be years now... I upgraded to a premium account. This means nifty features, but it has since occurred to me that I can now put a dollar amount on the cost of spam.
  • Broncos live to fight another round in the finals, this being about the only time I will ever be happy to see the Roosters win :) That said, even under those circumstances I still don't enjoy seeing Fittler score a try ;)
  • I'm amazed at the amount of people in the world who are totally convinced that any one uni (at least in Brisbane) is actually better than another. As in, across the board/intrinsically/really different. This is total crap, yet I frequently see students whingeing about their uni and how they're going to switch to another. I'd love to know what they think later when they realise ALL unis have departments which are underfunded, academics overworked or disinterested, facilities a pile of shit. All you should research is which one offers the best course in your specific area of study. The rest is marketing. To put it another way: you will not find tertiary nirvana by blindly switching universities.

news bits

  • | Bali bomb-maker suspected (September 10, 2004) / | Campaign halts amid outrage (September 10, 2004). Howard must be jumping up and down in glee - this couldn't come at a better time for him. It's another Tampa, right on cue.
  • Pop culture's need for speed - Entertainment - Artists who featured in the Australian top 10 in the final week of August had recorded a total of 40 albums among them, or an average of four each. That number drops to 28 albums (an average of three each) if you discount a dozen albums by the Finn brothers in various other bands. An interesting article discussing the effect that the current nownowNOW attitude is having on pop culture. For example, everything is getting short-lived and superficial. Artists don't make it to six or seven albums, since the market will move on to the next artist much sooner than they can get the material out there. Although the article observes that the new market makes room for a variety of genres, it doesn't also observe that the industry doesn't act that way. Smaller genres are fucked for airplay since they don't make big money, really fast. So they don't get a decent run.
  • Officer told to give Bush good review - World - George Bush ignored a direct order from his superior in the Texas Air National Guard in May 1972 to have a medical examination that was necessary if he was to remain a qualified pilot. See, Dubya is a spoiled rich brat who expects everything to go his way. If he "doesn't wanna" he just gets Daddy to fix it. We let this fucker control the largest military force in the world. I wonder how he'd take it if someone ignore one of HIS orders.
  • Working at Google isn't easy - News - Google has a series of calculus questions you have to answer to find its job ad site. Now, here's what I find unfortunate about Google: the page you ultimately get taken to makes one of the most elementary web development mistakes - it uses font tags (that's, like, soooo 1994 man) and doesn't set its white background (well, actually, to be fair they don't set any colours at all). That's amateur stuff. They can hire as many alpha geeks as they want, they can be world leaders in search technology, but they still don't know how to make a web page. Feh. You see, they need to hire me on an enormous wage :)
  • Dog shoots man - Unusual Tales - A puppy reportedly saved its own life when its paw slipped and tripped the trigger of a gun that its US owner planned to shoot it with. You can identify the puppy by checking out its food bowl, which has "Bad Motherfucker" on it.

news bits

  • Anderson reaffirms Telstra sale plans. 07/09/2004. ABC News Online: Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson has reaffirmed the Coalition's plans to sell the rest of Telstra. So, anyone out there thinking of voting for the Coalition, ask yourself this question: has your line rental gone up lately? Has your phone service improved? Does your broadband package have an archaic 200meg download limit? Has the partial privatisation of Telstra already made things worse than ever before?
  • Who's calling? - TV & Radio - Forget leafleting the neighbourhood, writing to newspapers or baking scones for party fund-raisers. Today's political campaigner is more likely to be at home on the phone next to the radio, trying to get through to one of Sydney's talkback programs. It's amusing that they can be spotted because they are so much more articulate than the average caller. Well, I say amusing... sad is another word...
  • Minister to launch work on giant wind farm. 08/09/2004. ABC News Online: South Australian Energy Minister Pat Conlon will today launch construction of Australia's largest wind farm, at Wattle Point on the state's Yorke Peninsula. Hurrah for cleaner energy.
  • | Atari to reissue scores of old games: [Atari] plans to reissue scores of its classic titles from yesteryear on a single disc that can be played on the game consoles Xbox and PlayStation 2. Sweet! Now I just need all my old control deck era Nintendo games and I'll be set...
  • Radar:The real CSI: Professional crime-solvers tell the whole truth about what they do at work - and what they think of their TV counterparts.

a word on browsers

Hi everyone. Gather 'round.

I'd bet quite a bit that you haven't noticed the changed content wayyyy down the bottom of this blog, and hey that's fine. If I wanted it to be in your face it'd be at the top.

Part of that content is a "get rid of internet explorer" section, with links to Opera and Firefox. This was inspired by IE being so crap, but also prompted by a nice guy over at the Mozilla foundation dropping me an email (who know how, but to my surprise he'd noticed the has microsoft finally noticed that people are pissed off with IE6? post). Asa asked so nicely, how could I refuse? ;)

Basically, if you use IE I want you to try a different browser. Opera and Firefox are both excellent choices. If you use Opera, be sure to go into Preferences and set it to "Identify as Opera" since otherwise it will turn up in server logs as IE6 - thereby shooting itself in the foot. Server admins need to know what you're really using!

But ditch IE. It's a piece of shit.

Get Opera Get Firefox

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getting political on a rainy wednesday

Thorfinn - Vote the Bastards Out. A detailed, lucid post covering many of the reasons why Australia needs to vote out the Liberal party and John Howard with it.

While I'm at it, you should confirm your enrolment. If you have moved since the last Federal election but you have not updated your details, there is a good chance you will need to re-enrol (they seem to have done a bit of a purge recently). The closing date for re-enrolment is Tuesday, September 7th. So don't wait.

Update: Vote the Bastards Out makes reference to The Lyons Forum, which makes for interesting reading.

bits and pieces

  • The Washington Monthly | AN ECHO, NOT A CHOICE.... which points out how utterly useless online surveys are. Most (99.9%) surveys run by your news website of choice are statistically meaningless. Especially those with two poor choices, eg. do you like X or Y? with no option to say you hate both of them.
  • SimpleBits | Accessibility Progress. Two steps forward, one step back. There is a nasty sleeper issue in accessibility: blind users are a strong lobby group which doesn't really care about any other form of disability or accessibility disadvantage (which is understandable to a point). The key issue here is accessibility is not just about blind users, yet many articles/people use "disabled" and "blind" as though they were interchangeable. This means some people mistakenly believe that meeting blind users' requirements makes something "accessible". Which is like saying your car has been completely serviced because you changed the oil (you'd better hope your brake fluid is ok...).
  • Mastery, Mystery, and Misery: The Ideologies of Web Design (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox): Web users want instant gratification and have little patience for the mystery approach's detours and puzzles. ... Surfing to check out cool sites is a thing of the past. Every so often, I agree 100% with Jakob Nielsen. This is one of those times.
  • How To Attack An IE/Win Bug, describing the Holly hack and the "relative" fix.: It's a well-known fact that the Internet Explorer (Win) browser has a wide variety of display bugs. ... Although a full understanding of how IE 'gets it wrong' is a full-time job, it is possible to get by with a modicum of bug fixing tools, which is what this article is going to teach you. Basically this article gets into the problem of where to start when your design isn't working in IE6.
  • mezzoblue | Standards Resources for Beginners. All web developers eventually get asked where someone should start learning. Those of us with a conscience want to give advice on how they should learn standards compliant web development, not just any-old-crap HTML. But it is quite hard to find a complete primer. See the comments on the linked post for various suggestions.