All Posts Tagged ‘politics

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keep riding that dead horse

Whether Mr Abbott even survives as prime minister until the next election is open to debate. But the fact remains he has instigated a series of changes to the fundamental nature of Australian society that were never put to the people before the last election and which have been kept shrouded in euphemism ever since.Tim Dunlop, in Spook Magazine

I wanted to quote more, but I won’t. Well worth the read, if you’re at all interested in understanding the underhanded, dishonest government we’ve had since late 2013.

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Higher Ed

Higher Ed

Your future is probably going to be shit now. That’s because Christopher Pyne has an obsession with free markets, and why the Australian Government will continue to fuck over students and ruin their education.

Plus, the Government has plans to make our higher education system even worse, opening up more profiteering, providing more debt and offering students a lifetime of regret.

via Junkee.

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Palin vs science

Make that: Palin vs fundamental, accepted and peer-reviewed science.

David Burns of SO-AD recently posted this article on Sarah Palin on his facebook profile, which brought it to my attention. The article outlines some of the already known problems with the Palin campaign, but neatly wraps them all up into one article. What worries me most about the GOP strategy behind Palin is that the Republican party seems to like the idea of gambling with America’s future. Should this initial ploy pay dividends and land McCain in the White House, it’s clear that the resulting policy ‘shifts’ and outcomes from the new government are not going to be looking forward to a new global future, but backwards to a closed, limited and even worryingly simplified view of the world. The article goes on to talk about different grey area issues like Palin’s prior involvement in religious or quasi-religious ceremonies and – whilst I feel that these insights to her character point more towards a candidate that is not what the country deserves – do somewhat distract the point of the article.

I would like to put more weight on the argument for genetic testing on fruit flies – as outlined in the Richard Dawkins’ book ‘Climbing Mount Improbable‘ (paperback, 1997). The book discusses the genetic testing that has been done on the same species of Drosophila, which have had a remarkable impact on the understanding of gene evolution and sharing between species. Scientists (I’ll dig up the reference in a moment) have had success in isolating the gene for creating eyes in the DNA of the fruitfly (ironically labelled ‘eyeless’, the reason being that when the gene is removed the resulting fly develops without eyes), and have also been able to manipulate the gene to the extent that flies have been grown with eyes on various parts of their bodies. The same scientists have also isolated the same gene in mice, and used that gene in the Drosophila DNA to generate eyes on the fruitfly independently of it’s own ‘eyeless’ gene. Just incidentally, the eyes generated were not mice eyes, rather fruitfly eyes generated as a result of the inclusion of the ‘make eyes’ gene.

What these examples (which are more than 10 years old) show is that development and testing of the fruitfly DNA can lead to a much richer understanding of the evolution of genes and the extent of specialization which occur in naturally selective evolution. So how would a McCain/Palin government affect science in America, let alone the rest of the world? Well, the points raised in the Slate article speak of a VP candidate that doesn’t believe in the benefits of understanding genealogy, let alone believe in a world where animals evolve. As Matt Damon famously put it, does Sarah Palin truly believe that the earth/universe is only 4000 years old?

I struggle to believe that this candidate is the right candidate for the VP role, in 2008 or any other time post 1950 – and that’s being generous.

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A new use for social networking

As a relative latecomer to the twitter-verse, this post may seem a little bit behind the times, but there are some ideas that have been floating around the web over the last month & I want to add my 2 cents to the discussion. It would appear that in the last 5 years there have been many advances in communication technology that have had a measurable impact on the way political campaigns have been able to run. With the advent of web 2.0 styled applications and information sharing tools (such as facebook, delicious or digg), more information can be spread, discussed and analysed in increasingly short periods of time.

One of the more recent examples of this would be the Obama campaign for Democratic nomination, in which Obama utilised Facebook, Twitter and global/local social networks to grow campaign funds and momentum – effectively allowing his campaign to spread more more efficiently than he was able to do so himself. The same social networking tools (does Kevin Rudd have a Last.fm account?) that have been the blessing and the curse for a new paradigm of internet users have now spread into the political forum and are making inroads into previously static territory. There are two of these which i want to talk about further – youtube and twitter.Youtube has existed as a sharing and commentary device for several years now, and it’s mis(use) has often lead to it being banned or canned in offices and organisations.

As I draft this blog from my office at UTS, the Youtube videos I’m looking to view are painfully slowly downloading – as a result of domain blocking techniques used by the University’s internet policies. This has lead to the restriction of real, valuable content from being accessible to those who wish to use it for research, documentation or purely informative purposes, as well as those who wish to remain up to date (at a user-defined pace) on current and breaking events. The youtube integration of news content and syndicated media is alone worthy of a whole community of discussion that I can’t go into here, but suffice it to say the youtube phenomena has had a considerable impact on social information gathering and viewer behaviour. I find it hard to believe (or perhaps more sad to contemplate) a community of people who are prepared to commit more weight to personal belief than to investigated information or researched facts.

In this matter, it would appear that youtube is allowing people to get in touch with both sides of the story, although perhaps in this case the hardest part is actually leading the horse to the water. I’m going to come back to this topic in later posts, because I’ve digressed too far from my main discussion point. The twitter platform has also often been written off since it’s inception, with the common cry being ‘who wants to know what you’re doing right now?’. But what we’ve seen in the past few weeks has been a strong undercurrent of feeling, particularly directed towards the presidential and vice-presidential debates. Whilst the traditional model allows for audience members to indicate their feelings towards the current speaker (think: the controversial television ‘worm’), we’re now seeing a new way of measuring the pulse of a far greater audience.

The VP debate seen on the US networks (and subsequent Youtube viewings) was a fine example of this larger user base. Twitter users could view the ‘election’ channel in twitter, whilst watching the live broadcast, simply observing the flow of opinions or also adding their own. The twitter ‘stream of consciousness’ response postings were typically centered on larger ongoing issues, but also clearly expressed the opinion of everyone, everywhere all at once. With such a heady flowing stream of opinion (all catalogued, tagged and hierarchized) it would seem that we are sitting on a veritable (albeit temporal) goldmine of opinion, which could very well be mined for it’s useful content within this election context. Some have panned this as being inaccessible to statistical analyses or even meaningful interpretation, but it is not hard to see the immediate and accessible nature of such a source of information.

Often pollsters struggle to extract ‘truthful’ information from user groups (what is said does not necessarily correlate to what is done in the polling booth), with anonymity being one key ingredient. However what we see in the twitter channels is a grand unveiling of the current of public opinion. A couple of points to raise, that highlight certain aspects of twittering which could be used to measure the outcome of polling and voting numbers;

  1. Twitter is archived and searchable.
  2. Twitter user account data is also viewable, depending on how much information the user is prepared to give.All of this points to a potentially useful database of users (organised by county/state) and their public opinions.

Plot these two pieces of information (the comments could be parsed for positive/negative views or simply aligned to a predetermined ‘voting’ system, a’ la the #biden/#palin example used for the VP debate) on a map of the US and you could see the potential outcome of the elections in particular states. After the votes have been tallied and the outcomes decided, it would be possible to retrospectively compare the predicted results with the real outcomes and determine (looking also at the per capita tables for internet use) whether or not the twitter-verse is in fact full of meaningless asides or plugged securely into the current opinions and emotions of a large connected community.

There have been a large number of efforts globally to visualise large datasets (see information aesthetics and visualcomplexity for examples), so I look forward to the wave of twitter-based visualisations. It’s only a matter of time, in my mind, before we’re seeing the older, more mature relative to the worm adorning websites, tracking string based opinions and plotting them in ways meaningful to the casual observer. Until then, the twitter stream will have to suffice, but it does point to a very near future where online democracy sets a new course for real, national politics.

Note:

  • All of this assumes that people have access to the internet, useable twitter accounts and are willing to share!  However, in light of the relatively small percentage of Americans who actually vote (I’ve yet to check this figure), it would seem that the figures could easily be juggled to account for such percentage ratios. This is something to bear in mind when regarding all claims for internet based social networking or similar, especially in nations where the internet penetration is capped, lapped or otherwise degraded.
  • Just as an aside, I think that the ‘Straight-Talk Express’ (aka the ‘McCain Train‘) would be well advised to observe and respond to some of the fact-savvy bloggers and pages easily found (google search for ‘McCain lies‘) on the web.
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Politcom! The new sitcom

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen the birth of a new kind of show, something so alarming that it’s somehow also become funny — the polit-com. So far the current US presidential race has had all the hallmarks of a cookie-cutter network sitcom (2-3 protagonists, an opponent, ‘foot-in-mouth’ slapstick comedy, absurd situations based on in-jokes or humourous ignorance). The McCain/Palin train has repeatedly taken on the resemblance of something you might expect to see on comedy central — not as serious presidential candidature.

The GOP team also seems to be going from strength to strength in the ludicrous political-spin categories (starting with jokey, homespun cheesiness and now moving smoothly into something more sinister, even bordering on racial fear-mongering) it really seems as though we’re watching high school debating or a popularity contest, not a presidential election.In light of all this, and in case the November election doesn’t go the Republican way, I thought perhaps the next-best outcome might be some kind of sit-com TV spin-off.  To kick things off, I’ve outlined a potential first season pitch that could be taken to the networks.

Possible titles

McPalin / McPain / one and a half candidates’ / The McCain Train etc. etc.

Episode List

EP101 ‘McCain train’.

John finds himself in open water, with not a competitive Republican candidate around!  What will he do with all of his spare time – push for social reform, push for washington to forget partisan politics or just shoot pool with his politician buddies?  McCain eases into his new life as republican candidate by making some small changes, clearing his desk, rearranging his picture frames and considering his running mate.

EP102 ‘the running mate’.

John’s taken too long to decide on a running mate, it’s almost nomination time and he’s not at all prepared!  To make matters worse, his two best friends have been disqualified by the GOP as not being suitable, and it’s already September!  How will John get out of this mess!?

EP103 ‘new girl’

Sarah tries to settle in to the new role as VP candidate, despite mean reporters in washington pointing out all of her weaknesses. Watch as Sarah is harassed by the ‘media’ as they try to shake her, pointing out her lack of foreign policy experience, conservative christian views and terrible fashion sense!

EP104 ‘the interview’

Palin gives her first in-depth interview as the new VPC, with hilarious consequences!  Having not spoken to the reporters since they made fun of her earlier, Sarah finds herself way out of her depth!  Watch as she weaves disconnected sentences together, faking her way out of a tight spot – with one particularly memorable call on our Russian comrades!

EP105 ‘the debates’

Both John and Sarah face tough debates in the run up to the election.  What will be the topics of choice, Sarah’s hairstyle, John’s facebook friend list or the scariness of a name like ‘Obama’!?  Watch as sarah and john pop-quizz each other on issues like abortion, alaskan drilling and the booming economy!

EP106 ‘Palin-gate’

Skeletons from Sarah’s past come out of the closet, as some of her prior actions as Mayor of Wasillia come to light.  Will these new allegations ruin her chances for the VP role? Will the reporters ever stop being so mean? How can she spin these awful allegations into a positive light and will it make her new found friends stop liking her?

To qualify the above, I don’t think the US presidential race is something to be joked about, however in light of all of the GOP rubbish and terrifyingly irresponsible decision making – think ‘Putin rears his head’ — it seems the only thing we can do here is laugh, and hope that somewhere in the US people are listening.