Demonising gun owners: Persuasion versus putting on a show

The tragic mass shooting in a Texas church this past weekend has reignited the debate about America’s gun laws.

Despite being inclined towards the libertarian position on many political issues, I’m not really that invested in the gun control debate.

Firearm laws just aren’t a topic I normally have much interest in because there are other issues that matter more to me personally. Living in Australia, which has a different relationship to firearms than the US, I’m also wary of getting too involved in an argument with people for whom this stuff matters much more personally.

As a private citizen in Australia, I presently have no interest in owning any guns. However I am capable of admiring the skill that goes into the design and production of particular firearms – as well as the historic significance of certain weapons.

I also recognise that people can, in good faith, hold different views to me on the topic. These people they may be advocating for greater or lesser control over guns than the position I hold. And that’s ok.

But what frustrates me immensely is when people (on either side) fail to appreciate they’re dealing with other human beings when arguing about gun laws.

The latest is Fairfax business writer Michael Pascoe, who in the wake of the mass-shooting tragedy in Texas, has penned a piece on ‘The Fantasy Behind America’s mass shootings.’ In it, he does not simply argue against the need for civilians to own semi-automatic longarms. He goes further and demonises all those with an interest in owning such weapons.

“If you buy a fast sports car, odds are you have a fantasy to drive fast – and you will at some stage. Buy and hold a double barrel shotgun and you’ll be imagining clay targets disappearing in a puff of colour or game birds falling from the sky – unless you’re also purchasing a hacksaw.

Buy an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, you’re imagining… “

And another example:

“In a rational nation, an individual’s desire to buy a military assault rifle, let alone high-capacity magazines, is all the mental assessment necessary to forbid such a purchase.”

Or two.

The supercar owner may explore limits by investing in track days and closed road events. The owner of machines specifically good for killing people, what do they want to do?

Those in the anti-gun camp (especially Australian’s commenting on the US) might want to consider that 30% of American adults own a gun, and about half of those who don’t currently own a gun could see themselves owning one in the future. Among gun owners, 62% own a rifle. (Source: Pew, ‘America’s Complex Relationship with Guns, June, 2017 )

Anti-gun rhetoric that insinuates gun owners are all mad/bad/sad or have something wrong with them is insulting to those who are lawfully using their firearms. I’d hypothesize it could also be cementing resistance to tighter gun controls.

So I have a request to those who want stricter gun laws in the US – or those who oppose any relaxation in the Australian laws.

By all means advocate for stronger or tighter gun controls if that’s what you’re passionate about. But please try and remember when talking about gun owners you’re still talking about your fellow human beings.

Consider that you’re asking for a fairly large number of law abiding people to undergo a significant attitudinal change. Smearing and insulting people who disagree with you may not be as productive as you think.

When the argument by either side turns to dehumanising those with differing opinions, its time to ask if those voices are genuinely interested in persuasion, or simply performing for the mob that already agrees with them?

State of the Nation – Four Election Insights

You can not win an election unless there is an issue you are passionate about and are prepared to fight for.  – Gary Morgan.

On Wednesday morning, I was fortunate to be able to attend the launch of the latest Roy Morgan State of the Nation report – election edition. The presentation explored the Australian political landscape, with a particular focus on the upcoming election, the issues of importance to voters, and the challenges for whoever forms the next government. My commentary below is based on the presentation, as well my notes in some of the other comments maybe by Gary Morgan and Michele Levine at the presentation.
1. It’s the economics at home that matter

Forty-two  percent of Australians rate economic issues as the most important issue facing Australia. The interesting take away for me was how Michele Levine  broke this down into a story about what happens to the economics at home. The cost of living is a key concern, and these concerns are exacerbated by the prospect of unemployment and the extent of underemployment in some households.

Speaking of the unemployment rate…

2. Would the real unemployment rate please stand up?
As a subscriber to the weekly Roy Morgan newsletters,  I was already aware of Roy Morgan  having its own measure of unemployment and under employment. At the presentation, Gary Morgan gave a spirited critique of the current ABS definition of unemployment, essentially describing it as a relic of the post-WW2 world  unsuited to the modern economy.

Why does this matter?

Differences in the way unemployment is reported means the Roy Morgan estimate of unemployment is higher than the ABS rate. More interestingly, factoring in the Roy Morgan ‘underemployment’ measure suggests there’s a growing rate of ‘unemployment + underemployment’ at a time when the ABS is reporting a fairly stable unemployment rate.

For the moment, I’ll sit on the sideline in terms of which is the better methodology and measure. But if you subscribe to the Roy Morgan view, then it should be concerning there’s not more attention being given to labour market issues by either side.  

One might almost conclude that both ALP and LNP are afraid to challenge the status quo.

3. An LNP government and the failure of Turnbull’s Senate clean out
The current Roy Morgan prediction is for the Turnbull government to be returned. Still, with the ALP a whisker ahead on a two party preferred basis, it will be interesting to see what the winning margin for the LNP will look like when the voting is done. The return of Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott as independent candidates, along with NXT candidates in South Australia, also adds some extra things to watch out for.

Meanwhile, the composition of the new Senate could be even less friendly to the LNP. While PUP as a party  was not expected to get any places, Jaquie Lambie was seen as still having a good chance of being re-elected, along with Glen Lazarus. (Though the latter is expected to be fighting for the last spot against Pauline Hanson). Bob Day was anticipated to retain his spot and even Derryn Hinch was considered a chance, depending on preference flows. The outlook wasn’t so good for LDP supporters. I was left with the impression the Roy Morgan folks see David Leyjonhelm as less likely to retain his spot. 

4.  Terrorism – the election wildcard now in play?

When the State of the Nation report was presented on Wednesday morning, three wild cards for the upcoming election were presented. These were terrorism, union overreach (think the Victorian CFA fiasco) and corruption scandals. 

At that time, the question was posed around whether the events in Orlando would impact the Australian psyche enough to have an impact locally. Security incidents, it was argued, tended to reinforce the incumbent , especially when they were a conservative government.

The assassination of English MP Jo Cox, which is being portrayed as a politically motivated attack, will potentially ramp up public interest and concern around security and terrorist threats.

While this might bring one of the  wild cards in to play, it will be interesting to see how this actually impacts the election. The Orlando killer was a US born Muslim who pledged allegiance to IS in a call to 911 while staging his homophobic slaughter. Cox’s assassin also appears to be a home grown extremist – but of the nationalist/racist variety. 

The common link here seems to be they were both extremists, whose lack of tolerance and hatred for the ‘other’ pushed them to commit horrific acts.

If so, perhaps there is hope that the optimal position for mainstream politicians to take is not fear mongering, but a plea for tolerance. Optimistic I know, but perhaps the time has come for the real Malcom Turnbull to stand up and lead in a way that unifies. 

With the election only two weeks away, we won’t have long to wait and see how all the issues play out when Australia decides its next government.

Bonus point: Abbott supporters are out of touch

I know that’s a provocative statement, so let me clarify. Out in the more conservative parts of the blogosphere and Twitterverse, there exists a cohort of folks who continue to believe that Tony Abbot is the answer, and that things, especially for the LNP, would be so much better if Tony was still PM. The data presented today shows that not only is Turnbull still the preferred PM amongst Liberal voters, Abbott’s popularity has been sliding away towards single digits.

Whatever real or imagined strengths Abbot may bring with him, the Roy Morgan stats indicate few people think he is the right person for the PM role. Personally, if he can’t persuade more than a handful of Liberals that he is the best person for the job, then it’s hard to see how he would be an effective leader. 

It also worth noting that even though LNP support has fallen from the initial levels of Turnbull induced euphoria, the gap between the parties is narrower now than at the end of the Abbott era. ( -2 as at end of May 2016, versus -14 at the end of the Abbott term.)

The Big Switch: An Android user’s first week with an iPhone 6s


Why did you get an iPhone? What do you think of it? Should I switch from Android to iPhone? 

As a long time Android champion, these were the sort of surprised questions I started getting when I told people I’d made the switch to an iPhone 6s. Rather than fill Facebook with a series of unconnected posts, I thought I’d try and put my initial impressions in to a single blog post.

So firstly, why did I jump ship?

I have a confession to make. My decision to switch was at least partly based on novelty.

 I’ve been pretty happy with the succession of  HTC ‘droids I’ve owned over the years. But I’m also someone who enjoys learning new things, and part of me has always wondered what it would be like to use an iPhone day to day. As an iPad owner I’m already familiar with iOS, but a phone is a much more personal and intimate device. My decision to switch was at least partly fuelled by a desire to try something different. 

From a handset perspective, now seemed like a good time to switch.

I started out on Android back in 2010 as it delivered a lot more bang for buck. There was also a lot of stuff that iOS devices just didn’t do at the time. So it was that I began my succession of HTC devices. 

But things have changed in the six-ish years since I purchased my HTC Desire. IPhones are a lot better these days, and there’s no HTC  phones in market that really excite me. What about Samsung I hear you say? I love the look of the S7 Edge, but it’s a little too big for slipping in the pocket of a pair of shorts. The standard S7 is a beautiful phone, and if it weren’t for the above mentioned quest for newness, it’s probably the phone I would purchase.

I did briefly flirt with the idea of the iPhone SE. It’s compact form factor is quite appealing. However in situations where I don’t have my glasses, I really need the bigger screen of the iPhone 6s.

So what are my week one impressions?

The back arrow and widgets are my most missed Android features

What I wouldn’t give for an Android style back arrow at the bottom of the phone. Until I moved to the iPhone, I didn’t appreciate how helpful a feature it was for one handed phone use. The location of ‘back’ navigation in many  iOS apps seems to be at the top of the screen, which means using a second hand. While some apps let you swipe across the screen to go back, this isn’t universal. While the lack of a back arrow isn’t a deal breaker, as a long time Android user it feels like an area where the famed usability of iOS is let down. 

And widgets! Ah widgets, how I miss thee. My Android home screen gave over more space to widgets than to apps themselves. That meant when I unlocked the phone, I had instant access to a range of helpful information and functions. With the iPhone,  I need to open up apps or swipe my way in to the notification centre to get things like the weather – something my Android could display on the home screen.

Thumbprint unlocking – how did I live without it?.
Yes, I know current generation Android phones come with thumbprint readers as well, but I’m coming from the HTC One M7. I still think the unlock pattern of Android is better than a PIN. But for convenience, it’s hard to go past unlocking with your thumbprint. It’s a handy feature on the iPad, but considering how many more times in the day I unlock my phone, I’m wondering why it took me so long to switch to a phone with thumbprint unlocking.

Switching phones was the catalyst for going walletless

Once again, this is something that I could have done on Android, as it comes down more to the case than phone. It might even have been easier on Android given Apple Pay currently only works with Amex in Australia. I’ll have a seperate post (or maybe posts) on this at some point, discussing the benefits and potential pitfalls or relying only on your phone and the couple of essential cards you can slip in a flip case with card slots.

There’s also the little things to love about iPhone

For me, one of those little things is that the headphone jack is on the bottom of the phone. What that means for me is when I slip the phone in to my pocket, I’m not sticking my headphone jack in to the fluff at the bottom of my pocket. That fluff wrecked the headphone jack on two previous phones, so something that might seem small to others, is actually a real positive for me.

I’m looking forward to happy snapping on the iPhone

The few photos I’ve taken on the iPhone 6s have looked great. I’ve now splurged on the Hipstamtic Starter Pak, so I can’t wait to find time for some Hipstamatic fun. Android of course has its own great photo apps, like Retro Camera and Vigenette, but both seems to have stagnated a little of late. In contrast, Hipstamatic looks to be very much alive and growing. The iPhone screen is also beautiful for viewing images on. A bright, crisp and clear display makes pictures really pop.

Speaking of popping, I’m still to be convinced of the merits of 3D Touch 

Apple likes to promote the ability to ‘peek and pop’ on the iPhone 6s. Essentially, 3D Touch means you can press slightly harder than normal to ‘peek’ a preview of say a link or an email, or more firmly still to ‘pop’ it into its own window or tab. So far, I’ve found it more annoying than useful. Rarely do I remember to peek or pop. Instead, I find myself pressing slightly too firmly  on something I want to click on, and not getting the expected behaviour. This most commonly occurs when I am trying to rearrange apps. I’ll press on an app to make it wiggle ready for moving, and instead press too hard and get no result.

Perhaps it will be a feature that grows on me, or I’ll find an app where 3D Touch gives me a really useful new ability. But for now, it’s something I could easily live without.

The iPhone 6s is a great phone, especially as an iPad companion, but not necessarily a standout by itself

So where have I landed after a week and a bit with the iPhone 6s? I think it’s a great phone. It’s fast, has a beautiful screen, plenty of apps and feels comfortable in the hand. The bundled headphones also produce great sound.  As an iPad user I’m starting to find the synergies in having two iOS devices. The iPhone 6s feels like a quality piece of kit – which it should for the price Apple charges. 

But as a stand alone phone, the iPhone 6s is a premium proposition. Even the entry level smart phones these days can perform your typical tasks like running social and messaging apps, browsing the web , taking photos and yes…making phone calls. At the premium end of the market, Samsung is flying the flag for Android. Even Windows is making a bit of a comeback, perhaps aided by the merits of Surface in the tablet market.

While I’m loving my iPhone, and it makes a great partner to my iPad, I do think the smartphone market is at a point where it really is a Coke v Pepsi decision, where the ‘right’ phone for someone to own is really going to come down to personal tastes.

Fairfax ‘click bait’ does it no favours

A lot of people like to hold out the Fairfax media as some sort of bastion of quality journalism. But if Fairfax is trying to carve a niche as the ‘quality’ news source, it might want to steer away from the sort of click bait journalism it engaged in today.

Here’s the morning headline from the SMH, and a similar snapshot from the Canberra Times.  

   Now let’s hone in on that cancer story…


A new report suggests almost one in three people may be affected.

O. M. G.   One in three people affected. That sounds really really bad.

But it says affected. That’s a bit of a give away that we might not be talking about your actual risk of cancer.

My initial suspicion was this was going to be one of those statistics inflated by counting family and friends of someone with cancer in the ‘affected’ group.

Not this time though. Instead they’ve come up with a different way to creatively ‘affect’ a large number of people. When we click in to the article itself, we find out what’s really going on here. 

You see it’s been estimated that  in ten years time, about a third of the population will be in the age group most at risk of bowel cancer.

In ten years time.

In the age group most at risk.

We’re not talking about currently at risk. We’re not even talking about the actual incidence of bowel cancer within the at risk age group.

Fairfax is headlining with a one in three cancer risk, based on a third of the population being in that age group – ten years from now.

So what’s the real risk from bowel cancer?

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has a page full of bowel cancer statistics. The key takeout from these statistics is that while bowel cancer is certainly something we need to be aware of, the Fairfax headline is arguably overblown.

According to the AIHW data for 2015, someone who lives to age 85 will have a 1 in 12 chance of contracting bowel cancer over their lifetime. 

And as the table from the above AIHW site indicates, most of this risk kicks in at age sixty and above. For those under sixty, your chance of bowel cancer in any given year is less than one in a thousand. And if you’re under forty, it’s less than one in ten thousand chance in any given year.


Bowel cancer is a risk, but scare mongering is not quality journalism

There’s no doubt that with an aging population, bowel cancer is a disease that is going to impact an increasing number of people. But this appears to reflect the demographics of our population rather than a significant increase in the incidence of bowel cancer itself.

Headline claims that bowel cancer will affect one in three Australian’s overstates the risk the typical Australian faces. One can’t help suspect that if these sorts of numbers were being put forward by a mining company, rather than Bowel Cancer Australia, they’d be subject to more scrutiny. If not-for-profits are going to compete for societies resources (and taxpayer dollars) using these sorts of tactics,  they should expect to be subject to scrutiny.

At best, the overstated headlines run by Fairfax undermine their attempts to be seen as a ‘quality’ news source. At worst, it hints at a potential hypocrisy, subjecting certain groups and causes to less scrutiny than others.

Marriage Equality: The Greens’ choose power over principle. And where is GetUp! ?

When it comes to their power grab coalition with the LNP, The Greens just keep digging themselves a deeper hole, even misrepresenting the views of others to cover up their power-lust. But yesterday’s events should also raise questions about the commitment of GetUp! to its own principles.

Senator Leyonhjelm showed in the Senate yesterday that when it came to choosing between their own marriage equality bill, and cementing their political power, the Greens preferred power. Rather than allow their own marriage equality bill to be properly debated, they’ve tried to save face by forcing it in to a one hour time slot Thursday.

Senator Penny Wong sums up the farce nicely:

“This is manifestly inadequate, and the Greens know it,” she said.

“They take this position knowing one hour is not sufficient time to debate marriage equality and the government can and will frustrate a vote.”

She said the Greens valued their “dirty deal” with the government on Senate voting changes over their own principles.

‘What happened to the party’s mantra on marriage equality, every Green, every vote, every time, except today, today we are voting with Senator Bernardi’, she said.

This situation has seen The Greens’ engulfed in a social media maelstrom of the sort they’re usually advocating be unleashed on others. It’s  a social media shit-storm they seem to be struggling to deal with. On Facebook, The Greens NSW social manager has completely misrepresented Senator Leyonhjelm’s long standing support for marriage equality.

For the record, Senator Leyonhjelm has been a supporter of marriage equality since he first entered the parliament.  It was even  one of the issues raised in his maiden speech.

Liberty is eroded when our cherished right to vote is turned into an obligation and becomes a crime when we do not do it. It is eroded when we are unable to marry the person of our choice, whatever their gender

At best, we might say The Greens’ social media rep has been reckless with the facts in the heat of the moment. Others might take a less generous view of such  slander against a politician who has genuinely and consistently campaigned for marriage equality.

Where is GetUp! ?

Yesterday’s event should also have people asking where GetUp! is? Before we go any further, Let’s refresh ourselves with what GetUp! claims to stand for.


GetUp! wants to “bring participation back into our democracy”. It also wants “marriage equality for all Australians.” Yesterday’s Senate debate involved both these topics. Whether you support the proposed Senate voting changes , or ague against them, the political manoeuvring in the Senate yesterday should clearly have been of interest to anyone interested in Australian democracy. 

Likewise, Senator Leyonhjelm’s attempt to have marriage equality debated should have been of interest to those advocating for reform of Australia’s marriage laws.

But GetUp! seems to have chosen to completely ignore what was unfolding in the Senate yesterday. I can appreciate that they would still want to cover  prearranged events (the protest in Sydney and the healthcare piece on ABC). But as of this morning, I still can’t find a Tweet or Facebook post even mentioning what went down in the Senate yesterday.

Why, it’s almost as if they don’t want to embarrass The Greens by pointing out that The Greens are:

  • in cahoots with the LNP on voting reform
  • supporting a reform that will have the effect of making it harder for minor parties to get elected
  • Avoiding proper debate on marriage equality, one of their core issues, in order to try and cement their own political power.

Which begs the question – “If GetUp! Won’t go after the Greens when they pursue power over principle, how can GetUp! Continue to claim to be independent?”

Can you hear me Major Tom?

With David Bowie’s death, many people are sharing the connection they felt to the performer and his music. Though not a big follower of Bowie, there was one song that always made my chest tighten and my eyes swell.

When you’re a kid, it’s easy to dream big. Throughout most of primary school, I wanted to fly the space shuttle. I started school in the year of the first shuttle flight, and was still relatively young when tragedy struck the Challenger mission. The toy box at my parents house probably still contains the die-cast metal space shuttle that I would fly on my simulated missions.

I’ve no idea when I first heard ‘Space Oddity’, and for a long time I actually thought the song was called Major Tom. As a kid, it really struck a chord with me. Space Oddity was probably one of the first songs I had heard that was simultaneously exciting but sad. That may be why I’ve carried the emotional impact of the song with me into adulthood,

For me, ‘Space Oddity’ has always been a song about the wonder, and danger, of space exploration. And about the courage of ‘Major Tom’. I used to try and imagine what it would feel like in that moment of “stepping through the door”. What courage would it take, especially back in those days, to step into the vast and humbling expanse of space?

There was also the question of whether ‘Major Tom’ simply chose to not come back. Overcome by the emotion of the moment – did he simply allow himself to drift off into space?

It’s too late now for me to be an astronaut, and my reflexes are nowhere near what they’d need to be to pilot a space shuttle. But listening to ‘Oddity’ this morning has been a timely reminder that you’re never too old to dream. Never too late for your Walter Mitty moment where you make your life an adventure and live the life you want, even if there’s some risks. All it takes is the courage to “step through the door” each day.


p.s. I couldn’t go past the version above on account of the space shuttle being included. But the version below from ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty‘ is fantastic too if you enjoyed the film.

Scroll no further – there be dragons

This post marks the beginning of a new and hopefully reinvigorated life for  The Minimal State blog. If you happen to scroll past this point, you’ll be taking a bit of a leap back in time. There’s some interesting stuff covered in the old posts, but most of it is four or fives years old. If you’re looking for anything recent, don’t cross this line.

"Statue of a dragon guarding one of the beautiful bridges in downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia. June 2008." Credit: Flickr user: Ville Miettinen
“Statue of a dragon guarding one of the beautiful bridges in downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia. June 2008.” Credit: Flickr user: Ville Miettinen


Politicians and the God Complex: Voting for someone without all the answers

Would you vote for a politician who told you they didn’t have all the answers? After watching Tim Hartford’s TED Talk on ‘The God Complex’, perhaps you might be more willing to consider it. But if ‘trial and error’ is a better policy alternative, why isn’t it more popular with politicians?

Tim Hartford argues that in our incredibly complex world, one has to have a God Complex to be ‘absolutely convinced’ they know how the world works. Likewise, someone who believes their particular solution to a problem is ‘infallibly right’ is kidding themselves. Hartford claims the best process for solving our problems is actually through trial and error.

So when it comes to rolling out a nationwide policy, especially something long lasting and very expensive, what should we do? Do we trust our political leaders, infallible and God-like, to declare the right solution? Or do we create an environment where polices and solutions can evolve through trial and error?


Terabyte Delight or Terror Byte?

I have a new post at TEX,  looking at the market buzz around terabyte broadband plans. The short version of my argument: whilst there are some users who consistently use  a terabyte or more, this is a lot more data than most currently need.  Anyway, the post  got picked up by the media, being covered by both ZDNet and IT News.

Attribution & Retribution in the age of Aurora and Stuxnet

This post is  inspired by my attendance at the Sydney session of the  McAfee Focus 2010 Security Seminar and recent discussions around the Stuxnet malware.

At  McAfee’s  Focus 2010 Security Seminar, one of the more interesting sessions  was an analysis of Operation Arurora presented by McAfee’s head of Threat Research,  Dmitri Alperovitch.  Outside of  IT security circles, the name Operation Aurora probably doesn’t ring any bells.  But in January 2010,  the Aurora cyber-attack  was making headlines across the globe due to Google’s sensational claims it had been the victim of a security breach which had its origins in China.

Google wasn’t the only company infiltrated.  A number of other US companies in industries such as finance, defence and technology, were also targeted. But it was  Google’s actions – publicly outing itself as a victim, naming China as the source of the attacks and threatening to stop censoring its search results in China – which made it the public face of the Aurora attacks.

Whilst those with a background in IT security would probably get more from Dmitri’s presentation, the analysis of Aurora was presented in a way that made it accessible to a more general audience. Which is a great thing given some of the thought provoking issues raised.