Outing an amateur

The decision to publish the name and workplace of the blogger Grog, author of Grog’s Gamut, by The Australian’s James Massola has been dominating not just conversation on twitter and on many Australian blogs, but has continued to generate pageviews for the national broadsheet. There’s a lot of back and forth about the ethics of unmasking an anonymous blogger, but I think a lot of it is talking at cross purposes because most of the journalists genuinely do not understand why a blogger would use a pseudonym and therefore begin with the attitude that there is something that needs to be uncovered.

The first thing that needs to be dispelled is that this is about anonymity. Like most bloggers who choose to use a pseudonym, as I originally did, Grog created a consistent persona that he presented via his blog and on twitter, which is nothing like the type of anonymous hit and run trolling that often shows up in comment threads. While the majority of his readers couldn’t tell you who Grog was there were a number who did know, including James Massola, so it’s fairly clear that he wasn’t actively trying to completely hide his identity. So then why use a pseudonym at all? I think that this is the key issue that many of the media professionals don’t understand and why so few of them have a problem with Massola’s decision to make Grog’s life a misery.

One of the reasons that so many bloggers choose to use a pseudonym is that when decide to start publishing their thoughts they have no idea what the consequences might be. Until you dive in you have no way of knowing whether your desire to start publishing will have an effect on your life, there’s no shortage of examples of people’s jobs being threatened or of people being stalked because they’ve written things online that someone disagrees with. When I began blogging my decision wasn’t about me wanting to avoid being held accountable for what I wrote, there were plenty of hints in my writing for people who may have known me in real life, but wanting to ensure that my wife, and especially my young children, wouldn’t end up being harassed by some random nutjob on the internet who’d taken a dislike to me. It was for this reason that the kids are always referred to by their nicknames, Buster Boy and the Troll Princess, and for a long time my wife Rach was simply known to my readers as Mrsdave.

There are plenty of other reasons for wanting to use a pseudonym too, it can be very difficult to discuss intensely personal topics openly if you have to operate under the assumption that someone could use it against you at a later date. For many people blogging provides one of the few outlets that they have to share their thoughts with other people in an open manner and it’s only by using a pseudonym that they can take advantage of this.

In Grog’s case it’s fairly obvious that he was using a pseudonym not so he could hide the fact that he was a public servant, in fact he referred to it more than once, but to ensure that the arguments that he made would not be used mischievously to undermine his professionalism as an impartial public servant. The things that Grog wrote about were all on the public record, which is in stark contrast to the journos who would deny him the ability to separate his professional and personal life, who regularly feel free to base their work on unnamed sources, so a pseudonym removes the angst of having to continually restate the boundaries between private opinion and professional life.

For a journalist this problem simply doesn’t exist, what they write is their professional life and the reality is that they strive for the chance to add their by-line to stories as it’s seen as a way of improving their professional capital. Journos are in some ways in an inverse reality to bloggers as they are rewarded for doing the type of writing that many bloggers fear they may be punished for, either professionally or socially. I think this is a big part of why so few of the journalists on twitter have had much sympathy for Grog and why they fail to understand the hostile reaction that so many people have had to this incident. I can’t imagine the anguish that Grog and his family must have felt when he found out that Massola was going to out him, even though he clearly believed that he was abiding by the APS code of conduct, how frightening must it have been to wonder whether or not this could end up with him costing his livelihood? This is something that most of the journalists do not seem to understand, or perhaps they simply do not care.

I eventually decided to blog under my own name when I began writing for Pure Poison because I figured that there was less chance of running into trouble compared to having people with nothing better to do spending their time trying to out me and pore over the details of my private life, however that was after more than two years of establishing this blog and getting a feel for what the consequences might be of using my own name. The critical thing is that I was able to make that decision at the time that suited me, as I’d seen Possum Comitatus and others do before me, which is completely different to having your details splashed across the pages of The Australian. Perhaps at some point Grog would have made the same decision, perhaps not, but it should have been his choice.

The excuse used by the Australian that Grog deserved to be exposed because he was influencing debate is pathetic, it was the strength of his argument that was making an impact, not who he was or what he does during business hours. It is telling that nowhere throughout this fiasco have the Australian engaged with any of Grog’s arguments, instead they have maliciously insinuated that he shouldn’t have the right to express himself because of his job as a public servant. The reality in this case is that pseudonyms provide the opportunity to speak truth to power and the traditional gate-keepers are unhappy. I think that there is also resentment coming from some of the professionals as they see amateurs and outsiders having more of an impact than they are in important circles.

If nothing else, most journos reaction to Grog being outed highlighted something that perhaps some of us had forgotten amongst all of the twitter banter over the last year and a half. Most professionals in the traditional media feel threatened by the emergence of new media contributors, they don’t see us as colleagues or as a resource to improve their own work but as competitors. They don’t understand why we want to contribute or why we chose to do so in the manner that we do, and they certainly don’t care if our participation ends up making our lives difficult. I think that the ABC’s Jonathan Green summed it up best

so folks just remember green’s golden rule of media: the journalist is not your friend.

Election night drinking game 2010

It’s time once again for the Dave from Albury’s Federal Election Drinking Game, with at least 5% fresh material since 2007.

This drinking game is easy. Tune in to the ABC on election night and drink when any of the following are said:

  • Bellwether
  • Small booths
  • Redistribution
  • Pendulum
  • Eden Monaro
  • Early returns
  • Quietly confident
  • The Australian people
  • Notionally
  • Large booths
  • The door’s still open
  • Too close to call
  • Lindsay
  • We’ll know more shortly
  • Vindication
  • Scrutineers
  • Factional Warlords

If you really want to get smashed include the following:

  • Swing
  • Preferences
  • Balance of Power

The advanced section for seasoned gamers is as follows:

  • Two drinks whenever Antony Green has bought up the wrong slide.
  • Two drinks for a cross to the tally room.
  • Two drinks whenever Kerry chuckles after interviewing a losing candidate.
  • Three drinks whenever Antony says that the computer is wrong.
  • Three drinks whenever someone seen as a ‘future leader of the party’ loses. (This does not apply to Peter Dutton, no-one seriously believes he could lead a Shetland pony)
  • Three drinks whenever a Politician on the panel refuses to concede a seat that their side has obviously lost.
  • Three drinks if you can get a tweet read out on air

And for the truly committed ALP and Greens supporters:

  • Scotch and razor blades if you hear the phrase “Tony Abbott is our new Prime Minister”.

Reflections on PMs past

The Hawke telemovie, airing as an election has been called, has had many wonks reminiscing about PMs past. There is still a lot of affection for Paul Keating from many Labor voters because of his wit, his vision and his passion. While I admired Rudd as PM, and feel that it’s disappointing that a government that actually performed well through difficult circumstances has been incapable of selling its achievements, he never really matched Keating in my mind.

Last night, watching the Hawke bio-pic, the difference between Rudd and Keating was crystalised for me in two moments, their respective victory speeches after winning an election. Both Keating and Rudd’s victories were impressive for different reasons, but after 11 years in the wilderness it’s not hyperbole to say that Labor supporters were absolutely desperate for their 2007 win and so had enormous expectations for Kevin Rudd.

This is what he gave them.

And there was another 15 minutes or so that you can search out if you like. I remember how ecstatic I was when Howard conceded, how thrilled I was to hear what Rudd would have to say, and how flat I felt after he delivered a pretty mediocre speech. Which is not to say he couldn’t deliver a great speech, the apology to the Stolen Generations gave me shivers, but on the night that he defeated Howard I wanted more than dull platitudes.

Compare that to the brilliance of Paul Keating speaking after beating John Hewson.

It’s hard to pick a favourite part from that speech, but I find the overall tenor, his belief in the people of Australia, inspiring.

And to the Australian people, through hard times, it makes their act of faith all that much greater. It’ll be a long time before an opposition party tries to divide this country again. It’ll be a long time before somebody tries to put one group of Australians over here and another group over there. The public, the public of Australia, are too decent, too conscientious and they’re too interested in their country to wear those sorts of things. This, I think, has very much been a victory of Australian values, because it was Australian values on the line and the Liberal party wanted to change Australia from the country it’s become: a cooperative, decent, nice place to live where people have regard for one another.

I think that for Keating it was about more than winning, it was about a vision for a more egalitarian and proud Australia. I wish that Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard could inspire such passion for our nation, we are all poorer for the anodyne, vacillating, focus group tested blandness that passes for political discourse from all of our major parties these days.

We miss you Paul.

(Hat tip to @cooo_ee who found the Keating audio and transcript for me.)

Lessons learnt at a lemonade stand

Today dawned like many others do in Albury during winter, overcast, foggy and cold, which naturally meant that the kids decided that they needed to play outside wearing as little warm clothing as possible. Around lunchtime Buster Boy announced that he and the Troll Princess had decided that they’d like to make some lemonade and took a shopping bag out with them to begin collecting lemons from the tree in the back yard. Eventually they returned, hauling a very full bag stuffed with lemons that they’d been able to reach, and declared that they were going to open a lemonade stand.

While the idea of the kids having a lemonade stand on the nature strip seemed incredibly cute, the pessimist in me thought that we would spend the afternoon placating disappointed children. Nevertheless we set about finding a recipe for fresh lemonade and getting to work in the kitchen. The lemons from our tree were amazing, the juice almost exploded from them as I cut them in halves and it took no time to get enough to make our lemonade.

While the lemonade cooled Buster Boy set about preparing his lemonade stand. With the help of the Troll Princess he made a sign, found some disposable cups and a tin for the money he hoped to make, and brought a table and chairs from the Troll Princess’ room to the front yard. By this time the fog had lifted, the clouds had parted and the sun began to illuminate our street.

lemonade stand2.jpg

Still feeling pessimistic I went inside to phone our next door neighbour and another friend who I hoped could come over and provide some custom for the lemonade stand. Both phones rang out. I managed to reach our friend’s wife who told us that he was still at sport with the kids for another half an hour or so, and while on the phone I heard the front door slam open and the Troll Princess holler “We’ve got a customer!”.

Sure enough, a passing car had seen the kids out the front, pulled over, and bought a cup of lemonade. The kids were ecstatic, Rach and I were a little dumbstruck. Then it happened again, and again, and again. Complete strangers pulled up to buy cups of lemonade, and were pleasantly surprised when they discovered that the lemonade was actually quite nice. Along the way the Troll Princess decided to abandon the heady world of beverage service to play with the girl next door, but Buster Boy remained resolute. Soon enough the lemonade had run out and I was sent to the kitchen to prepare another batch, and then to the supermarket to buy more cups.

It was fantastic seeing all of these people give some time and a few cents to take part in the kids’ endeavour, they represented a range of ages and without exception treated our kids with warmth and respect. I don’t think I can adequately explain how proud Buster Boy was of himself, the lemonade stand was his idea and he sat on the nature strip until the sun had fallen below Nail Can Hill before he would consider shutting up shop for the day.

The whole experience was an amazing reminder of how wonderful people can be, and what good things can happen if you trust your kids and let them make decisions for themselves. It would have been very easy to dismiss the idea of the lemonade stand, the thought certainly occurred to me, so I’m glad that it ended up showing the kids that they can be rewarded for working hard and believing in themselves.

And what you all really want to know, they made twelve dollars.

Knowing who your friends are.

Some of life’s lessons can only be learned the hard way, the knowledge can only come from experience, which is sometimes very painful. It can be hard to watch someone you care about putting themselves through the sort of experience that leads to these insights, wishing you could simply make them understand the reality that was before them, but knowing that they’d have to figure it out for themselves. This is exactly how it has felt to be a supporter of the ALP while they’ve attempted to introduce a new tax on mining, the Federal ALP has learnt who their friends are, sadly for them it isn’t a long list.

Oh sure, it must have felt wonderful for the last couple of years having Heather Ridout nodding on cue every time that the PM made an announcement, and I have no doubt that you all loved reading her press releases that contradicted the opposition as they were busy behaving like a bunch of injured seagulls fighting over a chip as they attempted to decide on a leader, but you should have known it couldn’t last forever. As soon as you introduced policies that might harm the bottom line of corporate Australia they showed you where they stood, and it wasn’t by your side.

The naivety displayed by Rudd and Swan was almost touching as they put together a policy which not only improved the way the Australian people are compensated for the mineral wealth that our nation holds, but also had some very positive changes for the broader business community. The ALP knew they would face a fight with the big miners, but did they really believe that they’d receive support or plaudits from the rest of the business community? Did Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan really believe that small mining companies, who received some incredibly generous terms from the RSPT, would defend the new policy and risk upsetting the larger miners who they will one day hope to attract as joint venture partners or sell out to?

The stark reality is that corporate Australia doesn’t like the ALP. They’ll tolerate a Labor government and they’ll even cozy up to it while the Liberals are going through one of their periods of opposition induced self immolation, but it never lasts. Did the whiz kids running the ALP machine believe that all of the donations before the 2007 election were a sign that the business community were looking to forge a new partnership with the ALP? They should have known better if they did, the corporate world knows which side its bread is buttered on and was just hoping to play nice in the hope of not having to face any real reform.

Rudd has been criticised, especially in the wake of today’s agreement, for being too confrontational with the mining companies, I say that’s bollocks. If anything Rudd wasn’t confrontational enough. If the RSPT had been a basic 40% tax on profits beyond the bond rate, with no sweeteners at all, today’s deal may have ended up looking like the original Rudd proposal. There’s no point for the ALP to try to play nice with corporate Australia because their efforts will never be appreciated and they will never receive any support when the going gets tough. If you want proof of that you need look no further than the gaggle of industry groups who today came out whinging about elements of the reform policy which have had to be scrapped to allow the miners to have their way. Not one of these organisations has been heard from supporting the RSPT, they sat on the sidelines rather than helping to secure something in their own interest, and now they bleat about the fact that they’re not getting all that they thought that they would.

The question that needs to be asked is whether Prime Minister Gillard and her cabinet will learn this lesson? The ALP need to start behaving like a real Labour government and place the good of ordinary citizens first, because it’s become brutally clear that the corporate sector will not lift a finger to support this government. What makes the whole affair even more disappointing is that the government already had a template about how to deal with big business in the shape of Stephen Conroy. The way that Conroy effectively sidelined Telstra via the National Broadband Network was brilliant, he played hardball and looks to be on track to achieve the reform of Telstra that is so sorely needed. Compare that to the antics of Sol Trujilo and Phil Burgess when dealing with the previous government and you realise how effective Conroy has been.

This same lesson is playing out again with News Limited. The News Limited tabloids tentatively jumped on the Kevin 07 bandwagon because they don’t like backing a loser, but the honeymoon lasted until about December 2007 before they started going feral. The ALP needs to treat News Limited like the hostile organisation that it is and deny it the sort of access, and government advertising, that it craves.

It’s time for the ALP to remember its roots, to sell their policies based on what they will do for the Australian people, and prepare for the onslaught from self interested lobby groups who will never be truly satisfied while we have a Labor government. It’s time for the ALP to remember who its friends are.

What happened to Buster Boy?

Yesterday afternoon we faced the disconcerting task of chasing down Buster Boy after he didn’t make it home to the bus stop. He’s only been catching the bus for a bit over a week, and only on a few days during that time, so this week was supposed to be the start of a regular routine. Not knowing where your child is has to be one of the classic fears of a parent, so it’s interesting to reflect, 24 hours after the event, on what happened and how we all reacted.

We’d waited at the bus stop for a long time with no sign of the bus and had assumed that it was extremely late as we’d arrived at the right time and hadn’t seen it drive past. That was when my phone rang. The call that we got from the school said that Buster Boy had caught the wrong bus and gone to West Albury. We both thought that seemed strange as he’s very good at remembering details, but didn’t dwell on it as we were more concerned with when he’d get home. We were told he’d been transferred to another bus and would be dropped at his normal bus stop soon. At that point we decided to split up, Rach stayed at the bus stop where Buster Boy gets dropped off in the afternoon and I walked to the other side of the block where he gets picked up in the morning.

After a short wait a bus rolled around the corner and pulled up at my stop, there was no sign of Buster Boy so I assumed that he’d got off at the other stop where Rach had been waiting. I rounded the corner and looked up the hill to see Rach and the Troll Princess, but no Buster Boy. At this point the concern really began to kick in.

I called the bus company to find out what was going on. It turned out that Buster Boy had been on the right bus, he’d told the driver that she’d gone the wrong way, so she assumed he should be in West Albury, which was where he was now headed. I was placed on hold while they got in contact with the bus driver to organise somewhere for us to meet. I was told to be in town in fifteen minutes, the bus would meet us at the last stop in town before it went back to Wodonga. We rushed home, grabbed the car, and raced to the bus stop where we nervously waited.

After what seemed an eternity a green and white bus lurched into the bus stop and Buster Boy hopped off and ran over to us for a hug. We looked for blotchy eyes, or tear stained cheeks, but saw neither; he’d held it together through the whole ordeal, only letting the tears fall once he was safely back with us.

Rach and I felt absolutely horrible. Buster Boy had been on the right bus, so we figured that we must have been late to the bus stop, and were therefore the cause of his distressing afternoon. It was made even worse when through his tears he started to apologise for not getting home.

What came next was rather confusing, Buster Boy said that he’d missed his stop because the driver, who he hadn’t seen before “didn’t go up the hill”. He told us that when the bus started going in an unfamiliar direction he went to talk to the driver, telling her the street that he lived in and even pointing it out as they drove past. Rach and I didn’t know what to make of this, we didn’t doubt what Buster Boy had told us, but we also couldn’t imagine why the bus would deviate from its route.

We took him home, comforted him, and tried to reassure him that it would be OK to come home on the bus again. Buster Boy wasn’t convinced, so we agreed to leave any further discussion until morning. Despite that, Buster Boy told us again, more than once, that the new driver had gone a different way and that’s why he’d missed his stop. The certainty with which he told this story had me wondering where on earth the bus could have gone.

This morning we made a note to put in with Buster Boy’s bus pass, with his bus number and the stop where he gets off in the afternoon. Buster Boy wasn’t happy about coming home on the bus again, but realised that he wasn’t going to win the argument. We walked to the bus stop and Buster Boy obviously still felt some anxiety about the return trip, in honesty I did too.

By this stage I was almost convinced that there’d been some unaccounted for change of the bus route yesterday, but couldn’t imagine how or why. I rang the bus company to say thanks for the way they’d looked after Buster Boy, but hoped that I’d have an opportunity during the conversation to ask whether the bus had taken a detour for some reason. The opportunity didn’t present itself, I was left wondering.

As the time for the bus grew near this afternoon the sky remained grey and the rain poured down. Nevertheless, I went to the bus stop about twenty minutes early and stood beneath my umbrella, still with a slight pang of guilt, thinking that perhaps the bus had been early yesterday and we’d missed it. Today the bus pulled up on schedule, and my heart leaped as I saw Buster Boy tearing down the aisle to be first at the door. As the bus came to a stop I could see the driver talking to Buster Boy and as the door opened I caught the tail end of the conversation.

From what I could gather she was telling him that he should have said that this was his stop yesterday when she asked, and that had she known she would have come this way. Buster Boy was right, she didn’t go up the hill. She must have asked the kids on the bus as a group if any of them got off at Chambers St, the other kids from his stop weren’t on yesterday and Buster Boy wouldn’t have known the answer, so she took a short cut.

After a big hug, Buster Boy told me that he’d shown the bus driver his note, and what’s more he’d told her that she needed to go up the hill today. I was proud that he’d overcome this morning’s anxiety and taken some control of his situation, but the best was yet to come. As we walked down the hill towards home, hand in hand, Buster Boy looked up to me from underneath the little hood on his wet weather jacket and said, “Dad, you were right. It is OK going on the bus in the afternoon”, my heart soared. One of the wonderful things about kids is how quickly they can regain their confidence.

We got home to Rach and the Troll Princess and plenty more hugs. I retired to the kitchen to put make some hot chocolates and share what I’d heard with Rach. Her relief was palpable, quickly followed by a sense of absolute disbelief that a bus driver who was unfamiliar with all of the kids on her bus would change her route. Personally, I’m just glad to know that on this occasion we hadn’t failed our little boy, and that whatever worries he had have been well and truly dispatched.

Couch to 5K

I think we all like to believe that we’re in good health, eat well and are reasonably fit. In a similar vein, our kids like to believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen the hashtag #C25K popping up in my twitter stream, but I only recently decided to investigate what it meant. Turns out that quite a few of the people I follow had begun the Couch to 5k running program. C25K is an interval training program and although that’s hardly a new concept, its popularity has meant that a bunch of helpful resources have been created to assist you to get off the couch.

This morning I downloaded a music mix that was designed to accompany the C25K program, with the beat changing up or down according to whether you should be jogging or running, from Podrunner Intervals and loaded it onto my iPod, found my barely used pair of sneakers and headed out the door. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the first transition from a brisk walk to a jog felt like it was going to make my lungs explode, but by the time I reached the cooldown part of the workout I was actually disappointed that I had no more jogging sections to come.

Three times a week for the next 9 weeks I’ll be following the C25K program, if all goes to plan I’ll be able to do a 5K run in 30 minutes, which seems like quite a feat at this point in time. The concept of ‘getting fit’ always seems rather nebulous to me, the beauty of C25K is that there’s a well defined goal and an obvious way to get there.

Update: Second session finished. Buster Boy woke me up just after 6 and I se out with all of the other nutters. Part way through I started to worry that my usually dormant asthma was about to make a comeback, but it turns out it was mostly my under-developed lung capacity that was causing the problem.

Losing community ownership.

A few weeks ago our Apex Club received a letter informing us that the fountain in the town’s main square was to be demolished shortly. The council wanted to let us know because decades ago our Club, along with some of the other service organisations in town, had raised the funds to build this elaborate fountain for the community. It set me thinking about the things in our towns that we take for granted, how they got there, who remembers how and why, and who’s making sure that these things aren’t forgotten.

Continue reading “Losing community ownership.”

Fast bikes and fibro houses – Part 3

The day of the race was as overcast and windy as the previous two. Rather than heading up to my seat at Lukey Heights I decided to walk around the track during practice. There really isn’t a bad part of the circuit, every corner has a fantastic view.

My personal favourite part of the track was probably Siberia, watching the bikes power up the hill before dropping back into the Hayshed. At this part of the circuit you can really appreciate the power of the MotoGP bikes. Even with incredibly sophisticated traction control trying to improve their behaviour the bikes buck and squirm around on the track, almost as if they are trying to throw the riders into the gravel.

Casey Stoner had a customised paint job featuring the Australian flag on his bike and a new set of matching leathers, which was a nice touch for his home GP. Despite the fact that he led from very early in the race Stoner was rarely far from Valentino Rossi. Each lap we’d see them coming over the hill from Siberia and try to judge the gap between them, then a few seconds later they’d blast past us on the hill at Lukey Heights giving us another glimpse of how close they were.

After Stoner clinched the win I took the opportunity to wander across the track and infield before leaving. One of the things that shocked me was the construction of the ripple strips, there was a step down of about an inch at the outside edge between each section, with the step becoming less pronounced towards the inside of the strip. Riding over this on a normal bike, while cornering would be fairly disconcerting, to do so on a MotoGP bike at over 200km/h is simply a frightening thought.

The following morning we left Phillip Island around 6am, and finally saw some sunlight. After stopping for breakfast at Healesville my riding companions headed towards the Hume Freeway, while I continued back the way we had come. It was a beautiful day, and one of those rides where everything just seemed to click, smooth and fast. The roads were filled with bikes returning from the GP, I’d follow along at the back of a group for a while before going my own way again. The ride was mostly uneventful, the only thing upsetting my trip was my luggage rack working its way out of the brackets that hold it onto the bike when I was about 70km from home. Thankfully, apart from a few scrapes on the outside of my bag, there wasn’t anything damaged.

A 900km round trip, my first visit to Philip Island and the MotoGP, it was all intensely satisfying. There is something very special about being out on a bike, even more so when you have the chance to travel with others. My Ducati is by no means a touring bike, no windscreen, an uncomfortable seat and no paniers are good clues to figuring that out, but that’s partly what makes it so much fun to take it on this sort of trip. Sadly Mrsdave doesn’t share my enthusiasm for discomfort and no luggage, so there will need to be a change or addition to the garage before she agrees to come along with me, I’m hoping for the latter.