Sunday, February 20, 2011

NBN & the wireless conjecture: It's not just about your iPhone

Once again we have the opponents of the NBN trotting out what they think is the ultimate argument against the NBN - wireless. Buoyed by Obama's announcement of a nationwide wireless network and conveniently forgetting that the wireless solution is actually plan B (because the Plan A for a fiber network was stymied by conservatives in Congress), NBN opponents gleefully point out the number of wireless devices on the street as ultimate vindication of their wireless argument - see? Obama's doing it! See? Everyone has an iPhone! that's why wireless will obsolete the NBN!

The argument from wireless is spurious and anyone who has any understanding of technology knows it. But then this is not an argument for them, its an argument for the person on the street who probably owns and iPhone and wireless laptop and can't see why anyone would want to tether themselves to a fixed connection. It's like an argument that I used to hear constantly about broadband from users who didn't want to upgrade from dialup - "why would I need it? dialup is fine for what I do" (yes, this was back in the late 90's). People rarely see the need for change. However, conservatism aside, the NBN isn't about your iPhone or any of the other devices that you'd normally associate with computing, just like broadband wasn't just about faster email. There are plenty of fixed devices that will benefit from the NBN.

Your TV and Radio will need the NBN. On-demand digital media, such as Video-on-demand and music streaming-on-demand is a nascent market, which I suspect is on the verge of a rapid expansion (this is assuming that the content industry gets over itself and starts to think about a sustainable digital model for content delivery without their paranoia about copyright infringement). Wireless will never be able to handle the amount of digital media that people will use.

Already the streaming music segment of digital content delivery is beginning  to grow and companies such as Sony are beginning to engage with digital content delivery models with their subscription music on demand services. This content will be delivered to mobile devices as well, but when your radio and TV are connected to the network digital content delivery will continue to expand, and with it the bandwidth requirements - requirements that would quickly overwhelm wireless capacity.

But digital media is not the only thing that access to reliable fixed broadband can enable.

Your smoke alarm will need NBN. Monitoring and alarm systems need a constant reliable connection, one that wireless will never be able to provide. Fire alarms in big office buildings use these sorts of connections and with access to cheap bandwidth there is no reason why these can't be extended to domestic uses - makes smoke alarms with cruddy 9V battery look a bit tame now.

And, yes, your dishwasher will need the NBN. Many devices in the home can become more functional with a connection to the network - eg. saving power and water by only drawing power or water when the tariff is at its cheapest. All of these things need reliable fixed broadband. Home automation systems too (lights, heating, etc.), will require access to reliable bandwidth.

All of these things that I have discussed are just the tip of the iceberg and focus merely on those things which the person in the street may see as a useful reason to get some "faster email".

There are of course many more sophisticated things that such an extensive network can deliver but the person on the street is still thinking about how interwebs is all about getting on to Facebook, so the lofty arguments about health, education, increased economic activity and the creation of new markets/technologies don't resonate. This is why the wireless argument is being repeated ad nauseum but it is the drivers of digital media on-demand services and increased convenience at home that will pique the interest of our person on the street just like access to YouTube and not tying up the phone line drove the adoption of broadband.

The NBN isn't just about your iPhone, its much broader than that. Wireless capacity is just not able to deliver in a way that is feasible for these types of uses - and unfortunately, due to some pesky things known as the Laws of Physics, it never will.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Whistling for the Dogs

Scott Morrison's comments today potiticising the funeral of asylum seekers who had lost loved ones in the recent Christmas Island tragedy marks a low point in the Coalition's simplistic "stop the boats" attacks on the Government. It comes hot on the heels of racist comments from Sen. Corey Bernardi and a stunt from Sen. Gary Humphries tabling a petition calling for a moratorium on Muslim immigration - signed by 1.3x10-7 % of the population (yeah, that's right, 3 people).

Tony Abbott, showing his true "leadership", backed both of them. This also comes after Abbott's attempt to politicise Australia's Aid policy (ironically introduced by the Howard Government) in his unnecessary "fantasy" budget.

So it's not conspiratorial to suggest that there's a "theme" running through the Coalition at the moment - in fact, liberal members of the Coalition have said that the party is being influenced by One Nation.

Along with the 'stop the boats' sloganeering it is quite obvious that the Coalition is busily dog-whistling to the so-called "Howard Battlers" - and the reason for this has to be coming from somewhere. My guess is that polling is showing a great deal of resonance between the coalitions anti-Muslim themes and the "Howard Battler" voting segment. It is this segment that is essential to either party to win and Howard was adept at using dog whistling to capture them.

Now it would be simplistic to suggest that mere racism is the dog whistle - this segment is not 'racist' - "some of their best friends are <insert minority here>". It is actually a manipulation of that Howard standard: "aspirational jealousy".

Aspirational jealously is that powerful rage that inhabits the McMansions of the outer suburbs. Distilled, it is the sentiment firstly of entitlement and secondly, that others are getting stuff they shouldn't (to the Battler's detriment) and this underserving is the reason for all the Battler's problems.

Aspirational jealousy is the glue of almost all Howard government policies from middle-class welfare (cf.  welfare like the dole - which goes to underserving 'bludgers') to private school funding (which is a necessary "entitlement") and it is also what drives the racist dog-whistle. The dog whistle is all about the "other" - not the "guy who owns the kebab shop and is a really top bloke". The "other" is underserving, is incapable of understanding our "way of life", is a queue jumper, is an "illegal".

So it's hardly surprising that Abbott and Co. would use this tried and true method of dog whistling about underserving people wasting the taxpayer dollar to go to a funeral, or Indonesian schools when our money is better spent here or even a 3-person signed petition against Muslim immigration - it's all whistling to the dogs, the ones Howard set loose when he refused to condemn the Hansonites.

And always remember if you're thinking about making any sort of sophisticated argument about the merits of such spending  or even trying to appeal to their humanity -  its "political correctness gone mad".

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spicy and Tangy Fish Stew

I've adapted a recipe for Brazilian Fish Stew that I found in SBS' great Food Safari series. The original is Brazilian - mine, probably not so much but still very tasty. I really need a better camera, it looked better than the photo.

Spicy and Tangy Fish Stew

300 gr White fleshed fish (I used cod)
250 gr green prawns
2 cloves Garlic
1 Red Capsicum
2 Fresh Limes (juiced)
1 Bunch Corriander
1 Onion
3 Long Red Chillies (finely chopped)
1 TB finely chopped Fresh Ginger
1/4c Fish Stock
3 Tomatoes (peeled)
Salt & pepper to taste

Marinate the Fish and Prawns in the lime juice and 1 clove of chopped garlic for about 30 mins.
Fry the onion, second finely chopped garlic clove, finely chopped chillies and ginger until cooked.
Add the capsicum and chillies and fry for a minute or two longer.
Add chopped tomatoes, lower the heat and simmer until reduced.
Add fish stock, season to taste and simmer down.
Add fish cook for a minute or two
Add prawns simmer until very almost cooked
Add corriander stir through until combined.

Serve over rice.

It went pretty well with a Sticks Yarra Valley Pinot Griggio.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Multiculturalism, cultural relativism and "political correctness gone mad"

David Cameron's Speech earlier this month appears to have sparked a flurry of commentary from the Australian Right about how multiculturalism has gone wrong here as well.  Sen. Corey Bernadi has also written a piece that has been picked up by the media which echoes some of Cameron's sentiments combining them with a bit of racism for a unique Australian perspective.

I'll start by dealing with Mr. Cameron's speech first, mainly because it's the sanest and does express some subtlety before delving briefly into Sen. Bernadi's racist rant.

Mr. Cameron's main thrust is that the "soft" left's articulation of the causes of extremism is incorrect and the soft left position has resulted in a "passively tolerant society [that] says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone", which has led in turn to segregation and isolationism encouraged by State multiculturalism. Mr. Cameron's  argument is that society needs to champion liberal democratic "values" as part of a national identity.

The funny thing is, this is just the sort of thing that some in the Left have been arguing for years. Cameron accuses the supporters of multiculturalism of preventing debate on issues and hampering efforts to confront some of the egregious cultural practices and beliefs in some communities.

According to Cameron:
"when a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them.  But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious frankly – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them."
This is, of course, the sort of complete bollocks that the Right loves to trot out - it's actually the articulate way of expressing the Bogan battlecry "political correctness gone mad".

The problem is that when the Left argues for a particular liberal value, the argument is often articulated in a universal way. For example: "sexism, in all its forms, is unacceptable". Its never articulated with the provsio "unless its OK in X culture" - however this is just what Cameron is accusing.

The Right, however, has no problem in doing exactly the same thing - playing a bit o' relativism.  Confronting sexism in a cultural group is admirable to the Right because "they treat women badly in their culture", however universalising the value to apply to everyone (for example, policies to combat sexism in the workplace) is "political correctness gone mad" because hey, the boys were just joking...right?

So which liberal "values" are we really championing here? It sounds like the sort of relativsim that comes out the "clash of civilisations" ideology, ie. that a particular culture is unable to incorporate liberal values.

Which brings me away from Cameron's more reasonable argument to Sen. Bernardi's rant.

Bernardi argues that the multicultural acceptance of Islam "has resulted in a cultural clash that has brought almost unprecedented levels of social unrest ". Further arguing that Muslims cannot be integrated into a liberal democratic culture - even going so far as to quote that paragon of liberal values and tolerance Lee Kwan Yu.

Sen. Bernadi agues that Australia must do something before its "too late" but nowhere in his rant does Sen. Bernardi propose any solution. Which makes one wonder, if Islam is impossible to integrate and as dangerous as Berardi suggests what could possibly be the solution to them living within our midst? For fear of Godwin's Law I won't continue to speculate.

Ultimately this debate from Cameron and Bernardi is a cheap resort to petty Nationalism in the guise of liberal "values". There is nothing wrong with championing liberal values in society to combat extremism, in fact, its admirable. However, the Right has to understand that this means applying those values universally to our own culture as well as to other cultural groups within our society - without the incessant yells of "political correctness". The universal application of these values is what will construct a truly liberal democratic, multicultural society rather than pandering to petty Nationalism to undermine multiculturalism as a policy.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shit does happen - and this time it really is shit: Tony Abbott's proposed cuts

There is plenty of criticism that could be leveled at Tony Abbott's speech today about how he would cut the budget to pay for QLD's flood/cyclone recovery, however I want to focus on just one aspect because it really does highlight the hypocrisy of Liberal Party policy and the sort of Howard-esque Dog-whistle politics that we've come to know and love from the Liberal Party.

The cuts to foreign aid to Indonesian schools to the tune of $400m is a shallow attempt at garnering a good talk-back radio rant. The slimiest part of this is the attachment of the policy to the phrase "charity begins at home" implying that this necessarily entails the charity ends there too. Combined with a hint of "giving money to foreigners when Aussies are struggling", it's a perfect concoction to garner good talk-back radio ranting somewhere along the lines of "we need to rebuild our schools that have been devastated in the floods, rather than send money over there" - although it would undoubtedly delivered with some reference to funding Muslim madrases or some other straw man.

And here is where the irony lies. Firstly, the aid package was designed to combat fundamentalism - clearly in Australia's (and Indonesia's) interests to enhance national security. Secondly, It really is in Australia's interests to give aid to Indonesia generally. A stable, democratic, prosperous Indonesia helps us much more than the sort of savings a simple cutting of aid would provide; and ultimately, a stable, prosperous and democratic Indonesia is more likely to be able to address people-smuggling (that obsession of the Libs) within its borders.

"Stop the Boats" indeed...

Aid is an easy target and the $400m-odd saving is one-half of bugger all of government spend. One would hate to think that this policy is a cynical dog-whistle to draw attention away from the other less palatable cuts and deferrals in the policy, and give Tony a good talk-back dog-whistling response.

Pity #shithappened got in the way of all that....

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The end of history comes when it's revised: Neo-cons claim credit for democracy in the Middle East

Its been interesting to see the scrambling of the neo-cons as they try to make sense of the current situations in the Middle East and what this means for their ideological project. In a op-ed for the Washington Post, Elliot Abrams starts the neo-con revisionism of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

All ideologies engage in this sort of historical revisionism - but the neo-con ideology is virtually built on it, you only have to read Fukoyama's "End of History" tripe to see it in full action. So with this in mind, its unsurprising to see Abrams touting the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia as a vindication for the Bush "freedom project" and a condemnation of the Obama administration's move towards a more realist foreign policy.

In his response to Abrams' selective sampling of history, Frank Kaplan, completely debunks the thesis that the Bush "freedom project" is in any way responsible for the current events in the Middle East. One of the points that is made by Kaplan (and the one that's the focus of this post) is that its not just a matter of supporting a vague notion of "freedom" that encourages transition to a democratic State, but having the institutions of democracy.

"...the annals of history show that democracy is hard to achieve and even harder to sustain; that it requires not just the expression of a human desires, but also the creation of political entities and social institutions—courts, legislatures, organized interest groups, and a free press—that can mediate conflicting desires with an aura of legitimacy and thus with minimal violence."

And it is this point that the neo-cons consistently fail to understand. I think that this policy blindness actually comes from the neo-con ideology itself - that to the neo-conservative these institutions are not necessary and are even a hinderance to their view of a liberal democracy. Their obsession with devolving social institutions into mere functional elements of the free market economy - such as the privatisation of education, medicine, removal of any sort of social safety net and deregulation of the economy belies the neo-con view that social/political institutions are merely economic ones.

The privatisation of Iraq is a case in point1. The Coalition Provisional Authority dismantled any social/political institutions under the guise of removing Ba'athist elements and reoriented the entire Iraqi economy to a neo-con view of economic liberalism - privatise everything and remove any regulation of foreign investment (including allowing foreign entities to remove all profits from the country). These sets of orders have virtually made the Iraqi government and people completely subservient to foreign transnationals - hardly democratic institutions. It is interesting to note that one of the only laws to survive Saddam's regime is the one banning trade unions - organised labour is obviously bad for neo-con "freedom" as it may lead to people forming a social institution that could challenge their economic orthodoxy.

So it's not surprising  to see the neo-cons back to their old tricks of historic revisionism to suit their own ideological views. One would imagine that the rise of any new autocratic regimes from the current turmoil in the Middle East with any veneer of democracy would suffice for Bush's "freedom project" to be vindicated - so long as they're open for business.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Frist p0st

The trouble with starting anything is starting so before enthralling visitors with more erudite posts, I'll start with a recipe. This recipe was a mainstay of my household's diet when I was at Uni and as it's basically comfort food, it will do for a first post. It's very basic student food and when served with a cold beer brings me back to my Uni days.

No Photos - it looks like every other chili out there.

Czaxx's Chili

1 Cn Brown Lentils
1 Cn Chopped Tomatoes
1 Clove Garlic
1 Small Onion
1/4 tsp Dried Oregano
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Chili (or to taste)
1 tsp Smokey Paprika
1 Bay Leaf
1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Brown Onion and Garlic
Add Cumin, Paprika, Bay Leaf and Chili
Add Lentils (drained and washed) and Tomatoes
Lower heat to very slow simmer and simmer until sauce reduces almost to a paste
Add Oregano and simmer for a little longer
Take off heat and add cheese, stir through until completely melted.

Serve Chili over rice