Saturday, May 31, 2014

Speak truth – to the powerless

In the hands of fools, a good aphorism turns into a misdirection (including this one, although I'm not vain enough to consider my aphorism all that good).

Take the role of the journalist, which by old usage is “to speak truth to power”.

Either the Quakers coined the phrase, since they lay claim to it here, or they borrowed and popularised it.

Either way, it has nothing to do with journalism. The full book title from the Society of Friends is: “SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER – A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence”.

Nothing to do with journalism, then. But it got plagiarised and popularised, embraced, adopted, and extinguished.

Power” is, right now in Australia, engaged in theft, deception, oppression, and corruption. It doesn't care about truth, it only cares about holding its power to its chest, long enough to deal a crookedly-shuffled deck of cards that will put all the aces in the hands of its backers and ideological fellow-travellers.

The role of the journalist is not to “speak truth to power”, for a very good reason.

The powerful aren't listening. At best, they'll invite you in to tea to make you feel important. They'll pick winners from those that speak, those that rise, and make them insiders.

If you're insidered by politics, you'll be comfortably and painlessly neutered, captured by process, and you'll seamlessly and quietly stop thinking about speaking truth to power, to be instead captured by another aphorism, “the art of the possible.” Eventually, you'll become irrelevant or detested.

And before you tell me it can't happen to you, note: Peter Garret is still maintaining a distressingly neutered silence, even out of office. His aggressive stance has turned defensive.

Today's “art of the possible” in Australia is a vicious, nasty, small thing that involves robbing the public on behalf of the rich.

If you're insidered as a journalist, you'll become part of the Canberra Gallery, and most of your audience will be other insiders, which is pretty damn useless.

The job of the journalist is not to “speak truth to power”. It's to speak truth to the powerless.

Because the powerless are the readers. You know, the ones whose eyeballs your oh-so-detested sales people are trying to sell.

The powerless are the audience that needs the truth.

They're getting screwed over, ripped off, made to pay for the high lives of others. And meanwhile, they're not getting told the truth.

They're not getting the truth, because the technique of subversion works so well.

Make the journalist an insider, and truth dies on a crucifix whose nails are comfort, tenure, and leaks.

And the sign over the head, as ironic as Pilate's “King of the Jews”, reads “Speak Truth to Power”.

The only way the powerless can learn, organise, learn to hate, and refine their hate into organisation, is if they're told the truth.

Speak truth to the powerless.

Addendum: The more I think about it, the more that the application of "speak truth to power" to journalism exemplifies a brilliant, seductive and utterly cynical application of the phrase.

In short, it means "talk to us, not to them." Which both neuters journalism - since it confines it to a cloistered insider audience - and excludes the mass audience.

And it appeals to the journalists. Unless we're even more mentally disturbed than our peers, being close to power is nice. You wear better clothes than people on the sport or crime beats, get addressed by name by politicians in public, and get to live on the inside.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pwned by Apple, in my own home

[Everything that follows is fiction. I'm just having fun with the idea that Apple might want to own the world of “smart homes”.]

I was trying to get in out of the rain, and wasn't having any luck.

I was in a hurry because it was my wife's birthday, it was raining to flood the Holy Land, I'd only just managed to keep the flowers intact in one hand, I wanted the backpack containing my work computer indoors before it got damaged, my umbrella had started the afternoon in the CBD and was by now probably passing Newcastle and heading north...

It wasn't a good day.

It wasn't that the door of my home no longer had a key, I was used to that. But last week, the system demanded I reset the code to unlock it, and I couldn't remember the new one.

I'd have been worried, but “there's an app for that”, and it'd been installed when the gent with the screwdriver finished upgrading my home, and all I had to do was ...

“Siri, please open the door,” I said to the iPhone.

The phone asked for a password that I couldn't remember, so I asked for a password reset and waited for the confirmation message to arrive. Getting wetter.

Sure, there's a porch and I was notionally under cover, but this was not “oh, it's raining” rain, this was the kind of rain that floats small buses up against walls. I was getting wet, and not just my legs. The splash from the torrent had me crouched under the porch-lamp trying to shield the phone with my body.

With wet hands, getting the new password into the phone was a pain that took three attempts. And then the phone dropped a bombshell.

“Important security upgrades are ready for your iSmartHome application. Please install and restart your phone to continue” was the next thing on the screen.

There was no “later” button. Just a “Install and Restart” button. So I did.

The lightning was the kind I quite enjoy: if I'm on the inside of the house, sitting in the dark after dinner and maybe some wine, looking out the windows. With me on the wrong side of the door, it was jump-and-catch-your-breath stuff.

“You need to accept the updated terms and conditions on the iSmartHome application to continue,” the phone said to me, reciting the text on the screen.

“Siri, I don't suppose we could wait until I'm inside to do the legals? It's raining out here. It's also six degrees, I'm already soaked, and I'm cold.”

“You need to accept the updated terms and conditions on the iSmartHome application to continue.”

Have you tried to read a six-thousand word legal document in three-point type on an iPhone screen? Nor have I. I scrolled quicksmart to the bottom, checked the “accept” box, and clicked “OK”.

Then I waited.

The street – only a handful of metres away since it's one of those early-20th-century homes where the front door is set back only a few paces from the footpath – was becoming worryingly overflowed.

Eventually, the phone informed me:

“The free trial period for your iSmartHome Control Centre has now expired. Would you like to upgrade to the full version for $29.99?”

Nobody mentioned trial periods, but did I have a choice?

So of course, I clicked okay as a large gopher-wood craft made its stately way between rows of parked – occasionally on top of each other, now – cars. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but …

“To complete the upgrade, please link your iSmartHome Control Centre to your iTunes account” was the next dialogue, as unicorns forlornly swam by trying to catch up.

One thing.

I didn't have an iTunes account. Hadn't bothered. Now I needed one. Great.

Swearing like I was on 4chan, I navigated the sign-up menus until finally I was offered a chance to return to asking the damn phone whether it would kindly have a polite chat to the damn home control system to open the damn door!

Oh, now it wanted a credit card number. Fair enough: rest my backpack on the doorstep, fish my wallet out of a pocket – not that one, somehow a medium-sized carp seems to have landed there, probably from someone's outdoor pond – squint at the card under the porch-light, try to read the embossed numbers that lose their silver ink ten minutes into the life of the card don't you hate that? – and try to key the numbers into the screen because I feel like such a goose yelling my credit card security code at my phone, and wait.


You know what? Tapping your feet impatiently when your shoes are full of water doesn't help. I couldn't think of better, so I kind of squished ineffectively while I waited.

The screen popped up a reminder, that it was my wife's birthday. I knew that (see above), and the flowers weren't faring well and I just wanted to get inside.


The rain seemed to be easing, at last. A raven flapped at me from the front gate – they don't hover well – but perhaps the expression on my face put it off. It left rather grumpily.


The lightning hadn't stopped, though. Just as I was starting to wonder whether that was affecting the phone's communications, the screen blinked and a message appeared.

We're sorry. This credit card cannot be used for purchases on the US store. Please contact our helpdesk for further information.” There was a number at the end of the message.

I was still leaning against the front wall crying when a motor scooter parked on the footpath and a delivery kid ran up the steps carrying pizzas in a heat-pack. He barely glanced at me as he reached for the doorbell.