Helsinki and Canberra: A Brief Follow-Up

As a follow-up to last night’s piece on the Finnish vs. Australian electoral systems, I was asked if I thought Australia was over-governed.

My short answer is; kind of.
The long answer is; more poorly-organised than over-governed.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I have the absolute power to reorganise the Federation as I see fit; here’s what I’d do.

First, I’d redraw the boundaries of the States and Territories; there’d be more of them, and they’d be drawn according to both the current population distribution, and likely corridors of population growth. According to, well, everyone I know who lives there, the State Government of New South Wales frankly only really cares about an area centred on Newcastle, Sydney, and Wollongong; so let’s let them focus on that, and shear away the rest, redistributing it based on regional areas of focus. Same deal for all the rest (having Albury-Wodonga split asunder by a state border is rather silly, no?), with the possible exception of Tasmania.

Second, the municipal councils would all go. All of them. Every one. What would replace them is the ACT’s system – where the territory government has the functions, responsibilities, and powers (ignore the federal relation for a moment) of a state government and of a municipal ones. The regional government would look after e.g., both garbage collection and education. It seems to work quite smoothly in Canberra.

Third, to ensure that outlying areas aren’t neglected, each one of the legislatures of these new regional governments would be elected on the same system as the ACT’s – the Hare-Clark proportional system, with several multi-member electorates ensuring that all parts of the region have a voice in the legislature.

At the Federal level, the apportionment of the House of Representatives would be the same – single-member constituencies allocated by population, with each region getting a certain minimum (at least two). The number of Senators would need to be recalculated, but I’d either keep the principle behind the Senate the same (equal representation for each region so that the lower-population ones don’t get screwed) or I’d make it a single nation-wide multi-member constituency. Voting systems would be unchanged (I like the single transferable vote as well as instant run-off voting), as would the means of forming government.

An important caveat: this is just something I’ve sketched up in notes on my phone during lunch, a thought exercise. I’d need to do quite a bit of research to check how feasible it would be (political considerations aside), and what the effects on the economy would be.

This is, of course, utter fantasy; the States will never consent to being carved up like this (well, Tasmania might – because it gets to watch), and if I recall the Constitution correctly, they have to agree to any such thing. But I doubt I’m the only one who has considered this idea.

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General blog update

All my pre-2016 content here has been taken down; over the next few weeks, it’ll annotated and sourced, and then restored. There are some posts that won’t be coming back though, because they’re crap.

That said, posts won’t be deleted simply because I don’t agree now with what I wrote back then. If that happens, the post will be edited to to say so in big red bold text at the top.

Why those cancelled meet-ups are funny

People got very cranky about a set of meet-ups by a group called “Return of Kings” last week. Very, very, cranky. And then the meet-ups were cancelled, and those people cheered. The guy behind, this, Daryush Valizadeh, said the reason he the meetings were cancelled was because he couldn’t “guarantee the safety or privacy” of the attendees.

LPTwitter

They wouldn’t last five minutes as ordinary men who go outside either, given that the male of the species is more likely to get murdered or assaulted. And that’s actually at the heart of it; these guys have no balls to speak of.

I’ve had the misfortune of seeing one of Valizadeh’s YouTube videos – one about how to approach women in bars, one of his great “pick-up” techniques.

The Germans have a word, “fremdscham”, which is embarrassment you feel on behalf of others when they’re doing something so stupid or cringeworthy that you want to hide under the couch and die for them; that’s exactly how I felt watching the video. Remember back when we were all kids and just starting to discover dating as a thing? Other kids would run up and go “so-and-so thinks you’re cute!” or “my friend likes you!”

The method Valizadeh outlined was the step below that in terms of how awkwardly pathetic it was; you try to very quietly (so that she’s unaware) slip in behind the young lady you’re trying to woo in line at the bar when she’s getting a drink, so when she turns around the first thing she sees is you, and then you try to talk to her. Yes; that was his great technique to pick up chicks – appear so sad and pathetic and desperate that you garner a pity-fuck. As opposed to actually just talking to her, without holding up the other people at the bar, like someone who understands how human interaction works. Or as opposed to doing the radical thing of “hey, can I buy you a drink?”

At least 12-year-old kids have the excuse of still being kids.

Now, I’m a flaming homosexual, and the rules are different for us; I’m only aware of heterosexual courting rituals, which seem absurdly complex at times, through observation. But even I know two things; first, women aren’t Gorgons. You can look them in the eye and approach them from the front without being turned to stone or devoured. Second, the only time this could ever work is the tail end of trash o’clock, the time in the night when the bars are about to close and everyone still there who isn’t a designated driver is just looking to just go home and have drunk sex with the nearest random stranger who doesn’t look like a camel’s arse.

Seriously; if one of my straight friends ever tried to do this, he’d cop a slap over the head and the barked instruction to “just grow a pair and go and talk to the woman already, Jesus Christ on a pogo stick!”

This is the calibre of the standard-bearer for these guys; he’s their leading light.

And some people view him as a serious threat.

Yeah, yeah, I know – “he advocated for rape to be legalised on private property” – do you honestly think that a guy who can’t bring himself to walk up to a woman while she is facing him and say “hey, having a good night?” would be able to get rape laws overturned?

The only thing funnier is than him are the people who take him seriously – both his fans and his opponents. And I’m not laughing with them.

Three Circles and People on Boats

So the High Court did a thing with people seeking asylum today. In case you were asleep or stoned.

And people are quite outraged.

I’m not.

Before we go into why, we need to check this pretty picture out. It’s my rendering of the “spheres of control” diagram, done in five minutes in MS Paint. Behold my elite graphics skills:

spheres

Stop laughing. Let’s look at them.

First; the sphere of control. This is what you directly control; within this sphere, your will shall be done. At its very core is you; your body, your mind, and so on. Granted, some of us are at the mercy of things like brain chemistry gone awry or an immune system in revolt, but for the vast majority our selves are under our direct control. Further out but still here are the people who answer to you at work, things you have direct authority over, etc. The point is that here, you control the outcomes.

Next is the sphere of influence. You can persuade, lead by example, support others, and so on, to influence outcomes you don’t directly control. You can help push things in a particular direction, but the result isn’t certain and you won’t always get what you want. Other people fall into here, unless they answer to you in some capacity.

Third comes the sphere of interest. These are things you are aware of, or interested in. They may impact you, but, most important, you actually have bugger all say in them (or what say you do have is negligible). Some of these things can be crucial; such as the economy. Others are of curiosity only, like the mapping of Pluto (unless that’s your job – in which case why are you reading this? Go do science!).

Outside of this is irrelevancy.

Now the problem is that too many people allow the sphere of interest to become a sphere of concern, or a sphere of worry, and that leads to stress (which, I hardly need tell you, is a great way to screw up your mental and physical health).

Which leads me to the asylum seeker ruling from the High Court.

It lies in my sphere of interest; I found it interesting. But I am not concerned or worried by it. Nor am I outraged. First, the High Court was not asked to rule on whether this was moral or just, but if it was constitutional and legal; they found that it is. So be it. Second, and more importantly, I can do nothing at all to change that outcome, nor can I do anything to prevent those people from being sent to a remote island in the South Pacific. I could act in my sphere of influence to talk to those around me, but everyone I know is outraged already; preaching to the choir when it’s already singing is a pointless exercise. It is outside my sphere of influence in any meaningful sense of the term, and as I do not set immigration policy in Australia, it is far outside my sphere of control.

That all changes on Election Day; democracy affords us the chance to tell our leaders that this was unacceptable. If you truly feel so strongly about this issue, if you think Something Must Be Done, then take note of this. Look at the various political party’s websites; examine their policies in the lead-up to that day.

Then cast your vote accordingly; on that day, the issue moves into all our spheres of influence.

For what it’s worth, no, I don’t think this will be a big enough issue to actually change things. After 2013, ALP is terrified of being seen as soft on this issue, and the Coalition has more intention of legalising same-sex marriage than of softening their stance. And the reason they do this is because it still wins them votes. It will take a major upset to break either party out of their stance on this.

And when the chips are down, the plight of asylum seekers is not uppermost in the minds of voters; it’s the economy, stupid.

Alternative Dates for Oz Day

The timing of Australia Day – January 26, the anniversary of when Governor Arthur Phillip arrived in Sydney Cove and the British Empire expanded its reach across the continent – is controversial. “Expanded its reach” is a polite way to say “conquered the hell out of the place” – and that’s exactly what the day marks. It was the day the continents indigenous inhabitants encountered an Outside Context Problem;

The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.

To be honest, what the British did here was no worse than what had been done across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, for thousands of years; if you don’t believe me, go look up the Mongol Conquest of Baghdad.

That’s not to say it was OK; though I loathe historical presentism, by the standards of today what was done was reprehensible, and people are still hurting from it. But even by the standards of the time, the British weren’t very nice – and they knew it;

Aborigines were initially treated with compassion, but soon after Governor Phillip’s departure the massacres began. First at Risdon Cove in Van Diemen’s Land, where in 1804 a large party of Aborigines hunting game was murdered by grapeshot fired on the orders of Dr Jacob Montgarret, Launceston’s magistrate. He recovered many of the bodies, melted them down and crammed the bones into casks which he sent, for anthropological amusement, to his colleagues in Sydney. Other massacres followed, and in Tasmania – let’s make no melted-down bones about it – the British committed genocide. Although the term would not be coined for another century, the British knew exactly what they had done: they had, admitted a parliamentary committee in 1839, left ‘an indelible stain’.

— Robertson, Geoffrey (2011-07-01). The Statute of Liberty (Kindle Locations 844-850). Random House Australia. Kindle Edition.

My personal view is that January 26 isn’t an anniversary to be celebrated as the national day of the country – it can be a day to consider the journey of the nation since that fateful day in 1788, both the good and the bad, but I can think of better dates for our national day. Dates that don’t rub it in the faces of the indigenous inhabitants of the country, and actually mark something significant – milestones on our march to independence as a nation.

First, 9 October, the date of the passage of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act – the Statute being an act of the British Parliament that made us, and the other dominions, de jure independent nations. The British Parliament passed it on 11 December 1931, but seeing as it took us 11 years to pass the enabling legislation here, 11 December would be a poor choice.

Second, 4 December, the date of the Australian passage of the Australia Act, which severed the last constitutional links with the United Kingdom.

Third, 3 March, the date that Act came into effect.

All three are good candidates for our de facto independence as a nation, and all three come without a very bitter pill for our indigenous peoples to swallow.

I’ve listed them in order of my personal preference. My reason for ranking 9 October as first is that it marks the day the Australian Government finally gathered the intestinal fortitude to do what the British had been wanting us to do for over a decade, and become legislatively independent. I rank 4 December second as it is the day we crossed the Rubicon in severing ourselves from the UK. 3 march comes a distant third, only because you’ll have to fight the gays for that day every time it coincides with the first Saturday in March.

Picking any one of those days will be fine, frankly. And it beats waiting for the Republic.

You Need Your Cat To Catch Mice

The best bit of advice I ever received with regards to advocacy came when I was in my teens, from a magazine called MacAddict. That was in the time when people got Very Serious about their platforms – my god, we were a bunch of nerds – and this piece was all about how the Mac faithful could convince windows users to join our Holy Mother Church.

That was a time when Apple was circling the drain, when the irreverent and enthusiastic tone of MacAddict appealed to the younger part of the userbase, when we did have to defend our choice of platform in the face of hordes of naysayers.

The times have changed, but the advice that has continued to resonate with me through the years is this:

If you take on every fight as if it were a hill to die on, you’ll find that hill sooner than you think

It was part of an article called “Five Do’s and Don’t’s of Advocacy” by David Reynolds, and, thanks to someone on the MacNN forums in 2002 transcribing it, we still have the entire piece:

Five Solid Advocacy Tactics

  1. Be Polite

Please, thank you, you’re welcome, simple bits of polite discourse go a long way when you debate others about your platform of choice.

  1. Be Generous

Don’t jump on bad happenings in the Wintel world. A perfect example is the I Love You virus that slammed Wintel users, leaving smoking hard drives in its wake. Copping a snotty attitude about how the worm didn’t hurt Mac Users isn’t going to help make your case. Instead, offering sympathy (whether genuine or well acted) dispels defensiveness. Besides, we all know the real truth.

  1. Pick Your Fights Carefully

If you take on every fight as if it were a hill to die on, you’ll find that hill sooner than you think, leaving you exhausted when the truly important fights come along. Exercise good judgement before picking up the gauntlet.

  1. Check Your Facts

Before you state facts (such as ‘The Mac is better because it dispenses soft-serve ice cream’), make sure they’re true. Nothing damages your credibility like an outrageous or inflammatory claim. If you do make a mistake, correct it honestly and openly.

  1. Give Ground to Get Ground

Conceding some ground is a great way to build good will. In return, you may find that others will come around and embrace certain portions of your point of view. Remember: unconditional surrender worked only in World War II.


 

Five Advocacy Tactics to Avoid

  1. Don’t Troll for Flames

Don’t troll Usenet groups, mailing lists, bulletin boards, or chat areas for defensive people with whom you can pick a platform fight. While it may be fun to whip someone into a slavering fury, it’s not constructive.

  1. Don’t Attack Indiscriminately

If you must go on the offensive, keep your attack focused. Flailing at anything that moves (figuratively speaking) is just sad, especially when it comes to arguing platform niceties and processor speeds.

  1. Don’t Go Beyond the Subject at Hand

Don’t move the discussion from Pentium III versus G4 to how fat someone’s mother is. While it may be funny (or true), it also is not constructive.

  1. Don’t Turn Pit Bull

Know when to give up an argument. Pit bulls have locking jaws for a reason, and it’s certainly not to hold on to a discussion that has degenerated well beyond recognition.

  1. Don’t Insist on Changing Someone’s Mind

While you want to bring people around to your point of view, you can’t control whether someone actually does start to see things your way. Witness the Flat Earth Society.

When I look at a lot of self-styled activists, especially the keyboard variety, I see people who took the above list, and did the precise opposite. They’re rude, snotty, treat every battle as THE great fight of our time, play fast and loose with the facts, and demand unconditional surrender. Compounding the error, they pick fights where no fight needed to be had, they argue with all the focus of a claymore mine (frequently shifting the goalposts in the process), won’t stop until their opponent is ready to sacrifice a child in penance, and will not do the mature thing of agreeing to disagree.

Further compounding this is a tendency to adopt a “you’re either with us or against us” mentality.

And then they’re surprised when all they achieve is animosity.

That bit up the top, which comes from the point about carefully picking your fights, is the one that really stuck with me through the years. Fighting every battle as though it’s a hill to die on doesn’t win your war. It gives others the impression that you’re a hair-trigger lunatic, and turns them away from your cause. But every single thing on that list is important. There are two things I would add to the list. This one is to the “do’s”:

6. Do educate your audience

If you want to assume the power of the advocate, the representative of the cause, you have a duty to provide information. You cannot expect to convince people by volume alone. The onus is on you to explain why your cause is worthy of support. Do not expect people to know what you’re talking about. And you absolutely must be honest; remember point 4. If you’re caught in a lie, your credibility will be shot to hell.

And this one is for the “don’t’s”:

6. Don’t attack a neutral party

Not everyone will support you. Learn to live with it. But some of them will not support you because they just do not care; they have other things to worry about, or have considered their stance and decided not to support either side, but mostly they simply haven’t made up their minds yet. They’re not going to actively oppose you, but they’re not going to side with your opponents, unless you attack them. They’re the people you want to convince. So try, but if they won’t be convinced, then leave them alone; they’re not your enemies, but if you treat them as such, they most certainly will be.

There is a certain kind of firebrand who will no doubt take issue with this if they ever saw it, not least because it’s come from the hand of someone who dares to be male and have white skin at the same time, as if that’s relevant.

Consider then, the words of Deng Xiaoping:

It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.

The list of advocacy do’s and don’t’s has the benefit of working; by following the original ten points (twelve if you decide to include my additions), you will achieve the primary aim of advocacy; convincing others of your stance through your arguments. You may not like it – hurling outraged invective is so much more satisfying after all, even though it doesn’t work.

I’ve been on the receiving end, more than once, of people who inverted the list – and have been told that it’s not the advocate’s job to educate me, that I should just listen and believe. I’ve also been savaged simply for being present, on account of things like skin colour, gender, and presumed sexual orientation. Not once has any of it made me want to support the “activist” – in fact it’s usually made me turn away from their cause in utter disgust.

This is especially true if I find out I’ve been lied to; I continue to maintain that if you have to deceive me to get me to support your cause, it’s not worth supporting.

Or, to put it another way; ignore the attributes of the person telling you this, and don’t mind that it originally came from a tech magazine a decade and a half ago. The list of advocacy do’s and don’t’s is how you train an excellent mouser. Ignore it, and you’ll have a serious rodent problem.


 

Sources:

  • Hung Li, China’s Political Situation and the Power Struggle in Peking (Lung Men Press, 1977)
  • Reynolds, David, “Five Do’s And Don’t’s of Advocacy”, in MacAddict Magazine (Imagine Publishing: September 2000)