Monday, October 24, 2016

Leslie Nassar 1973-2016

No one has a bad word to say about Leslie Nassar, now that he is dead. (See Helen Razer at Crikey for a more traditional obituary.) He is a man made famous for saying bad words about other people, so this is unusual. Those who were lucky enough to know him, work with him or follow him on social media through his long and storied career know that when he cut you, it's because you deserved to be cut. For everyone else, the word I'm seeing most often to describe him and how he acted towards others is "lovely", which brings to mind the way Paul McDermott calls someone a "lovely feller" in a soft voice, like he's reciting The Sentimental Bloke. That is perfect.

I got to know him in the year 2001, when I joined the community of an epochal computer games forum called PlanetCrap. He went by the nickname of szcx back then, IIRC because he preferred those keys to the usual wasd configuration when playing shooter games with a keyboard. Most of the denizens of that forum were European or American, with szcx and I just about the only regular Aussies. I first met him in 2002, which is where I took the above picture. In that community, he was always an intelligent and nice influence, but could take the fight up to trolls and villains as much as anyone when the need arose.

Even back then Leslie was liable to get into trouble. He went to Portland, Oregon for work on a visa sponsored by his employer, but went over the border to Canada to try to renew it after his employer lied to him about his status... only for the Canadian authorities to dob him in to the US Department of Homeland Security for overstaying his visa, and get him shipped to a detention centre in Seattle. After three weeks of incarceration and what amounted to torture, he was deported to Sydney. Hopes that he might emigrate to the US to join his American partner were dashed for a long time.

As a man to meet and talk to, you wouldn't meet a more agreeable conversationalist. He was always interested in what you were doing, empathetic to your life's trials and tribulations, and obviously had a mind as quick as the latest computer chip, and sharp as the blades he shaved his head with. He was very well connected, though of course later he burned some of those bridges with the @fakeStephenConroy controversy that saw him gain his first taste of instant public notoriety but then get blackballed nearly out of the digital industry when certain Telstra executives held a grudge against him. Thankfully, he landed on his feet with a contract with Victoria Police, which meant he had to move down to Melbourne where he lived a stone's throw from my place in Brunswick.

We hung out more in those times. By that stage his first daughter had arrived, who turned out to have a one-in-a-million syndrome similar in some ways to Downs, meaning his family needed lots of quality medical help which at the time would have been outrageously expensive in America in the pre-Obamacare era. Even if he could get a visa and/or citizenship, the cost of supporting his child made the thought of moving to America out of reach.

America's loss was Australia's gain. Many other people know more about his work at the ABC setting up podcasting, at Q&A with TweeVee TV and the viral sensation that was @DeptOfAustralia and I'm sure that history will be well documented elsewhere. I knew him by that point as a friend and business mentor, at a time when I really needed both. As such, he was a constant source of positivity and a perfect foil for radical ideas, even when his own family was under threat from external forces and the danger of his professional radicalism was so present in his personal life. His fearlessness was not false bravado. He could speak with authority on how to construct a life as an anti-Telstra tech terrorist, something I shared with him in my business.

Leslie's death hits me particularly hard because he was a fellow traveller in life. He is the same age as me, and we both built young families later in life after long periods as lone wolves. I only wish I was nearly as talented has he was, in both a technological and comedic sense. I am only pretending to be an ubergeek, really, and when I try to run some of the same sort of funny material as he does, I tend to come off as a nasty smartarse whereas he could always make it sound like it was from the heart (because it was). He may have been a boy from the working class suburbs of Adelaide, but he always had more class than most of the rest of us put together.

It sounds like Leslie's latest project, Wrangling Cats, was more of a lifestyle business. He had finally got to move back to America, in Idaho where his in-laws lived, and it seemed like he had figured out his life and what made him happy and secure. That is what makes it all the more tragic, that his life was taken away so senselessly by a 20-year-old kid driving home drunk on a Saturday morning (whose life has also been ruined now, BTW). There were more than 30,000 road deaths in America last year, about 10 deaths per 100,000 of population. The equivalent figure for Victoria, where we have spent so much energy minimising deaths like these, is around 3.5 per 100,000. Leslie had so much more to give, primarily as a father and husband. What a waste of human potential.

He is survived by his wife and three daughters of eight, three and one years. If you would like to donate to a fund for his family, his most recent business partner set up a GoFundMe page. It's the least any of us can do.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Til Sleep Do Us Part: the exhausted election

I have been completely disconnected with this federal election campaign. The policy platforms of both sides are indeed different as Quiggin says, but the Senate is going to block the objectionable parts of the Turnbull agenda, so functionally there wouldn't be much difference in practice, as there wasn't in the previous Turnbull era.

Both Turnbull and Shorten would be running the Rudd-Gillard agenda (NDIS, NBN, Gonski etc), along with the remaining irresponsibly deficit-ballooning Tory nudge policies left over from the failed Abbott experiment. Turnbull will continue the slow white-anting of Rudd's agenda but he can't change it, nor can he implement the worst of the dries' wrecking ball project.

Turnbull called a DD ostensibly to free himself up from the inertia of being prevented from doing anything by those on both sides. He'll probably get returned with a reduced majority, the godbothering faction in his party still intact and empowered by Brexit/Trump, and a Senate that is controlled by Xenophon and the Greens. The ultimate joke is likely to be on him because nothing will change. All he will have succeeded in doing is exhausting his previously stellar leadership ratings, which were the only thing going for him.

In the unlikely event of a Shorten win, he would govern from the centre leaning right, as opposed to Turnbull from the right leaning to the centre. Negative gearing changes would be positive, but would take many years to work properly. That is the same for most of Labor's good policy areas, like education and the environment: they are the Right Thing To Do but the additive effects to GDP and happiness will take years or decades to roll through the system. The legacy of Keating is that low-hanging fruits of reform and liberalisation have already been secured long ago, and all that is left is the unsexy stuff of benefits for future generations.

So, does that mean there is nothing at stake in this election? Ask a beneficiary of the NDIS, or someone lacking decent broadband options, or a refugee, or someone on the dole, or a uni student, or the chronically ill, or a working parent of young children. I'm just glad we have compulsory voting in this country, as otherwise we might suffer the same fate as the UK or US where too many young people don't bother to contribute to democratic outcomes. Both major parties might be smooshed up against each other in the centre which makes elections boring, but I'd much prefer that to the Idiocracy sequel in America, or the Til Death Do Us Part sequel in Brexit, I mean Britain.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Stronger than the foundations of the Earth!

Right then, so about those American politics they've got down there.

As with the recent boringness of Australian politics, there hasn't actually been much change from the situation I posited more than two years ago whereby Hillary Clinton has the presidency in the palm of her hand. The rise of Donald Trump was unforeseen by anyone, pretty much, even though early polls from the moment he started running indicated he should have always been considered the massive favourite. Not even Nate Silver trusted those polls. The resultant slow and delectable implosion of the Republican Party in the Battle of the Seventeen Armies hasn't changed the fact that abided from before that orange swan event: that Hillary is destined to become the queen of the world.

Or, at least, that's the narrative being pushed by much of the left at the moment. There are many examples, but here's one from Lawyers, Guns & Money:
And don’t kid yourself: Trump is a terrible general election candidate. I’m not basing that on the head-to-head polls, which show Clinton thumping Trump; they generally aren’t very predictive this far out, and while they might mean more than usual this year because of how well-known both candidates have been for so long, there’s no way of knowing that ex ante. Rather, it’s that 1)the Democrats have a structural advantage in the electoral college all things being equal; 2)his unfavorable ratings are insanely high, putting him in a major hole and negating Hillary Clinton’s own high unfavorables, which should have been a major opportunity for the GOP; 3)Trump is almost certain to mobilize a high minority turnout; and 4)giving sexist boors enough rope is one thing that Clinton does really well. I would never say that it’s impossible for a major party candidate to win an election under the current partisan configuration, but Clinton is a yooooooooge favorite.
I don't disagree with the logic, I suppose, but surely the left can't get that lucky? There must be some event or reason out there in the near future which will bob up to prove that we Can't Have Nice Things, especially after eight years of the best president I am likely to see in my lifetime. The fundamentals are all pointing towards Hillary in this cycle, but then they all pointed away from Trump in the GOP primary and the fundamentals were shown to be fundamentally weak, as Silver found out to his discredit. And we have the signal example of the most recent UK election to show us that polls are not infallible either.

We have over twenty weeks to wait until the first presidential debate. I think the thing that most instils faith in me that the rout is on is that so little has changed in the polls for so long with these two. Both Clinton and Trump are completely known quantities at this late stage of their public careers. There's not much at all that is going to change anyone's opinion of them that they haven't already heard, so all the shouting in the interim is likely to mean precisely nothing. It's been a bit of a trend in politics in what I have called the Great Interregnum, this resolute obstinacy in the public domain. Clinton is the immovable object, and Trump is an eminently resistible force. It will be fun watching him and his supporters headbutt brick walls from now through to November.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Leftism as institutionalism

Prof Quiggin sings a sweet song of leftism as institutionalism:

The (presumably) forthcoming double dissolution will raise many issues. But most of them can be summed up as the defence of Australian institutions that have been under attack by radical extremists. I’m referring to such institutions as the ABC, CSIRO, the weekend, public education, the union movement, the fair go and our natural environment.
If I had had the time, I would have been banging on about my conceptualisation of the new institutionalism for months at my own blog. Labor are the new conservatives - and for leftists, that's a good thing. You can call it the Long March or whatever, but many if not most societal institutions these days reinforces progressive values.

Apart from anything else, it means Labor is the natural party of government, as no matter whether the Libs are led by a dry or a wet, they can't get anything done due to institutional inertia. Wingnuts would specifically blame the Senate for that, but the Liberals have long since forgotten how to develop policy or develop competent politicians to successfully argue the case for "reform", and have transitioned fully into reactionary grumps.

And now the boy's crying, so I have to get back to him.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The banality of small-time government

Apologies for another long break between blog entries. My business and my family have taken priority, and every time I thought to blog, I felt guilty. Things are turning around with the business, so here I am.

The other reason I haven't rushed to the authorial controls is that exactly nothing new has happened since I last blogged. As I said back then, Malcolm Turnbull has pretty much no room to move, constrained as he is by the right's Faustian bargains to not move to the centre, and the Senate's unwillingness to let him go further right. Thus all that remains, in the absence of vision, is the banality of small-time evils, as detailed by Josh Bornstein. The media is reduced to publicising Turnbull's thought balloons and reporting dutifully as this or that interest group shoots them down in screaming balls of flame. And, as Henry Blofeld has been wont to say, nothing is done.

This has led to the slow but inexorable frittering away of Turnbull's poll numbers, not only 2PP but his personal satisfaction ratings.
Turnbull's popularity plunge in Newspoll grows ever more spectacular.  A new worst -10 (38:48) rating this past week means he has now lost 48 netsat points in four and a half months.  Paul Keating alone is still ahead of him on that timescale (with 55 points lost in that time) but 55 points is the most Keating ever lost.  If Turnbull loses another eight points soon he will set an all-time record for the most netsat points lost in less than eight months, if not longer.
Like Rudd, he failed to take advantage of polls when they favoured him to go to a quick double dissolution, because the government carried a significant number of marginal seat holders who didn't want to be sacrificed for the good of the party. His netsats were the only reason he was installed in the first place, to sell the same old policies with a fresh set of teeth. Without them, he has nothing.

So, this leaves us with the underwhelming prospect of Bill Shorten playing Palaszczuk to Turnbull's Newman later this year. This fills me with ennui. However, I realise I'm not the sort of person at the moment to whom the difference between governments is personally discernable but I do empathise with those for whom it is, so I will still vote for him on behalf of those disadvantaged, disabled and disenfranchised who will benefit from a change of government. And, as always, Scott Morrison lurks.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Turnbull in a phonebox

Two moments of non-elite partisans communicating to party elites of the right have seemed most meaningful to me since I last blogged.

First, the moment in the second US Republican debate where Jeb Bush claimed that his brother George W. "kept us safe", to which the wingnut audience at the Reagan Library burst out into unanimous applause. The idiocy of this assertion in the context of 9/11 and dozens of Benghazi-level embassy and consulate attacks is lost on these ideologues in their media bubble of epistemic closure, and the message to GOP elites is to ramp up the crazy because that's what gets the base excited. Thus we will probably get another government shutdown this year, with Congress in chaos and no competent candidate willing to grasp the poisoned gavel of the Speakership to replace the failed John Boehner.

Second, the moment in the most recent Australian Liberal Party conference when Malcolm Turnbull rolled out a canned line that every Liberal leader runs with at such times, to the effect that the Liberal Party is superior to the other side because it doesn't have factions. The attending LNP hoi polloi - some of whom were the factional elites who installed him as Prime Minister in the party room, but most of whom were rank-and-file members aligned with one of the factions - laughed him down with a scornful tone. This gut reaction not only put a lie to Turnbull's bald statement, but signalled that we don't go for that sort of bullshit in this country, not even in right-wing politics.

The upshot of this is that the Republican Party is descending into the murky territory of actually being unfit to govern and an electoral majority of the public realising this truth, whereas the Liberal Party still has a hope of running the public sector without completely buggering it up. We tried the Third Way of Rudd-ism and it was found wanting in terms of implementation, allowing the Utopia-style APS bureaucracy to rise to the level of its incompetence in the absence of firm hands being on the departmental levers. Now we will give Turnbull the wheel and see if his brand of cheerful waffle managerialism masquerading as techno-wonkery can do any better.

Prior to the decisive spill, I had been building a case over the previous year or so about how Scott Morrison would be the next Liberal leader. The Libs decided to go with Turnbull, with Morrison's faction delivering the key swing votes in the party room, which led to the heated Ray Hadley 2GB interview in the days afterwards. It is blindingly obvious that Morrison could have put his hand up to be the champion of the Abetz/Andrews religious nudge faction but demurred, trusting that he will be the next Liberal leader to win an election when Turnbull fails. I won't go so far as to guarantee it, Andrew Elder style, but I agree with Morrison's calculations.

Meanwhile, the Turnbull government is now ensconced, albeit he has been mostly busy launching policies put in place by Abbott and hasn't had time to do much off his own bat. Honeymoon polls have been mostly underwhelming, going as low as 50:50 already without the leader having actually made a contentious decision yet.

I am not sure how Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy figures that Turnbull will shift the party to the right. Colour me skeptical about Turnbull delivering on the promises Abbott abandoned. Turnbull has promised a more consultative PMship with participation from Cabinet - but he stacked Cabinet with younger wets and purged it of Abetz and Andrews. Turnbull may not have a mandate to shift the party to the left either, though, given promises he has made to Morrison's faction and the Nats to uphold key Abbott policies.

I have not seen anything to dissuade me from the notion that Turnbull is as hamstrung on policy as Abbott was. This government has been a lameduck administration from the start, we've just exchanged caretakers. Turnbull doesn't even have any culture wars to wage to distract the Liberal luvvies. If and when he actually starts making any decisions, one of two things will happen. If he moves to the right, watch his polls plummet immediately. If he moves to the left, watch the party room destabilise (and then the polls plummet later).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Turnbull's onion-flavoured bowls of shit

Newly sworn in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull now faces an even bigger bowl of shit for him to eat than that given to Tony Abbott. His reaction so far does not give one confidence that he has the wherewithal to grab the spoon firmly and tuck in, as a strong leader must.

His first mistake was to agree to the demands of the Liberal right to maintain most of the Abbott policy agenda. This is what brought down Abbott, in that he made a bargain with the electorate in the last days before the last election to carry Julia Gillard's policies through, with the exception of the carbon tax (and yes, that includes Gillard's asylum seeker policy). Arguably, this is also what brought down Gillard in that she carried on the Kevin Rudd agenda. Rudd, for all his faults with implementation and governance, is the only politician in the post-Howard era to develop an original policy platform, and one which was so wildly popular that all other politicians of both sides have had no choice but to complete their introduction (albeit the Coalition deliberately sabotaged the NBN and NDIS).

Turnbull now has to trudge on defending the legacy of a deeply unpopular ex-PM and his deeply unpopular policy slate, with everyone knowing he strongly disagrees with much of it. There has been some talk about Turnbull as a different kind of a politician, but this will prove that he's just as capable of anyone else of lying and being unfaithful to his own views to serve the interests of factional power.

His other glaring mistake so far has been giving in to demands from the Nationals, principally to cede Barnaby Joyce the water portfolio, but also to lock in Abbott timeframes for the same sex marriage plebiscite (post-election) and tackling climate change (never). This is not a good start to his negotiations with the Senate, as Joyce will be a constant irritation to the Greens. If he can't even avoid selling his arse to Warren Truss, how can he expect to gain respect from the cross-benches?

Turnbull's major problem leading up to the next scheduled election in late 2016 is the state of the economy, which is teetering on recession at a most recent quarterly rate of 0.2% growth. I am sure that those 54 Liberal members did not think they were voting for an early election when they cast their ballots the other day. Nevertheless, an early election to capitalise on his honeymoon and avoid the seemingly inevitable economic slide over the next year might also give Turnbull a fresh mandate to stand up to the LNP factions. The longer he waits, the more shit he has to eat.

UPDATE: Lenore Taylor pours cold water on aspects of the Nationals bowl of shit. Which means it's diluted, I suppose, but still tastes nasty. The lock-in of the SSM and AGW policies is of most importance electorally.