Brilliant article on Google, plus an English teaching thing

Did you see Tim Adams on Google and the future of search: Amit Singhal and the Knowledge Graph? It appeared online on 19 January, but I only caught up with it via the ink-and-paper Guardian Weekly on Friday. It is a major must-read.

Thinking about Google over the last week, I have fallen into the typically procrastinatory habit of every so often typing the words "what is" or "what" or "wha" into the Google search box at the top right of my computer screen. Those prompts are all the omnipotent engine needs to inform me of the current instant top 10 of the virtual world’s most urgent desires. At the time of typing, this list reads, in descending order:

What is the fiscal cliff
What is my ip
What is obamacare
What is love
What is gluten
What is instagram
What does yolo mean
What is the illuminati
What is a good credit score
What is lupus

It is a list that indicates anxieties, not least the ways in which we are restlessly fixated with our money, our bodies and our technology – and paranoid and confused in just about equal measure. A Prince Charles-like desire for the definition of love, in my repetitive experience of the last few days, always seems to come in at No 4 on this list of priorities, though the preoccupations above it and below it tend to shift slightly with the news.

The list also supports another truism: that we – the billion components of the collective questioning mind – have got used to asking Google pretty much anything and expecting it to point us to some kind of satisfactory answer. It’s long since become the place most of us go for knowledge, possibly even, desperately, for wisdom. And it is already almost inconceivable to imagine how we might have gone about finding the answer to some of these questions only 15 years ago without it – a visit to the library? To a doctor? To Citizens Advice? To a shrink?

That was the time, in the prehistory of about 1995, when our ideas of "search" still carried the sense of the word’s Latin roots – a search was a kind of "arduous quest" that invariably involved "wandering" and "seeking" and "traversing". Not any longer. For those who are growing up to search in this millennium, it implies nothing more taxing than typing two words into a box – or, increasingly, mumbling them into a phone – and waiting less than an instant for a comprehensive answer, generally involving texts and images and films and books and maps. Search’s sense of questing purpose has already gone the way of other pre-Google concepts, such as "getting lost".

That rate of change – of how we gather information, how we make connections and think – has been so rapid that it invites a further urgent Google question. Where will search go next?…

Now the bits on education.

e0578fec1b858a174a99dacbb9b5d750a3556b90Ages ago I moaned about our pollies, Julia Gillard and/or Kevin Rudd specifically at the time, were looking in some of the wrongest places for policy ideas. See for example Memo to Julie Gillard and Kevin RuddThe real education revolution…, Education: wrong path, Ms Gillard?, The promised education post and in 2012 A must read: Schools We Can Envy by Diane Ravitch.   Now via Smashwords I have a freebie eBook which promises much: Mark Wilson, You Are An English Teacher! (2013).

A Guide To The True Basics – for Parents, Pupils, Pedagogues, Politicians…Presidents and probably even Prime Ministers. A trip through the learning of English as a mother tongue from minute one onwards. The resurrection of common sense, intuition, and the syllabus that’s always been here.

Mark Wilson sounds like an interesting person, and I am sure he was a good English teacher (in the UK). I have been reading this book with some pleasure, as much of it is refreshingly sensible. On the other hand from an ESL perspective his thesis leaves much still to account for. His assumption seems to be a monolingual childhood. Now in the UK that is most people, even today.

Polish is now the main language spoken in England and Wales after English and Welsh, according to 2011 census data released by the Office of National Statistics.

The language-speaking figures recorded for the first time from a survey of 56.1 million residents of England and Wales show 546,000 speak Polish. It is now the second main language in England. There are still slightly more Welsh speakers in Wales at 562,000.

The next biggest main languages are the south Asian languages of Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati, followed by Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese. The statisticians said they recorded over 100 different languages and 49 main languages with more than 15,000 users…

Some of the languages are in a tiny minority. For example, there was only one person in Barnet who said they spoke Caribbean creole and one person in Bexley.

58 people speak Scottish Gaelic, 33 speak Manx Gaelic and 629 speak Romany…

One million households have no residents with English as a main language, although most had some proficiency in English, the ONS said.

Only 138,000 people could not speak English at all.

"The West Midlands is the region with the lowest percentage of people that can speak English very well or well at 72%" said Roma Chappell, census director. It was the region that also had the highest number of people who can’t speak English at all.

Compare:

In Australia 76.8% of people only spoke English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Mandarin 1.6%, Italian 1.4%, Arabic 1.3%, Cantonese 1.2% and Greek 1.2%.  20.4% of Australians live in households where two or more languages are spoken. Only 53.7% of Australians have both parents born in Australia.

Even so, while as an ESL teacher I have some reservations, I still commend Mark Wilson’s book. An extract:

William Blake said if others had not been foolish, we should be so. I think that’s a pretty good definition of progress.

When the feeling that something was wrong, not with children but with the school system itself, stirred once more within the country about twenty years ago, because businesses and universities were complaining that children were leaving school unable to spell, write essays, needed ‘the basics’ and so on; a popular question with regard to English was: “How much should we teach children about language?”

This always sounded strangely proprietorial to me, as if the people who were saying it thought they actually owned language. Anyway, it merely signalled the next bitter battle in the political wars which are fought on the battleground of education.

But, for reasons I hope I’ve made clear, my answer then, as now, is this: What we really know about language is surprisingly little, but of excellent quality. Our real, shared, knowledge of language, amounts to the true conventions of English and the many ways people have used them effectively down through the years. I think we should teach children all that we really know about language, and study lots of famous writers and speakers. The earlier we provide an environment which allows them to use and develop these conventions within their own psyches, the better. There can be no doubt that families are intended to be a child’s first language teachers….

In the meantime, though, individuals have the opportunity to improve matters for themselves and for their children right away. If we are to avoid the mere repetition of the past fifty years or so, we must look for something beyond the old arguments between grammarians and their anti antagonists; which is what I have done here. And there is nothing at all to stop us from teaching communication through language intensively to deprived children, in schools, right now.

When I started planning this book, I was determined that it should be a very slim volume, easy on the eye, and yet it should be an adequate alternative to the growing mountain of, for me, unreadable academic publications. But this book is also intended to serve, in future times, as an alternative to the gross irresponsibility which will surely follow when the fashion pendulum swings back again.

But, ideally, the reader may simply look at children and see that the teaching of a language is an activity which is more important, and a lot less complicated, than any particular political ideology. Nevertheless, ‘developments’ in education during the twenty years of my career have seemed to be attempts to make my classroom feel less a lively and welcoming place for learning, than a sanctuary threatened by the hostile encroachment of a nearby factory. For all the money spent, the shouting, the initiatives, and the targets, I go into schools while I write this book and things look much the same in the teaching and learning of English. There has always been brilliance, and there has always been deprivation, but now there is a lot more stress and bother.

Some children do as well as the current system allows them to in English. But there are many others in mainstream classes who still cannot read or write properly. Yet they are set tasks which require them to do just that, and when this happens they are frustrated and badly behaved, as you might expect. At the beginning of this book I suggested that we need to work towards a definitive and durable syllabus for the teaching of the subject we all know and love as ‘English’? Do I think there really could be such a thing?

There always has been.

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Past and future–Surry Hills to The Gong

2005

Sirdan on the move

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Sirdan moved today, a fairly short distance south, and not far from Centennial Park. He will have more space for his amazing range of creative activities. – 14 October

M suffers racist attack

Gary Lo has experienced more racism within Sydney’s gay community than he has in the mainstream community.

When he went to gay venues people muttered things like “fucking nip”. He found it almost impossible to get served at bars, as the staff would look straight past him. And when he tried internet chat rooms, the minute the issue of race came up people would say they weren’t interested…

Lo, who was born in Hong Kong but has lived in Australia since he was two, said people in the gay community seemed to think they had “more leeway when it came to racism”.

“It seems like anything goes with the gay community when it comes to race,” he said.

“Maybe it’s because there’s a sexual hierarchy of desirability on the gay scene. And Asians rank pretty low on that. No one talks about it but it’s pretty well understood.”…

It would be nice to think Gary is a bit oversensitive or paranoid, but it is sadly not the case.

I was shocked to learn last night that a couple of weeks ago M was physically assaulted by a gay person in what seems to have been a racially-motivated attack. M required medical attention, and the police were called in. Beyond that I can’t say more, as I normally do not publicise M’s business here.

As I have said before, racism is NOT an acceptable world-view; it is utterly irrational, it is a psychological problem, a personality disorder, and a great social problem. Give it no tolerance.

Issues arising from cultural conflicts and varying degrees of acculturation in a migrant context in a culturally diverse society such as ours are another matter, and often require careful thought, but such issues, let it be noted, are not down to the unscientific concept we call “race”, and are best sorted calmly and carefully, with an eye to fairness and compassion and, let it be said, tolerance of difference. – 14 October

2006

Little things that make blogging worthwhile

I have no delusions of grandeur when it comes to this blog. I really don’t think my rants, which are far from infallible anyway, will change the world, though I do believe that the blogosphere as a whole can have a great effect through the channels of communications it may open up. One instance of that is recounted on Jim Belshaw’s blog, and strangely it concerns me and a friend of mine. Through our blogs, Jim and I managed to bring together my friend the Aboriginal actor Kristina Nehm here in Surry Hills and the artist Stozo Da Klown in the USA.

Hi Jim!

I want to thank you for putting me in contact with Kristina, she wrote me and I am completely blown away how the internet works and world community is and just the mysteries of life timing etc. I have been surfing the net for years 20 to be exact well that was even before this internet thing etc. She was a dear lost friend and our connection was priceless for me…

mega thanks!!
Stozo

I would love to refer you to Jim’s account of this, but at the moment Blogspot is producing, not for the first time:

blogspotsite

But it is the comment Ahmad has just added here that prompted my thought this morning: see Meanwhile in a country far away… Thanks, Ahmad. – 17 October

2007

Sigh…

M, meanwhile, emails: spent a few hours at copacabana beach. by chance there were gay pride party in front beach. joined the party and danced 4 hrs… Not his photo; it’s last year and from an article in the Washington Blade linked to the pic.

Surry Hills is much more exciting, of course, as you saw here earlier. And I didn’t even mention last weekend’s Surry Hills Festival, because I didn’t go, being in Chinatown most of that day. You may read about it on James O’Brien’s blog. Better than Rio, James? – 15 October

2008

Redfern Visions 23: East Redfern 1 – nature 1

The pics in this and the next six or so Redfern Visions sets have all been taken today in the area bounded by Cleveland Street, Walker Street, South Dowling Street and Moore Park — in other words between here and M’s place, being deliberately vague about where he lives. They were all taken in morning light.

mon27 011

The jacarandas are thriving…

2013

When West Wollongong can expect the NBN roll-out. But work has already commenced in Central Wollongong. See Crown St Mall to lead city’s switch to NBN.

How time has gone, is going!

And I see my blog is at the moment R-Rated – thanks to recent posts remembering the Bali bombing. Oh dear.  I just said another bad word! How about “b*mbing”?

Are your p*bes as radiant, shiny and glorious as mine?

W*ll! Fancy *sking the Pr*me M*nister something like that? The things you can do when you are on F*cebook! Just ask A**m Subwoofer H******, apparently, who inserted that into a Facebook interview done yesterday by Julia Gillard. I have done the redactions lest anyone be o**ended. "McPiss off you red-headed bloody McClown" was another gem of subprime public intelligence — at least until Julia’s minders, who were monitoring what seems to have been a bit of an unfortunate venture into Web 2,  managed to hit the delete button.

A spokesman for the government said: "This is the first federal question-and-answer session by a major political figure in Australia – it is the first of its kind. There was a huge response in terms of questions; there’s been a lot more that have been tabled for future use. There is a tiny minority of offensive comments and they are moderated after being published."

Certainly this and other recent events concerning someone called Jones have been raising all manner of interesting questions about the nature and place of the “new media” vis-a-vis democratic process, free speech, and so on and so forth, issues raised by then screwed over on Qanda last night – one of the most pathetic Qandas in recent memory, with the exception of a wonderful few moments from Nilaja Sun in response to this:

Jessie Huynh asked: Nilaja Sun: What challenges did you face to change your career path from being a teacher to a solo writer and performer? Was the transition from teaching a group and feeding off the students to enhance your abilities in the classroom, to having a barrier between you and your audience, difficult to adapt to?

Malcolm Turnbull has weighed in with characteristic flair:

I should note in this context another misguided Labor proposal to rein in the media – to provide that media acquisitions, currently subject to clear black letter trade practices and cross media ownership rules, to become subject to a public interest test. This is a concept so ambiguous it is readily open to interpretation in a very partisan political way.

Another point of objection I raised was that it was naïve to imagine that a statutory regulator would make newspapers more benign. After all the Sydney radio shock jocks including Mr Jones, are regulated by ACMA and are regularly investigated and occasionally upbraided for one outrage after another without any noticeable improvement in their discourse.

Even if Mr Jones had made his remarks about the Prime Minister’s late father on air, I doubt if ACMA would have found a breach of the code. Mr Jones has frequently urged the Prime Minister be thrown out to sea in a chaff bag and no breach of the code was found.

But in this case the effective response to Mr Jones was not regulation, or less media freedom, but rather the use by thousands of people of the enhanced freedom afforded them by the social media.

Mr Jones has complained that he has been the victim of social media bullying saying that “ if it happened anywhere else in society, this kind of bullying or harassment or intimidation or threatening conduct, the police would be called in.”

But it is difficult not to believe that he is getting a dose of his own medicine. After all Mr Jones has waged more than a few onslaughts against individuals and businesses and encouraged more than a few email campaigns of his own.

As George Megalogenis observed on twitter today – “We all agree, don’t regulate the media. But why do you want to regulate the masses?”[8]

Mr Jones believes his association with certain products will encourage people to buy them. But if other people take the view that an association with Mr Jones will lead them not to buy those products, why are they not able to tell the advertiser of their view and encourage others to do the same?

Is people power the antidote to media bullies?

SMS and instant messages were powerful enough in years past, but the reach and functionality of the smartphone connected to social media networks has enabled opposition political movements even in the most repressive societies to mobilize and challenge and in some cases, ultimately, overthrow the Government.

The impact of these technologies have been particularly profound in China where despite extensive Internet censorship the Government is now no longer in complete control of the means of self expression. Citizens unhappy with local officials can, and frequently do, take their case online. A decade ago they would have had little chance of their concerns being published in a local newspaper.

As Geoff Raby reminded us last week, there would have been no prospect of the excruciatingly embarrassing Bo Xi Lai saga and related leadership struggles being so widely reported and debated within China in a pre-smartphone era.

So have we reached a nirvana for freedom of speech – with everyone a publisher via their smartphone, a platform so compelling that even the greatest newspaper mogul of all time, Rupert Murdoch, has become a tweep!…

(I also enjoyed, as a sometime Classicist, Malcolm Turnbull’s talk to the Classical Association of NSW, though it makes me feel even more like some mouldering old relic to reflect that when Malcolm was studying Latin and Greek at Sydney Grammar I was already teaching at Cronulla High!)

But at least Malcolm Turnbull seems to know how Twitter, Facebook etc work. On Qanda last night Christopher Pyne, who I suspect also knows, came up with a wildly improbable scenario that the nasty comments in Julia’s interview were somehow part of a plot to distract us all from thinking about the (largely nonexistent) effects of the carbon tax on our economy. 

TONY JONES: Okay. All right. I’m going to hear from the rest of the panel. Christopher Pyne, you jumped in there.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, just on the blog…
TONY JONES: Are you suggesting that the staff had some role in this?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I don’t know, Tony, but I do think it is peculiar that since her staff are moderating the Facebook discussion, they allowed trolls to breakthrough…
KATE ELLIS: Does anybody here know how Facebook actually works?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Yeah, we do but…
KATE ELLIS: Like people post on a wall and you delete it if you don’t agree with it. People post first and then you delete it?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, why didn’t her staff moderate those remarks off instantaneously. Why did they live them on there and them make a big political story out of it?
KATE ELLIS: Well, they did. Once they were put up, they were removed.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I just think it’s passing strange that if her staff were moderating this apparent first in national politics, that they allowed these very unpleasant statements to be put up on the Facebook rather than, as soon as they appeared, removing them instantaneously, which didn’t happen. So I think that’s peculiar…

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Can I just say that some of the things you’ve said are complete assertions that have been utterly denied by Tony Abbott and you stated them as facts. That’s the first thing. Secondly, the Tony Abbott I know is a person who has absolute regard for strong women and surrounds himself with them. His wife, Margie, his chief of staff Peta Credlin. He loves and respects his three daughters and his two sisters. To suggest that Tony Abbott is a misogynist is part of a smear campaign designed to stop him becoming Prime Minister and let me say this: it is a distraction from the issues like cost of living pressures, job insecurity, the economy, and Labor wants us to have that distraction. They want the Australian public to talk about everything other than the economy, job insecurity, cost of living and the carbon tax and unfortunately that question falls for that Labor Party campaign. To Margie Abbott came out on Friday, because she was thoroughly sick of people telling bald faced lies about her husband. Tanya Plibersek, Nicola Roxon, unfortunately Kate Ellis, others have been responsible for this, what’s been dubbed the handbag hit squad. It is an outrage what people have said about Tony Abbott and it is as offensive to suggest he hates his wife, his three daughters and his two sisters…
GEORGINA FREEMAN: I didn’t say he hates his wife.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: …as the things Alan Jones said about Julia Gillard’s father…

Piers Akerman was decidely strange, as Matthew da Silva notes today.

But such debates are part of the culture wars in Australia, as we saw later the same day when Piers Akerman appeared on the ABC’s Q and A. The same kind of issues popped up, and the same fundamental lack of understanding about how social media works. We had Akerman sagely pointing a trembling finger at "The Twitter", and comparing a Facebook page (which he knows nothing about) to a blog (he once moderated one in a professional capacity). And there was the same propensity for the blokes – Akerman, the Liberals’ Christopher Pyne, and ex-Labor MP Lindsay Tanner – to talk over the top of the women. Host Tony Jones was forced to step in on a number of occasions in order to ensure Labor MP Kate Ellis had enough air to reasonably present her opinion on the panel…

Matthew’s main topic in that post is this interview on 2GB:

It’s a long interview and worth listening to. A number of topics were covered, including Alan Jones’ propensity to inciting violence, and his track record in this vein during the lead-up to the December 2005 Cronulla riots. Smith tried valiantly to play down Jones’ role in that affair but this sort of nimble footwork by a 2GB shock jock would merely have further angered those who participated in the social media campaign against Alan Jones. Like the 45-minute "apology" Jones gave after being caught out saying John Gillard "died of shame", Smith’s performance yesterday with regard to the Cronulla riots merely indicates that 2GB radio announcers do not believe that Jones did anything wrong all those years ago. It is difficult to see how progress can be made on the count of public civility if 2GB still harbours resentment over something that was officially sanctioned, and for which Jones received a public rebuke from the media authority. How can the two sides agree on the nature of appropriate conduct in the media if there is disagreement on such basic things?

There is so much around the traps on all this now as the issues raised are rather greater than the bloody Parrot. You can go from Gerard Henderson on the one hand – why do I keep thinking the word “anal”? – to Jenna Price on the other.  Or Michelle Grattan:

…there is a fine line — between firms responding to public opinion, and being intimidated by a campaign targeted at them, especially when it bombards them individually. A number of those remaining — before Macquarie Radio stopped all advertising on the program — were small enterprises. Their vulnerability to damage from a tough campaign is proportionately greater than that of larger companies.

By giving ordinary people a voice, social media is empowering voters and consumers. This is obviously a good thing, whether it is to enables them to have more political say or get better service from companies.

But the medium also has potential to bring out the worst as well as the best.

While Jones’ enemies, especially on the left, are glad to see him get his comeuppance, they should also remember that in other circumstances some of his nastier allies on the right could also mobilise support to hunt their targets…

Yesterday, even though I had not signed any petitions about Jones as I explained before, I did "like" Destroy the Joint because I did "like" what I saw there.

the grand prince of bogans .....

And now, just for fun:

Facebook’s big shrink– Google Chrome vs Firefox – FB/Chrome fail!

Quite suddenly and spontaneously this afternoon my Facebook page shrank by what looks like 50% in Google Chrome. OK, there is a new version of Google Chrome today, and also I am sure the incessant fiddle that is Facebook was simultaneously happening. And here is the result.

ongoogle15aug

In Google Chrome a presentation that might appeal to mice or ants…

onfirefox15aug

In Firefox the way it is surely meant to look.

And possibly even better, here it is in Opera:

operafacebook15aug

Back to Chrome, here is the ant-written version of the Facebook Help Screen. Yes, I have sent a complaint…

chromefacebookhelp

All those screen shots are exactly to the same scale, by the way.

Fact is, Google and/or Facebook, you have managed to render my Facebook experience almost completely useless and unworkable. Here is one work-around:

Picture0041

One’s faith in Facebook doesn’t actually grow when one looks at this from yesterday. Click to see the current state of play:

downrightnow14aug

A shame, as like many I have come to enjoy Facebook and its quite wonderful pages like CIty Daily Photo and Lost Sydney… I did see a comment somewhere in the past day that Facebook has a talent for breaking what didn’t need fixing, and it may well be Google Chrome in its latest version has joined in.

Shared stories

I have posted these on Facebook already but they definitely can make a post here.

The August Monthly is very good – better than July, which I found a tad light on.

Comment: The Australian Solution by Waleed Aly is available online at the moment.

… The current debate presumes there is no less brutal way to stop people smuggling, and thus prevent the loss of life at sea. But this is not true. We could, for instance, significantly increase our refugee intake from Indonesia. Many people who get on boats have already joined a queue, been processed by the UNHCR and been assessed as refugees. What they haven’t been is resettled. Indonesia harbours a large backlog of people going nowhere – around 10,000 of them.

So far this year we’ve resettled around 60 refugees from Indonesia directly. If the annual figure were, say, 6000 (which would doubtless help Australia achieve more meaningful co-operation with Indonesia on surveillance, processing and policing), the number of boats would decrease rapidly and no one would need to be mentally destroyed in the process. More asylum seekers might pour into Indonesia, but their prospects within the queue would no longer be hopeless; they would surely be less likely to risk their lives on leaky boats.

After all, we could absorb several times that annual number with barely a blip. We could make the humanitarian intake 100,000 if necessary, and we’d cope just fine. This would do more than break what the government likes to call “the people smugglers’ business model”. It would take away their clients altogether.

This will not happen. Not because it wouldn’t work, but because it wouldn’t work in the way we want…

Robert Manne’s A Dark Victory: How vested interests defeated climate science – isn’t that a rather ambiguous headline? – is also available online. Having followed the issue for some years now as a quick search here shows, I rather admire this article.

… For reasonable citizens there ought to be no question easier to answer than whether or not human-caused global warming is real and is threatening the future of the Earth. Thousands of climate scientists in a variety of discrete disciplines have been exploring the issue for decades. They have reached a consensual conclusion whose existence is easily demonstrated. Every authoritative national scientific body in the world supports the idea of human-caused global warming. So does one of the most remarkable collaborative achievements in the history of science – the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in which the research findings of the world’s leading climate scientists, as outlined in leading peer-reviewed scientific journals, are periodically presented to and then accepted by the governments of the world.

If a citizen was not convinced by this alone, three studies have been conducted that reveal an overwhelming core consensus. In 2004, Naomi Oreskes published in Science the result of her examination of the abstracts of every article in the world’s leading scientific journals published between 1993 and 2003 that was concerned with global climate change. There were 928 articles. Not one challenged the core consensus. In 2009, two scientists from the University of Chicago published in Eos the result of a survey they conducted among a group they called “Earth scientists”. They discovered that among those who called themselves climate scientists and who had published recently in the field, 97.4% agreed with the proposition that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures”. And, in 2010, the eminent climate scientist Stephen Schneider revealed in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that 195 (97.5%) of the 200 most published climate scientists were convinced by the evidence of anthropogenic climate change.

Consensus does not imply unanimity. Nor does it suggest that climate scientists are in agreement about the most difficult questions concerning either the past or the future – their calculations of temperature over the past centuries and millennia or their precise predictions about the pace and the nature of the changes that will be visited upon the Earth and its inhabitants as a consequence of the ever-accelerating injection of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It should go without saying that the existence of a consensus on the core issue of human-caused global warming does not provide any answers to the diabolically difficult public policy questions that arise for nations and the international community. What is clear, however, is that a rational citizen has little alternative but to accept the consensual core position of climate scientists. Discussion of this point should long ago have ended. That it has not is the most persuasive possible example of the feebleness of reason, the futility of argument and the failure of politics…

Today the people at The Monthly have added Why America Should Share Power with China — the complete text of Paul Keating’s speech to the Lowy Institute at the launch of The China Choice: Why America Should Share Power by Hugh White, reviewed by Malcolm Turnbull in this month’s issue.

Very different is this:

mussounds

There is an article in the current Guardian Weekly on this – where I saw it – and also, it turns out, in The Age last month.

The crackle of a dial-up modem. The metallic clack of a 3.5-inch floppy slotting into a Macintosh disk drive. The squeal of the newborn Tamagotchi. They are vintage sounds that no oldies station is ever going to touch.

During the ’80s and ’90s the world bleeped and buzzed with the noise of consumer electronics – stuff like digital watch alarms and dot matrix printers – all so banal that you barely registered their existence.

And then they fell silent, victims of technology’s unceasing march toward a smaller, sleeker and less annoying ideal. Dial-up modems were supplanted by WiFi. Floppy disks begat CD-ROMs, which begat USB flash drives. Tamagotchi, the digital pet, wore out his welcome and was stashed in the back of a dresser drawer, never to hatch again.

Now these random bleeps and bloops have found a long-term home at the Museum of Endangered Sounds, a website dedicated to archiving and preserving the noises emitted by yesterday’s gadgetry…

The site’s founder, Brendan Chilcutt, promises that there’s more to come. In a photograph, he is seen wearing oversize glasses and glancing over his shoulder while typing code into a desktop computer. The museum’s mission statement, which he penned, is rife with purple prose pertaining to VCRs, cathode ray tube televisions and the Windows 95 startup chime. "Where will we turn for the sound of fingers striking QWERTY keypads? Tell me that," he writes. "And tell me: Who will play my Game Boy when I’m gone?"

As it turns out, he was never even here. Brendan Chilcutt is a fabrication, a nerd mascot dreamed up by the site’s flesh-and-blood creators, Marybeth Ledesma, Phil Hadad and Greg Elwood, all advertising students in their mid-20s who met while they were attending Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter (they have all since graduated)…

Finally, a local Wollongong story from The Illawarra Mercury.

A fired-up group of Illawarra residents are mounting a campaign to save their beloved postie, who they fear may be moved on because he takes the time to have a chat while delivering the mail.

Simon McGovern delivers mail on the picturesque Austinmer and Coledale route, and is well known for his human touch.

He has been known to hand-deliver condolence cards when he knows there has been a death in a family, rather than just leaving them in the letterbox.

Other times he makes an effort to save older residents the trip to the letterbox.

Mr McGovern’s fans liken the locally born-and-bred postie to a character from the TV series Get Smart – an agent called Simon the Likeable – and they say he epitomises good, old customer service.

One of the residents standing up for the postie is Julia Bianco (pictured with Mr McGovern), who lost her daughter Yasmina in a train accident at Coledale in 2011.

She said the postie had played a vital role in her daily life in the weeks that followed the tragedy, with his friendly face giving her something to smile about as she sat on her balcony.

‘‘I haven’t forgotten,’’ she said…

Mr McGovern, who is undergoing an internal disciplinary process, could not comment for this story.

An Australia Post spokeswoman said out of respect for privacy ‘‘it isn’t appropriate for us to comment on individual staff members’’.

‘‘We understand the important role our posties play in the community and we would like to assure the Coledale and Austinmer residents that we are committed to delivering their mail in a timely and efficient manner.’’

The postie is being supported by his union – the CEPU – and its NSW postal and telecommunications branch president Peter Chaloner.

Mr Chaloner said the disciplinary matters which Mr McGovern faced were minor and ‘‘petty’’, and seemed to stem from the fact Mr McGovern was taking longer to complete his round – because he took the time to talk to people along the way.

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Simon McGovern

Seems to me they should be giving him a medal…

Sunday lunch in Daceyville

It has been a while since I ventured back up to Sydney for a Sunday lunch. That I did so yesterday is down to Jim Belshaw who now lives in Daceyville, a most interesting suburb not far from the University of NSW.

Today, Daceyville is a tiny, often overlooked suburb located six kilometres south of Sydney central business district. In 1912, however, it was a hive of activity as its construction brought about Australia’s first public housing scheme. Built by the state’s first Labor government, and using the skills of well-known Sydneysiders like architect John Sulman, it is one of Sydney’s unique suburbs.

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In Jim’s street yesterday.

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Jim, followed by (L-R) Noric Dilanchian, Clare Belshaw, Neil Whitfield and Dennis Sligar.

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In the train on the way home.

Dennis turns out to have been just one year ahead of me as a student at Sydney Boys High in the 1950s and we reminisced ourselves silly. Smile  He was also a Public Servant of note and gets mentioned in Kim Beazley’s autobiography. Noric is of Armenian background and among topics raised by him was the matter of history and perspective. Jim’s daughter Clare is also quite passionate about history, particularly about the Julio-Claudians it appears and has a perhaps not unrelated interest in zombies. I also learned for the first time – though I am sure most of you already knew – about Kickstarter,  a funding platform for creative projects. What a great thing it appears to be!

All that and roast lamb too.

Thanks, Jim.