Archive for November 13th, 2008

What a day

Midnight to 8am: Work…stayed until about 10am because, well, coffee is at its best when its cold
10:30am: Walkies with Nattie

11am: A short nap…but no, not happening, can’t sleep, too many thoughts, and it’s too hot to sleep.

11:45: Depart for 1WAY FM

Midday: Various bits and pieces at 1WAY FM, including a drive to Curtin for lunch…I haven’t had a sandwich from there for ages. Spot ACTION bus 854 leaving Woden…I haven’t seen that bus for nearly a year and now I see it five times in the space of a week? Regardless, it’s their best bus…I should buy it when they eventually sell it.

3:50ish: Leave 1WAY FM with the intention of finding a particular dirt road just past Gungahlin which I found once, and haven’t been able to find again. Decided to take the “scenic” route through the CBD and Northbourne Avenue.

4:10ish: Ambulance rushes through Civic, northbound on Northbourne, nearly flattening a pedestrian in the process.

4:15ish: Something’s going on at the Lyneham flats…previous ambulance is leaving the scene, there’s another one on-scene and four, maybe five Police cars. I decide to park a couple blocks away and investigate on foot.

4:20ish: “Probably a stabbing” crosses my mind, but the roped off area seems a bit big for that. Police are interviewing a couple people at the scene. I call 2CC to report it.

4:28: Converse with 2CC’s Mike Welsh about incident. Am prompted to find out more.

4:30: Approach Police for more info. Get an “alright, we’ll see what we can do”.

4:32ish: Get the “stand here and wait for a bit” line

4:34ish: “Police Media will be here soon, they’ll be able to chat with you”

4:45ish: “We’ve issued a press release, Police Media will be here soon”. It was a stabbing after all.

4:45ish: Advised that 2CC newsroom will take it from here. Notice RiotACT’s Johnboy taking photos.

4:55ish: Forensics and Detectives have arrived, and finally I can get across the road with this traffic. Notice Adam Lavelle circling above in the ATN Cessna.

5:05ish: Notice what appears to be unmarked Police cars, with uniformed officers in them, pulling in to a nearby unit block. Leave area. Camera crew on-scene…WIN or ABC?

5:10ish: Decide not to find mystery road today, and instead head to 2CC studios. Stay there until a tad after 6pm. Interesting tidbit of unofficial and unusable news comes through about stabbing. If true, victim is very lucky (yeah, sorry, can’t disclose it yet).

6:20ish: Yeesh, there are even more Police outside the Lyneham Flats now than there were earlier.

6:30ish: WIN News top story is stabbing, but sounds like they did a quick re-write of the press release. No footage.

7pm: ABC News…stabbing not in headlines, odd.

7:10pm: Stabbing story gets a run with footage…so it was an ABC film crew after all. ABC declare that a woman is “assisting with enquiries” while showing footage of the loud, slightly agitated woman from the scene.

7:15pm: Discover that billing system at work has incorrectly charged $50 to my credit card. Must deal with that when I get to work.

7:30ish: Time for some sleep…err no, time to write a blog post and then either sleep or have dinner. Either way I need to be up at about 11pm. On the bright side, my weekend starts at 8am tomorrow, so I can sleep for as long as I like tomorrow after work.


November 13th, 2008 at 07:57pm

Some ground rules for debating a talkback radio host

Sometimes it’s just best to learn from a good example of how not to do it. Back in April, caller Lynn rang US talkback radio host Rush Limbaugh to inform him that the Bush administration has been a failure. I’m sure that Lynn had many good reasons for believing that, and I’m not going to debate the topic of the call, this post is really for a bit of fun.

Lynn may have had a point to make, but she clearly forgot that it’s not the host that you need to convince, it’s the listeners, and the way to do that is to back up your statements either with facts or things which sound like facts. Basing your entire argument on “I don’t know what planet you’re on, but down here on Planet Earth…”, the word “no” and “I don’t believe that”, really doesn’t get you anywhere. They’re good phrases, but they need substance behind them.

Lynn could have made a lot of people stop and think if she had produced some facts, as this could have been a very interesting debate…sadly it turned in to a rather amusing seven minute case of “this is not how you debate people on the radio”.

Kudos to Rush for trying to get a meaningful conversation going, and to Lynn for her persistence in her belief that the word “no” would magically change Rush’s mind. It really does take all types to make this little planet down here called Earth.


November 13th, 2008 at 02:08pm

The shonky way to get a three-day paid holiday

Follow Wilson Tuckey’s lead…interrupt some people in your workplace, and then when your supervisor comes over to ask you sit sit down, behave and get back to work, tell him or her that you will do that, so that they can “get on with this shonky business“:

Outspoken Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey has been suspended from parliament for three sitting days for defying the Speaker.

Mr Tuckey was forced five times to withdraw remarks he made about Treasurer Wayne Swan.

The veteran MP had earlier interrupted Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner’s answer to a question without notice by raising a point of order.

“The remarks of the minister for finance are an invitation to disorder and if wants us to talk about Wayne Swan running around with bags of money in Queensland and the disgrace that was delivered to him, well let him suspend standing orders and we’ll get into the shonks,” Mr Tuckey said.

When asked to withdraw, the MP said: “I will withdraw to let you get on with this shonky business.”

All of this commotion seems to have confused poor old Lindsay Tanner who forgot the laws of cause and effect:

The opposition failed in a bid to later silence Mr Tanner, prompting the minister to say: “Many, many years ago a colleague gave me a word of advice – when you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps gets hit.”

I’m fairly certain that the events occur in the opposite order, ie. “the one that gets hit, yelps”.

Then again, perhaps it’s a proposed shonky amendment to the laws of cause-and-effect. All those in favour…


November 13th, 2008 at 10:45am

Despite Police statistics, the unlicensed drivers aren’t about to kill everyone

I’ll start this by saying that I have a lot of respect for the Police and the work that they do, in fact it is on my list as a possible long-term career objective, although whether I would meet the fitness requirements of the job is something that we can debate another day. As such, none of what I’m about to say is in any way intended as a slur against the Police, rather it’s an editorial that I should have written a long time ago about how annoyed I am at a particular set of dubious and malleable statistics being trotted out by the Police on a regular basis.

I’m referring to the statistics which get thrown at us about unlicensed drivers. Of late, with automated number plate recognition technology being used all over the place in “compliance operations”, these statistics have been trotted out a bit more than usual, generally alongside a statement from a senior Police officer who is “disappointed”. The latest AFP press release on the subject is a good example:

Traffic compliance “Results disappointing”
Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Compliance Targeting Team, comprising of ACT Policing officers and ACT Government representatives continue to be disappointed by Canberra drivers.

Using the highly-successful RAPID plate-recognition system, the team has targeted unregistered, uninsured and defective vehicles and unlicensed drivers on Canberra’s main arterial roads since 20 October, 2008.

To date, the team has detected 111 unregistered vehicles, 56 uninsured vehicles and issued 215 vehicle defect notices.

Of significant concern is that 126 unlicensed drivers, including 50 suspended and 6 disqualified drivers were detected.

Detective Superintendant Mark Colbran said it was driver’s continual disregard for compliance and road safety which is most disappointing.

“The fact that between January 2006 to September 2008, 22% of serious motor vehicle collisions involving injury in the ACT involved either unlicensed drivers or unregistered vehicles, highlights the importance of these types of operations to the safety of all Canberra road users.” Supt Colbran said.

“We will continue to target those drivers who fail to register and insure their vehicles, in all areas of Canberra”.

“These operations are for the safety of all Canberra motorists and we ask that all motorists be patient when approaching vehicle checking points”.

Motorists should be aware that the Compliance Targeting Team will be conducting a compliance operation on Adelaide Avenue, commencing at 3pm, Friday (November 14). Traffic delays should be expected.

The main problem that I have with these statistics is that they seem to work on the premise that a shiny bits of plastic turn people perfect drivers which, as we know, is utter nonsense. People with valid shiny bits of plastic are involved in accidents all the time…in fact, according to Detective Superintendant Colbran, people with valid shiny bits of plastic and valid vehicle registration are involved in 78% of serious motor vehicle collisions involving injury. So, does that mean that 22% of such collisions involve “unlicensed” drivers…well that really depends on your definition of unlicensed. (I’m going to stick with the 22% number, which is an overestimation, for the moment, because I have no figures with which to separate the “unlicensed” from the “unregistered”).

When the Police talk about “unlicensed drivers” they really mean people who don’t have a valid bit of shiny plastic. Basically it’s an erroneous name for a statistic which includes people who have invalid bits of plastic (eg. those who have been suspended and/or disqualified from driving) and people who have never had a bit of plastic (who, for the sake of convenience, I’m going to refer to as the “never-helds”, an abbreviation of “never held a licence” which is another term which seems to get used). It’s slightly unclear whether these figures include unsupervised learners.

“What’s the problem with grouping all of these people as “unlicensed”…after all, they aren’t insured?” I hear you ask. Quite simply, each category has a very different risk factor:

Suspended drivers are a tad difficult to quantify. In most cases, they’re probably not outright lunatics, a lot of the time they’re probably just people who were over the speed limit a couple too many times when somebody in authority was watching. For every one of these people, there is probably another validly licensed driver who has done the same thing, just without being caught. Sure, there will be some in this category who probably deserve to be off the road for longer than their suspension period, but for most who have been suspended purely on accumulated demerit points, they’re not exactly a high risk, most would probably be about the same risk as validly licensed drivers.

Disqualified drivers are a different story. These tend to be repeat habitual offenders who have been removed from the road and have been disqualified from holding a driver’s licence for very good reasons. This category are almost always a ticking time-bomb and I fully support efforts to keep these people off our roads.

Those categories are very easy to count, and are therefore quite easy to include in accurate statistics. We know how many of them exist, and we can easily work out the “serious collision” rate for these categories of drivers. The other categories aren’t quite as easy.

Unsupervised learners: There are plenty of them. We know how many leaner drivers exist, but we can’t really work out how many of them are unsupervised at any given time, especially seeing as any half-smart unsupervised learner will not be displaying “L” plates. Generally speaking, despite their lack of experience, learners are regarded as the safest category of driver on the road, and considering that learners are generally competent enough to progress to a provisional licence for some time before they actually do progress (you don’t suddenly become competent in the last five minutes of your final assessment or logbook lesson), having a competent learner on the road without supervision isn’t likely to cause a “serious collision”. As far as I’m concerned, this is a fairly low risk category as well, especially when you consider that learners do their learning on public roads, and it’s very rare to hear of a fatal collision involving a learner driver.

Drivers who have never held a licence: A completely unquantifiable category. We know that they exist, because the Police keep telling us that they’ve found some, and I would suggest that we have probably all known at least one. The Police like to make an example of this category when they find them, especially if they’ve been involved in some other traffic incident. “Police catch driver travelling 10km/h over the speed limit” doesn’t make for much of a news story, but “Police catch unlicensed driver at 10km/h over the speed limit” does make for a bit of a story. Ultimately the Police, apart from actually enforcing the law, have the job of making us believe that they are enforcing the law within a three block radius, hence the whole raft of “do this and you will be caught” messages that we receive from them on a regular basis, and it’s much easier to get that sort of message out there with stories about people who are perceived as “doers-of-no-good”, so they run with those stories as much as possible, further cementing the category’s place on the “doers-of-no-good” list.

Anyway, the “never-helds” are impossible to quantify because, by the very nature of the category, there is no list of people in the category, so we can’t say that “90% of people in this category will kill someone if we don’t stop them first” because to say that, we would need to be able to show that, historically, 90% of never-helds end up killing someone. We can’t measure a percentage of an unknown number, so we can’t really say that “never-helds” are more or less likely to kill or injure another road user.

I’d be willing to admit that this category appear in more Police press releases than any other category, but I’ve already explained the reasons for that, and it has nothing to do with the number of incidents involving this category of driver. The interesting thing that we can see about the press releases regarding collisions involving this category of driver, is that, almost without fail, there is another contributing factor, generally alcohol, which basically means that, like every other category of driver, a drunk version of this category is more dangerous than a sober version of this category.

This kind of leads back to my original point. Despite all of the press releases about Police catching people who have never held a licence, they still keep finding them at these “compliance operations”, and they only reason they are finding them is because the number plate recognition software has said “Car is registered to person without licence…check driver”. The people driving in front, behind and next to the unlicensed driver didn’t know that they were unlicensed, which indicates that they were probably driving normally. It is said that a good driver “blends in”, and that’s precisely what most “never-helds” do.

Really, the crime here isn’t that they’re dangerous (which in most cases they’re not), it’s that they haven’t gone through the administrative hoops required in order to make insurance companies cough up in the case of something bad happening. It’s got nothing to do with road safety, and everything to do with paying the government nominal amounts of money for bits of shiny plastic that insurance companies like.

Don’t believe me? Well consider this. The usual fine for a driver who has never held a licence in the ACT is about $400. The fine for an unsupervised learner is about $90. Considering that you can start the day as a “never-held” and end the day as an unsupervised learner, without any noticeable increase in skills or ability, and absolutely no increase in your level of insurability, do you still think that this is about road safety?

If anything, it’s probably about “compliance”. We have rules, therefore they should be followed, and that will make everyone safe. Gee, what was that statistic? 78% of “serious motor vehicle collisions involving injury” involve people who validly licensed drivers…and this year’s road toll is how high? Well, that’s been a roaring success hasn’t it?

I suppose that I have missed one category…the people with expired licences. I think we’ve already disproved the notion that plastic makes you safer, so I probably don’t need to elaborate on this category.

So, what am I getting at with all of this? Am I suggesting that we should abolish licences and have a free-for-all? No, absolutely not. The licensing system is about personal responsibility, it’s a deterrent, a “be responsible or we’ll take this plastic away, and your ability to drive along with it”. The licensing system is not perfect, but it plays an important role in society…it’s a way for us, as a society, to say, “yes, you can drive that particular type of vehicle and we trust you to do so”, and through that, we can put in place a system to deal with problems when they occur.

What I’m getting at here, is that we are constantly being fed some nonsense of a statistic about “never-helds” and unsupervised learners being as dangerous as disqualified drivers, and as a population, accepting it without thinking about it.

As I said earlier, I’m sure that almost all of us have know at least one person who has been driving when they legally should not have been, it’s probably a side-effect of the car becoming such an integral part of modern society, and some of us may have even been there ourselves, I know that I have been. I’m not proud of it, and I was certainly a bit out-of-pocket because of it on a few occasions, but I never hurt anyone, and nobody worked it out (except for one person who guessed after about two hours of guessing why I was feeling too paranoid to leave work) so I must have “blended in”. If I could go back, the only thing I would change is that I would have gotten (what an awful word) my licence a bit sooner than I did.

The bottom line to all of this is that unlicensed drivers generally aren’t as bad as we might like to believe. I don’t condone the behaviour from a legal and administrative perspective, and I regret my part in it, but for the most part, you probably notice them about as much as you notice any validly licensed driver, and no matter how much Police Media may try to mangle the statistics, we’re not all about to die at the hands of unlicensed drivers.

If the statistics say anything useful at all, it’s that the Police aren’t catching enough unlicensed drivers in their general day-to-day duties (which could be construed as a testament to the “blending-in” of these drivers) and as such, their “concerning” catch rate in these operations is too high for their day-to-day statistics to look any good, and as such they’re trying to lower the catch rate by warning us all about the next operation, and effectively telling all the drivers who could be caught to “please avoid this road for a little while”.

Perhaps the lesson from this is that critical thinking should apply to everything that you read, especially that which comes from The Powers That Be. The things which you find between the printed lines can sometimes be quite interesting.


November 13th, 2008 at 06:39am

Talkback Caller Quote Of The Day

Bob, who called Jim Ball this morning: “There are too many fictional movies these days”.

I don’t think that’s what he meant, but those are the words that were sent down the phone line and across the airwaves.


November 13th, 2008 at 04:17am

McCain is right: don’t blame Palin

This has probably taken a bit too long, but John McCain has finally said what needed to be said:

John McCain said today that Sarah Palin did not damage his presidential bid, and he dismissed as typical campaign sniping anonymous criticism aimed at her following their crushing defeat.
He disputed that a different vice presidential pick would have changed the outcome against Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

At campaign rallies, “The people were very excited and inspired by her. That’s what really mattered, I think,” McCain said. “She’s a great reformer.”

I, for one, hope to see Sarah Palin back in four or eight years (preferably eight, because I’m expecting Barack Obama to see out a full eight year dual term) having a shot at the top job. Given a bit more time to build up her experience, I think she could make a great US President.

In the meantime, hopefully John McCain’s statements on the Jay Leno Tonight Show will be enough to stop, or severely slow, the Republican in-fighting. The last thing the US needs is an opposition party who unravel in to a giant messy rabble in the way that the Liberal party seem to do in opposition in this country.


1 comment November 13th, 2008 at 01:12am


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