The Null Device


What does an intelligence agency do to improve its public image? Germany's federal intelligence service, the BND, is opening a shop selling clothing and merchandise bearing its logo. As well as the usual T-shirts and calendars, the merchandise includes underwear bearing inscriptions such as Verschlusssache ("Classified") and Streng Geheim ("Top Secret"), as well as the agency's logo.

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A British environmental thinktank says that high-speed trains should replace air travel on short-distance routes across Britain and Europe. Citing environmental damage caused by air travel, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is calling for extra charges on air travel to represent the environmental cost, and a shift towards high-speed rail. Which all makes sense.

(Tangent: Which reminds me of something I read in the Guardian weekend magazine whilst in London; an ecological pundit in the UK (in Scotland, I believe) posited the idea that everybody should have a fixed annual number of carbon credits, which would be depleted whenever they used a car, rode a bus, used heating, &c., in proportion to the amount of fossil fuel used. To save the world from imminent doom, he argued, the allowance would need to be set so low that most people would only use cars in emergencies. Credits could be bought and sold, so poorer people could sell theirs, ride bicycles and wear thick jumpers, and the rich could buy enough to holiday in the tropics. True to form, the author of this proposal eschews travel to overseas conferences, sending addresses on cassette instead.)

(Tangent 2: Intercontinental rail will be a different issue altogether; I recall that the Russians were planning a rail tunnel from Siberia to Alaska some years ago, which would make it possible (if slow) to catch a train from London to New York.)

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The election is nigh upon us, and it looks like Labor is going to get back in easily. No great surprise, as the Liberals have been doing their best headless-chicken impression for some time. The other party to watch is the Greens. If they poll well, they could capture one or two formerly safe Labor heartland seats; if this happens, Labor will have to stop taking the inner cities for granted, giving outer suburbanites (in marginal seats, or so the theory goes) their Los Angeles-style freeways whilst not spending 1/10 of that on public transport.

Victoria has appalling public transport compared to other places. Unless you live in the inner city or on a railway line, it is virtually unusable, leading to US-style car dependency, with all the problems that causes (from obesity to pollution to dependency on oil). And given that the marginal seats (which decided who governed) were in the outer suburbs where public transport is a pipe dream at best, the answer is always Build More Freeways.

Well, with any luck this will change this election; if the government would pony up a fraction of the billions earmarked for freeways (many of dubious economic value) on reducing car dependency (and not by just sitting back and saying that they expect that public transport use will grow; building railway line extensions and expanding bus services to run outside of peak times would be a good start), we wouldn't be on course to becoming the Los Angeles of the southern hemisphere as we are now.

How am I voting? Most probably Public Transport First, with preferences to the Greens. PTFirst don't stand a chance of winning a seat, but if they make a strong showing, it will send a message to policymakers; the Greens do stand a chance, and hopefully will do well. It may be optimistic to expect them to win lower-house seats, but who knows?

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While eager to ride into Baghdad and capture Saddam dead or alive, on the scantest of "evidence" of terrorist involvement, our noble leaders have been careful not to criticise Saudi Arabia, tiptoeing around its Taliban-like human rights record and going to great pains to not make trouble about its equivocal relationship with anti-US terrorists. But what's a little thuggish authoritarianism, oppression of women and financial and moral support for terrorists when you're dealing with a special friend in the region, right? I mean, the alternative would impinge on every American's God-given right to drive an oversized SUV from their suburban home to the shops, and that's not negotiable.

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