Saturday, September 08, 2012

My brush with “gay-bashing” bullying

Count this as a kind of “solidarity” statement: I know how readily people will bully, abuse or attack gay people, because I’ve caught “gay-bash” treatment, even though I’m straight.

This goes back a long way, since I was still in high school. By some miracle, for a teen of the 1970s in Katoomba, I’d managed to grow up with very little by way of “gaydar”. (I’m still the same: I need to be told someone’s gay, if it matters to them or me (which it rarely does), because I don’t notice. Or care.)

I might have been surprised when some older boys from my high school school gave me a bit of a kicking, if they didn’t have a reputation and if I didn’t have prior experience. The reason surprised me, though: I was being whacked for being a “poof”.

It had to do, it seems, with some other Year 11 boys I habitually walked home with. There wasn’t actually any particular reason, except that we lived in roughly the same direction. Merely the walk home – and my naivety – was enough to brand me.

I didn’t put the jigsaw together myself, until a couple of days later, when they took it on themselves to apologize for getting me into a spot, explain themselves, and offer to keep their distance (which didn’t happen).

(I really can be slow on the uptake: it’s only writing this, 35 years later, that I realize how much they were trusting me when they gave me the background to my bruises.)

The experience sensitized me to how appalling it is for anyone to suffer any kind of bullying or abuse over “being gay”. I can't claim any "insider" understanding here: I was merely a bystander. 

But it just shouldn’t happen. Not to anyone.

To conclude: this piece at The Drum, by Brendan Maclean, is well worth the read.

The comments, sadly, remind me that Australia hasn’t moved as far since the 1970s as I thought it had.

Friday, September 07, 2012

WEF dressing political polling as “research”

I won’t try to re-critique Bernard Keane’s excellent work at Crikey ( but registration required) pulling apart the “thick, thick, thicket-thick from Thicksville, Thickania” report from the World Economic Forum.

Instead, a question: why, in spite of the report’s glaring flaws of methodology, does anyone take it seriously?

The obvious lacunae in the report – praise for the governmental and judicial institutions in the corruption-ridden, violent, misogynist and theocratic oil states stands out as WTF moments – are blithely skipped over by politicians with a point to score.

The entire report is nothing more than a gathering of “feelpinions” from people who treat the whole thing as a local political poll.

Here’s some gems for you to mull over.
  • Oman has better public institutions than Australia, according to the WEF.
  • China has better infrastructure than Australia.
  • Trinidad has a better macroeconomic environment than Australia.
  • Cyprus beats Australia in health and education.
  • Qatar has more efficient markets than Australia.
  • Mongolia has a more efficient labour market than Australia.
  • Qatar beats Australia in innovation.
What a joke.

As I said, the report is no more than a gathering of political feelpinions from people whose entire interest stands or falls on their willingness to support whatever status quo they find themselves in.

The only appropriate response to the WEF’s report is to laugh and point. But because it’s the WEF, and the world’s entire cohort of business journalists – that is, stenographers of corporate announcements and worshipful acolytes of a ten-thousand-dollar suit – should be laughing. But they won’t: the number of business journalists in any country who aren’t either doe-eyed worshippers or advertorial captives could be counted without anyone pulling down their trousers to get to “twenty-one”.

So they’ll treat the WEF report as if it were serious research.

You’d be better trusting your weight to the anus-auctioneers of the international ratings agencies than giving any credence whatever to the WEF’s “competitiveness report”.

To finish with a citation from Crikey: “Too bad the data isn’t worth the pixels it’s displayed on.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Get the target right in the national security debate

I wish journalists would stop personalizing the national security proposals – the Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 – to Nicola Roxon, because I don’t think it’s helping.

Remember, for example, that the bill pre-dates Ms Roxon’s appointment to the Attorney-General post. It’s been around since the middle of last year.

Remember, for example, that whatever change has or hasn’t happened in Ms Roxon’s attitude, she won’t be in charge of the retained data. “Do you trust Nicola Roxon with your data?” is a lame question, even as a rhetorical device.

The reality is much, much worse: the data would have to be retained by telcos, not all of whom can be trusted with it. Australians think “Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, iiNet” and don’t realize the size of the sector – more on that later.

Finally: Remember that the proposals are supported by the opposition as well as the government. The opposition helped vote-down amendments proposed by Senator Scott Ludlam to try and protect Australians from having their data shared with countries that impose the death penalty.

If the lobbyists let the opposition off the hook in this debate, it will be a strategic error: a great deal could be achieved if the opposition were to take scrutiny of the bill seriously, instead of letting it through “on the nod” to protect its “strong on national security” credentials. But that’s not happening: instead, the focus is on the easy target.

Back to the scale of the telecommunications industry.

There are currently 191 licensed telecommunications carriers in Australia (according to the ACMA). There’s also more than 450 Internet service providers and more than 300 non-carrier voice services.

Under the government’s data retention proposal, all of these bodies would be required to store personally-identifiable and often sensitive information for two years.

Many of those 500-odd businesses (taking into account the overlap between carriers, ISPs and voice services) are too small: they won’t be up to the task of securing that customer data. I’d be much more worried about an easy-come, easy-go resale business leaking the data than Telstra.