28 November 2009

This is why we vote below the line, people!

In the 2004 Federal Election, Steve Fielding was elected as an Australian Senator representing the Family First party.

This is the guy who, following the first legal civil union between a gay couple in Canberra yesterday, has likened homosexual relationships to incest. Here is his quote:

"A bloke cannot marry his brother; it is not right. A woman cannot marry [her] sister; it is not right. A bloke cannot marry a bloke because it is not right, and a female cannot marry a female because it is not right."

I think I see where this is leading - a bloke can marry a woman, therefore it's OK for a bloke to marry his sister. I think that's what he's saying.

So how did this guy get elected to the Senate? On Labor and Australian Democrat preferences, as it happens. This seems strange to me, since I know very few Labor or Democrat voters who support the Family First Party's policies, and so would not preference them. How, then, did it happen?

Well, you see, the Australian Senate is elected using a proportional representation - the way it works and counting the vote can be complicated. But the upshot is that there can be over 60 candidates to choose from. And for your vote to be valid you must show your order of preference for all candidates. Miss one, or give two the same number, and your vote is invalid.

To make things easier, some time back a simplified "above the line" voting method was introduced. You still have the option of filling in all 60+ boxes (these appear below a line across the ballot paper), or you can use the boxes above the line - just put a single "1" in the box for one party, and your vote is counted as if you had filled in every box exactly as per that party's how to vote card. The AEC explains this better than me.

Well the Labor party and the Democrats did a preference swap with Family First, which meant that if you voted above the line for either of those parties, because you agree with their policies, you were expressing a preference for Family First, whose policies you may or may not have supported, but probably not. (On the other hand, if you voted above the line for Family First, you probably did not want your preferences to go to the Democrats!)

We gained convenience (and made it easier to ensure we voted correctly), but gave up the chance to express our true voting preferences.

In the next year or so we will have another Senate election. Could well be a full Senate election.

Now I know what a hassle voting is. It's on a Saturday, and you have to trudge all the way to the local school or other polling place, then you have to queue, when you finally get in to the booth you just want to get it over and done with.

But think about this - do you want your Senate vote to represent your preferences for who gets elected, or the preferences of a wheeler dealer at party HQ?

Please, please, please people, vote below the line!

28 August 2009

Ray, again, and again, and...

The set subject for the Melbourne Camera Club August 2009 EDI (Electronically Displayed Image) competition was "Abstract", and as an abstract concept I thought of manipulating the image of Ray that I had taken. I am pleased to say it won a "Commended" award, as well as getting a good reaction from the audience:

(Click on it to see a larger copy.)

I have since been asked how I created that image, and invited to give a talk on that at a future meeting of the MCC Digital Group. So here, briefly, is what I did.

Starting with the photo of Ray, I loaded it into GIMP and copied it on to a new layer with a transparent background. I then used the eraser tool to wipe away all the black background, and also Ray's coat and shirt so I was just left with his face and neck, the rest of the image being transparent.

I then used a random number generator to come up with 20 different image scale and rotation amounts. I applied each scale and rotation, and copied the image into a new layer of my working image.

I sorted the layers so that the larger scale copies were at the back, and the smaller ones at the front. This gives the image more complexity - if a large copy was at the front, then it would hide the smaller ones. I then moved the images around by hand until they were in aesthetically pleasing locations.

One final complication was that using the order of layers did not always give the exact look I wanted. For example, if you look at the bottom of the image just to the right of centre, you will see three copies (let's call them A, B, and C). Note that A is in front of B, B is in front of C, and C is in front of A. This can not be achieved with simple layering.

So to do this, I used layer masks. A is in fact in front of B & C, but to make it appear to be behind C, I apply a layer mask to A. Then in layer C I selected all the transparent section, and applied that selection to the layer mask of A (using some manipulations that I won't go into the detail of here). Thus, the only parts of copy A that show are the parts that are transparent in copy C, thus A appears obscured by C, and hence behind C.

22 August 2009

Ray - construction of a photo

Hmm, been too long since I wrote. So here is a short note about a recent photo, since I had a few questions about how it was created.

Photo of Ray Huntley by David Purdue

This is a photo of Ray Huntly, who coordinates all the photo competitions at the Melbourne Camera Club. The photo was taken during a meeting of the Digital Group - I was presenting a talk on GIMP, and needed a photo to manipulate to illustrate the discussion, so took this one.

Now, the people there saw me take the photo, so they knew exactly the lighting set up I used, but I still ended up spending 5-10 minutes explaining why the photo looks like it does.

The lighting set up was quite simple - one flash firing into a reflective umbrella off to camera right.

The two main questions that arose were:

  1. Since there was only one light, why is the left side (as we look at the photo) not in darkness?
  2. There was quite a bit of ambient light in the room, why is the background totally black?

The answers are a little bit related: if there was enough ambient light to avoid darkness on the left side of the photo, why was there not enough for us to see the room Ray is standing in?

To look at the first one first - I had carefully placed the set up next to a wall off to camera left (a wall that happens to have light coloured canvas on for mounting pictures for competitions and exhibitions). The flash on camera right hit the wall, and the soft covering on the wall reflected it back to light camera left. Obviously, it is dimmer than the direct light, but provides enough light to avoid very dark shadows on that side of the photo. Also note that the reflection comes from a large area of the wall, so the light is quite soft.

As for the background... The photo was taken at a relatively fast shutter speed (1/200 sec), and the flash was relatively much brighter than the ambient light in the room. Combine that with the fact I was using a reflective rather than shoot through umbrella, so I was able to direct the light where I wanted it without too much spilling in to the rest of the room. At that shutter speed there was not enough time for the ambient light to make any impression on my camera's sensor.

Thanks to David Gilliver, who explained the concept of lighting zones to me. That is essentially what is at work here: there is the foreground zone, where the light from the flash is contained, and the background zone, which has light in it, but not enough relative to the foreground zone to register.

Addendum - this photo won a "Highly Commended" award in the Melbourne Camera Club August 2009 EDI competition.

27 June 2009

Salutary Lesson: Always Take Your Camera

The other day there was the most brilliant and clear rainbow just outside the window at work. All colours could be seen clearly, and it looked like the end was just in the next street.

Sadly I did not have my camera with me, and so have to make do with this image captured by the camera in my phone.

25 June 2009

Looking after your mates.

Now that the email affair has backfired...

(Cartoon by Alan Moir, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 2009.)

Malcolm Turnbull for some reason is still on the offensive, clutching at straws but without any evidence to back his position.

This morning on AM Turnbull said: "...this is a distraction from the real issue which is cronyism and the way the Labor Party looks after its mates."

Now, the Liberals would never look after their mates. Oh, no! If you want to be looked after by the Lberals you have to be the Prime Minister's brother. (See also here.)

08 June 2009

Happy Queen's Birthday - now let's move on

Listening to the radio this morning (774 ABC Melbourne), the presenter (Kathy Bedford) raised as a topic for discussion whether it was still appropriate to have a public holiday celebrating the Queen's birthday. Especially since her birthday is actually on 21 April.

And so the rabid monarchists pounced! Note that Ms Bedford was not proposing that the monarchy be dropped, nor, indeed, that the public holiday be dropped. I think she just hoped there would be a few laughs or interesting ideas raised in the alternative reasons for the holiday - e.g. National Sickie Day - how Australian can you get?

But still the monarchists can not let go of this issue, nor allow a whiff of republicanism to get an airing, so they rang in with all the reasons we must retain the Queen as our head of state, each one a furphy:

We already had a referendum, and Australia voted to retain the monarchy.

Well, referenda are very hard to pass at the best of times (since 1906 Australia has held 44 and only 8 were carried - or 18%). But let's be clear on what Australia did or did not vote on in the 1999 referendum.

The terms of the referendum were, "To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament." (Source: Australian Electoral Commission)

Now I think this is a pretty good model - in many ways superior (at least, more democratic) to the present one where the Governor General is effectively appointed by the Prime Minister. (The Prime Minister advises the Monarch who to appoint, and the only time in Australia's history when that advice has not been taken immediately was in 1930 when King George V - or rather the British parliament - did not want Sir Isaac Isaac's appointed because he was Australian! In the end our PM, James Scullin, held his ground and Sir Isaac was appointed.)

But Australians For A Constitutional Monarchy saw an opportunity in the mistrust Australians have for figures of authority, especially our politicians. Realising that over 54% of Australians wanted a republic, the monarchists actually campaigned in favour of one! Just, well, not this one where the pollies will just pick one of their mates as President.

Now the PM would never recommend one of his mates to the Queen for the GG role. Oh, wait, there was Peter Hollngworth, didn't that turn out well!

So, given the way that the campaign was run I do not think it fair to say that Australia voted for a monarchy, they simply voted against this model of a republic.

If we throw out the Queen, we also have to abolish the States, since they were set up by the monarch of the day.

Well, that's a bit tenuous, isn't it? If we take it to its logical conclusion, the Commonwealth was set up by the States, and local government is the responsibility of the Commonwealth, so if we get rid of the monarchy we should have no government at all!

Why make that link? Well, it's more electoral trickery. If there is something that you don't like that you think the electorate may vote for (say a republic), then tie it in their minds to something they will never vote for (say, abolishing the States), and it will never get past a referendum.

It is disingenuous to try to link these issues, as that link is something that will never be put to the people.

In the current economic climate, let's avoid the cost of shifting to a republic.

How much more would a republic cost than a monarchy? I can't believe we'd go for a model where the President gets paid a whole lot more than the Governor General, and Yarralumla is some choice real estate, a home fit for a President, why live anywhere else? Sure we'd have to reprint some stationary - but hey, let's make that part of the stimulus package; an ink and paper lead recovery! It's not a big cost, guys.

But if we want to save some serious wonga, then let's give up on being a democracy. That pesky Australian Electoral Commission cost the taxpayer a cool $184 million last financial year
(Source: AEC Annual Report Financial Statements) - money we could save if we did away with elections.

Although the government is not currently considering a move towards a republic, I doubt that the reason for that policy decision was the cost. Whatever system of government we have costs money - the cheapest form of government is a dictatorship, and I hope the monarchists aren't suggesting we adopt that.

The monarchy has worked well in Australia for over 200 years.

The monarchy gave us the rule of Governor William Bligh. Enough said.

Queen Elizabeth II is very nice, let's just wait until she is gone.

Yep, Elizabeth is a good queen. However, this is just a delaying tactic - I can't win this election now, so I will delay it in the hope that circumstances change and I can win it in the future. If an Australian PM tried to do this he'd be denounced by the press.

So when Elizabeth II eventually dies (her mother lived to be 101), what will the argument be? "That Charles, he's such a nice fellow, and a fan of the Goons, don't ya know, let's give him a go and think about a republic after he's gone."

Switching to a republic could have unforeseen consequences.

This is the best one. I nearly fell off my chair!

Seriously - someone called up ABC radio and went to air arguing that we needed to retain the monarchy because a republic could have, "unforeseen consequences."

Gosh, I wish I'd known that one when I was a teenager. The ultimate excuse for not doing anything...

"David, why haven't you tidied your room?"

"Because tidying my room could have unforeseen consequences."

"David, why haven't you done your homework?"

"Because doing my homework could have unforeseen consequences."

"David, why haven't you retained the monarchy?"

"Because retaining the monarchy could have unforeseen consequences."


Now, to be clear on my position I do favour a republic (like about 45% of the Australian population, according to a May 2008 Roy Morgan poll). And to be fair the arguments in favour of becoming a republic are not overwhelming - to quote the Australian Republican Movement:
An Australian republic is about Australia’s future. It’s about our shared identity and place in the world. It will have a Constitution that reflects the sovereignty of the Australian people, so that any Australian citizen can aspire to the highest office in the land.
But that's exactly the point I am trying to make - the arguments in favour of a republic are not based on fear or unrealistic expectation or a simple wish to hold on to what we have. They just state that as Australia has been a nation for over 100 years now, isn't it time we grew up, stood on our own two feet and had our own head of state, instead of borrowing the head of state from our former colonial masters?

06 June 2009

Malcolm Turnbull and Screaming Irrits

OK! So why does Malcolm Turnbull annoy me so?

Well, this cartoon begins to explain it:

(This is from The Sydney Morning Herald of Friday, 8 May, 2009, and done by Alan Moir, who, by the by, I think is this country's premier political cartoonist.)

I think the most annoying thing about Malcolm is that he is a clever man who feels he has to hide his light under a bushel. What's gong on here? Turnbull is a man of ideas and great expression (just look to his work on the campaign for an Australian republic), but he seems to be forced by his party or his minders to act like an idiot.

Now sure, some people are put off by Kevin Rudd's loquaciousness, and he certainly is prolix (go on, look them up), but I am not sure the correct response is to show no signs of erudition whatsoever.

He has fallen in to the trap of opposing for the sake of opposition - something we have not really seen since John Howard was leader of the opposition. (I think it was Howard who told a journalist that he had to oppose everything the government proposed, because as leader of the opposition that was his job description.) John Howard took this to ridiculous length in the campaign surrounding the 1988 referendum, where he ran a "no" campaign against constitutional changes he supported just to score points. I have more commentary on that episode, but since this blog entry is about Malcolm Turnbull I will save it until later.

In Turnbull's case the best example is emmissions trading. In order to get an ETS through the Senate, Labour has watered it down to the point where it is essentially the scheme that the Liberal's first proposed. So now will they vote for it? Err, that would be no.

A lot of people of my generation have seen "Yes Minister", and so we know about the tactic of not answering the question the journalist asked you but instead giving the answer to the question you wished they'd asked. Since we are now aware of that tactic, it only works if the politician can give the impression that they have actually listened to the question, but Malcolm does not. To listen to a Turnbull interview, he seems to treat journalist questions as pauses for breath between sections of his prepared speech.

Not that there is a lot of prepared speech - his minders seem to word him up with a three word grab, and he won't get his treat until he has said it 100 times. A month or so ago it was "Jekyll and Hyde." I can not for the life of me remember what the issue was, but Turnbull used the phrase about 30 times in a 2 minute interview!

Now I can't say for sure that this is why Malcolm Turnbull is performing so poorly in the polls (preferred Prime Minister rating at 24% as of 1 June 2009), but I don't think it helps.

11 May 2009

Statement of position

OK - so in truth I only signed up with a blog because I wanted to learn how the software worked.

But now I am here, I suppose I'd better make use of it.

For a while I have been thinking of blogging my political observations and opinions, I guess now is a good time to start. But if I am going to comment on politics, then I guess I should start by making it clear where I am coming from and where my biases lie...

I am not a member of any political party.

However, I am a lefty. Can't help it - I am the child of two lefties and I married a lefty who is also the child of two lefties. Hanging out in folk music circles does not help!

I have voted Labor consistently through my adult life (apart from a short flirtation with the Democrats). In Senate elections I always vote below the line so I can be sure I have voted One Nation last.

nd Malcolm Turnbull gives me the screaming irrits; but more on that later.