Return from Sabattical?

I guess two years is more than just a hiatus. The trouble has been choosing what to write about. Since the last Federal election, I’ve paid probably too much attention to politics and what our government has been doing since winning the poll on 7/9/13.

And with Tony Abbott as Australia’s PM, the question is, “Where the hell do I start?” Just looking at the gigantic pile of gaffes, fuck-ups and deliberate horrible things is daunting enough. The stink infects you if you’re just standing near it. And that’s just Abbott. The rest of his crew is at least as gross.

It’s all just so goddamn exhausting. You don’t even get to process one vile utterance from the Libs when another reeking Tory turd is shat out by one of them, so huge you can’t step around it. This nation is full of people putting their heads in their hands and muttering, “What the fuck is wrong with this country?”

The truly heartbreaking thing is that the Labor Party, the opposition-in-exile, is very nearly just as shithouse. They’re in lockstep with the government on too many bastardly things for them to even pretend to be an alternative for any voters with a conscience.

I don’t know where this path will take Australia, but given the terrible steps that have been taken so far, it can’t end anywhere good.

The Preferred Nomenclature

June 22, 2013 Comments off

As an Australian, I’m accustomed to being quizzed on some of the bizarre slang and abbreviations that pepper the Aussie version of English. I’ve heard stories of new arrivals to Australia being utterly confounded by our verbal manglings. Fair enough, too.

“Johnno’s on compo, his car’s out of rego, so I’ll pick him up for Davo’s barbie on Sat’di arvo.”

(John is on worker’s compensation, his vehicle registration has expired, so I’ll pick him up for Dave’s barbecue on Saturday afternoon.)

The most bizarre example I can think of in Australian slang is “Arie”. It sounds similar to RE, which is an abbreviation used mostly in Brisbane for the Royal Exchange Hotel. I’ve heard Sydney folk talking about having a few beers at the Arie, but I couldn’t think of any Royal Exchange Hotels in Sydney. After a while, I figured out that they were referring to RSL, or Returned & Services League, a club first formed in 1916 for military personnel who’d returned from war, which now has branches scattered throughout Australia.

Upon realising this, my first thought was, “You’re abbreviating an acronym! You lazy bastards!” I once heard someone referring to the “Granny Arie” instead of the Granville RSL, and I thought he was taking the piss.

The one that amuses and mystifies me more than most, however, is the abbreviation or malicious mangling with intent of foreign place names. I’m not talking about the Anglofication of city names like Mumbai or Beijing, but the somewhat childish diminutives extracted from the various place names.

I’ve heard ‘Honkers’ used as a substitute for Hong Kong many times over the years, but it wasn’t until I spent most of 2010 in Southeast Asia that I started hearing odd terms for cities in the region. Like ‘Bangers’ for Bangkok[1], or ‘the Penh’ for Phnom Penh.

(The latter convention seems to apply when referring to Cambodia; I’ve never heard anyone say they were in ‘Cambers’, it’s usually ‘the Bodia’ or, more often, ‘the Bodge’.)

While living in Cambodia in 2010, I overheard one English guy planning a December trip to Thailand, telling a friend that he would be “in Changers by Crimbo”. I eventually had this translated to mean that he’d be in Chiang Mai by Christmas.

I know I shouldn’t throw stones, given my country’s predilection for silly and often redundant abbreviation. At the time, I wrote to a friend about this, saying, “By that measure, I grew up in Griffers before moving to Sydders. I’m in Phnommers right now & might head to Reapers next week.”

When I visited San Francisco last April, I was told that the locals dislike hearing the city referred to as ‘Frisco’, and that saying ‘San Fran’ may get you lynched.

I’ve been bugged by this habit of shortening for some time, but then found examples of it in a book first published in 1977. When I read the below extract in Dispatches by Michael Herr last night, I laughed out loud.

When I got back to Vietnam in early July, [Tim Page] and I spent ten days in Delta with the Special Forces, and then went to Danang to meet [Sean] Flynn. (Page called Danang ‘Dangers’, with a hard g. In a war where people quite seriously referred to Hong Kong as ‘Hongers’ and spoke of running over to Pnompers to interview Sukie, a British correspondent named Don Wise made up a Vietnam itinerary: Canters, Saigers, Nharters, Quinners, Pleikers, Quangers, Dangers, and Hyoo-beside-the-sea.)

Seems it’s a much less recent phenomenon than I’d thought.

So if you’re heading to the Bodge, I can recommend Phnommers, Siemmers, Batters, Kampers and Sinners[2], but Anlers and Pailers might not suit everyone.

[1] Admittedly, Bangkok isn’t the proper name for the city either. Unless speaking with foreigners, Thai people call it Krung Thep, which is a shortened form of Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, which is in turn a shortened form of the official ceremonial name for the city, that being Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit. So abbreviating this one is fair enough.

[2] ‘Sinners’ being the Wise-ified version of Sihanoukville which, given the town’s reputation, is quite apt.

The Google Panopticon

In April of 2012, Google announced Project Glass, a wearable hardware interface for smartphones which will enable users to access a multitude of services using voice control and have information presented on a type of heads-up display.

The geek-o-sphere exploded with joy. Thrilled with the possibility of becoming even more immersed in the online world (and more closely connected with those who use/live in it), the Net was ablaze with “shut up & take my money!”-style comments.

Since the first announcement, Google revealed very little else about Glass until just last month, when the company declared they were seeking alpha testers (or, as Google calls them, “Glass Explorers”) to help iron out some bugs and nut out more features.

Another demonstration video accompanied the Explorers announcement, this one showing what looks like a slightly tweaked interface.

Privacy advocates were immediately concerned about wearing a GPS-enabled device which could track someone wherever they went. However, smartphones have done this for years.

There has not, as yet, been much discussion about the impact of Google Glass on people who do not use it.

Google Glass significantly raises the bar for privacy concerns with its capacity for being able to take photos and video in a far more surreptitious manner than was possible before. Now, many people are worried about a virtual surveillance net being created and powered by people wearing Glass.

Given the data mining capabilities of Google, this is definitely something to be worried about. Google requires strongly encourages users to sign up to its Google+ social network using real names. Tie that in with Google Docs and Gmail and you have very extensive database of someone’s activities. Run some facial recognition software over images or footage captured by Google Glass and you could compile a very detailed dossier on someone.

The covert nature of this photography is also something that should be looked at.

When someone raises a camera or a phone to take a photo or shoot some video, it’s often obvious as to what’s happening. Google Glass removes that cue. It’s possible to sit across a table from someone and shoot video of them without them having any idea. I think that’s where much of the “creepiness” comes in; people don’t know if they’re being photographed/filmed or not.

While it’s true that it’s now increasingly difficult to just walk down the street without being picked up by a surveillance camera, there’s a big difference between that and ending up as part of the background in someone’s social network stream. For example, surveillance camera footage is generally erased after a certain time. There’s no sign at all if video captured by Google Glass has an expiry date.

“There is a kid wearing Google Glasses at this restaurant which, until just now, used to be my favorite spot.” – David Yee (@tangentialism), Feb 23, 2013

In Australia, we do not have a constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy. It it perfectly legal to photograph or shoot video of anyone in a public place. In a recent case in Sydney, a senior member of the NSW Police Force actually encouraged it.

Even though there is no right to privacy in a public space, it’s a different matter in a private place or within what Australian law terms “enclosed lands”. Within those boundaries, property owners or custodians are well within their rights to ask people to stop filming or photographing.

Indeed, there is a pre-emptive strike against Google Glass happening in the United States already. The 5 Point Café in Seattle has banned the device from its premises, well before Glass is even available to the public.

Technological distraction is not new. I’ve had conversational flows interrupted or broken completely by TVs or ringing phones, and this was in the 1970s. But because Google Glass definitely is new (in fact, still in alpha), we’ve not yet come up with the etiquette system that will let us handle it. I’d imagine that such a system would be like that which guides mobile phone use, or smoking. And, of course, there will be inconsiderate knobs who ignore Glass guidelines just as there are presently people who’ll use their mobiles in restaurants.

What will be new, though, is the widespread possibly covert filming and photography of everyday people to profit a massive corporation.

There are also legal considerations to be ironed out as well. Who will own that video? Could it be used as evidence in a court case or an investigation?

I’d be very surprised if Google did not build an indicator into Glass such as an LED which activated when recording video. Many camera such as the iSight built into Apple’s computers do this. But I would also not be surprised if Google tied Glass strongly into Google+, Maps, and other sites and apps. If auto-upload is activated, Google would potentially have access to everywhere you go, and everything you see and hear.

The panopticon is a double-edged sword. It can be used to keep people living in fear, or it can be used in the journalistic tradition of “holding power to account”. Once again, it is the age-old scenario of us being able to develop technology far quicker than we can develop the moral and legal framework within which that technology can be used.

Happy 2013!

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Well, to the relief of many, the Mayan Apocalypse never transpired. So I guess we’re here for a while yet. Or at least until the next threats of mass destruction are predicted.

I had a reasonable year. Managed to finally get to San Francisco, which I loved, and also saw more of Los Angeles than I did in 2006. Caught up with some old friends and made some new ones both in the US and in Cambodia.

I have some rough ideas for the next 365 days. More writing, more photography, continuing to not vote Conservative when the general election rolls around this year sometime. More travel, of course.

Whatever your plans are, I hope they’re successful, and that you all have a terrific 2013.

#fridayreads, 28/12/2012

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment

#fridayreads, 28/12/2012


“The Civil War Of 1812” by Alan Taylor, a detailed look at the post-War Of Independence conflict between the United States and the United Kingdom. I first heard of this from my Canadian (now ex-)girlfriend, and while I was visiting Canada in 2005 I found a book that gave details of the American invasion of Canada. This book by Taylor has a wider scope, and should be an interesting insight into a little-known aspect of North American history.

“The Operators” by Michael Hastings is a look at one of the leading figures in a more contemporary conflict. General Stanley McChrystal was the leader of the US military forces in Afghanistan until Rolling Stone writer Hastings reported some less-than-complimentary remarks the general made about Vice President Joe Biden. Because of the Hastings piece published in Rolling Stone, McChrystal was removed from command and eventually replaced by General David Petraeus, who later as director of the Central Intelligence Agency was forced to resign over a sex scandal.

[No, I won’t be reading these concurrently, but I did buy them today. I’m yet to decide which to tackle first.]

Stop the madness, Mr Obama

December 15, 2012 Leave a comment

An email to the President of the United States…

From: Paul Carson
Date: 15 December 2012 11:44:43 Eastern Australia Time
Subject: Please consider gun control

Dear Mr President,

I awoke this morning to read news of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. This is the first time I have ever felt the urge to write to someone who holds elected office.

I am not a US voter, I am not even a citizen of the United States. I am Australian. Despite my lack of proximity to your country, this massacre has compelled me to write to you.

We have some of the strictest gun laws of any liberal democracy on Earth. In 1996, a gunman went on a rampage in Australia and killed 35 people, wounding 21 more. Our Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, a Conservative, enacted a series of gun law reforms that saw the banning of military-style weapons along with semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.

Australia has suffered no such incidents of mass shootings since this time.

I’m not a Conservative, sir. Far from it. But I am grateful that Mr Howard showed leadership in this matter, and has spared my country from such tragedies that seem to befall the United States all too frequently.

I understand that the circumstances of our countries are different, and the way in which they came about are also different. But I would hope that it’s also obvious that the world is a different place now than it was when the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. I would also hope that it’s apparent that few people who have weapons in their homes or carry them for self-defence are a part of any militia at all, let alone one which is “well regulated”.

I am Australian, Mr President, and therefore not a constituent of yours. But I am also a human being. I wept when I read of what happened in Newtown on Friday. I have a niece and a nephew of elementary school age. The thought of them suffering a similar fate breaks my heart, but I am also comforted by knowing that such a thing is unlikely here.

I hope that there is no cause during the remainder of your term for you to be forced to address the United States due to yet another firearms massacre.

After these incidents, people often say that it’s too early to talk about gun control. I worry that it might be too late.

Please stop this madness, sir.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Carson
Sydney, Australia

Gillard sticks it to Abbott

October 9, 2012 Comments off

About time too.

After many months of appearing to cop it sweet, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard finally fired back at the Opposition…