Brown Outs, Talk Back, and The BBC

I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s nearly four in the morning and ever since we got home (about seven hours ago) the house has been in one long brown out. Obviously I’ve seen brown outs before, they’re a fact of life in Brisbane and they’re part of the reason I bought a UPS unit to protect my PC data, but until tonight they’ve always been momentary events.

But when we came home tonight after seeing the film “In America” (a fun and often moving film with terrific performances from two young sisters) it was to find the street lights out and the lights along our unit complex’s driveway dimly lit, glowing at about a quarter of their usual brightness. I assumed it was some kind of clever battery backup, but we quickly noticed that our house lights and those of most of our neighbours were the same (but not all – some of them must have other sources of power, clever buggers).

At first the whole situation was oddly cool, as if the whole house was on a giant dimmer control and someone had set it to the lowest, most romantic level. But the novelty quickly wore off when we realised how few of our devices worked on the reduced voltage. Tungsten light-bulbs dimly work, but flourescent lights do not (I assume there isn’t the required voltage to charge up their starters). Our Foxtel satellite receiver works, and our TVs do too (in a slightly wobbly way) but not our amplifier, so no audio. Our fridges are dead and my PC’s subwoofer was giving out a continous and loud hum until I switched it off (time will tell if it’s damaged).

Somehow I have to update my presentation slides for a weekend course I’m giving in five hours (it’s 3:48am as I type this), but without power that’s tricky. Luckily my obsession with making backups of my data might save me again, allowing me to take in one of my backup CDs to the QSFT early and do the prep work there. Pity the poor students that get me as their trainer with only four hours sleep – if you were one of them, sorry if I wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

But there are upsides to being cut off from power. I’ve wasted no time tonight reading blogs online or watching news on PayTV, which is saying something. I’ve had a chance to learn to use my early birthday present, a Palm Tungsten E handheld computer – I’m writing this text on it while lying in bed in a pitch-black room. This Palm uses the new OS5 pen method of entering text called Graffitti 2, and although it’s probably a lot more intuitive for a first-timer to use, I’ve used the original Graffitti method for so long that unlearning it is proving difficult. That’s why this post really exists, it’s a combination of brown-out-induced insomnia plus a need to practice Graffitti 2.

Thanks to the lack of entertainment I’m using my battery-powered radio to listen to more talk radio than I think I have ever heard before, or probably will again. I’ve listened to talk radio from local Brisbane stations, national stations, and BBC World. Tonight’s talk radio has taught me the following:

� There are a surprising number of over-sixty Australian women awake and feeling chirpy at three in the morning. This represents an untapped national resource. These women could be stuffing envelopes or designing web pages.

� At three in the morning, talk radio hosts find even the most banal comment or lame joke from a caller absolutely hilarious. Although often it is painfully obvious that the host’s laughter is forced.

� Many government-funded artists seem to genuinely believe that Australia would be “crippled” if these artists do not continue to receive government funding. No really.

� These same artists seem to believe that colourful metaphors and atypical anecdotes are not for embellishing or illustrating their arguments, but actually are their argumemts. Much easier than backing up their positions.

� Many members of the public seem to trust journalists more than they trust democratically-elected politicians. This is remarkable to me given all the scrutiny, checks, and balances placed on politicians and political power compared to the largely unaccountable careers of most journalists. I’ve met several politicians and many public servants and they’ve almost all been genuinely sincere about their work.

� Most of the BBC seems to be deeply in denial over the implications of the Hutton report, or at least those that I heard seemed to be. It was very disheartening to hear all that rationalising and bluster from a respected broadcaster. I love almost everything that the BBC has given me over the years; the Goons, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Dr Who, Blake’s Seven, Yes (Prime) Minister, Blackadder, and all of their news and current affairs, which makes it so hard for me to watch as they attempt to diminish and obfuscate Hutton’s findings.

I keep hearing most BBC people (and those they uncritically interview) failing to make a strong distinction between “the UK government honestly used faulty intelligence to justify war” verses “the UK government knowingly used faulty intelligence to justify war”, as if their was little difference between the two, as if being mistaken was the same as lying. And the less said about that first reluctant and highly conditional BBC “apology” the better. Sure, no one likes to receive criticism, but who would have thought that BBC News would have been so thin-skinned about such well-deserved findings?

At first I didn’t see the big deal – a BBC journalist got a few things wrong, but that’s OK, mistakes happen. He got carried away and “sexed up” his report, he wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. But then BBC management compounded the error by defending the journalist even though it was pretty clear he couldn’t back up those claims that made the Blair government most unhappy. Even then I was willing to cut the BBC some slack, since it has always highly prized it’s independence, though placing independence above journalistic integrity was a bit much. But the way they are now trying to spin Hutton’s findings is beneath them.

And now it’s time for me to go teach a class (plus I think I’m getting the hang of Graffitti 2).

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