Australia Must Stop Racism

I’m so angry with the Terrorist events in Christchurch. I’m angry at the rhetoric over the years in Australia towards anyone from a different or non-White background. I’m angry that Australia is so quick to label someone different as a threat. But when it comes to your own, you export them to my homeland, they destroy the peace as people are praying and the rhetoric is less.

Where’s the call to strip this Australian of his citizenship? Where’s the call to stop and ban all types of people with extremist white nationalist views? Why are major political parties in Australia, this morning, still publishing attack ads against immigration? Why is the news headlines labeling the attacker as a “angel” or “working class”.

There are hundreds of Australian based social media pages that express and support these extremist viewpoints. Why are there events in Melbourne this afternoon where speakers are encouraging these viewpoints to grow? Extremism is a disease that is nearly impossible to cure, once someone is radicalised there is little hope for rehabilitation. Yet these pages and groups remain. I’m all for free speech, but not for active and permitted hatred towards the other.

It’s time to stop saying “Australia is racist” and time for Australia (as a whole) to do something meaningful about it.

Give Nothing To Racism

The NBN: Misleading Information and Money-Grabbing Connection Costs

A few weeks ago the NBN became available in my street. Initially I was excited, until I started getting all the promotional and scare tactics filled material in my mailbox.

The TLDR version: switching to the NBN is expensive and not worthwhile until it is forced upon you.

The two worst offenders in the mail blitz were:

  • Telstra: I received advertising from Telstra telling me that I had already received notification that my current phone connection would be terminated soon. The reality was I had received no notification of this, and checking the NBN rollout map showed that the date of termination of my existing phone service was yet to be determined.
  • NBN CO: About a month after getting the letter from Telstra I got official notification of when my current phone service would be terminated, it is a little under a year way. This letter was filled with fear such as “Act now… before existing services are switched off” and it then continued further to state “NBN does not charge for standard installation”.

At this point I checked the NBN plans which my current internet provider offers. To meet my existing usage and to even match the speed I get on my ADSL connection would cost at least $15 more per month as well at least $100 in additional connection costs.

So much for no charge for installation. Annoyed I then checked against a number of other ISPs. All but one charges installation fees and all are a least $10/month more than my current connection.

With millions of people still to connect to the NBN these increases in fees will raise millions in profits for a variety of ISPs. None of which is good for consumers.

Given that the NBN has a reputation for poor service and support I will not be switching to the new network any time soon.

The boringness of the 2017 New Zealand General Election

The longer that I’ve lived away from New Zealand the less that I’ve cared about following the news and blog coverage of the day to day political dramas. However, with the 2017 New Zealand General Election less than two months away I would have expected the competition between the two main parties to have become much closer than it is.

A little over six months ago John Key stepped down as Prime Minister and Bill English, who previously lead the National Party to their biggest defeat became Prime Minister. Since then there has been a few scandals within the National Party, namely, the Todd Barclay secret recordings affair. However, despite these upheavals within the incumbent party there has been very little change in their poll numbers with a current average of around 46% primary support.

In contrast, earlier today, Andrew Little’s leadership of the Labour party came to an end as their average poll numbers dropped to 25% and lower. If the new leader Jacinda Ardern can attract voters back to the party their numbers may improve slightly, but I cannot see Labour doubling their primary vote or taking a huge amount of support away from the National Party.

The reality of the New Zealand political landscape is that it is really boring. Although the National Party has been in power for nine years over three terms they have done extremely well in not giving many concessions to their more conservative and extreme right supporters and coalition partners. As a government they have been well disciplined and as a whole the country has grown economically.

While this stability is a blessing that other countries, including Australia, can only dream about (in the same time Australia has had four Prime Ministers and many more leadership spills) it also means that the opposition party has had very few big issues to create as a point of difference from the National Party. Furthermore, when the Labour Party does try and propose something different they often go too far. For example, they currently have a policy which proposes cutting immigration to New Zealand by up to 30,000 people.

Policies which harm the economic growth or unsettle a population which is entirely built on migration are unlikely to win many new supporters. Rednecks and other anti-immigration supporters have their fringe parties to support and Labour really needs to focus on the important day to day issues which will gain them supporters from the centre and centre-right. Policies such as committing to improved rail links in the major cities or changing the taxation system such that low income earners are better off without adversely increasing the tax on higher income earners are ideas that often get broad support. In particular with taxation you could introduce a tax-free threshold, increase taxes slightly at the higher income bands to offset the tax loss without affecting the overall tax payments on a median income earner, and still introduce a small capital gains tax. Policies which are well explained and are positive for the country are likely to gain supporters from the centre of the political spectrum.

Unfortunately, it appears New Zealand is on track for yet another National Party dominated government. Once again, I wish that more young people would vote as many of the parties and policies which are best geared towards them come from parties on the left. Without a strong opposition it enables the ruling party to easily push through laws and policies which are damaging to large minority groups without consequence.

Hyeonseo Lee’s The Girl with Seven Names

I’ve just finished reading Hyeonseo Lee’s book The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. The story of Lee’s escape from North Korea and emotional battles along the way are deeply moving. It’s also harrowing to think that other North Korean defectors experience far worse treatment that Lee did.

A year or so ago I read Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. What strikes me the most in both of these books on North Korea is just how repressive the Kim regime is and the apparent lack of international action to rescue the general population from horrible human rights abuses.

While I strongly believe that every country should be able to govern without outside intervention there must be limits where outside intervention becomes necessary. Especially as people are being politically imprisoned and executed without any due process. Other abuses of this magnitude in other areas of the globe have resulted in war crime trials. I don’t know what it would take to intervene in North Korea but the international community cannot continue to be so lenient on a country that treats its citizens so poorly.

Embeded below is a TED talk that Lee gave before writing the book, it’s much lighter on details than the book. Additionally there is an SBS Insight program on North Korea that Lee took part in which features some of her, and other’s stories of escape.

Thoughts on Bali 9 Killings

Yesterday Indonesia murdered two Australian citizens convicted of drug smuggling.

The two Australians have been in prison for over 10 years and by all accounts were completely rehabilitated. The killings are unjust and show complete arrogance on behalf of the Indonesian government to the social norms regarding crime and punishment.

Almost ten years ago I blogged on how inhumane the Indonesian execution process is and over the last four months we have seen it in all its torturous glory. The process over the past few months has been even more horrible than first described.

The Indonesians have ignored all international pressure to stop the executions, this is their sovereign right to do so. However, they have also made deliberate choices to offend the Australian and international community. The President and the government have deployed army commandos and fighter jets to transport the prisoners, they have deployed naval frigates to patrol the small island on which the executions took place, and police chiefs have taken smiling photos with the masked condemned men.The worst of this was the announcement of the date of executions on ANZAC day.

In response to the killings Australia has withdrawn its ambassador to Indonesia. While this is a very strong action in political terms in real action it seems like so little. The damage left behind by the Indonesian government is more than two dead bodies, there are geopolitical wounds that will take a long time to heal.

Finding time to read

Every workday I catch a bus to and from work. The journey takes around 20 minutes each way and until May this year I would spend this time using social networks on my phone. Since May I have replaced the phone with my Kindle and have read almost 30 books. This is more books than I have probably read in the last three years combined.

I am certainly not a massive bookworm but there is something about being able to get lost in a story and filter out the world in a way that books can only do. I primarily read non-fiction, with a particular focus on sociology, history, and theology. And the more I read, the more I want to read.

For instance, in the last week I’ve finished Cynthia Stokes Brown’s Big History, which covers the history of the world in a very detailed but also very easy to read manner and is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m now trying to read books on the histories of Australia, Iran, Boston and gangs in Chicago (my latest problem is trying to read too many books in parallel).

I am not alone in my desire to read more, in September an opinion piece was published on Slate about reading insecurity. The piece states:

It is becoming a cliché of conversations between twentysomethings (especially to the right of 25) that if you talk about books or articles or strung-together words long enough, someone will eventually wail plaintively: “I just can’t reeeeeaaad anymore.” The person will explain that the Internet has shot her attention span. She will tell you about how, when she was small, she could lose herself in a novel for hours, and now, all she can do is watch the tweets swim by like glittery fish in the river of time-she-will-never-get-back.

The author’s argument is that this desire to read more and use the internet less is a consequence of growing up in a time where reading books have been replaced by reading e-readers, tablets and computer screens. And we don’t read less we just read differently. The article as a whole is great (you should read it).

But despite this knowledge that we are reading different and not less, my desire to read more books and less social networks hasn’t changed. I am now trying to read smarter, to find time to lock myself away from digital distractions and to get lost in a book for 20 mins or an hour. Simply because it is relaxing, and fun, and the internet will keep on tweeting and facebooking without me.

Vale Parachute Festival

A few weeks ago it was announced that the annual Parachute Music Festival would be no more. This is a great loss to the youth of New Zealand.

With my mate Herbie at Parachute 03
With my mate Herbie at Parachute 03

During my teenage years and early 20s I attended seven Parachute Festivals. My first was as a 15 year old in 2003, this was also the last year Parachute was held at Totara Springs in Matamata. Despite this now being over eleven years ago (wow time goes quick), I still have a number of memories of my first festival: trying to be a good kid and go to bed at 11pm on the Friday night and not being able to sleep cause of the noise from all the music stages; watching TobyMac, a very young Rapture Ruckus, and Pillar perform on the mainstage; trying to join the mosh and circle pits inside the cage; and chilling in the afternoon sun on the grass as Steve Apirana played acoustic.

After that first festival I was hooked, Parachute was like no other concert or festival I’ve been to. While the move to Mystery Creek, Hamilton in 2004 saw the production value of the festival increase the core of the festival remained the same – four days of young people being exposed to a wide variety of music and genres, building closer friendships with the people they travelled to the festival with, randomly bumping into old school friends and church mates, and learning about the relevance of God and Christianity in the present – generally, all without parents.

And this is what made Parachute Festival unique. For me personally, I have so many memories of things that have happened at Parachute over the years, I have seen hundreds of bands play and be exposed to music that in the past I wouldn’t have dared thought to like. But three memories stand out: the Newsboys performing and in the middle of Shine basically stopping their show for ten minutes and standing in worship; Dave Dobbyn having to stop playing as the rain poured down and the mosh pit dancing in the rain chanting ‘da da da slice of heaven’; and no matter how late you had gone to bed the previous night forcing yourself to get up and attend the morning church service.

Dave Dobbyn in the rain
Dave Dobbyn in the rain
Parachute Morning Meeting
Parachute Morning Meeting

In the decision to end Parachute Festival, Mark de Jong is right in saying that there are many more big music festivals in New Zealand now and this makes Parachute Festival commercially difficult. However, the big music, while a key component, is only one component of the festival.

Debut Stage 2009
Debut Stage 2009
Another highlight of the festival over the years has been to see many hundreds of small bands play on the debut stage. Many of these bands are teenagers with their garage bands who would normally only play to a maximum of 50 people at a church find themselves performing in front of hundreds and at times thousands of people. This was something very special to heart of Parachute Festival, again there are battle of the bands and other shows for small bands, but the scale of Parachute Festival in this area was like nothing else.

Overall, the end of Parachute Festival is a great loss to the youth of New Zealand, there is nothing else like it. While I’m certain that some newer events will fill some of the void left e.g. Easter Camp, for a long time yet many people will be saying ‘when I was a teenager.. Parachute Festival.’

SafePrice, Avast and Sneaky Browser Plugins

For many years now I have been using Avast as my anti-virus on my Windows computers. For the majority of that time it has been simple to use and generally non-invasive. However, in the past few months that has dramatically changed.

The first big change has been avast prompting to update software updates for almost every installed application. While this may be helpful for the vast majority of people who do not regularly update their systems, I’ve grown to ignore random pop-ups that say my computer is out of date – because the vast majority of the time they are scams/ads themselves. Saying my system is at critical risk because I haven’t updated an application in the last 24 hours is overkill – especially when the application specific updater isn’t prompting for the update.

Today’s inappropriate interruption from Avast is much more annoying and down right unethical – especially as I did not authorise this behaviour in the application. Below is a screen shot of a produce page from a trustworthy and popular online store I visit on a regular basis.

Avast SafePrice Website Takeover
Avast SafePrice Website Takeover

Continue reading “SafePrice, Avast and Sneaky Browser Plugins”

Of Fluoride and Vaccinations

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading Deadly Choices a book by Paul Offit which gives a history of the science and debate about vaccine safety in the United States.

Coincidentally, within the last week back home in New Zealand the Hamilton City Council has decided to remove fluoride from drinking water. A daft and backward step which will have long term negative consequences for public health.

Writing on the blog site Pundit, Tim Watkin states:

Hamilton councillors are just the latest folk to fall prey to fear-raising arguments against ‘mass medication’ and in favour of individual choice, while ignoring science…

The science – the proper science, that is – seems pretty clear that we have low fluoridation levels in our water and bumping it up a little helps our oral care en masse. Health agencies from WHO down say it helps dental hygiene and is a human right. There is no proof of fluoride poisoning, if that’s what you’d call it, in the New Zealand population over recent generations and every reason to think a significant number of New Zealanders will have more teeth problems as a result of less fluoride in the water. Just about everything becomes a poison at the right dose, but at a lower dose it’s fine, even beneficial…

But it’s indicative of a wider trend in these modern times, which is worrying, and that’s the rise of the instant expert and the ‘I know better than the majority of scientists’ brigade.

This is one point that Offit’s book touches on. Emotional stories about how medication is actually poisonous and how it harms people that isn’t backed up from science is often believed in lieu of strong and easily understood scientific explanations. The problem is at times science is hard to understand, and combined with scaremongering about anything government controlled explaining becomes a scientific PR nightmare.

Each of those ‘mass medication’ debates are issues, to greater and lesser degrees, of the community good coming up against individual choice. And it’s about time we started paying more attention to the community good.

Many kids living in poverty, for example, don’t have the choice – for all kinds of complex reasons – to get enough fluoride and will suffer as a result of this decision by the council in Hamilton, and those in other cities. So what about the choice of them all?

Recently in Sydney there has been news articles about the levels of immunisation in select suburbs. Strangely, some of the most affluent suburbs have the lowest rates of immunisation. This is as a direct result of people not understanding science or putting their own individual views and rights before the collective community good.

The problem with this is people who chose not to vaccinate are not only putting their own family at risk they are also putting at risk the lives of others in the community whom are unable to vaccinate due to a variety of health reasons.

The science is sound and simple:

  • Water fluoridation improves oral health.
  • Vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism, or other extreme side effects.
  • By not vaccinating you are putting your own and others lives at risk.

Over the last 200 years we have seen vaccine science develop and all but eradicate deadly diseases of the past: measles, mumps, smallpox, polio, and many others. However, in the recent past as a result of people not believing, or accepting real science, communities have seen a breakdown of herd vaccination and these deadly diseases have started to kill again. I wonder how large a disease outbreak will have to be to get a change in this behaviour.