Posts filed under 'General News'

UK election circus is underway

Perhaps it’s a bit cynical of me, but then I have become quite jaded about politics, but it has become hard to consider most elections as anything more than a circus, where clowns get sent to some other part of the country under the banner of their ringmaster. It just seems that, no matter who wins, nothing much really changes. Sure, there are differences between the parties, but on 90% of issues they seem to broadly agree with each other…the main parties anyway.

Here in Australia we are fortunate to have a building which looks like a big tent. The National Circus!
You probably can't park there...
You probably can’t park there, but for a quick obligatory photo opportunity when the constabulary aren’t looking, who could possibly resist?

In the UK they aren’t quite so fortunate, although it is interesting that while they have Downing Street for the ringmaster of their circus, in Sydney we have the Downing Centre Local Court. Named after different people, but hard to ignore the similarity. Perhaps today the good British folk are sentencing someone to be incarcerated in Downing Street for five years. Perhaps that’s why people get frustrated when PMs quite early…they didn’t serve their full sentence!

One of the great things about British elections is the wonderful and very British sense of humour displayed by having Monster Raving Loony Party candidates in fancy dress. Such is the great tradition of it, that all manner of other candidates pop up in outlandish costumes without being Monster Raving Loony Party candidates. The great incentive to doing so is that, over there, it is a requirement that candidates all be present at the location where the returning officer will announce the results for that electorate, so you end up with scenes in local, national and even international media where a bunch of very solemn and serious-looking candidates are flanked by someone in an outrageous costume. At the last election, Ringmaster Boris was flanked by two of them!
Boris Johnson, Elmo, Count Binface
Boris Johnson, Elmo, and Count Binface. None of them were from the Monster Raving Loony Party but in years to come history might judge them all as if they were

I must say, I am amused by a few of the Monster Raving Loony Party policies at this election, such as

Immigration..We will replace employees of the Border Force with GP receptionists. This will dramatically reduce the number of people getting in.

Foreign Policy…Once in Government, we will replace the Foreign Secretary with a British one!

Self-Serving….. Anyone using a self-service till in a supermarket will be given a 10% discount off their shopping.

The last one almost seems sensible. Why shouldn’t I get paid for doing someone else’s job?

On a serious note, if the polls are to be believed, it is possible that the Conservatives may receive fewer votes overall than Nigel Farage’s Reform UK (previously known as the Brexit Party). While this might not equate to Reform having more seats than the Conservatives, it is quite an extraordinary circumstance that one of the two major parties might be about to slip out of majorhood for the first time in living memory. A sign, perhaps, that people want real change. Not just a change of the person in Number 10, but a wholesale change in how government works and is run. Time will tell.

I do sincerely wish the British people well with their voting. I’m not convinced it will really make that much difference, but despite my cynicism, I do hope they get a government which isn’t a circus and actually works the way the people want it to work.

So as the results trickle in late into Thursday night and Friday morning in the UK, or through the middle of a Friday in Australia, while I fear the only real change will be in the colour of the governing party and not a meaningful change in overall policy direction, I look forward to the spectacle of great and peculiar costumed people treating the election with the levity and derision it deserves. It is a highlight of the political calendar for me…and there aren’t a great many of those left these days. One can’t take it too seriously, lest one fear all hope is lost!

Samuel

2 comments July 5th, 2024 at 12:02am

On the British Prime Minister’s very own betting scandal

It has been quite remarkable to watch the ongoing saga of the betting scandal surrounding (almost certainly) outgoing British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, which has provided almost the only interesting spectacle in an otherwise quite dull election campaign, with the only other interesting facet being Nigel Farage entering the fray as leader of Reform UK (previously known as the Brexit Party) and managing to get ahead of the Conservatives in a number of polls, although whether this translates to more seats is yet to be seen.

For those of you who aren’t aware, the scandal relates to bets placed on the date on which the UK election would be held. Shortly after Rishi Sunak surprised just about everyone by standing in the pouring rain to announce a July 4 election (a date very few people expected), it came to light that his main protection officer had placed a bet on a July 4 election a few days before the announcement. After that, the scandal grew to encompass the Conservative campaign director, multiple MPs, at least one wife of an MP, and multiple Metropolitan Police officers.

While there is no suggestion that Rishi Sunak instructed anybody to place any bets, it seems clear that he told a few people about the date on which he was going to hold the election, and they thought they could make a few dollars on it. For some this may have been a way of getting something out of their own certain defeat at the polls, while for others it may have just been an opportunity. What’s amazing though is that none of these people seemed to realise that a bunch of bets placed on an unlikely outcome days before the announcement would raise the eyebrows of bookmakers and make them dig into who had placed the bets, or that it might look a bit suspicious that a person with ties to the PM would place a bet on something the PM could conceivably have given them information about.

If one is being uncharitable, one could wonder if perhaps the reason Rishi made the strange pouring-rain announcement was because one of the people who placed a bet rang him up and asked him to hurry up as they needed the payout for their gas bill.

Naturally, I feel a bit left out. It seems that Rishi told everyone except me that he would have a July 4 election. Then again, perhaps he tried. Maybe all of those daily missed calls from a Romanian number were from an agent of his, and they didn’t leave a voicemail because they didn’t want to leave any traces behind.

We have, of course, seen similar things here in Australia. There was a recent case of people with inside information about the Australian Of The Year award getting in trouble for placing bets on what they knew would be the correct outcome. I have to admit I considered doing this one year when I was accidentally sent a copy of the winners list before the announcement, but I didn’t go ahead with it.

I do, however, have my own similar story from the mid-2010s. This didn’t rely on inside information though, and was in fact down to bookmaker error so I couldn’t see any problem with it. After all, the bookmakers can always void a bet if they realise they have made a mistake…but they never did.

My story relates to Time Magazine’s person of the year award. In the mid-2010s, the winner of this award was announced on NBC Today about an hour before it was published on Time Magazine’s website. Australian bookmakers seemed to either be unaware of this, or didn’t care because there was no live airing on NBC Today in this country (Seven aired it early the following morning and received the delayed west coast airing so didn’t have access to the live version). This therefore meant that the betting market remained open for almost a full hour after the announcement was made. So for a few years I would find a not-at-all-legal stream of an east coast NBC affiliate and watch the live announcement of the winner, and then place bets on this outcome wherever I could find decent odds. About an hour later when the announcement was published to Time’s website, I would make a small profit. From memory I think I made about $50 at a time and not all from the same bookmaker, so it wasn’t a big profit but enough to be worthwhile, and generally the winner was one of the favoured outcomes so it probably didn’t seem at all odd or suspicious that someone would bet on it.

I forgot all about it one year, and when I checked again the following year, the bookmakers had worked out that the announcement was being televised prior to online publication and closed their markets at the start of NBC Today, so the loophole was gone.

Was it wrong? Maybe. But I don’t really think so. The bookmakers advertised a closing time matching the time of publication on Time’s website, and I was placing bets based on publicly available information. I wasn’t using secret information. Also, as the bookmakers had the power to retrospectively void bets if they decided the market should have been closed earlier, as far as I was concerned it was their mistake to not know as much as they should have known about their own markets. To my mind, this is not at all the same thing as the naughty fraud of being provided with outcomes ahead of time and betting on them. But maybe that’s just me, and the shades of grey might look different to others.

None-the-less, it does bring me back to Rishi and friends and the broader concept that it is remarkable to me that bookmakers have so many markets where certain people can know the outcome ahead of time. Everything from award winners and interest rate decisions to election dates to who will perform at half time of the Super Bowl. It really seems to be asking for trouble for bookmakers to open themselves up to the possibility that people who know things may bet and go undetected. I’m sure that for all of the ones we’ve heard about lately who have been detected, many many more slip through the net. It also seems to me that if bookmakers have such markets, they should wear the risk of insider knowledge and not be able to void bets or ban or prosecute people after the fact. If they don’t want the risk, they shouldn’t have the market.

But that’s just me. And I know my libertarian viewpoint on such matters doesn’t align, and probably never will align, with any form of regulation.

Samuel

2 comments June 28th, 2024 at 04:36am

A thank you to all of you

A quick note of thanks to all of you who chipped in to help out Frankster in his hour of need.

A few months back I posted information about Frankster’s difficulties in finding suitable accommodation after a series of personal tragedies. It has taken a lot of time, much support from a number of people including kind readers of this blog who donated to help out, and a lot of patience and effort from Frank himself, but I am pleased to say that in the last week, Frank has been able to return from exile in temporary accommodation in Katoomba and now has a small place to call his own back in the heart of Sydney’s inner-west, near his medical team and probably more importantly, within a reasonable distance of employment which has recently come his way.

It was my pleasure, albeit at short notice and on very little sleep, to make a trip up to Sydney last week to assist Frank in making the move. Even the pouring rain making it almost impossible to see on my way both there and back wasn’t enough to deter me from helping Frank with this important milestone.

Many thanks to all of you who helped and those who offered advice as well. I know Frank is extremely grateful to everyone as well.

Samuel

1 comment June 12th, 2024 at 09:22pm

Listening to the ANZAC Day dawn service

Every year on ANZAC Day I look forward to listening to the dawn service from Martin Place on the radio. This dawn service is on the television, of course, on almost all networks, but I find there is something very special about listening to the service rather than seeing it.

My preference is to listen in a dark room, maybe even in bed with no light whatsoever. The service becomes more intimate in this way and allows a mental image to be drawn of a quiet, humble service by candlelight occurring just as the sun starts to make its light known. More importantly it allows me to imagine what our servicemen and servicewomen endure in dark and hostile locations around the world, and specifically given it is ANZAC Day and the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli in World War I, how our soldiers in that time must have felt, in the dark, on the other side of the world, with their only link to the rest of the world being a radio if they were lucky and an occasional letter service at other times.

I made the mistake one year of turning on the television for the Martin Place dawn service and was aghast at the entire area being floodlit. I know light is important for television, but it ruins the atmosphere of a very important and solemn event in my view.

The marches during the day require light and a generally happy atmosphere of gratitude, but this is not the case for the dawn services which occur in the dark as a commemoration of the events of the fateful landing at Gallipoli at dawn on April 25, 1915, and deserve a solemn atmosphere which dark and candlelight provide, and floodlights do not.

May your ANZAC Day be special and reflective.

Samuel

1 comment April 25th, 2024 at 02:05am

What are we being distracted from today?

A good rule of thumb when there is a news story dominating the media despite being of little importance or relevance to the overwhelming majority of the audience is to look around and see what else is happening. Usually, when one story is blown out of all proportion and dominates the news for no good reason, there are other far more important stories which are getting a slither of coverage but not enough for most people to notice, and so most people are successfully distracted from seeing the stories which matter.

Today seems to be one of those days.

There dominant story in the news is about a bridge which collapsed in Baltimore. This is undoubtedly an important story locally in the Baltimore area. The fact a handful of people are missing and might be dead probably makes it worthy of some amount of national coverage in the US. Elsewhere in the world it really deserves no more than a few lines in the papers, and maybe a cursory mention near the end of TV and radio news bulletins. It is a story of no relevance to most of the world outside of Baltimore. And yet, from the moment it happened, it has been THE story dominating just about every news outlet in the western world. A stark difference from when the Gungahlin Drive Extension bridge collapsed here in Canberra and it barely rated a mention outside of Canberra. Unfortunately this distraction technique in the media works, as if you listen to people discussing news stories while they go about their day, primarily this is the story they are discussing even though it makes no difference to their lives whatsoever. Sadly most people will uncritically take whatever mainstream news says is important as being what is important.

So, what else is happening? Well, two stories seem to be of particular importance but are receiving minimal coverage.

Firstly, a few weeks ago I noted the crazy circumstance where Julian Assange couldn’t just appeal his extradition to the United States but instead had to plead for permission to appeal. Well, convenient timing, the UK High Court last night announced that they will grant Mr. Assange this permission, but only if the United States fails to assure them that they won’t impose the death penalty if the extradition is granted, and even then only make an appeal on the basis that he might not get a fair trial in the United States if the US courts fail to accept foreign nationals are subject to first amendment (free speech) protections. Meanwhile Mr. Assange sits in a British jail for even longer.

This story is far more important than a bridge collapse as it fundamentally revolves around the rights of people to find out things which governments might prefer be kept a secret. A society where people are punished for exposing that governments might be doing something bad is a terrifying prospect indeed.

Another important story is some weirdness going on with GPS systems. It is claimed that more than 1,600 aeroplanes across Europe have suffered from some sort of GPS outage. The official spin on this is that it’s Russia’s fault, with basically no evidence to back this up other than “they might be capable of it”. It seems more likely to me to be a result of the severe solar storm which has been hammering Earth’s atmosphere over the last week or so.

Our reliance on technology, and in particular satellite technology for communications and navigation, is a particular concern when solar storms (or cyber warfare) can knock out systems for short or long periods of time. Indeed, as we enter a more active solar cycle, with more reliance on such technologies than we had the last time the sun was particularly active, it is worth considering what backup plans you have in place should a large solar storm knock out communications to some extent. A Carrington-level event could even knock out power for a while. I’m in my mid-30s and I know I would struggle if most technology went away for a few days, but at least I’m old enough to remember a time before modern technology ran just about everything; I shudder to think how the young’uns would handle such an event. Navigating by paper map would be a trial for many.

There’s probably more news of importance than those two things I’ve highlighted but that is what has caught my attention so far. Good luck finding important information on the 6pm news though. Dig deeper. Much much deeper.

Samuel

1 comment March 27th, 2024 at 02:56pm

The moon and the eclipse

It is my pleasure to announce that, after a sky mouse decimated the supply of moon cheese during the night, the moon cows worked overtime and the moon cheese is now back at full capacity.

Samuel

1 comment March 26th, 2024 at 06:23am

Australian Federal Police strike action paves useful precedent for speed camera protests

Here in Canberra, just as in many other parts of the country, there are speed camera vans which can be setup in a wide variety of locations to measure the speed of passing vehicles and issue speeding fines. Here, these are operated by ACT Government employees unlike some other jurisdictions where the operation is outsourced to private contractors. The ACT’s vans are white and have a retractable sign on the roof which states “your speed has been checked” but are otherwise fairly unremarkable vehicles.

I am strongly opposed to the existence of these, partially because I believe most speed limits should be abolished, but moreso because I believe they deny natural justice by:
1. Removing the element of discretion from the enforcing officer
2. Making it impossible for the driver to know with any certainty whether a fine will be issued, as the fines take weeks to be issued and delivered, thus removing some of the driver’s ability to contemporaneously collect and preserve evidence for their defence
3. Reverse the onus of proof, by requiring the registered owner of the vehicle to prove that they either weren’t speeding (practically impossible if they don’t have the opportunity to collect evidence at the time) or they weren’t the driver involved; in a society where a person is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, there are grave problems with the processes of the speed camera van system.

There is also an issue that is not confined to the speed camera vans but more broadly of the infringement notice system which is used by the speed camera vans among other government agencies, that the receiver is coerced into accepting the fine rather than defending it in court by virtue of the infringement notice fine being substantially less than a court could impose. It is effectively a coercive tool to make people admit guilt by offering them a smaller punishment, and for many people it is simpler to just admit guilt, even if they don’t believe they were guilty, rather than go through the process of defending the charge when the system will effectively treat them as guilty until proven innocent.

I also believe that the speed cameras are not an effective road safety tool as they don’t do anything to correct driver behaviour at the time of the offence. In my view, only police officers should be able to conduct speed enforcement as they have the authority to stop a driver at the time, something which the speed camera vans can’t do, and police also have the ability to exercise discretion based on the circumstances at the time. I believe that speeding fine should only be able to be issued if police detect a driver to be speeding, and then make a reasonable effort to intercept the driver.

A couple years ago I decided to make my position on this matter known. Apart from writing a submission (which was largely ignored) to an ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry into road safety, I also had a sign produced.

Abolish Speed Cameras sign

When I saw a speed camera van and had the time to do so, I would set up an impromptu protest near the speed camera van, where I stood there waving the sign about. This received an overwhelmingly positive response from passing motorists.

Originally, and this is starting to get the point of why I’m writing this today, I was setting up somewhere in the line of sight of the speed camera van, partially obscuring the camera’s view of traffic. On the second occasion of this, the speed camera van operator called the police and they attended. The police officer asked me to leave the area. The ACT has a Human Rights Act which, among other things, protects the right to peaceful demonstration, so I wasn’t going to leave without the police officer providing a very good reason as to why they thought I had to do so. The police officer claimed that I was breaking the law by “hindering a territory official” which is quite a stretch considering that law was really designed to allow emergency services to go about their business without being obstructed, not to protect bureaucrats sitting in vans, and given I was not interacting with the speed camera van operator or preventing them from operating their equipment, it was unlikely that such a charge would hold up in court. However, it was likely that the police officer would take me into custody if I didn’t oblige and move on, so I moved on.

It’s also worth noting that if merely being in the line of sight of the camera between it and passing vehicles could be said to meet the criteria of “hindering a territory official” then every driver of a vehicle in the lane closest to the speed camera would be contravening this law by blocking the view of a further away lane.

Furthermore, the Human Rights Act’s protection of the right to peaceful demonstration applies unless a law specifically prohibits the activity. Standing somewhere with a sign is not an illegal activity unless a prohibition zone is created, which is what was done by the ACT Government in the streets near the abortion clinic in the city. It was necessary for the government to specifically list the areas in which protesting abortion were to be illegal in order to overcome the Human Rights Act. There is no legislation to create a prohibition zone in the vicinity of a movable object such as a speed camera van, so really, it was an empty threat to charge me with “hindering a territory official”.

Regardless, to ease tensions and keep the peace, on future occasions I moved my protests across the road from the speed camera vans, or occasionally opposite their headquarters in Hume at their shift changeover, so that I would not be in their line of sight of traffic. The speed camera van operators (apart from one) still don’t like it and I have even had one stop doing their work of their own volition to take photos of me and threaten legal action, but obviously what I am doing is perfectly legal and should be perfectly legal in a democratic nation, so nothing has come of it.

What brings all of this up at this point in time is that the Australian Federal Police, who provide police services to Canberra among other things, are about to embark on strike activity. They won’t be walking off the job as such, but will engage in various activities, one of which caught my attention as being relevant to my activities.

Union members voted on 36 potential actions which range from putting slogans on AFP vehicles and uniforms and blocking mobile speed vans, to not attending court matters, not transporting alleged offenders, and not investigating any referrals to the AFP from the offices of politicians where no offence has been committed.

Blocking mobile speed vans. In other words, demonstrating in a place which will block the view of a speed camera van. The very activity which they threatened to charge me over. There is no difference from a legal standpoint between them demonstrating for better pay and conditions in front of a speed camera van, and me demonstrating against speed cameras in front of a speed camera van. The only potential legal difference is that police officers have special powers not afforded to civilians, however the wording of the proposed strike action makes it clear that the officers are not considered to be working whenever they conduct their strike activity, so it cannot be argued that they are using special powers available to police officers at such a time.

The exact wording of the proposed action, as notified to the Fair Work Commission, is slightly less clear than what the writer of the news article has interpreted it to mean

21. The indefinite or periodic interruption of work for members to park police vehicles in front of speed cameras, at school zones and any Australian Federal Police related Government facility while displaying emergency lights.

It was suggested to me that “in front of speed cameras” could mean they’re a little down the road and slowing passing motorists with their flashing lights before the motorists would reach the speed camera. If this is the case, it is still a useful precedent for my activities as my current across-the-road approach tends to slow down traffic as it passes, which is exactly what the police strike action would do. Given the stated aim of the speed camera program is to reduce the speed of motorists, it is impossible to argue that my actions or those of the striking police officers are “hindering a territory official” when the actions in fact help them to reach their stated aim.

Regardless of how exactly the strike action plays out, the precedent set by the proposals alone is enough to confirm what I have believed all along. It is perfectly legal within the ACT to protest near a speed camera van, regardless of the reason for the protest, unless it happen to be a protest against abortion within a couple blocks of Moore Street in the city. So waving an “abolish speed cameras” sign is A-OK!

Samuel

March 19th, 2024 at 05:11am

ASIO’s annual statement is an ongoing source of hilarity

It really is hard to take ASIO’s annual threat assessment statements seriously. Each year they seem to become more detached from reality and read more like one of my dreams than anything which could actually have happened or be a plausible concern about something which might happen.

This year’s statement made me laugh hysterically for a few minutes. In it, there are details of a supposed foreign group of spies who were apparently doing exactly what you would expect them to do: posing as legitimate business-people, bureaucrats, diplomats etc, trying to connect with people who are in some way connected to government or politics and offering them seemingly real consulting roles so that they can then be subtly probed for more sensitive information. Nothing remarkable in this. It’s exactly what you would expect foreign spies to do, and exactly what I expect our own spies at ASIS are doing overseas.

The real laugh came in the form of how they thwarted the threat from a group ASIO laughably dubbed “The A-Team”

We confronted the A-team directly. Late last year, the team leader thought he was grooming another Australian online. Little did he know he was actually speaking with an ASIO officer – the spy was being spied on, the player was being played. You can imagine his horror when my officer revealed himself and declared, “we know who you are. We know what you are doing. Stop it or there will be further consequences.”

An utterly terrifying digital finger-wagging in an online chat. “Stop being naughty or we’ll do something about it!”. ASIO expect the public to take this nonsense seriously?

ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess goes on…

Like other public servants, spies are required to tell their security teams about suspicious approaches so I sure hope the team leader lodged a contact report!

That’s quite an assumption to make. Assuming that policies and procedures for foreign government workers are the same as for Australian government employees. Naive would be an understatement. I’m sure that the foreign spy, receiving such an empty threat, laughed as much as I did when I read it.

The media is reporting it as “job done, threat averted” but Mr. Burgess continues and confirms that, actually, they didn’t stop much of anything.

We decided to confront the A-team and then speak about it publicly as part of a real-world, real-time disruption. We want the A-team to know its cover is blown. We want the A-team’s bosses to know its cover is blown. If the team leader failed to report our conversation to his spymasters, he will now have to explain why he didn’t, along with how ASIO knows so much about his team’s operations and identities.

I want the A-team and its masters to understand if they target Australia, ASIO will target them; we will make their jobs as difficult, costly and painful as possible.

In other words, “we don’t think they stopped when we wagged our finger at them, and we want them to know that if we catch them doing it again, we will wag our finger at them again”.

To be fair, earlier in the story Mr. Burgess did mention that they stopped a handful of Australians from communicating with the foreign spies, although it’s notable that some of those people apparently knew they were dealing with foreign spies and were happy to provide them with information, so I’m sure those people will be able to recommence communications through other means. About the only thing which can really be done is to remove their access to secret information, but given that in one of those cases the information was about the internal machinations of a political party and not secret government information, it’s hard to see how it is any of ASIO’s business, and is in fact quite an overreach on ASIO’s behalf. There is really no difference between that type of information being given to and reported on by the media and read by foreign governments, and just being given directly to foreign governments. It is not a state secret and none of ASIO’s business who knows it. That this is apparently their crowning achievement for the year makes one wonder about the half a billion dollars or more of taxpayer funds that ASIO receives every year, and what other more useful things it could be spent on.

Quite frankly the whole thing is either absurd because it has been made up as security theatre propaganda, or absurd because all they have done is prove ASIO has no real ability to stop foreign spying and are in fact spying on Australians themselves more than the foreign spies are.

The whole thing is laughable.

Samuel

February 29th, 2024 at 07:28am

Supporting our dairy farmers

One thing I believe to be important is the idea that people should be compensated fairly for their work. Exactly how “fair” is defined in this context is a matter of much debate, but I think at the very least, if a person is being paid by someone else for their work, it should not cost that person more to do their work than to not do their work.

Unfortunately our dairy industry has been subjected to some rather unsavoury pricing practices over the last decade or more, with almost-monopolistic large milk distributors putting farmers on contracts which offered them a pittance for their milk and prevented them from seeking a better deal. In some cases farmers were being paid less for their milk than it cost to produce, while the distributors made a profit on it. It hasn’t been entirely the fault of the distributors, as they have been reacting to some extent to market pressures, although those market pressures are largely a result of the distributors going along with the major supermarkets white-labelling milk at unsustainably cheap prices some years ago and consumers getting used to the idea of milk being cheaper than is reasonable. Sadly, while the super-cheap prices of supermarket-branded milk have come up a bit, this has mostly resulted in the supermarkets and distributors not making a loss on the milk, but not resulted in much of the difference flowing through to the farmers.

It is, in my view, vital that our farmers receive the support of the consumers, as a situation where the majority of our farmers decide to give up farming and the farmland is sold off to mega-corporations will only result in lower quality produce, reduced choice of produce, and higher prices in the long run. Farming is difficult work which is essential in order for all of us in metropolitan areas to be able to eat, and while it can be quite profitable, it requires a lot of hard work and perseverance through lean and difficult years in order to reach the good years.

So on the dairy front, I am very pleased to see a growth in the number of farmers who are bypassing some of those almost-monopolistic distributors and distributing their products independently. Even more pleasing is that people are displaying on ongoing willingness to purchase these products, often at a higher price than some of the other brands, even when the cost of living seems to be taking more of a toll on people than usual. I put a lot of this down to the marked difference is quality of product coming from these farmer-owned brands compared to the large distributors. I’m not at all convinced that the major distributors are selling proper milk as it often seems to lack much flavour and in some of the cheaper supermarket-owned brands even seems to be watered down. To compare them to the farmer-owned brands is akin to comparing chalk and cheese, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Here in Canberra there are two farmer-owned brands which are quite prominent. They’re not the only ones but they do seem to be prominent. Tilba Dairy from the New South Wales south coast and Norco from the New South Wales north coast. Probably owing to the distances involved, Tilba products generally have a wider range and volume of products stocked in Canberra, while Norco’s Canberra stockists tend to have less volume and a more streamlined lineup.

Norco flavoured milks and Tilba unhomogenised milk

When it comes to plain milk, I find unhomogenised milk to be of better quality and taste than homogenised milk. I find the homogenisation process, whereby the milk fat goes through a manufacturing process to more evenly distribute it throughout the milk, reduces the flavour of the milk overall. Having the milk fat essentially sit on top of the milk in the bottle and mixing it yourself upon opening the bottle (a good shake and maybe a pouring back and forth between two bottles does the trick) seems to result in a more flavoursome milk. Norco’s unhomogenised milk used to make its way to Canberra but hasn’t for a couple years, but their homogenised milk still comes down here and is stocked in many supermarkets including Coles and Woolworths, and various local supermarkets and some other places. Watson Takeaway stock and sell it, for example.

Tilba’s unhomogenised milk and homogenised milk, plus a variety of other dairy products are stocked in many of the local supermarkets. I can’t say I have ever seen it in a Coles or Woolworths, but the suburban supermarkets seem to stock it by-and-large. IGA Ainslie and Supabarn Express Watson both definitely stock quite a large amount of it, and sell it quite quickly.

Norco flavoured milk is a bit harder to find in Canberra. IGA Ainslie and Watson Takeaway both stock it. I have heard that other places stock it but I am yet to witness it. I first came across it when I was working in Ingleburn in Sydney as a service station in the suburb stocks Norco flavoured milk. It is remarkably more flavoursome and creamy than the brands owned by some of the major milk distributors and thus much more enjoyable. I like to take it to work with me and so tend to stock up when I have the opportunity.

I’m sure there are other such brands in other parts of the country. I am aware of the Fleurieu Milk Company in South Australia for one, but I encourage you to do some research if you are looking for a farmer-owned brand, because many brands which seem to be local are really just a front for the big distributors. For example, I had believed that Sungold milk, which is common in western Victoria was a locally-owned brand, but in fact it is owned by Saputo, a Candadian-owned company, the same people who inexplicably decided that Coon cheese could no longer be named after its creator because people ignorant of the history of the name thought it meant something else. A quick dig around the website of any milk brand should lead you back to the parent company or give you information about the local farmers who own it, depending on which of those situations applies.

It is very heartening to see these independent milk brands, owned by farmers and delivering consistently high quality products, making such inroads into the market and being received so well by the public. Dairy farmers have been squeezed quite badly by some of the big players for many years and it is fantastic to see the tables starting to turn.

Samuel

2 comments February 28th, 2024 at 05:39am

When the punishment is worse than the crime, the punishment itself is a crime

The legal system can be a very strange beast at times, producing ridiculously convoluted bureaucratic processes which seem to do little for justice, and yet at other times those very processes which seem convoluted are necessary to ensure that justice is in fact served, and served well.

Alas, the scenes in London over the last couple of days seem to fall into the category of bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy. Something which keeps the courts busy and the lawyers paid, but does nothing whatsoever for justice.

I refer to the court battle over whether Julian Assange is allowed to appeal his extradition to the United States. Yes, you read that correctly, it was a hearing to decide whether it is allowable to have a hearing to determine the fate of the extradition. It seems implausibly ridiculous that you would have to have a hearing to decide whether to have a hearing, especially when this initial hearing was always going to cover a lot of the ground that the hypothetical next hearing would be covering.

Some of the arguments against having the next hearing were as ridiculous as the process itself, arguing that if the US as an ally of the UK has reasons for extradition which it wishes to keep secret, the UK shouldn’t test them in court and should just put Mr. Assange on a plane and be done with it. This makes no sense when courts have perfectly good processes for holding sessions behind closed doors if the evidence is too sensitive to become public. Although here in Australia we’ve seen such processes fall well short of reasonable when Bernard Collaery was being prosecuted for alleged breaches of national security legislation (charges which were ultimately withdrawn after a very very very long time) as the federal Attorney-General’s department insisted on some utterly impossible conditions surrounding secret evidence which made it almost impossible for Mr. Collaery’s legal team to review and examine the evidence which was to be presented against him, this limiting his ability to be defended against the charges.

In Mr. Collaery’s case, it’s hard to know whether the charges would have been upheld if the case had proceeded, but I fear it and subsequent appeals would have dragged on for the rest of his life. It became clear that the prosecution was simply not worthwhile from the government’s perspective, and frankly given how much of an impact being dragged through the courts had on Mr. Collaery, any sentencing court would probably determine that he had already been punished enough and not bother to impose any meaningful sentence.

At this point I think the same principle should apply to Mr. Assange’s case. Whether you believe him to be guilty of some awful crime against national security or not (and I admit, I have changed my view on this, having originally been quite critical of Mr. Assange and Wikileaks, I now concede that for the most part there was an immense public interest and utility in the publication of the material which was published, and have come around to the view that many national security laws are overly draconian and governments keep too many secrets from citizens, but I’ll cover that another day), the fact that Julian Assange has been effectively locked up for 12 years, with the most recent years being in quite harsh environments which have caused enormous detrimental effects to his health from which it is unlikely he will ever fully recover, and even if set free will probably face a signifcantly shortened lifespan, it seems to me that it is unlikely that any fair court would impose any further sentence if he were to be found guilty of whatever charges may ultimately be brought. He has already been punished far in excess of the degree of any crime of which he is accused.

We probably won’t have an outcome until sometime next month. And even then, if Julian is granted permission to have a hearing to appeal against his deportation to the United States, it seems unlikely that a conclusion will be reached this year, and in the meantime he languishes in Longmarsh.

How ironic that our supposedly freedom-loving western nations have treated Julian Assange in this way, a man not convicted of anything and not even accused of leaking information entrusted to him via a security clearance, yet Edward Snowden who did have a security clearance and admits to revealing information entrusted to him under said clearance, was granted asylum by Russia and is living a free and happy life in Russia. It really makes you think about which countries actually care about truth and liberty, which ones don’t, and what it might mean for the various statements of the governments of said countries when put in that context.

Samuel

February 23rd, 2024 at 07:08am

If any of my Sydney readers can help…

Those of you who have been around this blog for a long time would remember Frankster, who was forever working to preserve various bits and pieces of Australian TV and radio history. Frankster is a long-time friend of this blog and of me personally, and contributed some bits of video and audio over the years, even appearing in episode 13 of Samuel’s Persiflage.

Unfortunately, hard times have fallen upon Frank. His Frankster Archives website is no more, and he suffered a series of personal tragedies last year which have culminated in his housing situation being extremely dicey and dangerous. Probably the most important aspect in this is, for health reasons, Frank really needs to be able to monopolise a bathroom, not all the time but on a regular basis, so some forms of group housing aren’t suitable for him.

If any of my Sydney readers have, or know someone who has, a room they can spare or a granny flat or a unit or any form of safe accommodation that they can offer for a little while, please get in touch with me and I’ll put you in contact with Frank.

Frank has, of course, been in contact with all of the relevant agencies, charities, etc, and reached out to pretty much everyone he knows and beyond without much success. The situation is becoming quite urgent, so if you think you or someone you know might be able to help, please get in touch. It would be more appreciated than you could know. My contact details are available on the contact page link at the top of every page of this blog.

Thank you.

Samuel

1 comment February 22nd, 2024 at 02:56am

Samuel’s voting recommendations for 2022

A lot of people have already voted. I am one of them as I voted by post before prepoll even opened. Still, today is Election Day and many people will vote today.

I find this election to be a bit of a conundrum. It’s no secret that I am a very conservative voter. In fact the National Communist Broadcaster’s Vote Compass almost puts me off the edge of the map and I sometimes wonder if they’ve skewed the map to make the gap between The Greens and Labor look larger than it actually is, and even make the gap between Labor and Liberal look larger than it is.

The dilemma for me is that a Labor/Green government is a dreadful prospect whereby great strides towards socialist all-powerful UN-led world government will be achieved, but a Liberal government sadly will do much the same thing but at a slower pace. In fact it seems to me that, as a party, perhaps not true of all of the individuals within the party, it cares about freedom and liberty and sovereignty during election campaigns but then largely goes missing on the subjects between elections, and even helps to implement the opposite of those ideas. Indeed the Liberal Party, once a bastion of truth when it came to exposing the expensive scam and fraud of global warming has signed Australia on to “net zero” nonsense which is designed to destroy freedom and economic prosperity. So a Liberal government is only very marginally and slightly better than a Labor/Greens government.

I used to be a member of the Liberal Party. I wouldn’t say I was ever perfectly ideologically aligned with the Liberal Party but it was, for a time, a close enough match. Alas the Liberal Party has drifted away from my values quite significantly, and I have probably drifted away from it a bit too. I don’t really see that any of the minor parties completely align with me, but there are a number of smaller parties which are a closer match to me than the Liberal Party; not close enough for me to join them as a member but certainly close enough for me to vote for them.

Alas none of the smaller parties are likely to have the numbers to form government at this election, and probably not at an election in the foreseeable future under the current electoral system, but they can be greatly influential in small numbers.

So my hope is that there is a minority government. It doesn’t matter much which party forms that government although the Liberal/National coalition is probably slightly preferable. Importantly the minority government needs to have to contend with a crossbench filled with minor freedom-loving parties (not those awful “teal” Greens posing as independents) who can sway the government on every vote and get Australia on to the right track and away from globalist control.

To that end, my recommendation in all parts of the country is to vote for these groups, in whichever order is best based on the candidates available where you live:

  • One Nation
  • United Australia
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Informed Medical Options
  • The Great Australian Party
  • Sustainable Australia

I specifically endorse:

  • Craig Kelly, United Australia in Hughes
  • Dean Mackin, United Australia in Dobell
  • Pauline Hanson, One Nation in the Senate for Queensland
  • Campbell Newman, Liberal Democrats in the Senate for Queensland
  • George Christensen, One Nation in the Senate for Queensland
  • Clive Palmer, United Australia in the Senate for Queensland
  • Rod Culleton, The Great Australian Party for the Senate in Western Australia (* there is a question mark over Rod’s eligibility for election, so be sure to preference other freedom-minded candidates)
  • Jim Molan, Liberal Party for the Senate in New South Wales (he really should be the minister for Defence)
  • Gerard Rennick, Liberal Party for the Senate in Queensland (consistently pro-freedom in regards to tyrannical COVID rules, unlike many other Liberals)
  • John Ruddick, Liberal Democrats for the Senate in New South Wales

As for how I voted and how I recommend people vote where I live:

For the electorate of Canberra
There isn’t a lot of choice in good candidates here, so I have put the obvious freedom party candidates first, giving United Australia priority as I believe they have a better chance of achieving 4% of the primary vote in the electorate and thus getting some reimbursement for their electoral costs, followed by the Liberal candidate, and then the awful candidates in order for least awful to most awful.
How to vote in Canberra
(click to enlarge)

  1. Catherine Smith, United Australia
  2. James Miles, One Nation
  3. Slade Minson, Liberal
  4. Tim Bohm, Independent
  5. Alicia Payne, Labor
  6. Tim Hollo, Greens

For the Senate in the ACT
I have voted below the line to allow for maximum optimisation of the placement of preferences. Once again I have gone with the good freedom parties first, but there aren’t many of them. Then the Legalise Cannabis Party who, while I’m not a cannabis user and don’t particular care about the topic, they are generally on board with many aspects of freedom. Then we get to the Liberal Party although in reverse order as I believe Kacey Lam has the potential to be a very good elected representative one day and, as much as I like Zed Seselja personally, I don’t support Australia’s excessive foreign aid spending which is something he now oversees a fair bit of as a minister, and he is the only incumbent from the Liberal Party on my ballot papers so I must on principle penalise him for the actions of the Liberal/National government which stood by and put up effectively no fight while states enacted all kinds of draconian measures throughout the COVID scamdemic. After this we get to the bad options and Labor are largely better than most of the rest so their second candidate gets the next preference as Katy Gallagher is a very dreadful person to have in parliament, then we run through the second candidates of the very terrible parties in a vague order of least awful to most awful (strategically the second candidates go first here to try to avoid any of them reaching a quota), followed by the Communist Chinese independent bloke, then the top candidates of the very terrible parties, once again in a vague order of least awful to most awful, and finally we come to Labor’s Katy Gallagher who the nation would be much better off without, and then the loopy Greens with their bizarre Nasi Goreng Goreng woman absolute last.
How to vote in the Senate
(click to enlarge)

  1. James Savoulidis, United Australia
  2. Tracey Page, United Australia
  3. Michael Simms, Informed Medical Options
  4. Mary-Jane Liddicoat, Informed Medical Options
  5. Joy Angel, Sustainable Australia
  6. John Haydon, Sustainable Australia
  7. Andrew Katalaris, Legalise Cannabis
  8. Michelle Stanvic, Legalise Cannabis
  9. Kacey Lam, Liberal
  10. Zed Seselja, Liberal
  11. Maddy Northam, Labor
  12. Jannah Fahiz, Animal Justice
  13. Stephen Lin, Australian Progressives
  14. Kim Hunyh, Kim For Canberra
  15. Clare Doube, David Pocock Party
  16. Fuxin Li, Independent
  17. Yana del Valle, Animal Justice
  18. Therese Faulkner, Australian Progressives
  19. Kim Rubenstein, Kim For Canberra
  20. David Pocock, David Pocock Party
  21. Katy Gallagher, Labor
  22. James Cruz, Greens
  23. Tjanara Goreng Goreng, Greens

All that is left to do now is to wait for the votes to be counted, hope that they are counted correctly, and pray that Australians have the good judgement to vote for a good outcome.

To satisfy Electoral Commission requirements: Authorised by Samuel Gordon-Stewart, Reid ACT 2612

Samuel

May 21st, 2022 at 01:44am

US Supreme Court reminds us that elections have consequences

In recent hours something happened which has never happened before. A draft decision of the United States Supreme Court was leaked. The decision is purportedly written by Justice Samuel Alito and appears to be a majority decision overturning Roe v Wade, effectively returning decision making authority about abortion laws to the states and making it likely that some states will ban abortion, others will permit it quite openly, and others will find a middle ground.

The decision itself is monumental but I’ll come to that in a moment.

Equally importantly, the leaking of a draft Supreme Court decision is reprehensible and does great harm to the institution. Draft decisions are generally written on both the majority and minority side of any case. They are subject to change as the justices deliberate. It’s even possible that arguments in the draft decisions may lead a justice to change sides and thus change the outcome of a decision. The process happens in private after all of the arguments of the battling parties have been heard in court sessions. It’s a process which happens in private so that the justices can deliberate and discuss the matter without external influences and distractions.

The leak almost certainly came from a clerk for one of the justices. There’s speculation as to motive and I can see merit in many of the theories there but none stand out so I won’t speculate. But I will say the motive is irrelevant. The incredible breach of trust has damaged the institution of the court and whomever is responsible for the leak must be found and must be disbarred. The Supreme Court must be beyond reproach and so must purge itself of anybody and anything which would leak a confidential draft decision while the justices are still deliberating.

As for the decision itself, assuming the draft to be accurate, it is an incredibly important reminder that elections have consequences and when Republicans voted for Donald Trump in 2016, even the ones who couldn’t stand him, largely they did so because he had a clear plan to appoint conservative constitutionalist justices to the Surpreme Court and a raft of arguably more important circuit courts. The leaked draft decision was exactly the kind of decision, a decision which puts important legislative power in the hands of the states and not the federal government, thus ensuring the wide variety of viewpoints on contentious topics can coexist and each have their own views in law in neighbouring states of one country…it is this type of decision that the voters for Donald Trump were hoping to achieve. That it is happening with abortion is largely a sign of the times. It really could have happened with any number of major topics but this is the one which has been burning away for long enough to reach the Supreme Court at a time when the balance of the court has shifted towards constitutional conservatism.

Donald Trump, through his appointments to the courts, did more to uphold the constitution than any president since Reagan, and maybe even more than Reagan (Reagan did many wonderful things but he had a Cold War to contend with and one can only do so much in eight years). He did what other Republicans have talked a lot about in recent times but never delivered.

After the November midterms later this year, the prolonged circus of people deciding to run for the presidential nomination will kick in to high gear. It would be wise for constitutionalists to remember who actually delivered for them and who opposed him, and vote accordingly, be it for Trump or a similar candidate, if they want the constitution to continue to be upheld and defended. Going back to the types of Republican candidates who have talked up the constitution but achieved nothing and blocked Trump at every turn will just result in the constitutional victories petering out in the near future.

Conversely those who believe the constitution needs to be changed and/or want more power in the hands of the feds rather than the states, will undoubtedly see this Supreme Court decision, or even the leaked draft thereof, to be a rallying cry to elect the sort of politicians who will work to achieve those aims. In the last century or so, that side has been more successful while the conservative constitutionalist side has tended to talk a big game and do very little. Perhaps the tide is turning thanks to an electoral tsunami in 2016.

On a side note. Given Elon Musk’s recent efforts to restore proper freedom of speech on Twitter, I have been considering using it more again. But this topic reminds me that the character limit of Twitter is not conducive to discussing complex points. To boil this down to a handful of tweets would remove valuable context and lead to pointless arguments with strangers over misinterpretations of each other’s points. It’s a pity Elon didn’t buy Facebook instead.

The fact is, in this blog, I have my own little corner of the world. I should use it more. Perhaps I don’t have a lot of time for it and I’m not overly interested in having lengthy debates with people about things these days, but it is nice to be able to write down a few thoughts and let the world wander by to read my ideas every now and then. Whether or not that means I will write more here, I don’t know yet.

Samuel

May 4th, 2022 at 12:01am

No, I’m not downloading a government tracking app

There has been plenty of discussion about the federal government’s CovidSAFE contact tracing app today. I won’t download it, but I respect the rights of others to do so if they want.

The app itself is relatively benign in the amount of information it gathers, but the model requiring a centralised database concerns me especially considering Apple/Google’s planned version doesn’t require a centralised database. My bigger concern is this is a first step in getting people to voluntarily sign up to full-time government tracking, and once people are conditioned to accept that (and plenty already are) it’s only a matter of time before the scope of such tracking will increase and become compulsory. Warrantless surveillance isn’t much further along the line once you sign up to tracking.

The “cure” is worse than the disease in this case. On principle I simply can’t voluntarily download this app.

There’s an argument that Facebook etc has more information about me than this app can get. This is true to an extent. I have some level of control over how much I share with them, I avoid using Google almost entirely, and I keep location services turned off in my phone when I’m not actively using it, which limits the ability for apps to track my movements (you would be amazed how many apps try to take location data every time you open them!) so I’m already opting out of various levels of corporate surveillance.

Paranoid? Sure! But it’s reasonable to be paranoid when there’s always someone or something that wants to watch. And my phone battery almost doesn’t hold a charge any more, but I can double my battery life with location services and Bluetooth switched off, so my paranoia brings practical benefits too.

Samuel

April 27th, 2020 at 12:48pm

Good news for due process: George Pell’s historical sexual abuse convictions quashed

George Pell “appeal allowed, convictions quashed” Chief Justice Susan Kiefel has announced. Correct outcome based on the flimsy evidence which seemed to be presented in the prosecution, although I certainly think George Pell had a hand in covering up other abuse and that will forever be a stain on his character and that of the Catholic Church organisation.

Still, George Pell, like the rest of us, has the right to a fair trial and the High Court has effectively concluded that the process was not conducted fairly. It is a great tragedy for both George Pell and all of the alleged victims that the process has played out in this way and dragged on for so many years.

I have no doubt that the alleged victims were victims of someone and something, and perhaps their memories of events weren’t as clear by the time the matters got to court as they once were. I hope that they and their families can find some sort of comfort and peace in future. I also hope that there can be a good side-effect from this case and others that, in future, these sort of cases come to light quickly and allow the evidence to be fresh, giving everyone a better chance for a fair outcome.

From a legal standpoint of a system where you are innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, I am relieved that Justice Kiefel has handed down this finding.

I had a good feeling about Justice Kiefel when I watched her be sworn in as a High Court justice in 2007. This is good news for due process. A very good job by the High Court and great day for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the cornerstone of our legal process which underpins so many of our civil liberties.

Samuel

April 7th, 2020 at 10:20am

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