Conroy’s internet filter:

Verity Pravda writes: Re. “Net filtering won’t work, so what is Conroy up to?” (yesterday, item 1) & “Internet filters won’t stop anyone with tech know-how” (yesterday, item 3). Bernard Keane and Stilgherrian (“are so determined to find fault with what Senator Conroy has merely called “measures to improve internet safety for families”.  Despite the fact the policy is clearly one of simply blocking web browsing access to defined addresses (URLs) it continues to be described as “internet filtering”.

It doesn’t help, I know, that Conroy himself uses the term filtering – but it comes with the connotation that the actual content is examined.  It isn’t — it is not like asking the phone company to listen to your calls. It is really like asking the phone company to not allow calls to certain telephone numbers. I trust people realise that there are some international phone numbers that are primarily used for telephone s-x services that Australian service providers won’t connect you to.  That’s because they have been identified as known scam sites that don’t advertise the real cost of a call and have been responsible for a lot of very high unexpected phone bills.

The examples of incorrect blocking identified by Stilgherrian are from content inspection filters, not blocking URLs from a list. And yes, despite the fact that the list that will be mandatory is now confirmed as being only Refused Classification material, the list itself is still a bogeyman. And despite the fact that Refused Classification already exists somehow Bernard thinks this will be easily manipulated by some malicious Government in the future.  The fact that Conroy has acknowledged the concern about having a secret list and is starting a consultation on how to manage the transparency of the list is also dismissed by Bernard as “not doing something, just looking into it”.

I don’t know how you please people.  If Conroy just announced a solution he’d be criticised for acting without consultation.

Bernard also sees everything in the timing of the announcement.  The delay between receiving the test report and the release of the policy being, in Bernard’s mind, all about the spin cycle and leadership changes in the coalition.  Maybe that was how it worked under Howard when Bernard worked in the Department.  The other interpretation is they just wanted to get the policy right.

Will it work?  Yes and no.  It will stop people accessing certain sites through simple web browsing.  It will not stop the internet being used to “import” refused classification material.  It is a proportionate response.

Do gun control laws stop death by gunshot?  No, but they do severely limit it and make Australia a safer place.

Acknowledgement should be made of the contributions of Telstra, Optus, Primus and iiNet in working with the Government in developing this scheme.  This is a refreshing change from an industry normally best noted for taking no responsibility for its products and making assumptions about the abilities of customers that are not connected to reality.

Neither Bernard nor Stilgherrian seems to make the accusation that setting up an inquiry into introducing an R18+ category for games is merely a stunt as happened elsewhere.  To me it just looked like a Minister who listened attentively to issues raised and acted accordingly.

Nicholas Union writes: I currently reside in the UAE. Last week I read a News Ltd article by Emma Tom, and then decided to have a look at her website. Let’s face it whilst Ms. Tom is a funny, self expressed, independent woman … she never really struck me as being neither immoral nor politically contentious; not according to the Internet authorities here … her site is blocked.

What is Conroy setting us (mere Australian punters) up for in an unknowable future? Can’t he be deported or censored or something? Conroy is too gutless to actually communicate with people and consider wider communication policy.

Once a politician compromises a freedom they never ever give it back without a protracted struggle. No matter what stripe, invariably lying to support specious argument as to why they won’t act. For example it took how many lives of service men and women in Vietnam to rid our polity of conscription? Yet the peddling of junk chemicals masquerading as food to our children continues virtually unabated.

Christian Kent writes: You know, if the government rolled out a mandatory (or opt-out) filter that “censored” everyone’s communication with botnets and zombie PC controllers, we would have something to really be proud of.  I could probably drag out a statistic of the billions of dollars lost thanks to infected PCs belonging to yourself or your mates, or your business contacts.  I could really do without some of the spam, or the security risk of my details on other people’s systems being snagged.

Every company beyond a certain size will already block the “takeover attempts” being sent to internet addresses randomly around the globe.  A virgin Windows XP installation on an open internet link, before it has its first security patch installed, will take a matter of minutes before being compromised.

Lucy Sussex writes: I already have quite enough problems with netnannies objecting to the suffix of my surname–I should have been born Lucy Suffolk. Does the new internet filtering for *s-xual* content mean I disappear altogether? Along with all the Essexs, Wessexs, Middlesexes, etc.


Angus Sharpe writes: Re. “An open letter on behalf of drought-affected farmers” (yesterday, item 12). I don’t doubt Rob Lennon’s suffering.  I am truly, and sincerely, sorry about that.  But his letter yesterday was interesting.  He says: “The dry period we are experiencing is extreme and is in some part the result of climate change — something we apparently have no control over.”

So there is (presumably man-made) global warming, but we have no control over it?  Presumably this means that the temperature (and drought) levels will remain at the same levels, or get even worse in the future?  Which in turn means that his farm is unsustainable? Rob then says: “The photo in this letter were (sic) taken at 2pm today — we have at least another three hot months of this heartbreak and cost in front of us … how will people survive this?”

I am really truly sorry, but if you accept that climate change is real, and is effecting the temperature (and will only get worse), then it looks like Rob’s farm won’t survive this.  This is the point of the Productivity Commission report.  If your farm is unsustainable, then the money would be much better spent giving you a grant to do something else.  An awful thing to say, I know. But there it is. Harsh?  Yes. But don’t be angry at me.

Doing some quick research, Dunedoo is in the Parkes electorate. The current Federal member is Mark Coulton (National).  His website is a must read. From the front page: “In Australia the catastrophe unfolding as a result of our diminishing water resources is posing a far greater threat than any other environmental crisis.”

So the Nationals are against any sort of emissions trading scheme, but are shocked … shocked … that there is a drought? You can’t have it both ways.  Either we implement a market based scheme (carbon tax or cap and trade), or the temperature will keep rising.  Or in other words, Rob can’t have his cake (no climate tax) and eat it too (indefinite subsidies).

And I really am very sorry.

Samantha Kennedy writes: I started reading this letter wondering why Rob Lennon was sending this letter to Tony Burke. I mean drought is common as muck in Australia and most farmers have to go with the flow of it yearly, decade upon decade.

Oh look at that — he needs assistance.  Farmers have been getting hand outs left, right and centre from Howard for 10 years and they need more hand outs?  Why?  Wasn’t 10 years enough time to decide to give up and get out or change strategies.  No, a hand out is the preferred option. I wish we all could get the hand outs that farmers got for such long periods.  Howard cut back payments to the mentally ill and physically incapable citing they should at least try and get a job but farmers are allowed to keep sponging.

I actually started laughing half way through the letter, after the line: “The dry period we are experiencing is extreme and is in some part the result of climate change — something we apparently have no control over. ” Land clearing, bad water usage, erosion.

Famers have been in denial of how badly they have treated the land since I can remember and take my word, being brought up in a country town in Queensland, my memory goes back far.  They vote for the National Party who support their terrible habits and allow them to appease their egos by saying it wasn’t their fault.

I would like to think farmers are better today then what they were back in my childhood but to be honest I think they are just greedier, more selfish and still believe the rest of Australia should pay for their right to be like this

Writing to Ministers:

Ian McAuley writes: Re. “Don’t waste your time, waste theirs: a guide to writing to Ministers” (yesterday, item 10).  Regarding Bernard Keane’s article — excellent advice.

I’d add another point to his last para about friends and acquaintances. To draw from the wisdom of Arlo Guthrie and Saul Alinsky, make it look like a movement. No two letters should be the same. Ten letters generally covering the same point, but with no common style or phrases, particularly if they come from different parts of the country, looks like a mass movement.

And another hint. For years I, and many of my colleagues, have been trying to get through to a Commonwealth department which holds open the door for lobbyists trying to get their fingers into the public till, but which is quite dismissive of any criticism from academics or others who seek to prevent waste. I often conclude letters with words similar to those below (used on a letter on 12 November, for which I am still awaiting a response confirming that someone has read it.):

I know that ministerial representations are generally dealt with by requiring some unfortunate public servant to draft a response, drawing on sophistry to gloss over the logic, and writing so as to deflect the argument away from any policy shortcomings. I don’t want to see my taxes wasted in that way.

I would be far more reassured to learn, by a short E-mail perhaps, that you, your staff, and the policy analysts in the Department have read this letter and submission and have considered the public policy points I have raised.

Still waiting, but hoping that at least a few people in the relevant department are reading something that has not been prepared by a highly paid lobbyist with his or snout in the public trough.

Tony Blackmore  writes: Some years back, frustrated by the standard Telstra explanation of why I couldn’t get broadband internet at my Perth suburban home, I wrote to my local member, the very industrious Dr Mal Washer.

While waiting for a reply I applied my previous technical expertise to the problem and decided the Telstra explanation was crap.

I contacted a comp[any I thought could be manufacturing the missing link and within minutes I had found that Telstra had remote multiplexor enhancement units on field test for more than a year, and had now started to receive bulk deliveries. The remote multiplexors that had been the problem but not admitted by Telstra.

Next call was to Telstra corporate HQ and a helpful General Manager who was able to tell me that my local exchange was to be supplied in a month and broadband would follow immediately. And it did.

And then Dr Washer’s reply arrived expressing regret and enclosing the letter he had received from the then relevant minister Senator Alston. Alston’s reply to Dr Washer was word for word — as best I could recall — the standard Telstra pitch.

Clearly either Telstra lied to their minister or even a member of parliament can expect no better than the standard approved letters Bernard wrote of.

Climate change:

Andrew Davidson writes: Well done Ken Lambert (yesterday, comments), I think we’ve hit a new low in the standard of global warming debate in Crikey. Yesterday Ken managed to add two and two and got five.

The radiative forcing figures are a metric that has been created to allow the relative impact of various atmospheric, land use and solar changes to be compared. Radiative forcing is the net effect of the flow of radiative energy across the tropopause if we varied one of the atmospheric, land use or solar variables instantly and only waited long enough for the stratosphere to come to equilibrium (the troposphere and earth’s surface would still be at 1750 temperatures).

What this means is that if we could go back to 1750 and somehow instantly change the atmosphere and land surface to look like 2005 there would be a inbound energy imbalance of 1.6 W/sq.m. However as the earth started to warm and all the various feedback mechanisms came into play the energy imbalance would start to fall and eventually reach zero. Trenberth’s figure of 0.9 W/sq.m is what the energy imbalance was for 2000-2004. These two figures are entirely consistent with each other.

Ken then goes on to misinterpret Trenberth’s cloud figures. What Trenberth’s paper says is that a 1% increase in cloud cover has a -0.5 W/sq.m effect, he then goes on to point out that changes in cloud cover of more than 0.5% don’t seem to persist for more than 6 months but that an earlier satellite produced data that suggest cloud cover can vary by +/-1%.

To complete the trifecta Ken then goes on to add the -1.2 W/sq.m forcing for aerosols which was already accounted for in the net 1.6 W/sq.m he started with so double counting.

Finally to answer “Where did the heat go?” von Schuckmann et al (2009 doi:10.1029/2008JC005237) found that over the period 2003-2008 the top 2000 m of ocean absorbed 0.8 W/sq.m which given the error bars involved is near enough to 0.9 W/sq.m to be the same number.

James Haughton writes: Ken Lambert is comparing apples with oranges. 1.6 W/m2 is the net forcing due to human activity. 0.9 W/m2 +/- 0.5 is the net result after resulting feedback is taken into account. This already includes clouds. The two are clearly shown separately in Trenberth’s figure 4.

Temperature predictions are already based upon the net result, not the net forcing. We do not have 50% of the heating “we thought we had”. Ken Lambert cannot use the difference between 1.6 and 0.9 to “explain” the recent slower rate of warming.

Ken also has his understanding of Trenberth’s Table 1 backwards. We know that there is 145e20 Joules/yr in the system, because that is what it takes to cause the sea level rise we have observed, of 2.5 mm/yr or so. The puzzle is that all the bits we can separately track, as yet, only add up to a max of 115e20 (within 1 standard deviation: have 2 standard deviations, as is the usual standard, and there is no problem at all), but the overall budget is NOT in question.

Given that the biggest uncertainty is the ocean measurements, the extra heat is probably going into the deep ocean where our buoys cannot reach yet, as Trenberth says: “Possibly this heat is being sequestered in the deep ocean below the 900 m depth used for the ARGO analyses where it would contribute about 0.4–0.5 mm/yr sea level rise”.

Kieren Diment writes: Tamas Calderwood (yesterday, comments) would do well to cite scientific articles discussing the issues he wants under the spotlight rather than quoting the informal (and illegally obtained) communication between scientists out of context.  If he read and was able to understand the associated scientific paper, he would find it does not reach the conclusion that he claims.  For the interested who do not need to shore up their own unfounded delusional opinions the full paper in question is  titled ”

An imperative for climate change planning: tracking Earth’s global energy” available from here. The paper is excellent scholarship, and required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in this small aspect of the climate change debate.  The take home message of the paper is that the instrumental record is not sufficiently precise enough to fully account for the Earth’s energy balance, but that does not place the theory of dangerous man made global warming in question in any way at all.

Thomas Richman writes: Now that the Pope himself has blamed human activity for the planet’s ecological crisis, what’s poor TonyAbbott  to do?