Jul 18, 2017

Nation-state teetering as West’s cultural pillars crumble

It is not difficult to recognise that the West is in flux. Eight months after the US presidential election, partisan rancour has reached a fever pitch and continues unabated. Europe seems trapped in a collective leadership paralysis in the face of the greatest mass mig­ration crisis since 1945. Public anger against elites keeps rising. The people seem less and less willing to listen to the explanations and admonishments of their leaders and the media, or to accept that their nations are merely a transitional phase before the emergence of a multicultural globalised world.
Beneath the popular resentment and frustration bubbles a longing for a vanishing sense of community, mixed with an often deeply felt democratic impulse to reclaim ownership of the state.
Signs of a popular rebellion across the West abound. The Brexit vote in Britain, the Trump movement in the US and the em­ergence of national and populist parties across Europe (though their support fluctuates) are symptoms of a deeper yet seldom articulated structural problem that has been straining democratic politics in the West: the progressive fragmentation of the nation-state.
There is an ever-expanding terminology generated to describe the vortex engulfing the West, be it “illiberal democracy”, “populism” or (from the extreme left) “neo-fascism”. But all the terms are attempting to grapple with the same truth: consensus that the nation-state should remain paramount in world politics has weakened. It is this that lies at the base of the deepening political crisis in Western democracies.
Since patriotic civic education all but disappeared from US public schools as well as Europe’s government school curriculums, two genera­tions of Western elites progressively have been unmoored from their cultural roots, often all but bereft of even a rudimentary sense of service to and responsibility for the nation as a whole.
As fractured group identities and narratives of grievance began to replace a sense of patriotism and national pride, university-edu­cated elites across the West became ever more self-referential in their pursuits, locked in an exercise of inward-looking collective expiation for the centuries of Western racism, discrimination and “privilege” — all allegedly the hallmarks of the culture they have inherited, which they must redefine or repudiate altogether.
This decomposition of elite national identities across the West already has had noticeable security consequences in the US. After decades of debate over identity politics, collective group rights and cross-national institutions, the erstwhile assumption that, when it comes to national security, state sovereignty trumps other considerations has become ever more tenuous. The immediate result has been the declining systemic cohesion of democratic states and the diminishment across the West of the principle that democratic rights carry with them the obligations of citizenship.
Historically, a nation-state stipulated the primacy of a nation brought together by a common culture, which in turn went on to generate an overarching national identity strong enough to attenuate regional, ethnic or religious differences. In their US and Euro­pean systemic varieties, demo­cratic institutions have preserved and protected the rights of the people, while the culturally grounded dominant national identity has given the nation-state its requisite resilience, while also imbuing it with the power to make demands of its citizens.
So long as this shared national identity remained strong — call it patriotism, love of country or belonging beyond one’s immediate family and local community — the nation-state retained its cohesion, resting on a sense of reciprocity between government and citizen.
Today, after decades of espousing multiculturalism and group rights buttressed by the politics of grievance, the foundations of a larger shared national identity have eroded such that governance — or, better yet, governability — has become an increasingly scarce commodity across the West. We are at an inflection point, where a growing systemic disorder is stoked not just by shifts in the global power distribution but by the progressive decline in governability. The dismantling of the core principle that the national homeland should be under the sovereign control of its people lies at the root of this problem.
The hypothesis that institutions ultimately trump culture has morphed in the past quarter century into an article of faith, alongside the fervently held belief that nationalism and democratic politics are at their core fundamentally incompatible. The decades-long assault on the idea of national identity steeped in a shared culture and defined by a commitment to the pre­servation of the nation has left Western leadership frequently unable to articulate the fundamentals that bind us and that we must be prepared to defend.
The deepening fight over the right of the central government to control the national border, which is at the core of the Western idea of the nation-state, is emblematic of this situation. The deconstruction of the nation-state across the West has had consequences beyond the national security of individual states. It has directly diminished the durability of the liberal world order, which not so long ago was heralded as the zenith of our ­globalised future.
Though its fundaments are still in place, the era of the post-Cold War triumph of liberal interna­tionalism is more than a decade behind us. The liberal international order cannot function without strong national communities acting as the baselines for democratic government. Regrettably, in the past half-century we have witnessed the gradual unravelling of the cultural foundations of this compact: the idea of the nation as an overarching identifier linking people across space and time.
Today, in addition to the shifting global power equation and surging transnational threats, a key factor in the deteriorating security of the collective West is our inability to appreciate the vital importance of the nation-state to the security of a self-governing people.
National identity, national culture and history, and the sense of belonging to a distinct community are not antithetical to the notion of an interdependent international system. On the contrary, when bereft of the core building blocks of consolidated nation-states, the system will grow less stable with each passing year.
Andrew A. Michta is the dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies. This story first appeared in online journal The American Interest.

NBN costs put brake on internet speeds

Millions of Australians will see their internet speeds fall when they are moved on to the National Broadband Network, despite still being charged the same for access.
The cost structure of the superfast internet project — required in order to pay back the federal government $49 billion in construction costs — has meant ­telcos are being charged very high prices for downloads.
These high bandwidth charges — tiny under the nation’s existing Telstra and Optus broadband networks — has meant telcos are buying the minimum, resulting in NBN speeds plummeting during peak times, such as after 5pm on weekdays.
NBN Co has admitted its bandwidth pricing is a key factor ­behind speed issues, problems not seen in New Zealand where its broadband network does not levy such fees.
NBN Co has been forced to levy the high bandwidth or “CVC” charges in order to pay back ­the money it has borrowed from the federal government to build the massive project.
Under the NBN, every home will be connected to broadband internet, with many regional and rural users to get vastly improved internet services.
But the cost of providing those services to regional Australia is being borne by the millions of city residents on the existing Telstra and Optus networks who are being forced on to the NBN where peak time speeds can fall to as low as 1/40th of what they now get.
An NBN Co spokesman yesterday confirmed CVC pricing was a key factor behind the speed problems.
“Actual end-user speeds are impacted by a range of ... factors including how much capacity is being purchased by retailers for their end users on the NBN network,” the spokesman said.
Industry expert Ian Martin, a telecommunications analyst with New Street Research, said NBN Co was unable to remove the CVC charge as it represented one-third of the company’s revenue and funded half of its operating cash.
“You couldn’t remove that component without causing a major political issue around ‘is the NBN really worth it?’,” Mr Martin said.
“If the demand for that kind of broadband is really there to justify building the NBN then people would be prepared to pay more (for faster net packages), if not then the question is why was it built?”
Internet users have inundated the websites of NBN providers, ­including Optus and Telstra and industry sites such as Whirlpool, after finding their NBN connections are far slower than the speeds they achieved previously.
Paulo Felipe wrote on the Optus website that he was achieving speeds of just 1/100th of what he had paid for.
“As everyone else, I am getting 1 per cent (1 megabit per second or even less) of contracted speed (100Mbps) during peak times,” he said. “After searching around I could see this is really a common Optus problem all around the country.”
While telcos offer users packages spruiking download rates of up to 100Mbps, about 80 per cent of users are ­opting for the slower, and cheaper, speed package of 25Mbps.
To recoup the huge costs of building the network, NBN Co charges telcos between about $10 and $14 for each 1Mbps of bandwidth they buy, depending on the quantity they purchase. Because of this high cost, most telcos are buying just 1Mbps for each customer on a 25Mbps plan.
They are able to do this ­because not everyone uses the ­internet all the time — at very low usage times such as 4am a user can expect to achieve the 25Mbps rate. But at peak times speeds plummet to as low as 1Mbps.
There are about 1 million homes connected to the Optus and Telstra networks across the capital cities, except Darwin and Hobart.
Those networks did not suffer from high CVC charges or similar bandwidth issues because Telstra and Optus owned the networks which they completed in the mid-1990s and had paid off.
Those networks were also much cheaper than the NBN ­because they focused on only high-density capital cities.
NBN Co has previously ­reduced its CVC charges, which started out at $21 per 1Mbps.
Despite those cuts, the government business enterprise is forecasting it will become more dependent on CVC revenue, which it plans will represent ­between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of all future revenue, up from 33 per cent currently.
New Zealand’s national broadband network does not levy CVC charges and so super-fast 1gigabit per second packages — 10 times faster than the top speed package in Australia — sell for $NZ129.99 ($122) a month.
Nicholas Demos, managing director of MyRepublic Australia — which sells the 1Gbps packages in New Zealand — said the CVC charges meant the group would be forced to sell similar packages for between $300 and $400 a month in Australia.
Much of the public debate on NBN speeds has focused on the differences between costly faster fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections and cheaper but slower fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connections. But the CVC issue is a far bigger determinant on net speeds.
An NBN spokesman said consumers connected via FTTP, fibre-to-the-building or hybrid fibre coaxial users could achieve speeds of 100Mbps while users connected via FTTN could achieve speeds of 70Mbps.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield yesterday said NBN Co had the “flexibility to change its pricing” and had done so in reducing CVC costs to $14 per 1Mbps.
Experts said NBN Co was in a difficult position because if it ­reduced CVC charges it would not be able to repay the government.
A TPG customer reported moving from the company’s 12Mbps package to its 25Mbps NBN package, but speeds became “slower and less reliable” with downloads from international sites taking six times longer.
One user wrote on the Optus website that the telcos’ failure to buy enough bandwidth was the key problem to slow speeds.
“Simply put, they don’t purchase enough bandwidth from the NBN,” he said. “They buy enough for 10 people but sell it to 100 people, so at peak times it’s useless.”

Jun 23, 2017

look for the righteous mind in your foe and we may avoid disaster

Look at Western Europe and North America today and we see an exponential explosion in ­political animosity, even — as Greg Sheridan pointed out on this page yesterday — hatred.
Western societies seem to be at war with one another to the extent that it would be easy to conclude that we are intent on tearing ourselves apart from ­within.
The recent US presidential election was more personal and vitriolic than previous campaigns, and it has left an increasingly polarised nation in its wake.
Trump supporters and their opponents have been engaged in pitched street battles, and now we’ve seen blood shed at a baseball game. It isn’t just hyperbole to draw comparisons with the streets of Paris in 1789 or St Petersburg in 1917.
And things aren’t any better in Europe. Intractable ideologues on the right and the left are increasingly influential across the continent, with a far-right leader in The Netherlands holding considerable influence and Marine Le Pen, one-time darling of the far-right, performing strongly in the presi­dential election in France. In Britain, the Labour Party went into the recent general election led by Jeremy Corbyn, a man who is on record refusing to disclaim himself as a Marxist, and he has emerged as a perceived winner.
Perhaps we are a little behind the curve in Australia, but if we want to see where we’re headed a quick glance at the international headlines will suffice.
We don’t have to search long for evidence that we’re on the same trajectory. Perennial leadership catastrophes continue to undermine the two major parties; The Greens on the left, moving further left, and One Nation on the right claim growing support, each with scant regard for centrist compromise; and breakaways, offshoots, mergers and radical independents are more in the news than ever.
It’s an ominous prospect. Last month I met a remarkable man who has been unpacking this very dangerous polarisation and truncating of mature, reasoned debate, and ­proposing some useful ways forward. We will hear much more, I’m sure, of Jonathan Haidt in this country as he is increasingly ­becoming recognised as a beacon of reasonableness in the US.
He is a social psychologist and the professor of ethical leadership at New York University. His groundbreaking work, The Righteous Mind, identifies that all of us build our political outlook on six moral foundations.
All people have some innate consciousness of each of these moral dimensions. These foundations are: care/harm; liberty/oppression; fairness/cheating; loyal­ty/betrayal; authority/subversion; and sanctity /degradation. His research reveals that so-called progressives on the left and conservatives on the right build their political world views with a very different mix of emphasis on each of the different foundations. This is why people from opposing ends of the political spectrum are at such odds with one another — they live in different moral universes. It need hardly be pointed out that this lies at the heart of the very dangerous breaking down of harmony in Western societies.
Haidt came from the left and does not identify as a conservative today. Yet his research clearly shows that while conservatives build their moral politics on all six foundations relatively equally, “progressives” focus overwhelmingly on the care, liberty and fairness foundations only. I have observed that “progressives” often even view the other three foundations as immoral, so that loyalty becomes racist nationalism, authority is about oppression and sanctity is an expression of bigoted judgmentalism.
Haidt’s work, however, surely suggests that careful weighting of all six moral foundations is important, and that if we try to build on only one or two, care and fairness, then we are bound to give rise to all sorts of unintended consequences, no matter how noble our original ­intentions may be.
His thesis is hugely important for all kinds of reasons, not least because it demonstrates to those with strong political views that their opponents may well be motivated by sincere moral imperatives, no matter how strongly we may disagree with them. Conservatives may look at progressives and despair at their apparent cultural vandalism and contempt for sacred traditions, but Haidt reminds us that they are motivated by a commendable desire to protect the oppressed and liberate victims. Progressives can’t fathom why conservatives fail to see that their perceived obsession with heritage is harmful to a particular group, while failing to recognise that in fact conservatives are motivated by a much broader set of moral considerations aimed at wider social harmony.
Next time we are tempted to dismiss our political opponents as evil ideologues, then, on whichever side of the debate we are on, we would do well to remind ourselves of Haidt’s invaluable insights. If more of us can do that we may just avert a political catastrophe from which it could take decades to ­recover.
John Anderson was deputy prime minister of Australia from 1999 to 2005.
(This is the first of two articles. Next Friday’s will examine Haidt’s research into the dangerous political homogeny of contemporary Western universities.)

May 27, 2017

Bieber trap: Gordon Chalmers paedophiles and grooming

Paedophiles don’t need to hide behind bushes. They just create a ‘Justin Bieber’ profile and wait.
Gordon Chalmers had a way of ­connecting with students. What made his law lectures so compelling was the deep humanity ­conveyed in his message; his ­sincerity, his earnestness, how truly evolved and well-rounded his thought processes were. He says he’s from the Yanyuwa people of the Northern Territory. From the Gulf Country. He lectured on law and indigenous rights and philosophy at the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland with such a true sense of place and spirit that he lifted students to places in their thinking they had never been. Because he cared. Because he connected.
Gordon Chalmers allegedly had a way of ­connecting with kids online, too. He is accused of ­creating accounts on Facebook and Skype under the guise of Canadian pop superstar Justin ­Bieber. Through an alleged decade-long spiral down a dark-web wormhole of online child exploitation, police will say Chalmers sat before the cold light of a computer screen in suburban Brisbane pretending to be the soulful teen dream who made a ­billion girls swoon with the immortal words: Baby, baby, baby, oooooohhhh.
Chalmers is accused of building personal ­relationships online with at least 157 children across Australia, the US, the UK and the world. He’s a polite, bookish, 42-year-old husband and father of two, but he allegedly messaged like the brash 23-year-old megastar, imparting Bieber’s playful, smart-mouth side and his softer side, too; the “is it too late now to say sorry” side. He could listen. He could be a friend. And all he allegedly asked for in return was a child’s innocence: a naked selfie; a brief pornographic act. Police will say he convinced 157 kids to do things to themselves they never thought themselves capable of; that he lifted kids to places in their thinking they had never been. Because he cared. Because he connected.
Be honest, girl, how many tears you let hit the floor?
How many bags you packed just to take them back?
… But no more. If you let me inside of your world there’ll be one less lonely girl.

One Less Lonely Girl, Justin Bieber, 2009

Detective Inspector Jon Rouse sighs in his chair,flattened emotionally by three words. On a cool autumn day outside the Basil Sellers Theatre, a stone’s throw from the pristine lake at the heart of the Gold Coast’s Bond University, the man who has spent the past decade of his life turning Queensland Police’s Task Force Argos unit into a world leader in the investigation of online crimes against children reluctantly voices these three words with a visible shudder. “The Bieber case,” he says. “That’s the one that makes me despair.”
Rouse didn’t despair in 2008, when he witnessed live-streamed child sexual abuse for the first time. “We had a mother in the Philippines engaging with one of my undercovers,” he says. “She was offering her children up for sexual abuse. ‘What would you like me to do to my children? OK, give me 50 US dollars.’”
Rouse didn’t despair during the globally ­orchestrated 2015 arrest of Peter Scully, a former Melbourne businessman in the Philippines charged with crimes including the rape and torture of a five-year-old girl; the abuse of children he filmed digging their own graves. “You’ll never see a greater animal than Peter Scully,” Rouse says. “That’s as bad as it gets.”
He didn’t despair because he can fight a man like Scully. With a growing team of international collaborators of the highest order, he can put men like Scully away for life. But he can’t fight the dreamboat charisma of Justin Bieber. He can’t fight the online magnetism of a pop music icon just as he can’t fight the lightning-quick real-time impulses of 157 children who might dream of being Justin Bieber’s friend.
“One hundred and fifty-seven alleged victims globally,” Rouse says, shaking his head. “We have a generation of kids at the moment, and we think that we’re educating them, and we think that we’re warning them about the dangers of online solicitation.” He shakes his head again. “We are missing the mark, big time. Clearly. How does a man go online pretending to be Justin Bieber and he convinces 157 children around the world that he really is Justin Bieber and he gets them to do things on video that …” He pauses. “That … are just horrendous.”
He leans in across the table. “Maybe don’t print this, but …” And he explains the allegations against Gordon Chalmers as delicately as he can, the depths to which he allegedly encouraged girls to sink, things about objects and kids alone in their bedrooms, things he encouraged kids to do to other kids. He tells you these things and your ill-prepared brain is too responsive for its own good; it makes mental images that you don’t want it to make. But these are the images Rouse and his team see in live-stream or photographic colour every day. It’s their job to remember these images. Victim identification. Members of his 30-person team are equally cursed and blessed with the ­ability to recall the smallest details of photographs seen years earlier; needles in haystacks like the shape of a bedroom power socket, an earring on a cropped-out face, posters on walls, a pencil case on a desk, a badge, a school uniform logo, a missing tooth, a tattoo, a scar, a birthmark, an innocuous small hole in a kid’s T-shirt.
“…and [Chalmers] is capturing it on video,” Rouse claims. “And then he uses that to ‘sextort’ them. He plays it back to them. You know, ‘If you don’t do this, I’m going to put this on YouTube and the whole world’s going to see’. And then we see these kids …”
He shakes his head again, struggling to contain his frustration. “You know, that can then lead to things like youth suicide; this is an enormous global issue and my concern is we think we’re sending the messages out to adults about the dangers. Well, these kids are not listening. We’re doing something wrong in our messaging that these kids, in enormous proportions, are just doing it. What’s going on is these children are self-producing material. It’s flooding the internet. It’s coming into our cases. And it never needed to happen. They shouldn’t be doing this.”
A man in a cowboy hat and suit passes Rouse’s table, nods hello. That man is a Texas Ranger named Cody Mitchell. He walks in to the Basil Sellers Theatre and joins a group of fellow law enforcement officers from around the world: members of the LAPD, Interpol, Europol, the US Marshals Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, US Homeland Security Investigations and Australian Border Force. They’re here for Task Force Argos’s fifth annual Youth, Technology and Virtual Communities conference, a highly sensitive event, unique in the Asia-Pacific, that assembles 450 of the sharpest minds in global child exploitation policing.
Rouse has to be careful what specifics he offers about the Bieber case because it’s before the courts but, he says, networking like this was instrumental. “Next year’s conference will have a lot to do with this case,” he says, adding that it shows the vulnerability of children using social media as much as it shows “the global reach and skill that child sex offenders have to groom and seduce victims”.
Argos and the Australian Federal Police were tipped off through watertight connections with US Homeland Security and German Federal Police. In November last year, police raided ­Chalmers’ home in Kenmore, southwest Brisbane. He was initially charged with possession of child ­exploitation material and using a carriage service to groom and procure children under 16, and remanded in custody. An initial search of his computer hardware allegedly found he had acquired some 6000 Skype contacts, mostly with children overseas. In March, after thorough investigation of his voluminous computer files by Task Force Argos, Chalmers was charged with 931 offences, including indecent treatment of children and the making of child exploitation material. The case will next be ­mentioned in court on July 3, and the courts will determine whether he is guilty or innocent.

“We bring horses to the water, knowing they will drink it,”says Rouse’s friend and frequent ­collaborator Tim Van Eester, a chief inspector from Belgium, to explain how offenders are caught in global police stings. Van Eester has led more than 1000 child sexual exploitation investigations across Europe that have spilled into ­jurisdictions across the world, including several in Australia. He worked with Argos on the 2015 investigation into the crimes of Melbourne nanotechnology student Matthew Graham, who led a double life online under the pseudonym Lux, running a series of “hurtcore” child abuse and torture websites he called PedoEmpire.
“There’s often a two-speed lane,” Van Eester says. “The informal connection lane goes much faster. That’s why we build these direct police ­connections across the world. It’s a global crime scene. There are shattered pieces of the puzzle spread around the globe.” In his world, borders don’t exist. Belgium’s offenders are Australia’s offenders. The UK’s online offenders are as dangerous to kids in Liverpool, Sydney, as they are to kids in Liverpool, England. “The National Crime Agency in the UK estimates that, right now, for the UK alone, there are 750,000 male adults with a sexual interest in children,” he says. “That’s huge. Not all of those men will offend. But social media has made it so much easier for them to do so.”
A technological arms race is in full swing between the good and the depraved forces standing either side of the dark web. Van Eester recently worked with the FBI, South African investigators and the AFP on a multi-jurisdictional case where an international network of men had built their own social media platforms and complex analytics technologies to target vulnerable children across the social media world.
“They were all developers,” Van Eester says. “Hardcore paedophiles. They created for themselves social media platforms specifically designed for children, and created a tool that used automatic scraping and big data collection and analysis that runs scripts on normal social media platforms to detect victims. It’s called ‘wolf packing’. They would reach out to their own list of validated, vulnerable ­children and they would hyperlink their platform to the child’s social media profiles.
“When you look at the amount of unique ­victims that were identified, you’re gonna fall from your chair.” He pauses for impact. “They got 1800 in the US alone.”
Detective Inspector Jon Rouse.
Paedophiles don’t have to hide behind playground bushes in 2017. “It’s all connected to social media now,” says Van Eester. “The peer pressure to be online, to be loved and to be thought of as ­special. We adults use social media as a tool. It’s a utility for us. Children don’t use it as a utility. They use it as their world. They live it. It’s their new playground. It is very easy for an offender to step in, create a fake account, play a role, and reach out to children in that playground. They just have to make a profile like Justin Bieber and wait until a child digitally comes by and says, ‘Hey, that’s ­Justin Bieber, wow! And I’m now connected to him!’
“So then comes the grooming process: ‘You’re special. You’re unique. You’re beautiful.’ Then they isolate that child from their parents, from their friends. The child’s behaviour starts to change. They get more isolated. They get grumpy. They don’t listen anymore. There are problems at school. And then there will be the picture exchange. The webcam sexual actions. And then the child will be extorted for more. And, finally, there will be arrangements set up between perpetrator and child. And this is all happening within our living room. We’re sitting there with our ­children and we say, ‘Oh, who are you talking to?’ And they say, ‘Oh, no one, just some friends’. And you pass by and they quickly close the phone and you say, ‘Why’d you close it?’ And they say, ‘Oh, I was done’. And the perpetrator has already created massive, massive destruction to the child.”
“Baby, I’m here, I’m here to stay, I ain’t going nowhere
I know you’re scared ’cause you’ve been hurt, baby, it’s alright …
I promise to be all that you need.”

Right Here, Justin Bieber, 2012
She’s an Australian mum who can’t say her name or where she lives because she doesn’t want the man (unrelated to the Chalmers case) who pretended to be Justin Bieber and asked her eight-year-old daughter online to send him an image of her vagina to know a police cyber safety team is currently tracking him down. “My daughter had just had a shower and I was drying her hair and she was mucking around on the iPad and ­somehow this person literally hacked in,” she says. “I still don’t know how he hacked in because the ­settings were on private, but his message was so believable that it even had me for a moment.”
She is a strict mum when it comes to cyber safety. Rule one: all online use occurs in Mum’s presence. Rule two: Mum types in all passwords. Rule three: you’re only allowed five online friends, as opposed to the other kids in class who have up to 6000. The messages came through on a popular children’s music and chat app. The first ­message from Justin Bieber’s account read: “Who wants to win a 5-minute video call with me?”
“The thing is, the stars do actually get on this app,” she says. “I’d already seen previously: ‘Win a video call: Katy Perry’. The Justin Bieber account was so well done. It looked very professional. His name was there. His photo. It wasn’t a backyard hack job. It was so believable, to the point where the first one got me. And the ­messages kept going on cycle. A screen shot, four seconds, next shot, four more seconds, and my daughter and I were both, like, ‘Oh, wow, Justin Bieber!’ He’d just been in Australia so it was really red hot. We couldn’t get to the concert, maybe we could win the competition?
“Then the second message came. It said, ‘All you have to do is take a photo of you naked or of your vagina’. And I was, like, ‘What?’ At first I was literally questioning what I was reading, like I hadn’t read it right. It was surreal. Then the next message came and it was that real persuasive grooming kind of message: ‘Everyone’s doing it, don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. It’ll be our little secret, just do it now.’ I said, ‘Give me that iPad’, and we drove straight to the police station.”
Five weeks on, she remains shocked by the casual ease of it all. She’d spent eight years in park playgrounds and public spaces scanning for danger signs, anything that might cause harm to the most important thing in her life. She bored her kids with talk of stranger danger, why she couldn’t let them walk to school by themselves. Then the stranger got to her daughter in her own home, in the family bathroom, while she was running a towel through her daughter’s hair. He connected. And the thing that frightens her most today is that she couldn’t have blamed her daughter if she’d sent a message back to Justin Bieber.
“I’d have said, ‘This is not your fault’,” she says. “A lot of people will probably think, ‘Huh, my kid’s too smart for that’. But I see my child as ­intelligent. I’ve spoken with her about this stuff, not in great depth, but many, many chats about what to do if anyone asks you to do something inappropriate. But I couldn’t blame her because when it’s all said and done, they’re children. And it’s a moment. That’s all it is, one single moment. They don’t have 24 hours to think about it. It’s ‘Take the photo now’. And the child’s initial ­reaction might be, ‘I’ll just quickly do this. No one will know. ­Justin ­Bieber is telling me no one will know. I’ll do it quickly. Mum’s downstairs cooking. She won’t know. Maybe it’s not right, but I really want to talk to Justin Bieber’.
“That’s how I see that this has happened to those 157 kids. The parents might have done everything possible. But the kid just made a split-second decision. They probably said to themselves the next day, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t have done that’. But, too late, it’s done.” They’re connected.
“I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice.
By once or twice I mean maybe a couple of ­ hundred times.”

Sorry, Justin Bieber, 2015 
The Filipino grandmother gasps. “Gordon?” she whispers, a palm to her mouth. She’s been his next-door neighbour for 13 years; has placed her wheelie bin out on the pavement beside his every sleepy week in leafy Kenmore. She watched him raise his two boys: kind, respectful young men. She watched him showing true tenderness and love for his wife during pregnancy. His wife is a beautiful human being, she says, the perfect neighbour with a full and open heart. “He was a very good father,” she says. “And he was very helpful to us.” Her husband passed away two years ago and Chalmers took it upon himself to regularly mow her lawn. “He always listened to me. He was such a good listener. He was so calm. Just nice. Normal. You’d never see a bad thing in him.”
Dr Gregory Vass, a University of NSW education specialist who co-authored a 2016 paper with Gordon Chalmers on indigenous education, says Chalmers was a well-liked fixture of the academic community. “The person I knew was a person who always came across with a very serious disposition, who was politically aware and engaged with the world and thinking critically about the world and power structures and people’s vocations. He was a man who was connected to his spirituality, connected to country, connected to the politics of indigenous Australia and this world. And he always came across as having a real integrity.
“It’s been profoundly disturbing and unsettling. I can’t find words to get my head around what’s going on. I’m still trying to process it and reconcile it on some level. How do you make sense of ­something like this? It makes you question your own ability to read and make sense of the world.”
In the foyer of Bond University’s Basil Sellers Theatre, Dr Michael Bourke prepares for an afternoon talk on the last day of the Youth, Technology and Virtual Communities conference. He’ll talk about his role as chief psychologist and head of behavioural analysis for the US Marshals Service and his former career spent working in prisons, attempting to make psychological sense of the motivations of child sex offenders.
“The idea that this man seems so normal, that he seemed like the man next door. Well, they are. It’s a misconception that people think they could actually sense that someone had a deviant predilection for children; that their maternal instincts would alert them. In fact, these men are the folks next door, the school teachers, the coaches, the upstanding community members. But there is a dark, secretive compartment they do not share with the world. And in that space all sorts of evil can be expressed.”
So this is the world we live in now, where the dark-web monster greets our kids with the ­irresistible smiles of Justin Bieber and Harry Styles and Zayn Malik.
Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, is the mother of an 11-year-old girl and five-year-old twin girls. “Here’s what I believe,” she says. “If you’re giving your kid an iPad and they can swipe at the age of four, you need to have age-appropriate conversations and you need to be setting up basic parental controls and you need to be engaged in the kid’s online life. We’re all guilty of using technology as the digital babysitter, but it can be more hazardous for your kid now to be playing on the ‘Musical.ly’ app and using the chat function in the next room than it can be leaving your kid on the park bench out by themselves.”

Two days previously, at the child exploitation conference, Jon Rouse had approached Inman Grant to ask why messages about online safety were being ignored. She’d asked herself the same question a dozen times. “It is incredible that 157 kids were so vulnerable and were so manipulated to believe that the person on the other end was Justin Bieber; to the point that they were ­willing to share nudes,” she shudders.
“But predators now know how to look for ­vulnerabilities in people online. I think kids who are at risk of being exploited online are probably at risk in the real world, too, and may be putting signals out that they’re vulnerable in some way and that’s what predators prey upon.” What matters most is what happens in that single, split-second moment when the monster and the child connect.
Rouse is starting to feel he’s been too delicate with the message. He’s past being subtle. He leans across the table outside the Basil Sellers ­Theatre and offers the indelicate truth of why all these global law enforcers have gathered here today. “My unit is really good at what we do,” he says. “We infiltrate and we take these bastards down. We’re focused on victim identification and rescuing children that are violently raped. That’s what we try to stop. But I’ve got this other side of things and that’s completely beyond my control.”
He leans back in his chair. “We’ve been talking about this for so long,” he says. “We’ve been putting these messages out there, and we missed the boat somewhere in our education processes. We completely missed the boat. I just see an enormous societal failure. I really do.”
He sighs again, takes a deep breath and a sip from a takeaway coffee. “The Bieber case,” he says, shaking his head. “It leaves me depressed. I mean, what the hell, you know?”


Feb 21, 2017

IBM’s Watson focuses on eye-care advances

IBM is putting the prowess of its cognitive computing champion Watson to further use in the healthcare space, with the tech giant shedding new light on the role it can play in the treatment of eye disease.
The research, which began in 2015, involved the US heavyweight’s Melbourne-based team of researchers training Watson to recognise irregularities in eye images, which in turn offers doctors greater confidence in the early identification of patients at risk of diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
The technology is applied to a dataset of 88,000 retina images to analyse the key anatomies of the eye. The granular examination of each image brings to light details that may often be missed by doctors. One example of Watson’s ability is the accuracy with which it measures the separation of the optic cup and disc, a symptom of increased eye pressure, with statistical performance as high as 95 per cent.
The technology has also been trained to distinguish between left and right eye images (with up to 94 per cent accuracy), which is important for downstream analysis and effective treatment programs.
IBM Research Australia vice-president and lab director Joann Batstone said medical images were a rich source of data, which was finally being tapped comprehensively and helping medical professionals diagnose illnesses “earlier and with greater confidence”.
“We are really focused on the early detection phase but diagnosis is just one piece of the overall outcome,” Dr Batstone told The Australian.
“The transformation opportunity is actually around our ability to track and measure the progression of disease by analysing multiple images over time. It paves the way for technology to become a clinician’s assistant.”
The work done by Dr Batstone and her team isn’t the first time Watson’s ability to absorb and analyse vast quantities of data has been put to the test in a medical context. IBM is already working with Melanoma Institute Australia to help further advance the identification of melanoma using Watson and has a research agreement with Molemap, which uses advanced visual analytics to pore over more than 40,000 data sets including images and text.
Its early days but the use of Watson provides a glimpse of the impact technologies such as machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are starting to make in healthcare. ASX-listed Volpara Health Technologies’s founding director, Professor Sir John Michael Brady, a pioneer in AI and professor of Oncological Imaging at the University of Oxford, said the advancements in software was pushing the boundaries of what AI could do.
Volpara’s technology does not work quite the same way as Watson. The company’s software analyses breast density to optimise the efficacy of breast cancer screening programs and, according to Professor Brady, provides an ideal path to diagnosis.
“Error of omission is the biggest impediment to early diagnosis because it’s impossible for doctors to be on top of everything,” he said. “In that context the best way forward is to make the systems smarter.”
He said the next step for smart technologies would be to make waves in the field of cancer treatment called Radiomics — where algorithms are used to extract large amount of quantitative features from medical images — and Theranostics, which is the application of molecular imaging and genetic information of a patient to develop a personalised treatment.
Both Dr Batstone and Professor Brady are also quick to dismiss talk of AI eventually rendering clinicians obsolete.

According to Dr Batstone, getting more value out of existing resources is likely to be the main focus.

Feb 12, 2017

South Australia’s quixotic approach to energy

The free-settler state is determined to lead the nation, refusing to be enslaved by the carbon economy that dominates the former convict colonies.
“In 2015 the state government and Adelaide City Council committed to a joint aspiration,” says a South Australian government website, “for Adelaide to become the world’s first carbon neutral city.” They sure found a unique way to achieve it.
On September 28 last year during SA’s first statewide blackout, it disappeared from the view of passing spacecraft, redolent of the famous images showing North Korea wallowing in the darkness of its socialist torpor.
On that night the only emissions in SA came from the rear ends of cows and the expletive-laden curses of its citizens. The city designed by Colonel WilliamLight was in the dark and carbon neutral, very much like it was before he arrived in 1836. Except this time people were stuck in traffic snarls without signals; and in lifts.
None of this has worked out quite the way Labor Premier Jay Weatherill intended — although it is exactly how many of us predicted. Weatherill expended a fistful of taxpayers’ dollars and a truckload of carbon emissions taking a team to the Paris climate talks in 2015; he even took a video crew because there is not much point saving the planet unless someone records it.
“We are running a big internat­ional experiment right now,” Weatherill told the true believers in the City of Light, forgetting to tell his constituents back in Adelaide that he was using them as laboratory rats who could be plunged into darkness.
From websites for Renew­ablesSA and Carbon Neutral Adelaide to a range of videos, pamphlets and programs, the proselytising from the state’s Labor Party is extraordinary.
“2015 was an exciting year for our state on the topic of addressing global warming,” preaches Weatherill’s website (clueless about how exciting 2016 and 2017 would turn out to be).
The conceit is beyond parody. This is a state with a declining industrial base and the highest levels of unemployment in the nation.
It has clean air, plenty of space and, in the main, a semi-arid climate. This year its grain farmers are experiencing record crops thanks to good seasonal rains and perhaps, some farmers dare to mention, higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Yet Weatherill and his team seem convinced their state can be the butterfly that flaps its wings and saves the planet. The state accounts for about 0.15 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
If we shut down the state and evacuated it, the annual emissions saved would be eclipsed by China’s emissions growth within a few weeks. Indeed we could desert the state forever, leaving it to become a future Angkor Wat, and it would make not the slightest difference to global climate trends.
Yet in order to claim some kind of climate virtue, justify the odd trip to Paris and delude themselves about leading the world, SA’s policymakers have sacrificed their state’s cost of living, undermined its struggling manufacturing base and enfeebled its energy security.
South Australians have the most expensive electricity in the nation by an average of about 40 per cent, yet the power can go missing when they most need it — when especially hot or cold weather triggers high demand.
If you were doing this to actually save the planet you might grin and bear it. When you are doing it just to make an ass of yourselves it is a political crime.
To comprehend the absurdity of all this you have to trace Labor’s actions since taking power in 2002. Electricity was already a central issue because the Olsen Liberal government (for which I worked in its final two years) had privatised the system. Labor came to power promising to build an interconnector to NSW to underpin supply and boost competition. Fifteen years later it has done no such thing; rather, it is talking about the idea once again.
In the interim, under Mike Rann and then Weatherill, SA plunged headlong down the path of renewables, first achieving a 33 per cent target and then doubling down by setting a 50 per cent target (it is well on track with the renewable share more than 40 per cent already).
Mainly supplied by wind farms, the renewable investment is made under the federal government’s renewable energy target. This means the infrastructure is subsidised by other electricity suppliers, guaranteeing returns. The wind generators can often pump power into the system for extremely low prices — even for free — when the wind is blowing.
This undercut the competitiveness — as intended — of carbon-based generation. Unable to turn a profit in the new environment, gas-fired generators have chosen to close or remain idle. The state’s two main baseload generators were built in the 1960s and 80s at Port Augusta and fuelled by low-grade coal mined at Leigh Creek.
The older generator was mothballed in 2012 and the operator, Alinta, decommissioned the other last year. Before doing so, Alinta wrote to the Weatherill government seeking government support to reinvest and extend its operations in order to provide “long-term certainty” and additional retail competition.
This was rejected. On the one had this is understandable — imagine the craziness of an electricity system that subsidises renewables in order to drive out carbon-based generation but then subsidises the carbon-based plants to remain operational for reliable back-up.
But that shows the dilemma politicians have created. No doubt Weatherill, if he had his chance over, would have tried to keep the coal generators going. Certainly most of his constituents might think so.
The electricity market is extremely complex and volatile. Hence this week South Australia began load shedding when demand was high even though one major gas generator at Pelican Point was not being pressed into service.
There will be claims of profit gouging from some but alternatively, consider if the operator, French giant Engie, fires up its plant and then the wind blows. It can be stuck with gas costs but no profit.
The core of the problem is straightforward. The RET system encourages wind investment but only undermines the business model of the baseload power needed for when the wind doesn’t blow. It is the cost and complication of the renewable energy that is superfluous, not the other way around — unless you kid yourself that lower emissions in SA can change the global climate. This is an exercise in destructive futility — tilting at windmills.
The serious complication for Malcolm Turnbull is that while Weatherill’s climate crusade is all his own doing and the political consequences for him ought to be dire, it has all occurred under a federal RET that has had bipartisan support.
It is classic case of our muddled federation where we have different levels of government acting at cross-purposes. Setting a national RET at less than 25 per cent doesn’t stop self-harming states using it to achieve their own unilateral targets of 50 per cent (Queensland is aiming for 50 per cent, Victoria 40 per cent and Western Australian Labor has been flirting with 50 per cent).
The states are responsible for their own foolhardiness. And the Turnbull government’s RET ambitions seem eminently respons­ible compared to Bill Shorten’s shapeless and uncosted plan to more than double the RET to 50 per cent by 2030.
Yet Turnbull and his Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, need to deal with the reality that the current chaos is occurring under a RET to which they subscribe.
Remedial action is urgently needed to turn their political ascendancy on energy policy into a practical prescription.