Monday, October 27, 2008

Optus Speak

Anyone familiar with Don Watson's excellent little book Death Sentence will know that he has particular ire for the language employed in marketing speak, and he uses a number of examples from Optus.

One particularl gripe is the use of the word "upgrade". It is disappointing to see that the folk at Optus haven't read the book. I unasmadely quote from today's Communications Day.

Optus cuts off MMS notification service
Optus is set to cut off a service which notifies customers with older handsets that they have been sent an MMS. Set to be culled within days, the change means that users who send MMS messages to users with non-MMS phones will still be charged for sending – even though the designated recipient will never receive anything or be alerted of the message.
According to an Optus spokesperson, “upgrades” to its messaging system have resulted in the MMS alert system being culled. “Optus recently upgraded its MMS/SMS system to improve the customer experience. Enhancements include image quality and adjustment. As part of that upgrade, Optus customers with a non MMS capable handset or whose handset is not configured to receive MMS will no longer receive an SMS advising them when they have been sent an MMS and will no longer be able to view or retrieve the MMS via the Optus Zoo website,” the spokesperson said.
Optus will advise customers of change this week. “The sender of the message will still be charged,” the company said. “This is consistent with the Optus Standard Form of Agreement as Optus does not guarantee successful delivery of MMS or SMS.”

Memo to Optus marketing; for a change to be an upgrade no user should experience a lesser outcome than they did before!

Prayers and Politics

The question of the appropriateness of The Lord's Prayer for the opening of Parliament has been raised again. New Federal MP Rob Oakeshott wants recognition of aborigines while the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils has suggested something more inclusive. The Islamic spokesman in fact said "I have no problem with a Christian prayer -- any prayer is better than no prayer at all".

This reminds me of a debate that was conducted at Ryde City Council some years ago. At that Council one of the local Ministers of Religion is invited to open each meeting with a prayer, and the issue was raised over whether the remit should be wider than just Christians and include Muslim prayers. This was before 2001 but I recall that my thoughts then were that any faith should be welcome so long as the relevant preacher could demonstrate that he/she had preached in favour of religous tolerance in their own place of worship recently. Many of the Christian Ministers may have struggled on this one.

In the Federal parliament the issue is over the choice of prayer rather than the choice of preacher. I am here mindful of the approach of the international Credit Union movement that has historically opened all meetings with the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi (or the Peace Prayer of St Francis) which reads;

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

I for one would be very happy if our parliamentarians were to start their daily deliberations with this invocation - and then act accordingly.

PS Evidently the prayer is not the work of St Francis, but dates from World War I.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The last Hurrah!

The Ryde by-election on Saturday is probably the last hurrah for the party that Gordon Barton started.

I know popular mythology is that Don Chipp started the Australian Democrats, but the reality was that Don Chipp was the long sought after "high profile" candidate that galvanised the Australia Party and SA's Liberal Reform Movement into a viable force.

On Saturday the Democrats candidate Peter Goldfinch scored 1.7% of the vote. This should be contrasted with the 11.6% to the Greens. While as usual the Democrats struggled to mount a campaign, this is an election in the kind of environment that might suit "third party insurance" campaigns - Labor is imploding but there is nothing about Barry O'Farrell's team that inspires confidence.

Meanwhile up on the North Coast an independent held Port Macquarie, showing there is still capacity for the electorate to look beyond the major parties.

As is on the public record I joined the Democrats late in the piece and contested the 2007 State election in Epping. I also encouraged Peter Goldfinch to run in Ryde - if ever the Democrats could have found a bounce this was it. My interest in the Democrats position began back in the early 70s when I broke away from my parents support of the conservatives and found a first home in the liberal and libertarian Australia Party. Much of the Democrats platform and almost all their rules had its genesis in the Australia Party of that era.

My own political journey took me into the ALP twice, leaving the first time because of a lack of time to contribute and the second time because (biazrrely) I had read Graeme Freudenberg's history of the ALP. The lesson I learnt in the Freudenberg book was that the ALP had never changed fundamentally from the inside, only from outside. The piece the Liberals keep hating about Labor, its strong union links, are becoming the ALPs biggest weakness, as the party selects its "stars" from a small gene pool of full-time politicians with limited additional experience to draw upon (the excellent Fabians lecture by Rodney Cavalier on Could Chifley win Labor preselection today made this point well.) The institutionalised factions are as much a problem - because the factions are no longer means of contending philosophical positions but separate patronage pools.

The other bizarre part of the NSW by-elections is the extent to which they play out as contests between management teams not political philosophies. Who can run the hospitals better, rather than why public health care is an equity issue. The Liberals campaign theme was "Start the Change" - but to what?

This results in the experience of general elections being the selection of a electoral college to choose the Premier and little else. Out of this the occassional independent thrusts through - picking up the despair of the citizenry about the hollowness of organised politics.

So where to for the great democratic experiment of the Australia Party/Australian Democrats? The short answer would appear to be that they should adopt a position as a political society rather than a political party. A place to promote discussion and at times support candidates, but not to try to wear the mantle of party. By being a non-party the society can better criticise parties. By being a non-party they can advocate real reforms like an elected executive President that therefore creates a meaningful legislature.

Peter Goldfinch has served the Democrats well, hopefully his greatest service will be in delivering the message - 'The party is over".

Monday, October 13, 2008

Delusions of the unsuccessful job seeker

Wow. Janet Albrechtsen does take the cake. Today she writes a perfectly reasonable piece about banks and politicians, and points out the irony of the ALP supporting the private banks while the Turnbull/Bishop show was trying to promote a run (or so it seamed).

But she "had to go and spoil it it all by saying something stupid like" the story she gives about her interview with the SMH. She says that the interview went icy after she commented that the then commentary on banks was one-sided. In this shejoins that horde of unsuccessful job applicants (of which I have recently been one) in deciding their lack of success is all about the hirer not about them.

We don't know if the job was as a lawyer or as a journalist. But my feeling is that either way Fairfax dodged that bullet well.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

This is a first!

I want today to agree with the comments of both Gerard Henderson and Janet Albrechtsen - and that is a first! They are both right in pointing out that there has been a Government policy dimension to the crisis in the US, that being the policy promoting home ownership through non-recourse loans increasingly made to people unable to pay, but fuelled by ever increasing asset prices.

They could have added, however, that the latter part of this was promote by the central banker from hell - Alan Greenspan - who kept US interest rates low through two booms. This not only created the asset price inflation that made house lending look like a risk free bet (so what if the owner can't pay the loan - the house is always worth more) but has left the US without anywhere to go on interest rates to stimulate the economy.

I am, however, not as sanguine as they are about the suggestion that because we can find this fault we can therefore deflect all criticism from the process of deregulation and the overall embrace of market capitalism, what Joseph Stiglitz has called "that grab-bag of ideas based on the fundamentalist notion that markets are self-correcting, allocate resources efficiently and serve the public interest well."

In part this is because of the three crises identified by Scott Birchill under the heading Capitalism in Crisis. These are a crisis in confidence, systemic crisis and a legitimation crisis. As an example we should consider the mark to market rules that result in asset bubbles being systemically moved through the whole financial system. Similarly we should question the role of institutions like the credit ratings agencies that rated the securities that created the crisis.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

AFP - Global Police?

I feel incredibly sorry for the Lapthorne family over the "disappearance" of Britt in Croatia. But Mr Lapthorne is quoted in The Age as saying he had been reassured by his briefing with the detective, but he remained disappointed with the Australian Federal Police. "All I've heard from their officer is PR," he said."

I fail to understand what role the AFP is supposed to play in this case, I don't think they have jurisdiction in Croatia.

The same comment can apply to the criticism that journalists were able to interview "persons of interest" in Portugal that Croatian police hadn't. Does anyone know the difference between a news interview and a police interview? The latter to be of any use in a subsequent prosecution will need to be conducted within the framework of the law.

The current expectation of global citizens about the reach of their home nation's lgal system smacks of the "extraterritorial" rights that the British and other Europeans claimed for their nationals in China in the nineteenth century. That didn't end well!