Thursday, December 29, 2005

Kerry is dead. Toyota for sale.

Packer is dead. Again. Though this time it seems more perminent. I guess it's a wake up call to all of us that no matter how wealthy, how well connected or how many servents you have who are willing to donate their vital organs, your life can end prematurely.

It's inevitable that in the first few days after his death, Packer will be deified and viewed through the rose-coloured glasses which seem to be standard issue in TV, radio and newspaper news rooms. A little down the track, though, hopefully a more truthful and sober reflection on Packer will be aired. From various accounts of those who worked for him, Packer was a thuggish boss who used his power and wealth to intimidate his staff. Whilst he had great business acumen, he seemed to lack the personal skills that make for an admired boss.

Paul Barry quite literally wrote the book on Kerry Packer (The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer), and this is one I am yet to read. One I have read, though, is Barry's book on the One.Tel disaster Rich Kids, which contains a few tales on Packer, which may or may not also appear in TRaRoKP). This one in particular is revealing:

Meetings with Kerry could be gruelling at the best of times, but this was probably one of the worse. According to Jodee (Rich) and others, Packer's habit was to invite people for 10:00am and still be going strong at lunchtime. At this point, he liked to ring the buzzer underneath his desk and order his secretary, Carol, to bring in some rare roast beef sandwiches. These were so rare that there were only enough for him. For the next ten minutes he would sit there chomping away, while his hungry audience watched in awe. Sometimes, he would ring the buzzer a second time and bark out to Carol that he wanted some more.

Even Jode, it seems wasn't game to challenge this display of raw power, but he was not alone in that. There was an unwritten rule that no one left one of Kerry's meeting until hbe said it was over, and even James dared not argue with this. One executive tells how he absolutely had to get away by 2:30pm from an audience with Kerry that started at midday. He told James this when they went in, and James said it would be fine. It got close to 2:30pm and the man gestured to James that he had to leave. James looked nervous and shook his head. Finally, the man stood up to leave, saying, 'Kerry, I really have to go now'. Kerry roared, 'What do you mean, you have to fucking go?'. By this time, James had apparently turned white.


What a bastard.

One final note. Apparently mourners at Packer's funeral have been told not to dress in the traditional black. Packer thought this was too old fashioned and wouldn't look good on TV.

Instead, mourners should come dressed like this:

Kerry's Pyjama Party

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sure beats Adelaide

I've been reading two very interesting travellogues of late, and they're both worth having a glance at.

Chris Berg is in Hong Kong, and soon Beijing, with an NGO at the World Trade Organisation conference:

There were an enormous amount of cops, armed with big roman-style shields, little hoplite-style shields, and big computer-game-style shotguns. And, apparently, pepper spray. But none of it mattered, because, apart from the intimidatory tactics by the Hong Kong police, nothing happened. The police drew a line just off the beach, about 1km from the convention centre itself, and the protest was unable to pass that line. While the media I have seen has reported a few skirmishes, it has massively overplayed the extent of the violence. Nothing happened.


DMargster (that's Daniel to you and me) is living it up in crazy, crazy Hanoi:

It's also incredibly noisy because of drivers' monotonous use of their horn. From about 6am to 9pm you cannot hear much of anything for the blare of horns. But here the horn is not used to indicate anger or impatience; it's used simply to communicate the presence of the driver. It seems contradictory that with all the noise and movement around the people can be so calm, but somehow in Hanoi they manage to pull it off.


Check em out.

UPDATE, 23/12, 3:40am: And another one, this time from Bryce (not blogging, unfortunately) who's in the northern hemisphere. All of it:

I am in Paris

hqve just spent 2 weeks in NYC; had great time.

the french totally dig ,y butchery of their language and me in general. So they should -- i have embraced their culture: unlike the terrible anglo-saxons i am currently travelling with, i do not get hang up on showering.

I just qte at a place called "Flunch" . I made a great joke to the cashier about whether they serve "Flinner". Did not get a laugh.

French keyboards do not have apostrophes.

Hope all is well in countries where people do not wear thermal underwear.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Beattie on media and the Canberra option

Is Peter Beattie Canberra-bound? Whilst many have been watching Bob Carr with interest to see if he'll "Do a Carmen", one who has slipped under the radar has been the Queensland Premier. The whisper started on Crikey yesterday, where Christian Kerr published a one line suggestion under the heading 'Wild Rumour Department':

Is the federal Labor team really looking around for a safe seat for Queensland Premier Peter Beattie? Isn't it a bit late?


Speaking at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday, the rumour was put to Beattie and the Premier given a chance to respond. Confirm?? Deny?? "I read it with quite considerable interest," the Premier said sheepishly. Even if there's no truth to the rumour, it's clear that Beattie is happy to have people whispering about a possible Federal future. After seven-and-a-half-years as Premier and age on his side, the Canberra option must surely be a tempting one.

-----------

Beattie was delivering the A.N. Smith Memorial Lecture in Journalism and quickly warmed to his topic, "Power Without Responsibility: Who Guards the Guardians?". The speech had already been condemned before it was delivered, with the Courier Mail playing the man rather than the ball.

The crux of Beattie's argument was that the media lacked accountability. The model of self-regulation has failed miserably, he argued, and the regulators were largely toothless tigers offering resolutions which amounted to 'too little, too late'. As an alterative, Beattie advocated media outlets ruthlessly scrutinising each other. He explained the status quo as a cosy oligopoly, with media outlets working to keep each other on side. Instead, Beattie called for media outlets to investigate the errors of its competitors.

More controversially, Beattie spoke out in favour of media outlets being subject to Freedom of Information laws. It's hard to know whether Beattie was serious about this one - his government has frequently used the fig-leaf of Cabinet confidentiality to prevent crucial documents from being released under FoI. Beattie's proposal basically involves media outlets needing to subject the laws, so that they can be required to provide evidence for all claims made. Therefore, media outlets will only publish information they know to be true, and aggrieved parties can force the media to cough up or fess up.

The idea is a dud, and Beattie knows it. Try any of these counter-arguments on for size: Media outlets are private organisations. Confidentiality of sources. Potential for vexatious claims. Potential for political harrasment. This idea is a non-starter, and is being used by Beattie to shift the focus away from his government's own poor record on FoI.

Less farcically, Beattie had an clever idea: Inhouse media ombudsman. Essentially, this involves each media outlet appointing an internal ombudsman whose job was to recieve and investigate complaints by consumers, and take action interally if necessary. The model cited by Beattie was the Washington Post ombudsman, who has recently found herself as the voice of journalists in a dispute with management over politically partisan content on the WP website, which strangely is a separate entity from its print namesake. Clearly, Beattie has put some thought into this one, and it seems like a goer.

One other interesting point made by the Premier was about the lack of competition in the Queensland media market. Most major cities in the state are one paper towns, with the Murdoch monolith being the proprietor. Beattie challenged Fairfax to set up a local newspaper in Brisbane, forcefully arguing that its growing population and staid media market made it an ideal location. Beattie is spot-on, particularly given his earlier observation that Queensland, like most states, had historically supported a dozen or more daily newspapers.

It's a shame that Beattie chose to bury a couple of good ideas amongst a whole lot of lame, substandard ones that seem to exist only the bait the Courier Mail. Judging by Thursday's coverage in the paper, it probably worked.

What's he so happy about?
What's he so happy about?

Scott Ritter: On the trail of WMDs

My Scott Ritter interview has made it online over at Vibewire:

On the trail of WMDs

Contributed by Ari Sharp
14 Dec 05
By the time their work ended, UN weapons inspectors in Iraq were being squeezed on one side by the CIA, and on the other by the Iraqi secret security service. Scott Ritter was in the midst of the action and recently spoke to Ari Sharp.

The story of recent Iraqi history is straightforward.

In 1991, in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, the rest of the world, acting through the United Nations, imposed rigorous weapons disclosure and inspection requirements on the demoralised Middle Eastern dictatorship. In 1998, the inspectors were kicked out, sparking the skirmish known as Operation Desert Fox.

In the years that followed, the lack of inspectors lead to the presumption that Iraq was rebuilding its weapons stockpile, and by 2003 the fear was so great that a coalition of nations took action to ensure once and for all that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, this take on history is superficial and na├»ve, and conspiracy theories about the ‘real’ agenda of each of the players abound, most particularly the Iraqis and the Americans. ‘The Americans wanted Saddam assassinated.’ ‘The Iraqis were hiding the weapons from the inspectors.’ Most of these conspiracies are constructed from afar, determined to malign the actions of one or other side in the conflict.

One person who has seen the hidden agendas up close is Scott Ritter. Ritter was a former weapons inspector working at the United Nations for UNSCOM, the United Nations Special Commission formed to oversee weapons inspections in Iraq – which means that Ritter is amply qualified to comment on the international politicking which marked UNSCOM’s seven-year existence.

Ritter is a rare breed amongst the American military establishment: he is prepared to break ranks with his government’s official line and speak his mind. It is for this reason that Ritter has become so feted by the anti-war movement, and so viciously attacked by the conservative Republican establishment. On the same day that I interview him in Melbourne, he is scheduled to speak at a peace rally, an unusual place for a patriotic American former marine to be an honoured guest. Ritter has put his experiences in UNSCOM in print, and the product is Iraq Confidential, the ‘edited highlights’ of his seven years with the body.


Read the rest here.

Monday, December 12, 2005

"We shall fight them on the beaches..."

A bunch of pissed idiots in Cronulla is probably not what Winnie had in mind.

Take a step back from the Cronulla race riots of the past 48 hours, and you'll realise they're not an isolated incident. There are plenty of similarities with the Macquarie Fields riots earlier this year. And with Redfern last year. And even with the French riots in November. All of them occur in urban areas. All of them are dominated by angry young men, often under the influence of alcohol. Most importantly, all of them involve the defence of one's own turf.

The genesis of the Cronulla riots was the mistaken idea that the beach somehow belongs to one social group or another. Even though it is notionally public space, the way it had been used was as the exclusive plaything of the locals. This was our beach, and one whose territory we need to defend, or so went the logic of the traditional beachdwellers. To the locals, the presence of visitors from other suburbs - and ethnic visitors at that - is an invasion of their space.

But of course, the invasion is a myth, in that it implies that the space was not open to all in the first place, but was the domain only of a certain group. True public space has no 'insiders' and 'outsiders': it is a place for all who wish to gather there. A born-and-bred Cronulla surfie has as much claim on a beach in the Shire as a Lebonese kid from the west does. Just as both enjoy equal entitlement to the streets of Lakemba. The idea of public space is blind to ethnicity, background, age and gender. It is a fundamental misunderstanding that has fuelled the riots, in Cronulla and elsewhere.

When people gain the mistaken impression that they have a special claim on a public space, they are bound to defend it when they see it under attack. Move away from Cronulla, and look at Redfern. Again, public space, in this case the roads and railway station, had been reinterpreted by the locals as their exclusive space. Outsiders, in the form of cops, government and non-locals were seen as having a lesser claim and hence could be treated with open hostility.

We need a long term strategy to combat these suburban riots. What needs to be fundamentally challenged is the control that various groups have over particular public areas. There are suburbs in our major cities which are so dominated by gangs, sometimes but not always with an ethnic flavour, that outsiders feel uncomfortable about 'intruding' on space that as much theirs as it is the gangs who intimidate them.

The most prominent examples here are not race-based, but are gender-based. There are large swathes of our city in which women cannot comfortably walk unaccompanied. Again, these women have just as strong a claim on public space as men do, but male control of public space has become so pervasive that it allows women no choice but to stay away: forced to be outsiders in a public space.

We need to reinforce the public nature of public space, whether it's the beach at Cronulla, the streets of Cabramatta or the lane-ways of Kings Cross.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Less talk, more action

In recent weeks I have found myself the initiator of two different consumer complaints. At first they seemed completely separate and unrelated, although the more I think them through, the more I see a common theme. In brief, here's how I've been screwed over:

During November I started recieving spam text messages on my mobile phone from 199xxxx. Paraphrasing, they read "XYZ (female, aged 21) wants to chat with you now. SMS 'chat' to chat, or 'stop' to stop. Visit sms.ac/xyz." As with all spam I recieve, I refused to take the bait and respond. I had the added fear that I would be charged some absurd amount for sending a text message to the number, even if it was 'stop'. At the end of a fortnight of these lame messges, I finally SMS'ed 'stop' and sure enough, they did. A few days later my mobile phone bill arrived, and it was approximately $15 higher than usual. Sure enough, I'd been charged 50c per unit for each of these messages that I had received. (I didn't realise you could be charged for the dubious privilege of recieving an SMS. This does, of course, create an obvious incentive for the spammer to spam.) Upset at these charges, I contacted my mobile phone carrier, who told me to contact a company, 5th Finger, who apparently operate premium SMS services in Australia. I was given a contact number in Sydney for the company, and my call transferred. The call centre operator at 5th Finger in turn explained that they merely operated the service on behalf of SMS.ac, and that any questions would need to be directed to them. SMS.ac, however, have no contact phone number in Australia. Instead, I would need to contact their customer service team via email. After three emails to them, I have so far recieved just one response, a template which failed to address my concerns. The struggle continues.


Okay, complaint two:

I bought a pair of shoes at a local shoe store. Without naming names, I'll offer a scandalously obvious abbreviation: The SM Shoe Store exclusively sells SM Shoes. Easy, right? After two months of wearing the shoes, the sole had become damaged (as had mine, but that's another story). I returned to the store with the shoes and the receipt, and after some time had passed, I recieved a call from the store manager. She explained I would not be offered repair, a replacement pair of shoes or my money back because the retailer explained they would not be compensated by the manufacturer, a company contracted to make shoes for SM. They don't get compensation, so I don't get compensation. This despite the fact that both the store and the manufacturer carry the same brand and for all intents and purposes are the one entity. In other words, SM exists only as a brandname - it pays someone else to make its shoes, and someone else to sell the shoes (and presumably someone else to transport it from maker to seller).


Setting aside the rights and wrongs of both claims (I think I have an extremely strong claim in both cases), these two examples demonstrate a modern conundrum.

In a world where every step in the manufacturing and retail process is outsourced to someone else, there is no one who will take responsibility when things go wrong. It becomes increadibly easy for each party to shift the buck from one to another until one of them (or more likely the consumer) just gives in. As a consumer, I shouldn't have to know the intricacies of a company's outsourcing arrangement in order to have my complaint addressed. Unfortunately, I'm left with little choice.

The problem lies in the nature of outsourcing. It's a one way flow of goods or information, and it doesn't cope well when goods or information need to flow the other way for some reason. When a company outsources a task to another, it wants that task to be done painlessly, quietly and cheaply, and so doesn't want to hear about things that go wrong. Whilst this is extemely foolish from a management perspective (no feedback loop, no room for continuous improvement) it is suicidal when it involves dealing with customers.

A practical suggestion - for companies who care about their customers, and legislators with some foresight: require your front line staff to recieve a complaint and deal with it internally before communicating the outcome with the customer. If need be, put it in the outsourcing agreement. So in my examples, the first person I spoke to at Fifth Finger should have followed up with their client rather than forcing me on a rabbit chase, and the retail staff at SM shoes should have dealt with their internal problems before relaying an answer to me. Not a big ask, surely?

(Yes, I'm aware that there are people dying of AIDS, terrorists at our borders and the real possibility that our planet won't see out the decade, but regardless, I want a decent pair of shoes and a moderate phone bill. If that makes me a narcissistic consumer, then so be it.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It's William Hag... I mean David Cameron!

From the newly elected leader of the British Conservatives, David Cameron:

I said when I launched the campaign that we need to change in order to win. Now that I have won we will change. We will change the way we look. Nine out of ten Conservative MPs are white men. We need to change the scandalous under-representation of women in the Conservative party and we will do that. We need to change the way we feel. No more; grumbling about modern Britain. I live in a world as it is not how it was. Our best days lie ahead. We need to change the way we think.


Hmmm, so now we'll end up with a Tory party that's more progressive than Labour, and a Labour Party that's becoming more conservative than the Tories. Surely there's not enough room for everyone in the middle of the road. Someone might get run over. Tony?? David??
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And just a quicky - the Conservatives have launched a new slogan: Ideas that will change our country. Obviously the irony-o-meter was on the blink that day. Conservatives, the advocates of change.... makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It's all an illusion

Did anyone catch this one on SBS tonight?

8:30pm CUTTING EDGE SPECIAL - THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES - Baby It's Cold Outside
Should we be worried about the threat from organised terrorism or is it simply a phantom menace being used to stop society from falling apart? This three-part documentary series explores how the idea that we are threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion.


Of course, it's all an illusion. That terrorist business was just a bad dream. What a relief. It must give great satisfaction to the post-modern geniuses who think this stuff up to know that you can serve up any old crap and it will get an airing. We must go and tell the victims of Netanya and Bali and London and Madrid that it was all an illusion. They'd be so relieved. If they weren't dead.