The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Maybe this should’ve been posted earlier?

Wednesday 6 May 2009 at 3:09 am
  • Sentiment of the moment: “pandemic swine flu, aaarrrggghh”! And in fairness, there is a reasonable risk here, but right now it’s just a tiny problem — so it’s entirely correct to act swiftly to stop its spread (nip the problem in the bud, as it were). But hearing about this has clearly gotten a bunch of people awfully panicked (to the point that I’ve repeatedly been warned to avoid New York?! xkcd summarised this pretty well). Thus it seems the world’s public health authorities are getting better at managing outbreaks, but failing miserably at managing public perceptions and PR …
  • Good grief, President Obama has announced a lot of stuff these last few weeks (maybe it’s the hundred-day anniversary thing?). Talk of spending cuts, prodding Congress with its environmental legislation, proposing investment in high-speed passenger rail, and more! It is wonderful to see people getting excited about these announcements — but for now, they are just announcements. I dearly hope some-or-all of these plans turn into reality, because that would be really exciting.
  • Looking back at Australia, and to wrap up the National Fibre Spend-fest coverage, I noticed an interesting comaprison of fibre prices — although I suspect the numbers in my last post, rough-and-ready though they were, are more accurate — and it’s interesting to see a defence of the ownership model that Team Rudd are going with. (though, who left the stupid Perth comment?!)
  • It so happens that I fly into Perth on the day of the daylight savings vote! And I still think it’s breathtakingly pointless; I mean, c’mon, anyone notice anything wrong with, oh, the economy lately? But still … this is pretty funny (via Rick!)
  • I was saddened to hear that the fourth East Asia Summit meeting, due to be held in Thailand, was cancelled (and the accompanying ASEAN meetings were cut short). Not to dismiss the protestors — Thailand is in a rough state and the current government is far from universally representative — but they are screwing with their country in ways that don’t seem to be helping.
  • And finally, there’s been a server change around here (yay OpenVM and cheapness!), but hopefully that was seamless from your point of view.
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Briefly: ministers, global warming, and the EAS

Thursday 6 December 2007 at 11:24 pm
  • As nice as it is that the Ruddster has gotten all tough for his new ministerial code of conduct, I do believe John Howard was really quite strict on his ministers too, for a while in 1996. But then he fired so many that he had to scale the rules back, and something tells me that Labor types aren’t any more wholesome and pure than Liberals …
  • Also, the poor PM already seems to be having a hard time handling the global warming talks in Bali. And this is before any signs of progress emerge at all!
  • Brendan Nelson’s new shadow ministry certainly seems to keep with his promise to be fresh and new, with Tony Abbot getting the demotion he probably deserved. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the new faces are competent in opposition, because I have no idea how they’d perform as real ministers.
  • I never got a chance to write about the East Asia Summit, which was held in Singapore a fortnight ago. Pending a more thoughtful post, the news reports I’ve seen suggest that the biggest topic of discussion was climate change. It’s lovely to see more awareness of this issue, particularly from the Chinese (now Mr. Wen, can you fix the haze in Guangdong?), but it’s disappointing to see the EAS so distracted by it. With global warming being global and all, this isn’t the kind of issue that the institution was built to handle.
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Sculptures, fluoro lamps, and foreign policy

Wednesday 21 February 2007 at 6:33 pm

I am disorganised, which means it’s time for another potpourri list.

[Sculptures at Werribee Park, near Melbourne]

  • This is a cool idea and probably worth supporting. The report in yesterday’s West Australian says it’d be an “Australian first”, which hardly sounds right — I took the photos above in a similar sculpture park in Werribee, Victoria.
  • Valé Elizabeth Jolley. Tis always a shame when an author on my “need to read more of” list passes away …
  • Good ol’ IMDB finally has a new design. About freakin’ time.
  • The Federal Government’s plan to outlaw incandescent globes is a bit of a shock and reeks horribly of taking an easy political target just to seem clean and green. It’s a good measure, to be sure, and should prompt innovation among fluoro manufacturers, but it’s not the panacea that it’s being talked up to be. The thing with most ‘environmentally friendly’ technologies is that they’re a case of lesser of two evils — and in this case, compact fluoros are filled with mercury, thus creating a bunch of disposal headaches. It’s a manageable problem, of course, but one that needs to be considered when saying things like “800 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide saved”.
  • Since I don’t exactly have a copy of The Diplomat in my back pocket, I can’t read the exact words of Kevin Rudd as he was reported last week. Apparently he is interested in being both an ally and constructive critic of US policy, which reminds me of a Kim Beazley speech I heard some years back: “Australia should be the friend America needs, not the friend America wants”. But he also talks about APEC and seems to criticise John Howard for supporting the East Asia Summit. I’m commenting on fragmented quotes, but he may be quite wrong, since APEC has thoroughly lost its way. His talk of revitalising APEC is good, as long as it involves reform, but I doubt it’s achievable — the Sydney meetings are straight before the election. As for the EAS, Howard deserves congratulations (not criticism) for representing Australia at a meeting that has much better prospects for earning long-term relevance.

EAS, round 2: energy deals grab broader attention

Saturday 20 January 2007 at 10:47 am

(Admittedly, this post is several days late; I blame family.)

Leaders at the second East Asia Summit, Cebu, Philippines. Creative Commons licence does not apply to this image.

So the East Asia Summit for 2006 (er, 2007? 06-07? or something?) has drawn to a close, and although the institution is still new and finding its feet, this year has presented a few good signs that the Summit will have a successful future in encouraging regional cooperation.

Aside from several measures to promote regional trade, the big announcement was a declaration that promises cooperation on “energy security”, which is to say there’ll be a big push for investment in transmission and generation infrastructure. Assuming the declaration is followed through, there’ll also be a few token measures towards bio-fuels and renewable energy (though admittedly that’s better than nothing).

I think it’s illustrative that our local daily gave a big chunk of space on the business pages to an AP story about the energy pact, which seems to mirror several other news services I’ve checked. In other words, talk of energy deals makes business leaders (or at least business press editors) stand up and take notice — which, if nothing else, has the benefit of giving the Summit some more widespread attention than it’d otherwise earn. On that front, the EAS has already done better than APEC meetings of recent years, none of which have produced anything quite as noteworthy.

Within that context, the Japanese government has already stepped forward with a donation of US$2b for energy research, yet another component in its long-term programme of being the region’s aid financier. Similarly, the AusAID announcement earlier in the week of $5m to combat bird flu was soundly trounced by a Japanese pledge of an additional US$67m. These donations are important in the sense that they’re giving substance to the decisions being made at the EAS — which suggests that to some extent, the EAS is already getting things done. (On the other hand, though, Japan was donating money for disease prevention long before 2005.)

Speaking of Japan, simmering resentment between it and China earned barely a mention in most media coverage of the second Summit — unlike last time — and this is pretty much entirely due to Shinzo Abe taking over from Junichiro Koizumi as PM. Abe has made little in the way of significant changes to Japan’s dealings with China, but simply by not visiting the Yasukuni Shrine (as PM) he has defused tensions enough that an entire section of my thesis is rendered obsolete. But that’s a good thing, because I argued that a rift between the region’s largest economies was the single biggest issue in the way of a successful EAS.

Interestingly, Russia wasn’t at the table this time around, even though its presence would have actually been relevant on the question of oil supply (so I suppose that ends the speculation from 2005 about whether it’d become a fully-fledged member!).

The broader ASEAN Summit (of which the EAS was one part) earned headlines for a declaration about terrorism and progress towards an ASEAN Charter, but otherwise there was little reaction to the events of the last 12 months. It is the ASEAN Way to not criticise any country’s domestic affairs in public, so there was nary a whimper about the fact that Thailand was represented by a military general. North Korea and Myanmar were both told off, the former about the 6-party talks and the latter for lacking democracy, but these announcements have become yearly stalwarts. Beyond that, the only announcement that struck me as interesting was the plan for new university courses as part of the cultural component of the forthcoming ASEAN Community.

As a final note, the most prominent mention that the Summit got in Australia was John Howard’s stopover in Broome on the way back. Frankly, were I in his shoes, I’d probably do the same — although I’d have covered my back for the inevitable “who paid for this?” squabbles ;-)

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Airliners, crackpots, bird flu and phones

Saturday 13 January 2007 at 11:48 pm
  • The best news I’ve heard so far this year: Tiger Airways, a Singaporean discount carrier modelled after Air Asia, is starting flights to Perth in March. And just like Air Asia, they have ridiculous discounts: $20 one way to Singapore, plus (obscene) taxes, on selected dates until October. This more than plugs the hole left when Valuair stopped its Perth flights after a merger with Qantas (mutter grumble), and makes it wonderfully cheap to travel around Asia. I’m already planning a trip to relatives in Penang for about $400, less than half the current cost. Hopefully this will also be a good thing for West Australian tourism — the State government had better take advantage of it!
  • Who decided that this guy was so important anyway? (Just like Christianity, Islam is divided into different factions and schools of thought, and he’s only one mufti …) I don’t think we should ban him from returning or revoke his citizenship (now that’s a horrid idea: how do you decide who’s a bad citizen?), and he’s entitled to freely travel and express his views. But if I flew overseas and told some people that all Australians are idiots, somehow I doubt there’d be such a swarm of coverage. The media need only stop paying attention in order to transform him into Yet Another Harmless Crackpot.
  • The ASEAN summit in Cebu, postponed from last December, has just started. Impressively, our government has used this as a chance to pitch in a $5m donation to combat bird flu, which gives some meat to the rather hollow Declaration from the last East Asia Summit, and fits in nicely with the argument made on page 29 of my thesis ;-)
  • Finally, after more considered analysis, I’m not sure the iPhone is as awesome as it first seemed. It’s far and away the best phone interface ever, that much is certain, but it won’t be able to run 3rd-party software (perhaps not even Web 2.0 apps), we know little about the camera, and there’s a case to be made that hardware keyboards are better (they’re good for blind people — such as me, when SMSing while half-asleep). Speaking of which, this is an awesome response to everyone’s reactions.

Thesis topic!

Friday 7 April 2006 at 9:40 am

In slightly happier news … I finally have a topic for this year! Quoth my dissertation topic statement proposal thing:

After the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005, leaders of the ten ASEAN member states met with six other regional leaders in the first East Asia Summit … Some commentators have hailed the new institution as a dramatic step forward for the region, but others fear it will amount to no more than a talk-fest.

I will be writing about the “challenges it faces as an organisation seeking regional cooperation and unity” — in other words, will the damn thing actually achieve anything?

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