Free Speech, Censorship and Trump
Reply to: https://theconversation.com/no-twitter-is-not-censoring-donald-trump-free-speech-is-not-guaranteed-if-it-harms-others-153092
I find it remarkable how many conservative figures are right behind the power of the Free Market and the rights of private property holders to do whatever they fancy with their private property... right up to the point where it bites them (or someone they identify with closely, like Mr Trump) in the backside. Mr Trump has not been silenced by having his Twitter account access cut off - or rather, he has only been as silenced as someone who has full access to the White House press office, and to every single major media organisation in the USA, can possibly be.
He also hasn't been censored in the least. Censorship involves government action to block certain types of speech, images, concepts and so forth, from the public view. The various Australian government bans on various types of media (such as certain genres of manga, certain types of pornography and so forth) are censorship. Twitter choosing to ban a person from having an account on their service is not censorship, because no government action is involved. Twitter is a privately owned corporate entity. It is NOT a part of the US public infrastructure. As such, the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which starts with the words "Congress shall make no law ..." (being very clear about which entity it binds) does not actually apply. Twitter, as a corporate body, is allowed to make whatever rules it fancies regarding which speech is appropriate on their service, and which users are allowed and disallowed, and they're allowed to be exactly as arbitrary and petty about it as their user base will tolerate.
As someone on the political left (I think of it as being part of the evidence-and-reality-based caucus), I have heard every single one of the arguments about why Twitter is allowed to kick people off if they choose from conservative speakers, usually defending Twitter's choice to disallow speech from people of colour, transgender people, people with disabilities, women, people who aren't ethnically "white" and so on, simply because someone got under the skin of a bigot. Heck, look at the history of various journalists getting kicked out of their jobs, booted from social media and so on, because they dispute the nature, popular history, or value of ANZAC day, for example, or argue about the whole "Change the Date" thing from the side of Indigenous Australians. It is thoroughly amusing, in a rather jaded and cynical fashion, to watch all these conservative thinkers rushing around clutching their pearls about "censorship" and collapsing on their fainting couches, simply because for once, the boot is on the other leg.
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Five Things Make A Post 04 OCT 2018
1) ( Potentially distressing content under the fold )
2) In my other class, we're studying Foucault (a quick introduction to Foucault, discourse, and so on), and one of our readings is bringing up examples of current events (current at the time of writing/publication for the reading ... which was published in 2000) in US politics. Things like the Anita Hill case, the Clinton impeachment and so on. I was reading this yesterday and thinking "damn it, Brett Kavanaugh can't stop getting into everything". I'm hoping the rest of my readings this week won't be so... inadvertently synchronisticly appropriate, damn it.
3) One of the things I was asked to listen to for a previous weeks readings for one of my classes was "Four Chord Song" by Axis of Awesome. Which means I'm now hearing the chord structures and bass line of a lot of what I'm listening to these days, and thinking about the ways that various chord patterns are used and re-used to create music. There's the standard four chord song, the twelve-bar blues, the Romanesca (aka "that one in Pachelbel's Canon") and so on. So that gives me a bit of something to think about when I'm busy listening to music to block out the extraneous noise while I'm doing my uni readings.
4) As a side effect of stress, I am currently dealing with a complete lack of spoons for actual sensible cooking stuff. Which means I'm eating a lot of stuff which can be cooked by throwing it into the oven and reheating it. (Yes, I know this isn't healthy in the long term, but unless someone else is volunteering to come and cook for me for free, I suspect I'm going to be sticking with this for a while). One thing I have worked out is that it is cheaper for me to buy a $2.90 box of Coles plain brand frozen chicken nuggets, and re-heat them at home, than it is to get one of those "24 nuggets for $10" deals from KFC or Maccas - for $10 I can get three boxes of Coles nuggets, for a total of 66 of the little bastards, and all I have to supply is the oven to reheat them. Plus I can have my choice of dipping sauces (at present, the winner is Fountain Hot Chilli sauce) rather than being stuck with the options of watered down Sweet Chilli Sauce, or watered down Sweet and Sour Sauce or whatever. So, that can stand in for my reviews of recipes. I'll do more of them when I have the time and spoons to cook again.
5) Latest book up for the Farewell Re-read treatment is "The Ultimate Dracula" - a collection of short stories on a rather predictable theme, edited by Byron Preiss.
 In the words of Neil Innes: "I've suffered for my art; now it's your turn."
PS: I was serious about the Twitter thing. If you see me on Twitter any time before this whole thing has simmered down, remind me to get the fsck off there for the good of my blood pressure.
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The Problem with Incels
Content warnings: discussions of violent thoughts, violent tendencies, and sexual slavery (incels, in other words).
( Post under fold )
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A Government Motto I'd Like To See
I have a dream. I have a dream that someday, some political party will be elected to government on the platform of "It is not our job to ensure your business model remains forever profitable".
( Essay under fold )
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Why I Think Mind Uploading Is Not Likely To Happen Any Time Soon
Put simply? I don't think mind uploading, or the immanentizing of the eschaton or the storage of brains in computers or anything similar is likely to happen any time soon (or indeed within either my lifetime, or the lifetime of anyone alive at this period) because I'm mentally ill.
Stay with me, there is actually a connection between the two of these, and it isn't just "me being crazy not to believe in the chosen Rapture of the Nerds".
( Essay below the fold )
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Currently Reading: "Simulation" by Jean Beaudrillard.
I am strongly in agreement with Bucky Barnes regarding the readability and sense-making ability of post-modern French philosophes. That is all.
(Longer version: Baudrillard occasionally surfaces to breathe the cool air of making sense, then dives back into the morass of incomprehensibility again. This is very exhausting for the casual reader who is just looking for some decent fscking quotes to add to a 1200 word essay about reproduction and replication (in the semiotic/post-modern sense) in "Planet of the Ood" so she can seem as though she's got at least some philosophical and theoretical backing for her thesis statement. On the bright side, he appears to have predicted Donald Trump's presidency some thirty-three years ahead of time.)
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The Deconstruction of the Welfare State
( Essay under the fold )
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An Analogy for Allies
My ongoing analogy for people who are wanting to "ally" in activism with at least a bit of consideration:
The role of the ally in activism is like the role of the parent in children's sports. Allies can do all of the following things:
- We can get people to events, both physically and metaphorically. (Physically in the sense of "actually taking people to protest sites, rallies, etc"; metaphorically in the sense of providing things like the money to cover transport costs, or by participating in consciousness raising or similar activities to help people get to the point where they want to participate in activism).
- We can get them safely back home again (both physically and metaphorically - and this includes finding the funding for things like fines, bail, court payments, lawyers fees, and so on).
- We can provide the emotional support which keeps people carrying out activist activities
- We can provide the material support which makes activism possible in the first place (and this can be as simple as ensuring there's food, water and shelter available to people involved in activism).
- We can look after other people's families while they're taking part in events. (This includes providing funding to cover the costs of families where family members have been imprisoned, fined, bailed or whatever).
- We can help coach people in ways and means which will assist in getting a better result (bearing in mind the limitations which come built into the situation. A child can't do an adult training routine; people in marginalised groups aren't able to access certain forms of privilege)
- We can referee - which in the context of protest actions means leveraging our privilege to ensure fair play on the part of the people with power.
- We can keep score - sending pictures of what's going on to the media. Keeping track of who is being harmed by an action, and why.
- We can cheer from the sidelines, and provide support in every form we can think of.
- We can provide comfort, warmth and succour for people who are suffering a loss; and we can also assist in the "post-match" phase of planning how to do better next time.
- We can provide material and physical support during the "game" phase of activism (food, water, first aid, warmth and so on).
What we can't and shouldn't be doing for marginalised groups as allies is attempting to play the game (that is, performing the activism) for them. We also can't expect a trophy for participating. Our contribution may be registered by other allies, but we shouldn't require the gratitude of the people playing the game in order to want to continue helping out. We can be there at the game, helping out and providing support and cheering from the sidelines, but out of simple respect to the players, we have to stay off the field unless we're needed on there.
You stop being an ally when you try and make the game all about you. You stop being an ally when you demand trophies for your participation. You stop being an ally when you demand payment in the form of gratitude and recognition for your actions. You stop being an ally when you invade the pitch, and demand everyone pay attention to you, you, you, and ignore what was going on in the game as it stood.
We also need to recognise, as allies, that we aren't strictly needed
in order for the game (activism) to proceed. If we aren't there, if there aren't allies available, people will still organise and be activists (the same way kids will figure out ways to play team games even if there isn't a formal "league" organised by adults for them to play in) and their activism will still be just as valid, and just as real. Sometimes, we won't be welcome - and we need to accept this as well (in the same way kids resent having a fun game of street or back yard cricket with rules about "tip and run" and everyone having their turn at batting and bowling being taken over by adults who want to have a more "formal" game, with proper sides and designated bowlers and batters and so on).
The core truth is: it's their
game, and they're the ones who are going to play it, whether we're there or not. We don't get to set the rules, we don't get to choose the players, and we don't get to have participation trophies for showing up to spectate.
(Agree? Disagree? Comments, critique and constructive criticism welcomed, especially from people who are engaged in activism or in activist spaces).This entry was originally posted at https://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/115461.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Pauline Hanson, One Nation and Why Far-Right Populism is not The Answer.
( Essay below fold )
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Unused Tutorial Question Answers
This week, I'm going to be using some answers I wrote to tutorial questions for a class (Introduction to Cultural Studies). We didn't use this work in the tutorial, so I figure I may as well recycle it. There'll probably be a few of these along the way.
So, the questions were:
* What do think about Elvis? (Note down your impressions.)
* What do you know of him? What is your first impression when recollecting him? Why do you think he is such a well-known individual?
* Consider the following song, "Elvis Presley Blues" (by Gillian Welch). How does it present a different picture to well known representations of Elvis in Vegas?
( Here's my answers, under the fold )
That's what I say.
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Meg's Rant about Science-Fictional Style Artificial Intelligence, And Why It's Unlikely.
( Rant below fold )
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Ethical Living and the Signalling of Economic Virtue
The Guardian here in Australia has a new series of articles (Life Swaps) they've started about "how to live more sustainably". So far there's been two articles published, one on better food choices, and one on fashion choices. They're pretty much what you'd expect of this sort of thing - largely about how to spend more money in the pursuit of a better lifestyle, and they're an excellent example of the genre of article I've come to think of as "middle class left-wing virtue signalling".
( Essay under fold )
The next article in this series is due out on Saturday. I'll be interested to see what it's about, and how it tackles the subject. I'm willing to bet there's going to be at least one on transport, which will recommend buying an electric car rather than a petrol-driven one as the "sustainable" choice; recommend cycling as the "do-it-yourself" alternative, and which may mention public transport in the "gentrification" option, but will probably be more likely to recommend the real-estate version of "gentrification" instead - getting yourself a nice place in a near-inner-city suburb which is close to your workplace.
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Meg's Fanfiction Likes and Dislikes - Male Pregnancy, aka Mpreg
This is another one I'm not fond of. Mostly because of the sheer level of biological ignorance the writers generally demonstrate.
I should give some background here. My mother was trained as a midwife, and by the time I was twelve, I was reading her old midwifery textbooks (for want of anything more interesting in the house). I also had a strong interest in human anatomy and physiology and how people worked from early childhood. So, I know a bit more about the ways that pregnancies can go right and wrong than the average punter. It leaves me with more than a few prejudices in the matter, and it means for me, mpreg requires a far greater degree of suspension of disbelief than usual.
( Essay below fold )
The best mpreg fics I've seen are the ones which basically take the position it's a stupid premise to begin with, and run with the sheer crackfic comedy of the whole notion of conception in the first place. In Final Fantasy VII, there's tirsynni's Always Use Protection, which basically takes things a cracky step further and winds up with a cross-species pregnancy induced by tentacle sex (by which point it's clear the whole thing is not intended to make any sense whatsoever, and the author is just writing for the giggles); there's also mystiri1's The Family Way, which addresses the whole question of where the egg comes from, and how it gets into the male person in the first place (and is equally cracky by the end).
In conclusion, I should point out this is why I don't like mpreg, and generally won't read it unless it also comes with the "crackfic" tag attached. I'm not saying other people shouldn't write it, read it, or like it, but again, if you're sharing a fandom with me (Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Marvel Cinematic Universe), please, please tag and warn on this one - or failing that, do your research, do comprehensive research, and start your research by ignoring the romance of pregnancy as delivered via the advertising industry.
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A Minor Reflection
Inspired by: Free Muslim Women… To Wear Whatever Caroline Overington Says They Should by Rawand Al-Hinti, on New Matilda; further comment from As Australian Muslim women we don't have to be told what we can wear by Lydia Shelly, at the Grauniad.
It's intriguing the way women who wear modest clothing and follow the rules of their religion are automatically marked down as "oppressed". It's equally intriguing none of the concern for such women extends to the women who are members of fundamentalist Christian sects, or even to women in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities - two groups where the oppressive and overtly misogynist and controlling nature of such dress codes are pretty clearly reinforced by scriptural interpretations which point to the intended nature of such things. (If you've never heard a Fundamentalist Christian preacher holding forth on some of the more openly anti-women parts of the letters of Paul... well, firstly I'm sure there's an example of same somewhere on YouTube; and secondly, you've missed one of the clearer statements of anti-woman hatred in popular religious discourse). For the Fundamentalist Christians and the ultra-Orthodox Jews, it's clear the subjection and limitation of women and women's agency through these dress codes is a feature, rather than a bug.
By contrast, as far as I can tell, mainstream Islam is fairly egalitarian in practice, even though it comes (in the same way that Christianity and Judaism do) from a set of guidelines formulated aimed at tribal groups in the Middle East. Certainly there's been a lot of work done by Islamic people (and with Islamic people) in creating sporting gear, swimming gear, fashion-wear, personal protective equipment, uniforms and so on which both comply with the requirements of modesty codes (which makes such clothing suitable not only for Islamic women, but also for women in Fundamentalist Christian groups, and for ultra-Orthodox Jewish women; as well as for secular women who feel self-conscious, in this age of constant scrutiny over personal defects, about putting their bodies on public display), and which allow freedom of movement and action, as well as participation in the wider mainstream of society. The "modest fashion" movement is, in effect, about breaking down the current divide between clothing which allows one's body to remain a private thing (as opposed to clothing which requires one make one's body into a public spectacle), and fashionable clothing. To my mind, this can only be a good thing.
I should note, as a fat woman, and a woman on the autism spectrum, I'm in favour of all women (regardless of their religious identity or lack thereof) wearing whatever it is they feel most comfortable in. If this means wearing clothes which you feel are functional and practical - you do you. If it means wearing clothes which make you feel feminine and attractive (however you define this), then, again, you do you. If it means wearing clothing which covers your arms and legs, and wearing a covering of some kind over your head (whether that be a baseball cap, a fancy hat, a kerchief held in place with hair clips, or a full scarf) then you do you. To my mind, "liberation" comes from being able to do what you want to do and need to do, without having to worry about whether or not your clothing is going to cause a hazard or a scandal while you're doing it.
 This is not necessarily the Wahaabi Islam preached, practised, imposed as a state religion in Saudi Arabia by the Saudi royal family, and actively evangelised elsewhere by Saudi oil money (a code followed by, at most, 5% of the people of a small region world-wide is not really representative of the whole of Islam, any more than the Jehovah's Witnesses are representative of the whole of Christianity).
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Meg's Fanfic Likes And Dislikes - Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics
I'll come right out and say I'm not fond of this one unless it's done particularly well and with a lot of thought involved.
( Essay below fold )
Now, all of the above are basically the reasons why I don't read A/B/O - I'm not trying to dictate to anyone else, and I'm not going to attempt to stop anyone else from either reading or writing A/B/O fic. If you do write it in any of the fandoms I'm reading in (Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, and Marvel Cinematic Universe) the most I'd ask is you label it clearly, perform your research, and do your world-building properly.
[EDIT 6.42pm WST (GMT+8) 28 JAN 2018: I was reminded of another A/B/O fic I can handle. See my comment below for details.]
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Results of the Marriage Equality Survey are out
61.6% of Australians voted "yes" to Marriage Equality (or in other words, we voted "yes, let's allow people who aren't in strictly binary heterosexual relationships to get married").
Thing is: this isn't news. It's something which has consistently been shown by opinion polls, it's something which has consistently been a part of the whole mess from before the point at which the Howard Liberal government amended the Marriage Act to add the words "between a man and a woman" (thus invalidating the marriages of any number of intersex people in Australia and actually taking away their right to marry) back in 2004. The changes to the Marriage Act under John Howard were in response to attempts by the local government of the ACT to bring in same-sex marriage in their jurisdiction (which could have, and probably would have been overridden by Federal veto) and in response to attempts by the state of Tasmania to start the process of seeing whether under the previous Marriage Act, same-sex marriages would have been legal (which couldn't have been overridden by Federal veto, because Tasmania is a state rather than a territory). The whole thing was Howard politics in a nutshell: petty, vicious kicking at the underdog, simply because they could.
Ever since then, the Liberal party in particular has been resisting the idea of legalising same-sex marriage because this would mean having to reverse the changes of 2004. They talked of a "plebiscite", and wound up spending even more money on a voluntary "survey" to find out whether the Australian people were in favour of same-sex marriage. The results just came out today, and surprise, surprise, we are! Just like the opinion polls have been showing for at least the past decade. At least three in every five Australians are in favour of people who aren't cis-heterosexual being allowed the same marriage rights as cis-heterosexual people, up to three in every four in the electorate of Warringah (currently represented in the House of Representatives by one Tony Abbott).
As predicted, the conservative lobby is out attempting to shift the goalposts (something they've been working on for the past few weeks, as it became fairly clear the whole business was likely to result in a majority "yes" opinion) to provide "protection" for those people who object to same-sex marriage (because religious beliefs or similar). Essentially their argument is that churches should be allowed to object to providing same-sex ceremonies (just out of interest, does anyone in a nation which already has same-sex marriage know of any cases of a same-sex couple insisting on a religious ceremony from a religious marriage celebrant who wasn't in favour of the idea? Even one case will do), and people connected with the wedding industry (bakers, florists, photographers and so on) should be allowed to refuse to supply their services to same-sex couples for reasons of "conscience" without suffering the consequences to their business.
Now, let me speak a bit about conscientious objection, because I actually know a bit about this from family history. My maternal grandfather wound up spending time in a "conshie" camp during World War II, because he was a conscientious objector to wartime service due to holding the Christadelphian faith. Or in other words, my grandfather was imprisoned for the sake of his religious beliefs. He and his brothers were tradesmen, and also due to their religious faith, they refused to take payments by credit or use credit facilities themselves. Which meant sometimes they lost work, or they couldn't buy things as soon as other people might have, because they were saving up for them rather than buying things on the never-never. They took the consequences of the choices they made due to the dictates of their consciences on themselves. They didn't insist everyone else had to bear those consequences. That is what "conscientious objection" means. It doesn't mean "whine to the government about wanting protection in case people withdraw their custom because you're bigots".
Unfortunately, this means the "yes" result of the survey is not the end of the argument. It merely means the argument has moved on to a new stage. Now we get to hold the feet of our various politicians to the fire, and make sure they firstly, create a bill regarding same-sex marriage which doesn't remove more rights from non-heterosexual people in the name of protecting "religious freedom". We have to make sure our MPs and Senators vote in line with what the people of Australia are demanding, which means we need to see this bill pass through both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and we need to see it get Vice-Regal approval from the Governor-General. (This last should be a sinecure, however let's not kid ourselves that the "no" lobby won't fight this all the way to the Governor-General's desk). And we also have to make sure that if an MP or Senator votes against the will of their constituency, they get removed from office at the next available opportunity. We pay our parliamentarians over $200,000 per annum (equivalent to 1 year's dole for about 14 people, each) to carry out the will of the Australian public. When we've stated it in such a clear and unequivocal fashion, we should expect our will to be carried out.
So we have to carry on and enforce the consequences of their actions on the MPs and Senators who choose to vote against the will of their constituents. Which means remembering who voted against the will of their electorates (there were about 30 electorates across the country where the "no" vote got a majority, and yes, I do mean if their MPs vote "yes" against the will of their constituents, they should be voted out as well) and voting them out when they're next up for re-election. It means making our political memories stretch for longer than just the standard "last Thursday" the media and the parliamentarians encourage.
It's worth noting: if this issue had been a referendum question, the referendum would have passed, which is bloody rare (8 out of 40 referendums put before the Australian people have passed in the century or so since Federation - we're a conservative bunch, sticking to the adage of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"). It got a majority in each of the states (narrowest majority was in NSW, with 54% yes) and it got a majority in the majority of the states (all 6 states, and both territories came back with a "yes" majority). There are no more excuses for our parliamentarians. The majority of Australians want same sex marriage to happen. Get out there and flamin' well MAKE IT HAPPEN.
My ideal: I'd like to see the 2004 amendments to the Marriage Act removed, and just go back to an act which specifies a marriage has to involve two adult humans who are not closely related to one another, and who each consent to the marriage. This allows firstly, for the marriages of people who identify as masculine, feminine, intersex, or genderqueer to people of any gender identity; secondly, rules out the marriages between humans and their pets (as so feared by the far-right); thirdly, rules out marriages between parents and children (again, as feared by the far right); fourthly, rules out marriages between humans and corporate entities (yet again, as apparently feared by the far right); and finally, ensures unwilling marriage is illegal (something the far right has very little to say about for some reason). It also allows for the potential of polyamorous marriage by removing a single word from the short form of the Act.
Congratulations to my fellow Australians who aren't involved in heterosexual relationships. May this good news be followed by much more. But let's not kid ourselves this result will ever be enough.
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On the whole "Ministerial Expenses" thing
People 'expect' politicians to claim expenses for sporting events, says Steven Ciobo
Ciobo said businesses and other organisations who invited politicians were “taking the opportunity to showcase themselves there, to take the time to have a conversation in relation to important matters”.
If the businesses in question are so keen to see the various ministers and so on at these events, why aren't they offering to pay their transport costs? Why are the taxpayers of Australia being asked to shoulder these costs?
Come to think on it, what kind of business is actually "showcased" by an event like the AFL grand final?
Ciobo was gifted a ticket and hospitality at the 2013 grand final by the National Australia Bank.
I'm sorry, possibly it's a complete failure of imagination on my part, but I fail to see what aspect of the bank's business is being "showcased" in a sporting event like the AFL grand final (did they loan the AFL the money to put the event on, or what?). Why was a meeting at a major sporting event considered more suitable to showcase aspects of this company's business than a meeting in the minister's office?
On the questions of "it was work related", I have to ask, was the meeting at the AFL grand final minuted? Were any decisions reached, and what were they? As an Australian voter, I feel I have a right to know. After all, if Mr Ciobo is accepting corporate hospitality at these events in his capacity as Minister for Trade, is there not a question of corruption and bribery involved - these companies are presumably offering Mr Ciobo tickets to a major sporting event as a way of obtaining his influence and attention at the expense of their competitors.
As a member of the Australian voting public, Mr Ciobo, I'd argue there's a lot of questions to be asked here. As a fellow recipient of Taxpayers Money (and one who faces far more punitive conditions on their receipt of same than you do, quite frankly, for a much lower amount) I'm saying bluntly that I'm fed up to the back teeth with this bloody attitude of "one rule for thee and another for me" which seems so common to our parliamentarians. You're welcome to try your luck with Newstart if you think you're hard done by in this regard.
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Reflections on the Centrelink Mess.
Centrelink crisis 'cataclysmic' says PM's former head of digital transformation
The notion that the current Centrelink crisis is a result of a culture of "don't want to hear bad news" in Centrelink management doesn't surprise me at all. Centrelink management has long had a culture of shooting the messenger bearing bad news, because it doesn't agree with the glossy picture they're trying to sell their Minister (not to mention themselves). It really is one of the main ways the particular algorithm being used (compare total incomes reported against the ATO total for the financial year to determine whether income has been reported accurately, then average the ATO total across 26 fortnights to determine whether there's a debt) could have survived even cursory testing.
I suspected the whole thing was developed in-house, and it's nice to have those suspicions confirmed, but the point to be raised here is Centrelink's programming staff are not sourced from within the group of people who have worked on the customer contact end of Centrelink's operations. Instead, they're sourced from within the IT industry, and generally from a group of people who have had next to no contact with what could be considered the bulk of Centrelink's business (their parents may have received Family Tax Benefit for them while they were in school, but that's pretty much it). This is where a blind spot in the bureaucracy intersects with a blind spot in the IT industry - the bureaucratic insistence on "no bad news" intersects with the IT industry article-of-faith that if you can figure out programming, you can solve any problem at all with no additional knowledge required (and if you did need extra knowledge and didn't get supplied with it by the client, this is the client's fault for not knowing you'd need it).
So basically, what's happened is a programmer (or group of programmers) in Centrelink's IT section has been handed the job of figuring out how to automate the process of debt recovery sparked by income data matching, and they've done this effectively starting from scratch (and probably reinventing several wheels along the way) with absolutely no reference to existing processes and procedures, or to the knowledge bank of staff who were doing this job at the time. When the program was tested, it passed all the standard tests to see whether it would break the Centrelink desktop environment (this is mandatory for all products on the Centrelink network, whether they're being rolled out to all staff or not), so it was assumed to be Just Fine! If someone in the debt recovery section raised the problem of "we know this is going to raise a lot of false positives - something like nineteen out of twenty of the issues data matching raises aren't actually valid debts" with their manager (assuming they found out about it ahead of time), the caution would be buried, because nobody wants to hear bad news in Centrelink's upper management.
And thousands of people across Australia got asked to justify their receipt of social security benefits they were legally entitled to, because they made a typo in their income reporting once (or because the business they were working for made a typo when they created their record with the ATO), or because they got a good job after having been on social security (and this averaged out over the course of twelve months to be higher than the fortnightly cut-off limit), or whatever. Things which probably could have been picked up very quickly and resolved with minimal fuss and bother to the person affected if there had been any efforts at inserting a human element in the whole process to just double-check the results of the first couple of weeks, and then remove the bugs.
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Parents, Teachers, Schoolkids and The Homework Thing
Just been reading through some back issues of "The Secret Teacher" on teh Grauniad website, and one of the issues which comes up repeatedly is "homework" - essentially, teachers think it's No Big Deal, parents either complain there's too much, or too little, and the kids always think there's too much.
( More under the fold )
As so often occurs, what truth and peace there is in the whole argument lies somewhere in between the extremes of it - or at least within the overlapping spaces in the argument's Venn diagram. Homework and home study skills are useful - but they're useful in the same way algebra, geometry, geography, and learning the finer points of diagramming sentences wind up being. Yes, they're massively useful if you're going into education as a profession; they're peripherally useful if you're thinking of going into an area where you'll need the practice at self-motivation, goal-setting, and meeting self-imposed targets. But for the vast majority of people, they're skills you learn in school, for school, and never need again throughout your working lifetime.
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On Working For the Dole.
So, I've been unemployed for six months (according to Centrelink, anyway). Which means, lucky me, I'm due to start my "Work For The Dole Phase" of the whole glorious process of being unemployed in Australia in the 21st century.
For those not in the know, "work for the dole" was an idea conceived back in the era of John Howard, by Liberal Party policy-makers who wanted to bring back the workhouses, but who didn't fancy the idea of having to shell out money to feed, house and clothe the undeserving poor (i.e. anyone on an activity-tested Centrelink payment). Basically, in order to impress on the long-term unemployed how important it is they find paying work, they're required to perform up to twenty-five hours a week of compulsory, unpaid volunteer work in order to be able to continue receiving their dole payment. I suspect whoever came up with this one must have woken up in the night and hugged themselves with glee.
Luckily for me, I'm on a part-time activity test (mental illness, such fun). I only have to do sixteen hours a fortnight worth of whatever the current equivalent of picking oakum, washing bottles, pasting labels or sorting rags is. Normally, the requirement is for fifteen hours a week for someone my age, twenty-five for someone younger. In my case, I'm going to be transcribing old (hand-written) court records from turn-of-the-century-NSW (i.e. early 1900s). Years of translating my mother's appalling medical handwriting into something legible has finally come in useful.
Basically, this sort of thing is supposed to... well, I have no idea what it's supposed to do. Punish me for the sin of not being in employment, one presumes. I have the site induction on Thursday, I suppose I get to find out then whether I'm supposed to be wearing sackcloth and rubbing ashes into my hair to show repentance, flagellating myself with a cat-o'-nine-tails, or whether just walking around wearing a sandwich board that says "I'm SO FUCKING SORRY" will do.
Yes, I am a bit cranky about this.
I'm cranky about it, because it's a bit of deliberate humiliation on the part of a government which has an ideological agenda, and will do anything in its power to get that agenda implemented. I'm cranky about it because I'm being forced into performing unpaid labour in order to ensure wage earners are frightened into accepting lower wages and lower conditions in order to avoid being put into this situation. I'm cranky about it because the penalties for missing work, or not being able to perform whatever work I'm supposed to be doing on the day I'm supposed to be doing it, are all on me (yes, even if my erstwhile "employer" doesn't have enough work for me to be doing, or the computers are down, or the office gets hit by a meteor falling from the sky).
Oh, and I still have to keep looking for 20 jobs a month, same as before. That doesn't change, either. About the only positive thing to note about the whole mess is that since the place I'm going to be physically doing my Work for the Dole placement is the offices of my JobActive provider, I'll be able to drop off my monthly lists with a lot less carry-on.
 Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, and Special Benefit.
 If your "volunteering" is organised through your JobActive provider, you get an extra $20 per fortnight on your dole payment to cover costs incurred (transport, lunches etc). If it isn't, you don't. There's a LOT of encouragement to find your own "volunteer work".
 A bit of googling reveals it was the brain-child of Tony Abbott. I must remember to write him a thank-you note.
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