Scratched

Purpose

Mr Shorten says he wants to start a “major campaign” to renew the party’s “sense of purpose” and has warned the alternative is a party “doomed to see … its great successes grow dusty in the trophy cabinet of history”.

from ‘Bill Shorten’s push for Labor Party reform on relationship with unions prompts criticism‘ – ABC news

I think I’ve recognised a problem in which people are substituting “sense of purpose” for actual purpose.

If an organisation has an actual purpose that is clearly articulated, then it should be easier to make decisions around that.

But a sense of purpose is a cause for debate. It encourages rhetoric because nobody can agree on the specifics of the sense.

A purpose is a reason for being but a mere sense of purpose can be a lie.

By adding the two words “sense of” in front of “purpose”, Shorten turned what should have been a call to arms into a weasel word-filled scramble for relevance.

On the same day the Government’s chief business advisor is encouraging a $6 copayment for bulk-billed doctor visits, we needed someone to look after those who can’t look after themselves.

We need a leader of the people who believes in what he or she is doing.

I miss Paul Keating.

Making everybody like you

"We must make it clear that Labor is not for one group of Australians, or one sector of the economy, at the expense of others."

via ‘Bill Shorten urges changes to ALP union membership rules and leadership selection’ from ABC News.

Well, this is just ridiculous. The idea of a political party is that it protects the needs of a particular segment of society. Trying to please everybody shows that the party no longer has a sense of what is important.

Put another way, a political party is based around an ideology. If that ideology no longer exists, the political party doesn’t have a reason to exist.

The labour movement in Australia is in trouble. The Labor party is in trouble. The world has changed. No one will protect the workers any more. No one is protecting the small-business owner either.

By trying to be a party of/for everyone, the ALP will completely sell out the people who they should represent in the house. This will be to everybody’s detriment.

Shows Sometimes Being Not Good

Seriously, in conception, performance, and execution, this guy was one of the most inexcusable zeroes I can remember in more than three decades of watching television. I’ve seen revolving doors with more backbone, paperweights with more charisma. Daniel Lanagin’s dog, the one that jumped into the swimming pool after Frank’s steak, demonstrated more savvy in 30 seconds of screen time than the elected president of the United States did in two seasons.

via “Washington, T.V.” by Andy Greenwald in Grantland.

I don’t review television anymore but I still enjoy reading great television criticism. Andy Greenwald’s one of the best around at the moment.

Season Two of House of Cards was more like Game of Thrones: shitty soap opera using sex and violence to excite rather than propel the story.

The laziness of that ‘story telling’ is illustrated perfectly in the weakness of President Walker. This man was no impediment to Frank Underwood’s destructive stroll to the Oval Office. They showed no fight in him. Everything was surface. Every President in 24 was more nuanced.

The UK version of House of Cards was not a very subtle or nuanced tale, but it at least had a sense competition to get behind.

More importantly, though: Just because something is not very good doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to enjoy it. Many people sat down to immerse themselves in season 2 and when they came up for air were perfectly content.

But when the final scene closed I groaned and picked up a great book to fill the hole it had dug in my soul.

How Daniel Ricciardio’s unfortunate position might be to the world’s benefit

New F1 rules prohibit the use of more than 100kg of petrol an hour.

via “Cruel twist for disqualified Daniel Riccardio” in The Australian.

The idea of fuel consumption in a Formula 1 race is a positive move. It encourages manufacturers to develop more fuel-efficient engines.

Ricciardo’s position is one of a team-member. The entire team is stripped of its second place position, not just Ricciardo. But he is part of a team and has to wear its failings.

Maybe instead of focusing on the hardship of the Australian driver we should look to Mercedes and ask how they managed to get those speeds on less fuel consumption.

Formula 1 technologies progress to domestic vehicles over time and better fuel consumption in powerful engines is something the market will definitely be interested in.

The art of urbane wit

I’d rather be the mayor

Few modern writers/commentators manage to excel at urbane wit like Fran Lebowitz. Lyndal introduced me to her writing early in our relationship and I devoured the two books she had published, now available in a single volume.

I’ve long mourned the lack of any further publication but recently discovered that there’s a whole lot of her on youtube.

I’ll make excuses to be at the computer for a while.

via Valerie Steele in conversation with Fran Lebowitz at the Queer History of Fashion Symposium.

Israel, carbonated beverages and the paradox of do-gooders

That argument cuts no ice with … Oxfam, which says that trading with Israeli companies operating in West Bank settlements legitimates the occupation regardless of how they treat their workers.

‘Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream’ – The Economist

Like most people alive today, I’ve only ever known an Israel in conflict with its neighbours. I grew up knowing that the PLO and its leader, Yasser Arafat, were my enemy: They wanted to destroy the Jews of Israel. I didn’t understand the nuance of the situation or its very complicated history of war, preemptive strikes, punitive land confiscation and displacement. I didn’t understand the particularities of two peoples, regarded as pariahs by even those who would claim to be their allies, fighting over the one piece of eternally disputed land they could call home; land so intertwined with religious zealotry that it would never be free from conflict.

All I understood was that the persecution of the Jews I learnt about in history class (taught to me in Yiddish as “geshichta”) was not over. I understood, as a child in early primary school in the 80s, that vigilance was required at all times because neighbours can turn to enemies at any time. As I learnt the story of Anne Frank and the baby Moses, I knew that even being a child was no defence against these enemies.

I grew up, entered secular life in university and I was challenged by friends who expected me to defend the actions of Israel merely because I was a Jew and they wanted to argue for a cause that wasn’t theirs to occupy. I hated being put in that position because I knew I didn’t know enough. I didn’t know about what would make someone blow up a cafe full of innocent civilians. I didn’t know what led to decisions to commit an airstrike close to a hospital or why militants thought hiding under hospitals and orphanages would ever lead to anything other than tragedy. All I knew is that everybody was arguing on the wrong track.

The argument about Israel has always been about what people have done. Negotiations, as I understand them, have been about restitution and reversion, rather than progress.

The fact is, though, as long as the dispute is about who did what to whom in the past, nothing will ever move forward. The difficulty in progress is building trust between the participants. This is even more difficult for peoples who have lived for countless generations in survivalist mode waiting for the next attack.

Oxfam, to name just one organisation, does not help the peace process by demanding a change to borders. Oxfam, which was created in a place if privilege cannot begin to understand nor express the nuance of a situation it has nevertheless taken sides on. Its members might boycott Sodastream but happily use iPhones and other products manufactured in China because there is only so much privilege they are willing to sacrifice to make their very blunt point.

The sad truth is that the honest protestor starves to death because she cannot participate in the hypocrisy while the exploiters align themselves to a cause they don’t know enough about to give their shallow lives meaning.

To take George Bernard Shaw’s “Doctor’s Dilemma” one step further, organisations like Oxfam have a vested interest in delaying peace because their identity and survival is bound to conflict. Whenever we look at someone taking sides in a fight that isn’t theirs, we should always ask what their interest might be.

Oxfam probably can’t even see the karmic irony in supporting boycotts and sanctions when it was created to aid those who were dying because of blocks to supply.

And it doesn’t matter. Humans will always find something to fight about. Melbourne football supporters will say terrible generalisations about Collingwood fans and everybody hates Carlton. Conflict is so much a part of our DNA that we create pastimes to fill the conflict-void during times of peace. Fighting is in our nature.

But sometimes our nature is repulsive to us and we want to change. Well, change does not mean to return to a situation that did not work. The call to revert to Israel’s pre–1967 borders is the ridiculous siren of the nostalgia of a previous conflict. It will solve nothing.

The test for peace is working out how people can live side-by-side without restricting their basic rights. Reversion is never going to succeed because progression, not regression, is implicit in success. From this point we have to move forward with a goal in mind and that goal cannot include the punishment of people who, in the past, acted for their own survival rather than everybody’s. Everybody needs to commit to a change in behaviour or no one will win.

This means temporarily replacing distrust with hope. People who have been persecuted as much as Jews and Palestinians, whatever names they have both gone by throughout the ages, will never be able to trust other nationalities. But they can temporarily suspend distrust in order to find resolution.

Actually, no one will win anyway but at least we can be a bit nicer to each other while we’re all so busy losing.

Satire or just lazy and outrageous?

Without checking the numbers, I’d guess cycling overtook rock fishing as our most dangerous sport last year. On a mortality count, it’s certainly more dangerous than all the football codes – but we don’t let people play rugby on the road, generally. The bicycle is more dangerous than Australia’s most dangerous animal, the horse.

‘Regulate bicycles off the road’ by Michael Pascoe—The Age.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the difficulty of satire. There was a piece written in Medium, the online publishing platform, about replacing CSS with javaScript. It just read as ridiculous and ill-informed. Later I found out it was supposed to be satire but at the time I just thought the author didn’t know what she was talking about.

Satire is tricky. It’s so difficult to get right that even those who do it professionally get it wrong a lot of the time.

Context, however, has a lot to do with satire. If something is in the Onion, then we can be pretty sure it’s not true but is in fact a satire, because satire is just lying for the sake of comedy.

If the context is right we are prepared for a lack of seriousness. Without that context we assume that the author is seriously approaching a subject for examination.

In the quote above, we assume that Michael Pascoe, a long-time respected economics commentator, has lost any semblance of plot he may have had.

“Without checking the numbers” reminds me of a line I once put in a presentation in Grade 3 about cartoons in which I estimated that 70% of the audience thought of Disney when I mentioned the word “cartoon”.

While reading this piece, I did start to wonder if it was satire. How did such a piece of nonsense make it past an editor and into publication?

But the context implies that there is no satire here. Instead, there is just a man who has flipped his silly switch and is no longer securely seated on his rocker.

Shameful Histories

However, Wilson reports that “dog wheels were still being used in American restaurant kitchens well into the nineteenth century,” when, in the face of early animal rights lobbying, they were often replaced with young black children.

From ['Hot Dog' by Nicola in *Edible Geography*](http://www.ediblegeography.com/hot-dog/)

Every now and then I’m reminded of how absurd it is that the United States ever acts with the moral high ground in matters of human rights.

The ridiculousness of absolution through algorithms

“We are not setting the price. The market is setting the price,” he says. “We have algorithms to determine what that market is.”

Co-founder and CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, in the article ‘Uber Boss Says Surging Prices Rescue People From the Snow’ from Wired Business.

Profiteer
1. v.i. (seek to) make excessive profits out of others’ needs, esp. in times of scarcity.

The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, 1987, Edited by JB Sykes

Algorithms are good for models but they are not good for markets that are supposed to reflect actual human need.

I’ve used Uber quite a lot in Melbourne and a few times in New York. It’s a useful service for times when taxis are hard to find and people are willing to pay a premium. Uber has also provided in-kind sponsorship to our live Nudge events.

The structure of Uber’s surge pricing model is simply exploitative at worst and represents the most heinous part of capitalism: the removal of human responsibility for “the market”.

Blaming the algorithm does not absolve anyone of poor humanity. A human created the algorithm. It is by design.

Mike Monteiro gave an excellent talk at Webstock last year in which he explained how designers ruin the world.

While in New York I saw surge pricing on the Uber app while there were still, clearly, plenty of cars available. The first thing one sees when opening the app is how many cars are available.

From a customer’s point of view, it seems like price gouging. One would only expect the price to surge when there were not plenty of cars available.

The fact that prices can surge to higher than seven times the standard fare favours privilege over service. But it’s also a sign that a business is out of step with reality and economic history.

A 700% increase in prices based on an algorithm shows only that the algorithm is flawed; prone to hyperinflation.

There’s an argument that increasing prices will entice more drivers to go out during high demand times. Surely this is also exploitation. The 700% increase in price was during heavy snow in New York. It’s a dangerous time on the road and Uber is asking drivers to risk their own safety because the financial reward might be worth it.

That being said, Uber car availability is not a right to anyone with a smart phone. It is a business and it’s going through some pricing teething problems.

The algorithm is currently poorly designed, but Uber, as a group, has never suggested that it is the final version. If they are smart, and I think they are, they’ll continue to tweak their service.

The biggest error here is for Kalanick to stand firm, telling the world that Uber is doing the right thing rather than admitting that work still needs to happen to make the service behave better.

There’s also a problem here in the economy of outrage. When Uber pricing is high, by all means people have the right, and sometimes even an obligation, to alert/warn others and let the organisation know that it is unacceptable.

However, reasonability is not the default position of the outraged. A lot of the time the anger in tweets about Uber surge pricing just reads as people being upset that they’ve discovered they’re not as privileged as they originally thought.

I’m sure Dr Seuss wrote a book or two about that.

The Glorious and Guilty Extremes of Indulgence

Herbert's Specialty Meat's turducken stuffing offeringsThe US is a country with many problems. It particularly has a problem with food and that terrifies me because I love food and I try to eat sustainably.

Eating sustainably is difficult in the US (although easier in New York than other places).

For my upcoming trip, I am celebrating Thanksgiving with some good friends. We are ordering a Turducken which is, in itself, an indulgence. But then with the engastration are three stuffings to choose from a list of 15.

This is outrageous and delightful at the same time. It’s hilarious and offensive. I don’t know what to make of it. I’m overwhelmed with the very notion.

But I’m rising to the challenge.