Why Tim Wilson is wrong about “n______”

pseudomorph:

This article on the referential nature of language and our ‘Freedom Commissioner’s’ failure to understand it is excellent. I highly recommend you all read it.

Originally posted on Castan Centre for Human Rights Law :

By  Patrick Emerton

A little over a week ago, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson stated that he objects to current laws governing racially offensive behaviour because they allow members of particular communities to refer to one another using words that outsiders may not:

Asked whether he was referring to the word “n–––“, Mr Wilson said: “I won’t say it, but that’s right.”

Wilson then argued that repealing the relevant legislation – section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) – would restore “equality” to Australia’s discrimination laws.

This objection is radically mistaken. It rests upon a confusion about the nature of language, which on this occasion feeds a misguided political agenda.

Philosophers and cultural theorists have written a lot about the nature of language, expressing different views and coming from different perspectives. Racial, racialised and racist language is a particularly contentious matter. This blog adopts the approach of Hilary…

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Annotating PDF with Okular

pseudomorph:

Native PDF annotating under linux has long been a bugbear of mine and something I’d almost given up hope ever being properly supported. Until, that is, I stumbled across this post describing the process in new versions of Okular.

Discovering this also led me to look deeper, and to discover that Evince also supports PDF annotations, and has done for quite some time! See this post for more information on Evince.

With luck, we’ll soon see the ability to simply add annotations and save, rather than requiring saving annotated PDFs as new documents in order for changes to remain.

Originally posted on groak@{subjects of research}:

Once in a while I am looking around if there is finally a way to properly annotate PDF in Linux. The answer was no until a couple of months ago. But I think it is still little known.

Even in this post, whose comments made me have a close look again, did see the option of embedding annotations into PDF. The comments, however, point to Okular which is a very good reader since quite some time, and a more or less recent version of poppler the PDF library.

The way to go is to make annotations with Okular (use the review tool (F6)) and then save the PDF with “save as”. Now the annotations are embedded into the pdf file. I tested the annotations with the Adobe Android reader and I can view them and alter them with it.

Unfortunately this information is hidden in the Okular handbook and…

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Recommended Reading: My Country is a Horror Show

Today’s recommend reading comes from David Simon, the creator of one of my favourite TV series, The Wire. Published by the Guardian, it is an edited version of an impromptu speech given at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney. The subject of the speech is the role unrestrained capitalism has played in creating the widening divide between the class of Americans who feel at their society is willing and able to meet their needs, and those who do not. Capitalism, Simon contends, has lost social compact and we are all the poorer because of it.

My Country is a Horror Show is a speech that stands as a stark warning, not only to America but to all the west and beyond.

Do take the time to read it.

The Great Asylum Silence

pseudomorph:

Me, writing for the AusOpinion blog on Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s Operation Sovereign Silence.

Originally posted on AusOpinion:

If a refugee drowns in the ocean trying to reach Australia and the Government decides not to tell us, will their soul still haunt a Senator’s dreams?

Image

On Monday, Scott Morrison, the new Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, held the first weekly update of the Coalition Government’s laughably named ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’.

The press conference, for that’s was it was, was fronted by Morrison and his newly minted ‘three star’ Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, a man whose job I do not envy for a second.

Fronting the cameras, Morrison was keen to continue the Coalition’s pre-election lines. The issue was one of border ‘security’ and ‘protection’. People arriving by boat remained ‘illegal’ and the Government’s resolve to stop the boats was “genuine” and “absolute”.

More important, however, was Morrison’s focus on ‘operational matters’. Not only did he confirm the Government’s decision to provide a single weekly update confirming the…

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Comments on everything: The incivility of internet communication

I wanted to write something that was triggered by a brief Google+ conversation and an even more brief Twitter conversation that I’ve recently had. What follows is my unrefined thoughts on the topic of the incivility of internet communications.

Do tell me – civilly because I do, and will, moderate your comments – what you think below.

Nasty internet comments and conversation is something I’ve been thinking about for a while and I’d like to try to get some of my thoughts in writing. I guess here is as good a place as any to do that. I apologise in advance if this is a bit long or sounds a bit ranty.

In response to a post I made on Google+, Lars wrote in response:

I think you are on the point, the main problem is the sense of anonymity you have online, which makes it easier to ignore the social norms.
I fear this will probably never be solved as it’s almost impossible to, online, recreate the “being watched” feeling that usually keeps people in line with the social norms.
The only internal guides left are empathy and the fundamental respect for others which, sadly, a lot of people, especially the young, seem to be lacking.

I don’t think I’m as pessimistic about the future of online relationships as is Lars, though there is plenty of reason to be concerned.

Let’s look at the concern briefly. There is much evidence to show that online communication, by and large, has lost much of civility that we expect in face to face communication. All one need do is to read the comments on just about any online article, especially in these days of hyper partisanship, those to do with politics.

A recent example from my country was some of the terrible slander our (recently deposed) prime minister was subject to – being our first female PM, much of it was very very sexist and absolutely not anything anyone would dare say in public. Anne Summers has a good run down on it here: http://annesummers.com.au/speeches/her-rights-at-work-r-rated/

In our own community, all we need do is look at some of the fanboyism that sparked this very conversation which all too easily turns from a difference of opinion to outright attack.

More worrying (to me at least), is that that many people seem happy to put their real names and images to these awful comments. A browse of some Facebook hate pages that spring up periodically is all one needs to see truly awful comments alongside people’s names and photos. To me, this says the problem runs deeper than perceived online anonymity.

I would, however, like to consider the issue from a different perspective.

I mentioned in my last post that online communication is still relatively new. And, despite the internet being round for some time now, I actually believe this to be the case when we hold it up against other forms of communication.

Take me for instance, I’ve been chatting online since the early(ish) days of the internet in the mid 1990s, and had been chatting on local BBS systems for a number of years before that. Compared to some of these young whippersnappers (get off my lawn) I could almost be considered an old hand.

Except I don’t represent a generation, or perhaps even half a generation.

When we talk about kids these days having no respect for social norms, what we’re taking about is a generation that is, by and large, finding their way in a communication medium that their parents haven’t even experienced.

Stay with me now, I know this is long but there is a payoff at the end. I promise.

My point is, despite its ubiquitous nature, the internet remains a new frontier for communication.

In this world, many of the social pressures we use to enforce norms of polite communication don’t exist, or don’t seem to exist, and people feel free to flout them.

What I do not think, is that this is a cause for too much alarm. After all, theories of social decline have been with us for generations, and we are yet to completely implode as a species.

What I want to propose it that before online communication becomes both normalised, and beholden to strict social norms, it will take at least a generation and a half, probably two.

In my view, what it will take for new social norms around internet communication to take hold is for the current generation (those who feel free to make nasty comments of any age) to begin to feel the ramification of such actions.

For people to lose their jobs and their livelihoods because they thought they were anonymous; for teenagers to find that they cannot simply delete their comments and be done with it, and for people who feel free to make hurtful comments to feel what it is like to be on the receiving end.

This generation will then be equipped to ensure those mistakes are not repeated, creating in the process a new social pressure to ensure peaceful communication.

And here’s the payoff.

There is hope, we are all humans and deep down, we all want the same thing. Getting there just may take a little more time than we’d like.

Recommended Reading: Australia, Australians and Taxation

Today’s recommended reading is two blog posts that have been inspired by recent debate in Australia about the government’s role in taxing citizens’ savings, especially that accumulated because of our system of mandated superannuation (pension). The main questions have been what rate, if any, these savings should be taxed, and should those who are relatively well off be taxed at a higher rate than those who are not.

One of the posts, by ACTU economist Matt Cowgill, deals directly with these questions. The other, by blogger and policy wonk Greg Jericho, considers the impact the introduction of a form of flat income tax would have on Australian taxpayers as a whole.

I rate these as recommended reading as these are opinions we are not likely to read in our Murdoch and Fairfax dominated daily press.

As a quick matter of context, and to add my own opinion to the mix, I’d also like to briefly consider what passes for economic debate in this country and why I think it is unique to other parts of the world.

First, is the above mentioned penetration of the Murdoch/Fairfax press duopoly. Others have written extensively about this so I will not go into it into detail here. Suffice to say that although as a western nation we reify the notion of the freedom of the press, we do no such thing for the diversity of media outlets. Nor do we adequately hold our free press to the high standards of truth that should be required by their privileged position within our society.

Second, and possibly more importantly, is the somewhat confused state which many of us approach these important public debates. And this, in no small measure, is largely a result of the above.

Australia, you see, is torn between the perennially diminishing power of the British motherland and its similarly diminishing welfare state (not to mention its various European counterparts to which we’ve often looked for inspiration) and the extreme capitalist individualism practised by America; our other ‘great and powerful friend’ from the other side of Pacific.

This leads to a problem where much political (and therefore public) debate is coloured by the cultural, political and economic hegemony of the United States. Whilst, at the same time, our history, institutions and political philosophies—and therefore much of our unselfconscious cultural (or common-sense) understanding of ourselves and the world—are built more upon the British/European tradition of the welfare state, albeit a significantly modified antipodean version.

The result is that Australians, for the lack of a better expression, often want their cake and to eat it too.

That is, we approach debates about taxation, welfare and the role of government believing that we should provided many of the traditional benefits that go along with the welfare state (and, at times, much more) because, hey, they always have in the past. On the other hand, we also have a tendency to believe much of what we’re told about the role of the individual, and more importantly individual wealth, in the economy. Much of which, as I’ve said, is delivered to us via channels controlled by those whose vested interests probably don’t align with yours, mine or most other ‘ordinary Australian’s’

This leaves public debate in a state where we are both demanding that the government make sure we get our ‘fair share’ of whatever subsidies the welfare state provides AND that it keeps its hands out of the pockets of ‘ordinary’—and by ordinary here we include even quite rich—Australian’s pockets.

The problem is, we just can’t have it both ways. Either the government is responsible for raising taxation and spending it upon the services and subsidies we demand of it, or it is not; and we go without many of the aspects of the welfare state with which we have become accustomed.

And here’s the rub, it just does not suit those who are most in a position to influence debate to illuminate this as a problem. That is, it doesn’t fit The Narrative that they are most willing to portray because it suits their interests to keep the public ill informed, and divided. So what we end up with is a situation where, when commenting on the Governmnet’s planned changes to the superannuation regime, the alternative Prime Minister can say something like this:

is a government which is prepared to tax the people to fund own spending.

Without it a) being challenged as seriously nonsensical; b) finding it reported as a legitimate critique of Government policy.

I, for one, look forward to not being taxed by an Abbott led Coalition Government which should miraculously also find itself having none of its own spending commitments.

Recommended Listening: Cory Doctorow on The Command Line Podcast

Today’s recommended reading listening is an episode of Thomas Gideon‘s podcast The Command Line.

Whilst The Command Line is an excellent podcast and comes highly recommended in its own right, this episode is particularly recommended listening.

On this feature cast Thomas’ guest is writer, geek and activist Cory Doctorow, speaking to an audience in Washington DC about the themes his latest novel Homeland: information, freedom and networks.

Drawing upon his relationship with internet activist Aaron Swartz, Doctorow discusses the connection between personal liberty and access to information. Individual freedom, he says, relies upon a healthy access to the information we need to make informed decisions about the future of our lives and our polity.

Whilst historically, the ready flow of information has constrained in a number of ways, such access becomes even more constrained as we move into a networked world. A phenomenon that is exactly the opposite of what we have come to expect.

Today, says Doctorow, we are all constrained by the digital locks upon the devices we own and yet further by laws that make the investigation and removal of such locks a criminal offence.

For Doctorow, the best defence against regimes that seek to lock us out of control over the devices we own and the networks upon which we rely is an informed public working together though grassroots organisations to ensure government officials are aware of the danger of ignoring constituents in favour of corporate interests.

Here, Doctorow is one of the most important thinkers of our generation. His ability to look not only at the past and the present but also towards possible futures gives him an extraordinary ability stitch together a compelling narrative of how an existence the majority of us take for granted (individual freedom) is routinely curtailed by the very devices that promise to further unlock it. His in-depth views on the subject are well worth a listen.

Almost more importantly, however, is the rider to Doctorow’s presentation and the promise he made the the parents of Aaron Swartz; to speak of the danger of depression that many of us face every day.

In an age of connectivity it is easy to believe the perusal of a Facebook, Twitter or other social network stream means as much as a message, an email or phonecall when the truth is it isn’t.

The message here is clear, if you take enough time to watch from afar, take also the time to touch base for real. It may just make all the difference.

Like my page, The Command Line Podcast is released under a Creative Commons License, meaning you are free to download, share and remix the original work.