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.


Adding a printer to Linux Mint, LMDE or Ubuntu: an Encore

Some time ago I blogged about the difficulty of installing printers under Linux Mint 12 and Ubuntu 11.10, a post that to date remains the most popular on this blog.

After messing about with installing printers again, I’d like to expand upon that post.

Recently I felt the need to change the OS on my primary laptop, a black Macbook 2,1.

Until then I had been using Linux Mint 12 and despite coming with the somewhat unpopular Gnome-Shell it had proved quite stable and usable.

This time, instead of moving to the latest regular Linux Mint release (currently Mint 14, Nadia), I decided to install Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE), the distribution that I use on my desktop in my office. LMDE, however proved less than ideal on the Macbook so I’ve since replaced it with Ubuntu 12.10.

When it came to installing printers under LMDE and Ubuntu I had hoped that I would not encounter the frustration I blogged about last time. Unfortunately the same problem exists under both distributions, so once again I was forced to utilise the Gnome 2.x printer configuration application, system-config-printer described in my earlier post.

As it turns out, I actually prefer the old Gnome 2.x printer application rather than the newer Gnome 3.x one that ships with Gnome-Shell, Cinnamon and Unity.

Although built upon GTK 2.x, it retains all the features that were present under Gnome 2.x (such as printer properties and the ability to easily delete jobs from the print queue) that for some reason seem to have gone AWOL in the Gnome 3.x printer application.

Unfortunately although the app is installed by default under Mint, LMDE and (I believe) Ubuntu, it does not appear in the menu for any of these DTEs

On the upside, there are at least two ways an application can be added to the menu with relative ease.

Problem: Gnome 2.x Printers Application does not appear in menu for Cinnamon, Gnome-Shell or Unity.

Solution 1: One way to add this application to the menu is to fire up the Alacarte Menu Editor (also called Main Menu) and add an entry for the printer application by hand.

Procedure: Check to see if alacarte and system-config-printer are installed by opening a terminal and typing the following:

$ sudo apt-get install alacarte system-config-printer

Now, Alacarte should be accessible under Accessories in Cinnamon or by searching in Gnome-Shell or Unity.

Failing that, it can be launched from the command line by typing the following command:

$ alacarte

Next, navigate to the sub-menu where you would like to add the new launcher, I use System Tools | Preferences.

AlacarteClick the ‘New Item’ button, add a name, comment and the command ‘system-config-printer’, find a nice icon (something like /usr/share/icons/gnome-colors-common/scalable/devices/printer.svg should do).


Finally, click OK and you should be good to go.

Solution 2: A second, more elegant, way of making sure you have easy access to your printer settings is to add a .desktop file to your ~/.local/share/applications folder. This file is read by your desktop environment and a menu entry is automatically created for you.

I won’t go into detail on just what .desktop files are and how they are interpreted by your system, as Joe over at the Linux Critic blog has a great post titled the Anatomy of a .desktop File that does just that and I encourage you to go and read his post.

What I will do here is show you how to do what I have done on my system.

Procedure: First, open a new file called system-config-printer.desktop in your favourite text editor. As we know we need to save this file in our ~/.local/share/applications directory, lets go ahead and open it there straight away.

$ gedit ~/.local/share/applications/system-config-printer.desktop

Next copy and paste the following into the file.

#!/usr/bin/env xdg-open

[Desktop Entry]
Name[en_AU]=Printers (Non-Gnome Shell Config)A
Comment[en_AU]=Traditional Gnome Printer Management Application
Name=Printers (Non-Gnome Shell Config)
Comment=Traditional Gnome Printer Management Application

Finally, save the file and exit your text editor.

Which ever of the above solutions you’ve followed you should now have a new Printers menu item under your Preferences sub-menu. If you don’t, go ahead a log out and back in again.

Recommended Reading: A diet of media diversity.

Today’s Recommended Reading is a double-header. The first comes from the Powerhouse, The Global Mail‘s Parliamentary Press Gallery folk and is, in part, a response to the hysterical reaction of the Murdoch press to the Federal Government’s proposed new media laws. The second, is a Crikey post on roughly the same subject.

Let’s, just for a moment, set the scene. Yesterday, the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, announced that the Gilliard Government would introduce new media laws as a result of the Finkelstein Inquiry completed last year.

In part, the legislation is aimed at ensuring media organisations of reasonable size are able to be held properly accountable for what they print or say and at ensuring any future mergers between Australian media organisations are in the public interest. By all reports, the substance of legislation is reasonably benign with the more contentious issues being delayed and possibly completely shelved.

Now, given I know little about the laws themselves having not had a chance to read them, let’s put aside the issue of their content. Instead, I’d like to focus on the predictable response of the press. Most importantly, that of the Murdoch press and of its CEO, Kim Williams.

Yesterday, Williams characterised the legislation as a “gun to the head” to the “notion of free speech” and Conroy as attacking the fundamental “democracy of our parliamentary system” while the Daily Telegraph, News Ltd’s Sydney focussed tabloid, likened the Minister to Stalin, Mao and Castro. The Australian, I’m sure, had a crack too but since it’s behind a paywall I’m saved from being assaulted with their views as well. All in all, the response was just a little bit over the top.

Most interesting for me, however, was this interview that Williams gave on Lateline last evening, especially in light of the Global Mail article to which this post is a response. In the interview Williams spoke of the diversity media coverage contained within the News Ltd group of newspapers, claiming:

the Australian, the Herald Sun, the Courier-Mail, the Adelaide Advertiser, the Cairns Post, the Townsville Bulletin, the Hobart Mercury, the Geelong Advertiser, the Northern Territory News, all… ran diverse coverage about this announcement in quite different ways, reflecting a diversity of opinion, quite fundamental to the operation of a free press.

Given the extraordinary density of media ownership within Australia; the unparalleled penetration of News Ltd owned newspapers throughout Australian cities and the singular voice with which News Ltd outlets, be them print or online most often shout, WIlliams’ claims to internal diversity of opinion is laughable.

Or it would be if more people relied on a diverse enough set of media outlets to be able to see it for the pure bald faced bullshit that it is.

So please, join with me and read both the article by Mike Seacombe in the Global Mail and the one by Bernard Kene in Crikey. Because hey, a diversity of media diet might just go some way to staving off the senility that is often the outcome of too much Murdoch and little variety.

Mining, taxation & the National Interest

The Gillard’s Government’s mining tax, or more correctly the Minerals Resources Rent Tax (MRRT), has been in the news a bit lately. This week, the High Court of Australia has been hearing a case that argues the tax is unconstitutional and just a couple of weeks ago the tax made headlines revelations that in its first six months of operation it has raised just a fraction amount forecast.

Indeed, Tax Office figures show that in the first half of the 2012/2013 fiscal year the MMRT raised just $126 million of the two or three billion dollars that Treasury had forecast as recently as last October.

With that revelation came predictable calls from the Greens and cross-bench MPs to redesign the tax to ensure that it meets it’s original goal and further promises from the Opposition that, should it win the election, the tax will be scrapped.

Not to be left out, the mining lobby group the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA)also entered the fray, taking out newspaper advertisements warning the Government against changing the design of the tax. Should the Government proceed, the miners suggested, the advertising campaign that precipitated the downfall of then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd would be revived.

In an election year the headlines such news garners are, at the very least, politically embarrassing. To a government already staring into the electoral abyss, they’re seriously damaging. Especially when the person responsible for the both the MMRT and its poorly received and politically doomed predecessor the Resources Super Profits Tax (RSPT) remains the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister.

Yet despite the failures of Government, the tax remains extraordinarily popular amongst the voting public. A fact that shows that arguments for its continued existence and further refinement remain, for now, the Government’s to be lost. This popularity also raises the question of why an alternative Government, in search of income from which to fund its promises, would continue to pledge its speedy demise.

While proving an important background, the poor performance of the MMRT and its effect on the electoral prospects of the Gillard government are not the subject of this post. Neither is considerable ineptitude shown by the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, in negotiating, implementing and selling both versions of the tax. Nor will I further discuss the Coalition’s ever expanding list of policy commitments and shrinking income from which to fund them.

Instead, what I would like to consider the advertising campaign run by the mining lobby against Rudd, Swan and the RSPT in 2010. A campaign eerily similar to another run in the 1980s against national land rights legislation, another initiative of the federal ALP.

What, you ask, does a long dead campaign against an already implemented tax have to do with the 2013 federal election? Especially, if as is expected, an incoming Coalition soon consigns the tax to a footnote in the economic history of the nation.

Plenty, is the answer to that rhetorical turn.

If, for example, we see the ALP returned then the MMRT is here to stay and with, it remains the threat of a fresh MCA advertising offensive. That is, a lobby group funded by some of the largest and richest of international conglomerates has promised to once again turn its collective wealth against an elected Australian government. Should it, that is, not continue to bow to its demands. Hardly the democratic process our nation deserves.

If, on the other hand, we find ourselves faced with an Abbott Coalition, the MMRT is likely to be repealed, taking with it the threat of a new round of advertising. Yet, even if this is the scenario we face, the message the industry is selling is unlikely to change. The difference will be one of governmental persuasion and distance. No longer will miners need resort to the megaphone, when a governmental ear into which to speak is on offer.

So what then, does the mining industry want us to believe? And just how would this benefit them over the combined national interest of the Australian nation?

Advertising campaigns like the one employed by the MCA against the Rudd Government’s RSPT have precedent; indeed, they have antecedent too. A brief look at these might just give a clue.

In 2011 the MCA followed its 2010 campaign by joining with the coal, transport and plastics industry associations to form the Australian Trade and Industry Alliance, a body whose sole purpose was to advertise against the Government’s carbon pricing regime. A campaign, that while selling a similar message, was far less successful than the effort directed toward Rudd and the RSPT.

More successful, and for our purposes instructive, was the campaign launched by the Chamber of Mines Western Australia (CMWA) and the Australian Mining Industry Council (AMIC), against Aboriginal land rights in the mid 1980s.

The first of its kind, this campaign was extraordinarily successful, ultimately leading to both federal and Western Australian ALP governments abandoning their respective commitments to the implementation of legislated land rights. It was this campaign that became the blueprint for much that would follow, including the advertising launched against Rudd and the RSPT. Another extraordinary successful venture.

A juxtaposition of the two is telling, not just the similarities in style and message but also for how the lobby presents its members, and their interests, to the Australian public.

Focussed upon Western Australia, the campaign of the 1980s ran under the slogan ‘land rights should be equal rights’. It consisted of full page advertisements printed in major newspapers across the country and, in Western Australia, television advertisements were shown throughout the day.

Fast forward thirty years and following Rudd’s announcement of the RSPT a high profile advertising was again turned against a government policy initiative. Again, the lobby availed itself of wide-scale print and high rotation television advertisements, this time under the catch cry ‘keep mining strong’. The difference, however, was that much of this round was directed squarely at government.

Back in the 1980s, although the miners did not outright oppose the granting of land rights, the campaign’s sole purpose was the destruction of public support for the most important aspects of the land rights regime: an Aboriginal veto over mining and exploration on traditional lands; and legislated access to profits and royalties. In other words, the very provisions that gave Aboriginals a say in the economic future of their communities.

In 2010, miners also didn’t oppose the paying of tax per se, just the tax as it was designed by the Government of the day. In other words, the bits they opposed were ones that made it effective. A fact that became all to clear as the taxable value of resources plummeted amongst revelations they were valued at their boom-time peak.

The campaign conceived in the 1980s, centred around the notion of Crown ownership of mineral rights and the advertising played the politics of envy and fear, setting wealthy sections of the community against those most in need. The government, it was claimed, should retain its traditional rights to mineral deposits, profits and royalties for the benefit of all Australians and not just the few.

To hammer this point, advertising extolled the importance of the mining industry to the economic life of the nation. Taxes, royalties and employment all contributed to the health and wealth of the nation. The inference, was that land rights would grant Aboriginals sole access to wealth that would otherwise benefit every Australian citizen.

Three years ago, the mining campaign revolved around the damage an extra tax would do to the economy. To illustrate the point, advertising highlighted the importance of mining to the economy, and hence to every Australian.

During the 1980s, miners argued that under a system of land rights, Aboriginals would ‘lock up’ the land by charging miners exorbitant royalties for access to mineral deposits. Others would simply exercise their new found right and exclude mining companies indefinitely. This, it was said, would lead to a dramatic fall international investment as, rather than risk the uncertainty represented by land rights, mining companies looked to invest their capital elsewhere.

This, most famously, was illustrated by a television commercial that depicted a black hand building a brick wall dividing Western Australia in two. As the wall rose, an ominous voice-over warned against the dangers of allowing an Indigenous minority to claim ownership over ‘up to fifty percent’ of the State, a development that threatened ‘the future wealth’ of every Australian.

In 2010, miners argued that a new tax would to a massive fall in investment as the industry, looking for certainty, moved its capital investment offshore. Television advertising depicted everyday Australians from miners, to pilots, to retirees who stood lose out as the future wealth of the nation shifted offshore.

In neither case did the predicted collapse in investment transpire. Best not let the truth get in the way of an effective campaign.

In the 1980s, the campaign slogan invoked every Australian’s desire to be treated as equal. Land rights, we were led to believe, risked the very egalitarian foundation of Australian society. As mineral wealth became concentrated within the small Indigenous community, white Australians would lose and inequality and division would become a feature of Australian society. The extreme of the conservative commentariat commentators took this argument to ridiculous lengths, equating land rights with the South African system of apartheid.

Thirty years on and the methods have changed yet the message remains largely the same. Slogans today point to strength of the industry and urge Australians to protect it, should we unnecessarily weaken the nation. From the sidelines, the same commentariat use the same arguments to accuse government of class war and, once again, dividing the nation This time, the ridiculous end of to which they will go is the suggestion that a tax implemented by a democratic elected government represents some from of sovereign risk. Much like the idea that land rights should be equal rights, this is argument that comes directly from the industry itself.

In each cases message being sold to us is clear: mining is in the national interest. And, what is good for mining, is good for Australia.

By aligning self interest with the collective interest of the nation the miners have long been able to persuade Australians to protect their business from government. Any threat to the way they do business, real or perceived, is presented as a threat to the future prosperity of the nation.

When appraising policy from either side of the political fence we need ask ourselves, does the national interest really align that closely to that of a few very large, mostly foreign owned, multi-national corporations? And, in whose interest is this particular policy?

No matter who forms government after September 14, you can bet the miners will be selling them the very same message. It will be interesting to see if they swallow it. My bet is they will, no matter if its delivered through a whisper in the ear or a megaphone pointed at the people.

If it’s one thing that both miners and political parties do well, it’s pretending they care about you, me and the national interest.

This post was originally published on the AusVotes2013 blog, go take a look.

Recommended Reading – Rights of Asylum Seekers.

Today I start what I hope to be a new series, that of adding links to news, editorials and blogs that I find interesting and/or thought provoking.

Today’s recommended reading comes from Melbourne’s Saturday’s Age published on 2nd of March. It is an editorial defending the right of refugee’s to seek asylum in Australia without the threat of indefinite detention.

I just wish Fairfax, and The Age more specifically, would follow it’s own advice when it comes to reporting upon the he said/she said politics of of the asylum debate. When it is dogwhistling, racist or a race to the bottom, call it so.

You can read the article here: