The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

It’s been seven years, but …

Thursday 31 July 2008 at 7:14 am

Look past the lame service and Qantas is still one of the safest airlines in the world, so last week’s news about a scare over the Philippines isn’t that big of a deal.

Of course, I’m assuming that Geoff “must save money, we’re going bankrupt!” Dixon and his management aren’t to blame for, I don’t know, maybe running a plane that was in poor condition. After all, that’s the best explanation for part of its skin ripping off. And thus it is that the Australian news reports were asking questions about maintenance, interviewing union officials, that kind of thing.

But I actually saw the story first in the San Francisco Chronicle, and barely a few sentences into their AP article: “An official at the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity … said initial reports show it was not related to terrorism.”


It’d be funny if it weren’t so worrying …

Tuesday 24 July 2007 at 6:00 pm

My first reaction to the failed Glasgow terrorist attack was laughter. To borrow Dave’s inimitable characterisation: “woo! I’m a wannabe terrorist trying to blow up an airport, but the best I can do is drive into a bollard! so I’m going to run out of the car and try to punch up the police!”

Obviously, those blokes and their collaborators are dangerous and should be charged and imprisoned — but someone should tell the Federal Police that that doesn’t imply a need to lock up every Australian with contacts in Scotland. Despite their $1.2 billion budget, they seem to have trouble comprehending the idea of concrete evidence: there’s this guy who responded when someone asked for his old SIM card! he may have even photographed a significant building! and he’s got brown skin!

You know, I’ve often heard it said that the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a potential terrorist target (hrm, maybe the people claiming that think the September 11 attackers chose the Pentagon at random?). It so happens that I have lots of photos of said bridge! I can cite things like how the stone pillars on each corner are decorative, not structural! The last plane ticket I bought was one-way! And worse than a SIM card, I’ve given brown-skinned people stored-value cards for use on trains!

Should I await a call from the Murdoch press, or from the Federal Police?


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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So much for ‘foiling’ the terrorists

Friday 11 August 2006 at 5:31 pm

In Australia we have a fairly competent customs and quarantine regime, and so every couple of months it’s not unusual to hear of yet another drug bust at an airport or the prosecution of some silly person trying to smuggle native animals.

When airport drug busts are announced, people acknowledge it as good police work, maybe even with a bit of nationalistic pride. They do not lock themselves in their homes, screaming “oh no! this is a sign that the streets are flush with drugs!”. There are no calls for massive increases in funding for drug detection at airports (because clearly, catching one smuggler means all the others are getting through). Nobody tries to ban plastic bags (or condoms) on planes for fear of the horror they could unleash upon addicts.

Compare this to the current panic over a foiled terrorist attack at Heathrow Airport.

This news is a nice confirmation that despite their flaws, the Metropolitan Police are still one of the best police forces in the world.

It is not a good reason to go cancelling flights, panic selling airline shares, or making long-haul flights unbearable by banning iPods.

Nor is it reason for crazy hype. Had the attacks gone ahead, it wouldn’t have been “mass murder on an unimaginable scale”, contrary to the assistant commissioner. A dozen destroyed planes = about 5000 people = roughly the number of people who die in London every month.

It never ceases to amaze me how common sense is in such short supply when it’s most needed.

(This post inspired by zeFrank, via Ponderance.)

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New buses are terrorist-proof!

Thursday 27 July 2006 at 9:50 pm

Rejoice, for the threat posed by terrorists is no more! Transperth have pulled down the “if you see something, say something” posters over the stairs at the Busport, replacing them with posters for their community consultation sessions — one of which I attended some time ago. (I would have photos, but my batteries weren’t charged …)

Clearly, we can stop being fearful now. And if I do see a Arab-looking person carrying a sack of ammonium nitrate, well, I dunno, I think I might forget what to do.

On the note of buses: my ride home today was on a shiny new natural gas bus, complete with the lovely smell of fresh synthetic seat covering. It seems Swan Transit have finally gotten in on the CNG-bus action (previously only Path and Southern Coast had them), and the new toys sport several design changes.

Back when the CNG buses first appeared I commented on the interior design, which seemed ugly at the time but has since grown on me. These newer natural gas buses feature sexy black plastic handles on the seats (not only is black the new black, it’s the new yellow!) and the surveillance camera mountings are much, much more subtle. Other changes include better lighting (with reading lights for the kids at the front) and … dig it … openable windows! But there are only four of them, and they’re small, so I doubt they’re of any real use.

The new gas buses also seem to have addressed (albeit perhaps not solved) the annoying violent gear-shift problems of the older ones. Yay for not feeling like I’m being beaten up by the playground bully every time I’m on a bus …


Yet another terrorist strike on trains

Tuesday 11 July 2006 at 11:39 pm

This morning I caught a later bus than normal to UWA, and started chatting to a friendly bloke from Saudi Arabia after he asked me how to find the Alex LT. In that ten minutes I learned more about Middle Eastern politics than what I’ve picked up from years of reading newspapers. In particular, he told me some interesting stories about conflict between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims in his country, such as blatant discrimination for mining jobs in the oil-rich areas where most of the Shi’a minority live.

This is suddenly relevant, I think, considering that barely a year after the London bombings, terrorists have struck commuter trains again, this time in Mumbai (a.k.a. Bombay). This happened three hours ago, so no one’s claimed responsibility, but the early finger-pointing is at Islamic terrorists angry at the situation in Kashmir. (Some of our American friends are pointing to Al-Qaeda or others, but hey.)

More details are on various local blogs. There’s been the inevitable traffic chaos (Mumbai has one of the busiest railway systems in the world) and unsurprising responses from Pakistan’s government and India’s opposition party, but it is slightly worrying that the Indian PM has announced he’ll “take all possible measures to … defeat the forces of terrorism”. Little more than a heat-of-the-moment populist reaction, sure, but do I sense shades of the G.W. Bush school of anti-terrorism?

Meanwhile, over in the Horn of Africa, another group of Islamists has taken control of Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. It was sad a few years back when I read about how that country self-imploded in the early 90s, and it’s even sadder to see it happening all over again …