Archive for February 2010

Three things that made me laugh out loud this week

  1. An online friend, remarking on some poor logic exhibited by others in a newsgroup:

    The plural of anecdote is not data.

  2., the Official Tourism and Business Site of Greenland:
    Icebergs at Cape York, Greenland

    Icebergs at Cape York, Greenland

    Prices in Greenland

    It is fair to say that Greenland is self-sufficient with regard to fish, certain meat products and ice cubes. Everything else has to be imported by either ship or aircraft…

  3. The Big Picture, the UK Telegraph’s photo competition, Round 86. The winner was James Pinchin of Barnstaple, Devon. See the photo of Emperor penguins following a researcher on sea ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica.

Reporting reactions rather than news

Some time ago, I was appalled when I read a piece on ABC News online in which a murder was not news, but bystanders’ reactions to the murder was reported as news. The ABC is at it again, reporting reactions rather than news.

On Thursday 11 February 2010, at around 8pm, the Queensland parliament passed legislation related to surrogacy. That’s news.

I would expect ABC News to report the facts. Specifically:

  • the most important provisions of the legislation
  • how the legislation changes the legal situation
  • how the legislation compares with legislation in other states and other countries
  • when the legislation will come into effect, if not immediately
  • the scope of the legislation; that is: who is affected by it
  • the political background to the legislation
  • what groups or individuals voted for and against it.

The morning after the legislation passed, ABC News online published at least 4 pieces about it. The best of them presented some facts along with comments from the Premier, the Attorney-General, the Deputy Opposition Leader and a government MP who crossed the floor:

ABC News report

ABC’s piece concentrates on the comments, not the news. 88 words of news; 198 words of comment. It gets worse. Here’s another of the ABC’s reports:

ABC News report

This is not reporting the news.

The article contains 8 words identifying the news, and 223 words reporting comments by two interested parties David Molloy (of the Queensland Fertility Group, a practice offering fertility-related services such as IVF, described as ‘Excellence in fertility care’) and Louise du Chesne, spokeswoman for Action Reform Change Queensland, an organization ‘Advocating for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender equality through campaigns for legal and social change,and public education’.

ABC News online published two other reports on this topic the day after the Queensland parliament passed the legislation. Both offer reactions, rather than news:

  • Surrogacy laws spark mixed response. Posted 12 February 2010, 9.06am. “There have been mixed reactions to the decriminalisation of altruistic surrogacy in Queensland…”
  • Family groups to fight surrogacy laws. Updated 12 February 2010, 5.09pm. “Religious and family groups have vowed to go to the electoral barricades in Queensland over what they are calling legislative child abuse – laws allowing gay and single people to use surrogate mothers…”

It’s good to read about the reactions of relevant parties to important pieces of news. But reporting of the facts should come first.

Both the Courier-Mail and The Australian did better than the ABC.

AAP gave the clearest description I could find of what this legislation will do.

Under the reforms, which extend to same-sex couples, legal parentage of a child born in altruistic surrogacy agreements – whereby another woman has a baby for no payment – will transfer from the birth mother to the parent or parents who commissioned the birth.

AAP’s report was published, verbatim, by the Sydney Morning Herald, Yahoo!7News and Bundaberg’s News-Mail.

I want to give you money! Why is it so hard?

BamixSometimes, online shopping is the best thing since—umm—sliced bread. And sometimes, it’s just too hard.

I wanted to buy a Bamix hand-held mixer gadget thingo. Here’s how I went.

  1. Kitchenware Direct sells one for $350. Free shipping. “Usually shipped within 24 hours.” Does that mean they have one or not? Too hard. Too expensive. Move on.
  2. Online Kitchen advertises the machine. But when I try to order one I see a page “Shop is temporarily closed”.
  3. Everten Online sells one for $297.95. Best price yet. But the item is “Temporarily unavailable”.
  4. Bamix Shop sells one for $299. Can’t find any information about shipping costs. But it’s “In stock”. This looks OK. Add to cart. Proceed to checkout. I can order without creating an ‘account’. So far, so good. Then the next page:


    How do I choose between ‘free’ and $9.90? It feels like something’s wrong, and I’m confused. But I choose the ‘free’ option (well you would, wouldn’t you!) and proceed to see this:


    Huh? Where’s the ‘I just want to type in my credit card number and get on with this’ option?

    This is all too hard. Let’s try somewhere else.

  5. Your Home Depot sells one for $299. Free shipping. No information about whether it’s in stock or will take 6 months to come by boat from Switzerland. But, what the heck. Let’s give this one a go. Off to the checkout. I have to create an account. Now, I have to wait for an email to confirm creation of the account. A lot of hassle for me when I want to give these people money.

    It took more than ten minutes for the email to arrive. When it did, the text included not only the user name I’d chosen but it included the password en clair. Good grief!

  6. Peter’s of Kensington sells one for $307. I can calculate postage for my postcode ($11). No info on stock availability, which is a worry. But nevertheless, off to the checkout. Woo hoo! I can order without creating an account. Yep. Just one more screen and my kitchen whizzo thing is ordered. One minute later, I had a fully-compliant tax invoice in my email inbox.

Online shopping has been around for nearly 15 years. It’s a mature business. It’s not hard to create a good online shopping experience. So why do so many businesses stuff it up?

I suspect that it is not a coincidence that Peter’s of Kensington has been in business for at least 25 years (I first shopped there in person in about 1984). It’s a successful physical retail business. And I didn’t mind spending a few extra bucks for a good experience.

Opt out of receiving phone books!

For ten years, I have received new copies of the white and yellow pages phone books and, without removing the shrink-wrap cover, turfed them into the recycling bin.

ABC News tells me that, were I to open a phone book, I might read that I can opt out of receiving phone books.

“Excellent!”, I think. Earn my green credentials for the day. But ABC News’s story merely quotes the CEO of Sensis, Bruce Akhurst, as saying that:

there’s a 1-800 number inside the front cover of directories that people can ring

Without a phone book, how do I find the mystery 1-800 number? Let me leave out a ghastly story of searching, IVR, pap music, redirections and so on.

To opt out of receiving phone books, call 1800 008 292. Give your phone number, name and address, and–if Sensis is true to its word–you’ll never trip over another phone book on the doorstep again.

Politicians, priests and fathers

I saw a joke about a father’s rules for dating his daughter. Like all such jokes, the father is protective at best, proprietorial at worst.

Tony AbbottOn the same day, I read that the newly-elected Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, has given an interview to Women’s Weekly magazine. He was cast in the role of Family Man (husband, father) and was asked (why?) for his thoughts on pre-marital sex. His much-quoted response:

I would say to my daughters, if they were to ask me this question, I would say … it is the greatest gift that you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving and don’t give it to someone lightly, that is what I would say.

Mr Abbott’s daughters are in their late teens and early 20s. Two things are widely known about Tony Abbott’s life when he was that age.

  1. He originally studied for the priesthood.
  2. When Mr Abbott was 19, his girlfriend became pregnant and bore a son. Until 2004, Abbott believed that he was the father of the child.

Two comments:

  1. Mr Abbott is a politician, not a priest. Australia does not need its politicians to act as pseudo-priests, dishing out views on sex. (Actually, it doesn’t need priests dishing out views on sex, either, but that’s for another day.)
  2. Why is it that middle-aged fathers want for their daughters what they did not, at a younger age, want from their girlfriends? Why do middle-aged fathers condemn their daughters’ boyfriends for acting exactly as they themselves once acted? And why are there no jokes in which middle-aged fathers set out rules for dating their sons?

Children are not people?

Are children people? Not according to journalist and author Joel Kotkin. Mr Kotkin recently wrote, about New York:

An analysis by the city controller’s office in 2005 found that people leaving the city were three times more likely to have children than those arriving.

Let me read that again: “people … have children”. Children did not leave the city; people did. Children, it seems, are not people.

We all know what Mr Kotkin meant. That’s not the point. It’s sloppy writing, from a professional writer. But that’s probably not the point, either.

I’m troubled by this language not on behalf of kids, but entirely out of self-interest: I want other people, individuals and groups of individuals (governments, businesses, organizations), to respect me. I want people to respect my life, and not to murder me in the street. I want the freedom to hold opinions contrary to others’ tastes, and not be compelled to conform to the religious or political beliefs of a ruling group. I want to be treated fairly by businesses, not ripped off. I want to live in a world of democratic law-and-order, not subject to capricious edicts of government.

The only claim I have for that respect is that I’m a human being. The only way I’ll get that respect is if we all agree to respect one another. Lots of individuals, religious organizations and governments run around murdering people. But most don’t. Lots of businesses rip off their customers. But most don’t. Lots of societies require their people to hold certain religious or political beliefs. At least in the Western world, in the 21st century, most don’t.

The just-let’s-all-respect-one-another system is imperfect. But it works most of the time.

The system relies on complete reciprocity for all people. If we agree that some humans are excluded, then, logically, others may also be excluded. If we exclude children from the group called ‘people’, then we might also one day exclude 52 year olds. If we exclude 52 year olds, we might exclude short people. Or Australians. Or geeks.

There are some that think that children are grubby things that don’t have much to say for themselves and should not be allowed on grown-ups’ long-haul flights. But kids are still people. We are all diminished if we decide that some people aren’t people.

Source: Joel Kotkin, ‘The Big Apple’s Big Problem‘, Newsweek, 11 January 2010, pp. 40-42.

Newsweek describes Joel Kotkin as “a presidential fellow at Chapman University and author of the forthcoming book The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050“. The book is, according to Kotkin, about population growth in the United States of America.