Wednesday 26 April 2006


What an eventful day of public transport happenings!

On my way to the city aboard the 412 bus, I squeezed into my seat. I wouldn’t say I’m much overweight but Sydney buses don’t make much space for large people. I sat beside a woman, showing appropriate disinterest. I immediately sensed she could have been cast as a nasty character in a Kath and Kim episode - miserable from the start. Can only guess why.

As we approached Central, she said “excuse me” and indicated she was about to alight. I closed the biography of Gandhi I was reading, picked up my backpack and swung my legs into the aisle. At the time this seemed a thoughtful thing to do. I was balancing the need to keep the aisle clear as lots of others were also leaving the bus at Central, while making space for my seated companion. She was unimpressed with my efforts.

She yelled “ stand up you idiot” in a gentle effort to persuade me that her passage would be made easier if I left my seat. I obliged, was shocked and somewhat amused and wished her a wonderful day. Perhaps Gandhi had rubbed off.

On the way home, Gandhi served me well again. This time the bus was so crowded there was barely standing room. I had my backpack and another shoulder bag which, added to my own bulk, was quite an imposition on the aisle space.

As I made my way down the aisle, a smallish Indian man in his late 50s (I’m 41) jumped from his seat and insisted I take it. He pleaded with me as he was so pleased I was reading about Gandhi. Only after a determined (but polite of course) refusal on my part, did the bald Indian man retreat back to his seat. Apart from minor wound and public embarrassment of being offered a seat by a man so much older, it was a moving scene. The other passengers were amused.

How wonderful I thought that this Indian man identified so much with the greatness of Gandhi. He was ecstatic that an Australian commuter might be reading about his country’s great hero. What a wonderful role model for a country to have. I wondered how I would respond in a crowded Indian bus if I saw a man reading of one of our heroes – Kerry Packer perhaps?

And what of my earlier encounter?

I have been reading Gandhi’s biography in fits and starts for about three months. Almost through it now. I think I’ll keep it on hand!

Sunday 9 April 2006


When a hard disc fails, what rights does a consumer have to recover data from the faulty drive? My recent experience with Apple came as a big surprise.

I’m a reformed Apple zealot. Like most Apple zealots, my passion for the company and its products was beyond good reason. Like an aggrieved former zealot, my contempt for the company and its practices now runs deep.

My story is fairly simple.

In October 2005, the hard drive in my Apple Powerbook G4 computer melted down in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam – where I spend a lot of my time. I hoped beyond hope that the problem was software related and spent lots of time communicating with Apple service people in India via Skype. It became clear after a while that this was likely a hardware meltdown. The machine was a little over one year old but I’d purchased an optional three year warranty package known as Apple Care. All good apart from the immediate inconvenience – or so I thought.

After searching for an Apple service centre in Ho Chi Minh City unsuccessfully, I decided to defer the repair until I returned to Sydney where I purchased the machine. In Vietnam, there were plenty of people ready to sell Apple equipment, none it seemed were able to service them. The Apple website did not seem to offer any assistance in locating service centres either.

So back to Sydney I headed with dodgy computer in hand. On arrival, I dropped the machine at the Apple Centre Broadway. They advised shortly thereafter that the hard drive was dead. I paid for a 24 hour express diagnosis – who can wait for the repair of a work laptop?

After eight days or so, a new hard drive was installed (seemed like a long wait to me) and I then started to focus my attention on recovering data from the faulty drive. Problem was, I was due to head back to Vietnam right away.

I am fairly good with backup but I was concerned I may have lost some precious image files. It was worth it to run a recovery from my perspective to ensure that these weren’t lost.

I asked the service centre to see whether they could recover data. They instigated a recovery ($282.00) that failed to locate the data I was concerned about. By this time I was back in Vietnam and in a mild panic about potentially lost data.

Dino had previously recommended a professional data recovery centre specialising in extracting hard to access data from dodgy drives. I thought I should get hold of the drive and give this a go.

That’s when the trouble began.

Apple Broadway advised that I must purchase the dud drive at full commercial value of a new drive if I wanted to take possession of it. I was appalled. All I wanted was to recover my own data. Apple could have the drive back after that. The only value of the drive was my data. How could Apple charge me to access that? Wasn’t I an aggrieved customer already having experienced a failed drive 13 months after the purchase of my Powerbook G4? The drive had no other value. Surely that was my right?

Not according to Apple. If you want to access your drive, you need to buy it back! I only needed it for a week or so! Nup. I was told I had to purchase it.

Under duress from Vietnam, my prime concern was the data so after much protest, I passed over $374.00 to purchase the dodgy piece of hardware at the centre of the fiasco.

On my return to Australia in January, I decided to take this outrageous policy up with Apple. 3 months later, I have made no headway. The trail of correspondence is below if you have time to read it. I have spoken to four Customer Service people.

In essence then, if an Apple customer wants to recover data from a faulty Apple disc, even under warranty, that Apple customer must buy the faulty disc. Shocked? So was I.


After sending this story and all of the accompanying correspondence (7 long emails) and advising of my intentioning of taking legal action, Apple finally agreed to refund the cost of the disc - After 6 months and untold hours of squabbling. It shouldn't have been that hard. Shame on Apple!

Thursday 6 April 2006


It is one of the more exquisite ironies of our time. Messrs Bush, Blair and Howard spend a good part of their careers telling us that governments are very bad at doing things like providing health care, education, building public infrastructure etc etc. Small government is good government we are told. The private sector does things best. Governments invariably waste money and stuff things up.

Then they ask us to trust them and their governments with our most precious asset of all – our freedom.

Well sorry guys, I’m happy to entrust government with lots more involvement in health, education and transport – something you seem less interested in - but get your dirty hands off my hard earned freedoms.

Of course I didn’t earn my freedoms. I happily inherited them though. They were hard earned over many centuries by all kinds of people using all kinds of means. If they lived now, they’d be dismissed by the Right as members of a reviled “commentariat” – unionists, political activists academics and idle bods who think that government requires scrutiny and analysis and good governance is a permanent struggle.

It seems to me though that these guys brought us democracy, the rule of law, labour standards, free press etc etc.

So now we’ve reached the point where we’re headed backwards. So many simple but important values trashed in a few short years - habeas corpus, freedom of the press, access to information, right to a fair trial, rights of children to humane treatment, compassion for victims of torture and abuse – all diminished. Our small government guru Howard has extended government significantly – but only in the most pernicious liberty destroying way.

If you want a look at where this might all be going, the story of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, extraordinarily rendited from Gambia in November 2002 gives some direction. They’ve received minimal coverage in Australia from what I can tell. I spotted their story in the SMH last week. Their case is in the UK courts and getting more press there.

These two guys were initially considered terrorist suspects when a suspicious device was found in their luggage at Gatwick Airport in the UK. They were later cleared by MI5, released and travelled on to Gambia to start a business. The suspicious device was found to be a souped up battery charger.

The CIA it seems received the initial data from MI5 without the subsequent clearance. They then dropped one of their special “extraordinary rendition” flights into Gambia and packed the two boys off to Guantanamo Bay where they have languished since.

How many other Guantanamo detainees have similar stories? How many terrorists have been created by the existence of Guantanamo? What of David Hicks? Whether Hicks is innocent or guilty, the Australian government’s refusal to defend his right to a proper judicial process is another of its countless gutless acts. Even our recent and beloved visitor Tony Blair insisted that British nationals be released from Guantanamo Bay. A request the US government accepted. None of them have been charged since.

Perhaps the most appalling thing about the war on terror has been the disposal of many of our great if imperfectly practiced legal traditions. This is not a wet plea for a kind and gentle approach to horrible crimes. No, it is based on a view that these traditions evolved not from nice soppy people that wanted to feel good about the way they treated their neighbours but that they are the best means for safe guarding the rights of all people. In turn they are the best hope against unjust or extremist government that leads to disaffected or victimised minorities who become the likely perpetrators of crimes against a state.

So why did we have September 11 when all of these rights were in some sense in tact? - Too many reasons to go into here. No level of “civilisation” or anti terror edicts will completely protect us. The question is whether we are safer or not because of extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay, approval of torture and the dilution of our domestic freedoms?

Every time we lower the bar, we give energise extremists and dictators. Every new Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo story creates another terrorist for our diminished system to defeat.

British agents set men up for CIA detention

MI5 tip-off to CIA led to men's rendition,,1741076,00.html

Richard Ackland Innocence ignored at Guantanamo

Tuesday 4 April 2006


The recent third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by US and coalition forces revealed the woeful state of conservative opinion writing in Australia.

I collect my media in a haphazard way here in Saigon. Sometimes I read opinion on the internet. More often I manage to pick up second hand editions of The Australian, the SMH or the Financial Review from the newspaper boys on Dong Khoi St. It was this random process that availed me of the following pieces marking the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq – Greg Sheridan’s “The Iraq War is a noble cause” 23 March, Miranda Devine’s “From Iraq’s front line, it looks like the media has lost the plot”.

If you’re familiar with these columnists, you could probably predict their positions on the Iraq war. Sheridan and Devine are dependable defenders of the Howard universe and supporters of the Iraq adventure. Their two pieces seemed, with precious little supporting data, to expect us to trust that all would be OK in Iraq and that it is a just and necessary campaign. Both writers fail to address the key arguments posed by the war’s opponents. Nor do they provide accurate accounts of the current realities.

The Sheridan and Devine pieces demonstrate the truly low quality of conservative opinion writing in Australia – predetermined partisan party political positions with facts tailored to fit. The referenced pieces exemplify the appalling lack of intellectual discipline and rigour that characterises most conservative writing.

I have frequently marvelled at Greg Sheridan’s capacity to hold down the Foreign Editor’s job at our only national daily while rarely if ever exhibiting incisive or fresh analysis. He gushes when referring to his heroes Howard, Blair, Downer, Bush, Wolfowitz, (past) et. al. There is a palpable childish excitement in his writing. (Take a look at this piece following Blair’s vist,5744,18646472%255E25377,00.html. )

He favours the US invasion of Iraq (perhaps it’s best referred to as past policy as it has few advocates today) far more than most US Republican members of Congress not to mention Democrats or the US people.

The core premise of Sheridan’s piece is that despite an appallingly executed post military campaign, “the Iraq War was the right war against the right enemy at the right time waged for broadly the right reasons.” He contends that there was no viable alternative but war. While Bush, Blair and Howard have retrospectively appropriated the “bring democracy to Iraq” rationale, Sheridan posits that Saddam’s desire to acquire nuclear and chemical weapons and to dominate the Middle East was in itself sufficient justification for war. His total incapacity to realise his fantasies is of no consequence. Harbouring the fantasies alone it seems was a sufficient cause for war.

It is logical that Sheridan should be arguing for a more urgent military campaign against a more menacing and much emboldened Iran not to mention North Korea. He does not endeavour to apply his dodgy justification for war to other international trouble spots however.

That Sheridan can make his grand case for the Iraq War without addressing the consequential strengthening of Iran drains his piece of any credibility.

Sheridan’s work always reads as though it has been written to please his US and Australian foreign policy mates. He shows just how out of step he is though when he concludes “Perhaps that makes me a neo conservative. So be it.”

Neo conservatism is on the nose the world over . Condi is doing her best to wind back the failed approach. If The Australian is a mainstream newspaper, is it appropriate that its foreign editor be a self avowed neo conservative? Imagine the outrage if a leftist equivalent, say Noam Chomsky, was appointed Foreign Editor! Where’s Gerard Henderson’s outrage at the extremist infiltration of our newspapers?

The low point of Sheridan’s piece is when he poses the question “Is it wrong that Iraqis vote?”. The suggestion that opponents of the war have an ideological objection to Iraqi or Middle Eastern democracy echoes Howard and Downer nicely but is not worthy of someone purporting to argue seriously about the pros and cons of the war. Pathetic!

The nice thing about Miranda Devine’s piece is that it doesn’t even attempt to present a coherent, fact based position. She asks us to trust that things in Iraq are OK as a friend of hers working in the Green Zone has told her so. Near the end of her piece that is typically disjointed, Devine suggests“ The anti war protesters who are picketing Rice might try having more faith in the Iraqis and the brave soldiers like my friend who are supporting them.” Of course there is no connection between protesting against the war and having faith in Iraqis or admiration for soldiers in the front line. These connections, like the one made by Sheridan are cheap, dishonest and intellectually untenable.

According to Devine, the media is painting an inaccurate picture and the reality is much brighter. We should be assured things are going quite well in Iraq because Devine’s friend has told her so. How so? How can the Iraq disaster be overstated?

It occurs to me the media does not sufficiently report on the depths of the disaster.

The media gives coverage to events deemed visually interesting like car bombings, mosque bombings and the various atrocities committed by Islamic terrorists and sectarian militias and the Abu Ghraib abuses. None of these are pretty stories to be sure. The reality may be worse. Any wider reading on Iraq paints an even more disturbing picture that is inexplicably ignored in the Sheridan and Devine analysis and rarely featured in any media coverage of the war. Some thoughts that come to mind –

• The enormous loss of military and civilian lives.
• The creation of a jihadist magnet and a fulfilment of an Al Qaeda dream by seemingly validating claims of US imperial ambition in the Middle East.
• The emboldening of Iran through the creation of a great Shia sphere of influence.
• Enabling the flourishing of sectarianism that threatens to descend into civil war.
• The weakening of US military esteem and capability as well as the dilution of the standards of proof required to justify military action.
• The failure to assemble a true coalition of modern democratic powers.
• An enormous diversion of military and financial resources that may have been put to any number of more effective uses. Some current estimates put the likely cost of the Iraq war at 2 trillion USD. Original Pentagon estimates expected the war to cost around 50 billion USD. (Australia has spent around 1.5 billion AUD in Iraq so far.)

In the US and the UK, the Iraq debate has transcended party politicking. Some of the most vigorous critics of the war are Republicans or Conservatives and senior military people. Take a look at Condi’s mentor and Bush senior National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft’s views on the war, or former Middle East Envoy and CENTCOM Commander, General Anthony Zinni who has just weighed into the debate again demanding the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld for incompetence. Zinni’s work is especially compelling. His critique before the war has been largely vindicated and his comments since are persuasive. His experience in the Middle East is extensive and he is a respected member of the US military establishment. Sorry Greg, his work seems to be more credible than yours.

He comprehensively despatches Sheridan’s dismal arguments.

As with most major issues facing Australia, the quality of the debate on the conservative side is woeful. Defenders of the war like Sheridan and Devine trot out their spurious facts and leave the hard parts out altogether. There is no wide dissent from the establishment as there is in the US on the Iraq war or much else. Howard walks from scandal to scandal without a bruise. That can’t be a good thing in democracy.

Some interesting pieces that demonstrate the emptiness of the Sheridan / Devine position –

Thomas L. Friedman: Iraq at the 11th hour

Gen. Anthony Zinni, USMC, (Ret.) Remarks at CDI Board of Directors Dinner, May 12, 2004

What turned Brent Scowcroft against the Bush Administration?

Tony Walker and Brian Toohey also had very interesting pieces on Iraq in the Australian Financial Review on 18 March 2006. It is hard to believe they’re righting about the same conflict as Devine and Sheridan.