I’ve been giving Strides a go to see if I can develop some stronger habits. Early days yet, but after setting a daily goal of 50+ kanji reviews, it’s been nice to see my Wanikani backlog clearing out. So far, so good.

Anne Twomey has an interesting legal/political history column in The Australian today. It’s about about two Australians expelled from the British parliament, but focuses on Arthur Lynch:

Some might see Lynch’s life as one of contradiction — he was a colonel in both the Boer and British armies. He fought for and against the king. He was an Australian elected to the British parliament, disqualified from it and sentenced to death for high treason, who went on to serve in that same parliament, with distinction, for nearly a decade. Yet throughout, he was true to himself and showed courage and principle. Unlike the politicians of today, who change course at the first adverse report of a focus group, Lynch led a life undaunted.

The creator of the Medieval Death Bot — which tweets one-line summaries of fatalities recorded in English coronial records — is putting together a book of highlights, Murdered by Clerks:

Through death, Murdered by Clerks gives us a rare, first-hand look into everyday life for common people of the English Middle Ages.

And lurking amidst these common people is a recurring chorus of especially murderous clerks. Their bloodlust, while appearing insatiable, is the result of a particularly medieval naming convention – all those who were employed in a profession because they could read and write were referred to as clerks, which included not only scholars… but students as well. With the Death Bot featuring a coroners’ roll from Oxford, the cup of clerk murders overflows, and Murdered by Clerks highlights the best of the best. Brawls, street fights, wrestling gone wrong – it’s all in there. Students, drunk and armed with swords, are not to be trusted…

And here’s an excerpt.

Don’t be put off by Knights of the Dinner Table’s amateuristic art and occasionally confusing word-balloon placement; it combines funny adventures with surprisingly deep character development. It’s a highlight of my month, every month — and with this Bundle of Holding offer, you can get a stack of collected PDF volumes for under $25.

My preferred podcast app, Pocket Casts, has been bought by a joint venture comprising podcast and public radio networks. There is a conspiracy theory about that they are going to start harvesting scads of user data, and although the developers have denied it, NPR’s Thomas Hjelm told Hot Pod, “we’re eager to explore … better tools for podcast creators to understand how their content is being consumed”. So that’s a maybe?

(If Pocket Casts does take a drastic turn as a result of this deal, I will switch to Overcast. When I’m asked for an app recommendation, I already recommend both. I prefer the Pocket Casts interface, but that’s a matter of taste, and I’m sure I could get used to the alternative if I had to.)

Here’s a nice physics puzzle game based on the shapes of falling letters: Supertype.

The Nintendo Labo is a lot of fun. It starts with the Gunpla-style satisfaction of snapping pieces into place to build something cool, but then your cardboard construction comes to life — the piano is amazing!

The real power seems to be the ToyCon Garage software, which is a simple programming interface that lets you tinker with the included toys, or design and build your own. We’re already seeing lots of neat experiments, but my favourite is this Labo Motorbike controller for a kid’s wheelchair.

“Australia likes to think of itself as a diverse, multicultural, egalitarian country,” notes Osmond Chiu. And yet…

There are no official statistics on the ethnic or cultural composition of the Australian population and Australia’s cultural diversity is often underestimated. The Australian Bureau of Statistics should review existing measures of cultural diversity and develop a similar demographic category to “visible minority” used by Statistics Canada.

Oz makes some other good suggestions about how to improve representation in Australian parliaments, but I think this is the linchpin. If you’re not counted, you don’t count.

Richard Ackland has written an interesting profile of banking royal commissioner and former High Court judge Ken Hayne. It includes this tidbit about the Commonwealth Government’s tactics to protect the worst ever High Court decision:

But the albatross around Hayne’s neck is the notorious 2004 High Court case of Al-Kateb v Godwin. Hayne delivered the leading judgement for the majority where it was held that the indefinite detention of a stateless person who had not been charged with any crime was lawful.

… [A depressing decision] from which the High Court has since, differently constituted, tried to nibble its way out. The Commonwealth is keen not to have the Al-Kateb flame extinguished, so whenever a refugee or asylum seeker in similar circumstances brings proceedings in the court that confronts the 2004 decision, the government smartly steps in and issues a visa. Case over.


Bill Shorten’s campaign to posthumously promote John Monash to the rank of field marshal is stupid. Given that half of Victoria is named after Monash, does he really need another honour? And even if so, making him a field marshal would be an insult.

There have only been four “Australian” field marshals. One was King George VI, and one is Philip of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, whose son Charles is soon to inherit the rank. Another was the Pom responsible for the disastrous landing at Gallipoli.

The only one who was really Australian was a corrupt and viciously anti-union police commissioner and leader of a clandestine far-right paramilitary force. He was promoted to field marshal at the insistence of Robert Menzies.

The rank of Australian field marshal is a national embarrassment, and Shorten should be promising to abolish it.

Gee, nobody saw this coming:

The manufacturer of White King “flushable” wipes has been fined A$700,000 because these are not, in fact, flushable. … So-called flushable wipes, now sold for everything from make-up removal to luxury toilet paper, are a growing hazard to public health. Sydney Water says 75% of all sewer blockages in the city’s waste-water system involve wipes.

Sydney Water has been complaining about wet-wipe induced fatbergs for years.

Not content with destroying the immigration department, Peter Dutton has bypassed Cabinet to unilaterally slash immigration to Australia. Putting this authoritarian spud in charge of the sprawling (and growing) Home Affairs department will prove to be one of the worst decisions of any Australian government. With luck, his latest racist gambit won’t save him at the next election.

I went to the Kathleen Syme Library yesterday, because its children’s section is excellent, and I needed to get a new library card. While sorting it out, the librarian mentioned the online digital collection and encouraged me to check it out.

It is incredible. Everyone in Victoria is eligible to join the Melbourne libraries, regardless of which local government area they live in, and that means they have free subscriptions to a mountain of publications.

The Kanopy movie service is on Apple TV and includes a decent library of recent arthouse movies. The Age’s library edition is a horrible experience, so it won’t replace my personal subscription, but the RBdigital and PressReader iPad apps are pretty good. I will save hundreds of dollars on subscriptions to things like the Saturday Paper, The Monthly, the New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Economist, and others. Comics, too.

Run, don’t walk.

Joe Veix: “YouTube Face is clickbait, attaining human form.”

I like Twitter. More specifically, I like Twitter mediated through Tweetbot, because the official apps and website are a nightmare of spammy intrusions. Unfortunately, Twitter has decided that its ugly, confusing and just plain annoying approach should be mandatory, and is #BreakingMyTwitter by implementing API changes that seem designed to cripple the functionality of third-party apps that respect users.

Streetmix is a little browser app that lets you drag and drop elements to design a street layout; for instance.

I saw a couple of sequels this week. I went into both with low expectations, but I’m happy to report they are both excellent:

    Pacific Rim: Uprising is much more fun than the original, ditching the dark, rainy shaky-cam and finding a better balance between action, drama and comedy. (Good review from the mech enthusiasts at The Cockpit.)
    Roseanne’s tenrth season puts things back the way they were before they were broken. It’s like seeing an old friend after many years, and finding you just pick up where you left off.

James Murphy asks, Is something rotten in the City of Melbourne?

Then there is a quirk in the franchise for Melbourne Council elections. Both residents and ratepayers get a vote — that much is common in Australia (except in democratic Queensland, which abolished the property franchise in 1921). Where Melbourne gets strange is that corporations or joint property holders get a second vote. That’s one vote for people and two votes for businesses — a system that only Melbourne and the City of Sydney enjoy. As a result, says poll-watcher Ben Raue, businesses and non-resident property holders make up a majority of the votes – as much as 60 per cent according to poll-watcher Ben Raue, leaving just 40 per cent for residents.

This eccentric system makes Melbourne closer to the old rotten boroughs of England than a proper representative democracy. One person, one vote is nowhere to be seen. Or perhaps, if we’re being more generous, it is more like a medieval republic, with trades and guilds rather than citizens electing the Doge. Indeed, in Sally Capp we have one of the most powerful local professions — the Sacred Order of Property Developers — standing its leader for the top job.

Well worth reading the full thing. What a mess.

(If I had a vote, I’d vote for Rohan Leppert.)

The Internet Archive has a playable collection of handheld games. I have a slightly different version of this Pacman machine; the emulator is, surprisingly, even worse than the physical experience.

Our childcare centre is closing at 3pm today, to symbolise the gender pay gap that means early childhood educators are paid significantly less than similarly-qualified workers in “male” industries. Here’s a great article about the Big Steps campaign.

Gay Alcorn:

As a citizen, nobody has been able to explain to me clearly why Melbourne, and Australia for that matter, should be absorbing so many new people every year, at a rate far higher than the OECD average, faster than other developed nations, with no feasible plan to cope with it. …

Dear old Melbourne added a quarter of its population in just 10 years to 2016. At this rate – and projecting population growth is a wobbly science – it will be home to nearly 8 million by mid-century, overtaking Sydney as the country’s largest city.

I’m one of these newcomers, although “new” is increasingly a stretch: we moved here this week ten years ago.

My dad moved to Hobart recently, and was interviewed by Good Weekend last month because he is leading a community campaign to preserve his new home’s character. I’m the opposite, pretty much. I love Melbourne’s growth, I love new buildings and tall buildings and more and more people.

I think Alcorn’s concern that Melbourne is growing “with no feasible plan to cope with it” sounds reasonable, except that I think there is probably no plan that would satisfy her.

Because here’s the thrust of her complaint:

What is immigration for? Who is it for? The most curious argument in favour of large population growth is that, somehow, Australians – those here for generations and those recently settled – owe it to the rest of the world to populate quickly. … Really? Says who?

That’s the nub of it: you either believe we should share what we have to improve the lives of everyone we can, or you pull up the drawbridge with a grunt of “says who?”

Alcorn claims “The case for easing immigration is compelling“, but doesn’t make it out. She offers two complaints. The first, that “We are stuck in traffic”, is rubbish, based on tabloid spin.

The second, that there are too few schools available, is more legitimate — but it’s the result of deliberate decisions. The Kennett government closed public schools for ideological reasons, and sold off the land to make them hard to reopen.

Alcorn’s “says who?” mentality is the other side of Kennett’s coin. He responds to the challenge of planning by denying responsibility, she responds by turning away migrants. They are both superficially appealing, but short-sighted and harmful.

I’m not on Kennett’s side, but I’m not on Alcorn’s either. Of course governments should invest in infrastructure and schools — but we shouldn’t scapegoat our new neighbours when our governments let us down.

We should instead welcome them, and make them our allies in our demands for a better city.

I couldn’t agree more: I love RSS feeds. They are fundamental to my internet experience. I subscribe to Feedbin to manage my feeds, and I use Reeder to read them. If I come across an interesting site that doesn’t have an RSS feed — *cough* Tim — it’s really frustrating. In short: use RSS.

Happy St Patrick’s Day! Celebrate by subscribing to Motherfoclóir, a podcast that is ostensibly about the Irish language but is actually about history and culture and society and politics and everything, because that’s how language works.

American kids continue to put their parents to shame, with students from 3000 schools walking out to protest for gun control:

At an elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia, children synchronized their watches and a captain in each room led students outside two minutes before the planned 10am protest start time. …

Another student, Henry Gibbs, 10, said: “Just the sensation that we are going to make a difference makes me feel proud.”


A teacher at a California high school accidentally fired a gun in a classroom on Tuesday afternoon during a lecture on “public safety awareness,” authorities said.

Dennis Alexander, who also serves as a reserve police officer with Sand City, discharged the weapon at Seaside High School about 1:20pm, according to police.

A male student was reported to have sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

St Patrick’s Day is coming up, and this 10 things listicle made me realise how hand-wavey my knowledge of Ireland’s patron is:

Patrick made his way to Ireland’s east coast and sought passage on a ship bound for Britain. The captain, a pagan, didn’t like the look of him and demanded that Patrick “suck his breasts,” a ritual gesture symbolizing acceptance of the captain’s authority. Patrick refused – instead he tried to convert the crew.

For some reason, the captain still took him aboard.

It’s probably not surprising that the church glosses over things like his mythical magical duels with druids, though.

My gaming enablers Ben and Mike wore me down and convinced me to try Stardew Valley, and they were right.

Richard Denniss:

The term ‘sovereign risk’ is the kind of econobabble bullshit that is destroying public debate, and indeed democracy, in Australia. Like the words competitiveness and productivity the phrase sovereign risk has been stripped of any real meaning and is simply used to dress up the self-interest of powerful groups as being in the national interest.

Take the Adani coal mine for example.

Charles Waterstreet (previously) may declare bankruptcy, after being found to owe the ATO over $400,000 because he “failed to pay income tax in the financial years of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, and did not pay subsequent penalties”.

The judgment is quite something. Waterstreet failed to turn up in court, and tried to withdraw his defence “without prejudice”. The judge couldn’t understand what this meant, so went ahead and considered his defence anyway:

Looking through the file, the defendant did serve two affidavits in these proceedings, but neither of those addresses substantive issues in the case… A statement that a party can neither confirm nor deny the allegations is not a form of pleading that is generally accepted.

But the most scathing judicial deadpan was this:

I note the explanation of believing the hearing was tomorrow and not today. While this is a two day hearing, and that may perhaps be a part of the explanation for his thinking it was on tomorrow, he had not only legal representation but his own experience to draw upon to know that when a hearing is listed for two days it commences on the first day, and not on the second.


The surprising consequence of lowering the voting age:

There are two good reasons to reduce the voting age. First, it is likely to help young people establish the habit of voting lifelong. Second, as my recently published research shows, it makes their parents more likely to vote as well.

Listen to this interesting Wheeler Centre panel on writing celebrity profiles, and read Matthew Knott’s excellent, deadpan profile of Kimberley Kitching. (And when you’re finished, see if you have any idea what she actually believes in other than winning preselection ballots.)

“Do you know who I am? I’m the Lego boy”… an anecdote about restorative justice, from Andrew Leigh’s new book about randomised trials:

A house in suburban Canberra had been the target of multiple burglaries. For the sixth time, someone had broken in through a window and stolen items from the bedroom of the family’s nine-year-old son. But this time the culprit had been caught in the act. It was the nine-year-old boy from next door – nabbed with a pillowcase full of Lego.

When police officer Rudi Lammers was called to the scene, he decided not to simply follow the usual processes for dealing with young offenders. Instead, he sat down with the two nine-year-olds and asked the victim, “What do you think we should do?”

The reply surprised him.

“A science-fiction narrative imagining an alternate universe in which Donald Trump never became President: he’s just a regular guy in New York City.” These are good cartoons.

New Statesman asked novelist Mohsin Hamid, “Are we all doomed?”

Individually, yes. As a species, no. All of us, individually, are going to die. That is horrifying. But it opens up the potential for compassion. We can see that every other human being faces the same terrible fate as we do. And we can begin to treat each other accordingly. With greater sympathy. Human history is likely to be a slow, sometimes appalling, often faltering march towards a world where people treat each other better than in the past. Death can do us that one service. So have hope.

Just one person does five
Fencing, shooting, riding, running, and swimming
There are five, just for one person
But we’re guessing you don’t know much about
Modern pentathlon

Nissin, a company that famously produces cup noodles and even more famously produces bizarre advertisements for cup noodles, has created a monster mascot for Modern Pentathlon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: meet Pentaurus-kun.

If you miss Lucky Peach, the nearest available thing is Chang and Meehan’s documentary series about food culture, Ugly Delicious. I’ve only seen the pizza episode so far, but the New Yorker’s review has me looking forward to “Chang and a researcher feed[ing] Doritos to an assembled group of people who claim to have adverse reactions to the MSG in Chinese food”.

(Interestingly, in explaining Lucky Peach’s demise, Meehan blamed “friction” with Chang: “I think we just kind of collided in the last six months”; Chang refused to talk about it. I gather this was filmed before their collision.)

Facing a grilling about her staff — who are under investigation by the AFP over a hamfisted attempt to smear Bill Shorten — Michaelia Cash flipped out and made a hamfisted attempt to smear Bill Shorten’s female staff. Penny Wong heard about it, marched into the committee room, unloaded on Cash, and forced her to withdraw. (You need to see the video to fully appreciate how fearsome Wong can be.)

But what about the rumours Cash threatened to spread? The Guardian was baffled:

No one I have spoken to, or anyone in this office has spoken to, has any idea who or what she was talking about.

Over at the AFR, they had heard something:

As a minister in the former government, Mr Shorten was the subject of rumours spread by the Coalition that he had had an affair with a staffer called Shannon who became pregnant. The rumours persisted even though Shannon was male.

Samantha Maiden confirmed that the “rumour that Bill Shorten had impregnanted a man was truly one of the great Parliamentary world exclusives”. Perhaps spreading it will be the end of Cash’s career.

Liberty Victoria’s Rights Advocacy Project has launched Confident Commuter, a step-by-step guide to help you deal with public transport ticket inspectors and infringement notices.

(I’m pleased to see it includes, “Ticket inspectors cannot: … Take your phone”. I ended up on radio complaining about this last year — and subsequently in the Chinese-language media as “kind-hearted Corr” / “好心的corr”, so that’s nice.)

Alto’s Odyssey is here! Beautiful design, a satisfying difficulty curve, and the one-touch gameplay is perfect for straphangers like me.

It looks like a mysterious Bulgarian user set up a dodgy playlist and a thousand Spotify accounts, and scammed them into paying huge royalties for a few months. Clever, but while the article says “technically this person needn’t have broken any laws”, it would definitely be treated as fraud if you tried to pull this scam off in Australia.

If you’ve seen The Good Place, you’ll be familiar with its premise: in the afterlife, all of your actions will be assigned a moral score (ending slavery — good; telling a woman to ‘smile’ — bad), and you will be rewarded or punished according to your tally. China wants to make this a reality, but with immediate carrots and sticks:

[T]he State Council, the chief administrative authority of the People’s Republic of China, proposed the creation of a vast system of surveillance in which every citizen would be given a numerical score that indicated their trustworthiness. This system would be based on wide-reaching tracking of online and offline actions, all purchases, media engagement and social relations. All the information scraped off by this surveillance process would be centralised in a database and groomed by algorithms looking to extract patterns. These patterns would then be interpreted in a strongly normative way. Taken together, the algorithms would settle on a single number: the ‘Citizen Score’. This score will have massive impacts on people’s lives, with punishments and rewards once the system becomes operational. The State Council wants to make the Social Credit System compulsory for all citizens by 2020.

You’ve probably guessed where this is headed (paying your debts — good; criticising the Party — bad). Hell on Earth.