Who does Alan Jones think he is to speak to the Prime Minister like that?

I was completely appalled to hear how a well known radio personality in Sydney spoke to the Prime Minister of Australia on air. The details are outlined well by Barrie Cassidy on The Drum in Liar, liar, shock jocks on fire; and you can listen to the entire interview here.

This radio shock jock berated the Prime Minister of this country on air for arriving late for a media interview. Further he called her by her first name throughout the interview. He called her a liar to her face.

I’ve heard him interview Prime Ministers of Australia before. He referred to them civilly to their face and called them Mr so-and-so, or addressed them as Prime Minister. But now, when confronted with a woman Prime Minister, he seems to think he can disrespect her and her office.

I’ve got no problem with people having an opinion that is different to mine or to anyone else’s. And that shock jock has as much right to his opinion as anyone. But what he did to our Prime Minister went beyond the pale. Agree with Julia Gillard and her politics or not, as Prime Minister she deserves to be treated with the same respect as every other Prime Minister that went before.

I can only hypothesise that misogyny drove his behaviour, misogyny coupled with a deep hatred of non-conservative politicians. When confronted with a woman holding that office he seems to have felt that it was acceptable to berate and speak so un-civilly; and to do so in ways he’s never done with a male office-holder.

It reminds me of the continuing misogyny that exists in Australia. It reminds me that women are still not considered equal to men, even if they are the Prime Minister of the country. It makes me sigh. It makes me sad. It makes me wonder how we can change things.

A lucky country indeed …

Even though it was once said ironically, it has always seemed to me that Australia really is the lucky country. Our national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, sums it up:

We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil…
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts…
We’ve boundless plains to share…

In recent times the troubles of far off places like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and others have made me think about Australia.

We have been very lucky. Australia has a good economy, stable government, social cohesion, rule of law and a very congenial way of life. We have adjusted to the rigours of our climate, which has been so well described by Dorothea Mackellar in her poem My Country.

Australia alternates between flood and fire in ways that would make most people blanch. But in between we enjoy weather, beaches, mountains and scenery that are breathtaking in their beauty. And our healthy economy means that we enjoy amenities that inhabitants of other countries might envy.

But given the challenges that we face as part of the world community – climate change, food security, refugees, religious and political extremism – Australians need to start thinking about how we can best meet these challenges.

It is somewhat disconcerting to realise, given the enormous challenges facing us, that neither of the major political parties in Australia has any proposal or policy to deal with them.

Instead the political parties are consumed with petty internal divisions and ignore those for whom they supposedly stand. Our political parties and the current crop of hacks certainly live up to the second part of Donald Horne’s saying:

“Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.”

When did the Liberal Party become the party of naysaying cold-hearted xenophobes? When did the Labor Party become a cold-hearted machine driven by internal polling and factions?

I think the past elders of each party would be horrified to see the nasty polemical poll driven machines that each has become.

How do they sleep at night when they fight against each other, not for principle nor for policy, but for petty gain that sets the needs of the nation and its people as naught?

We need leaders of of vision. We need leaders who can look twenty or more years into the future, then build and plan for it. We need the kind of vision that built us a nation. We need the kind of principles that gave us a fair and equitable system for determining the treatment of working people. We need an engaged citizen populace who are educated enough to participate in democracy as educated citizens.

Most of all we need leaders who do not fall back into polemical and party driven positions that do not reflect the many shades of grey in the real world. We need leaders with compassion for people and who are true to the spirit of a fair go for all in this nation.

More thoughts on revolutions #Egypt #Tunisia #Bahrain #Iran #Libya

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
Source: The Crisis, 23 December 1776, Thomas Paine

As the wave of people’s uprisings sweep across North Africa and the Middle East it is fascinating to watch from afar in Australia.

We are safely ensconced in our comfortable homes distant from the terrible decisions that people are making in those far off places. And what terrible decisions they are. Taking to the streets to reject tyranny – perhaps risking death, torture, or even the lives of your family – is a terrible decision for anyone to make.

The gallant reporting of Al-Jazeera and others, together with the incredible real time feeds from citizen journalists and media journalists via Twitter, bring the action close to those far away. And this kind of transparency makes these revolutions quite different to those of the past.

Never before have the eyewitnesses to a revolution been able to report in real time to such a broad an audience across the world about the events taking place. And now on Twitter we have people who are acting as relays of that information – people like @acarvin @AJEnglish @AJELive @shervin. The network amplification effects of Twitter are playing a significant role in uncovering and shining a light on the various regime’s responses to the uprisings.

We can see how the regimes view the internet now, as a tool of revolution, by the way that they move to block the people’s access almost immediately. They do this in an attempt to cover up their next step, which is typically their attempt to crush the uprising of the people.

In the past the reaction of a regime to an uprising usually happened in an atmosphere of secrecy and confusion. But now, while the confusion remains, the reaction is happening in a more transparent way. It is hard to hide a vicious crackdown when everyone in the crowd has a mobile phone with a video or still camera.

Modern democracy has always posited that governments should govern at the will of the people. And there are many regimes around the world that do not govern at the will of the people. Many of these regimes do not govern for the people at all. Instead they govern for a corrupt few – the worst kinds of oligarchies or dictatorships. The despotic rulers of those governments must now be fearful that they too are vulnerable to the will of the people in ways that were unthought of only a few months ago.

It is worth reading Thomas Paine on the matter of government if you’ve never done so: Dissertations on First Principles of Government, The Crisis, or Common Sense. Thomas Paine’s works were highly influential in the development of the American democracy, which many have come to assume is the natural form of democracy in the world today. By the way, I can only assume some of the conservatives who quote Paine so admiringly have never actually read any of his works.

Women having fun, expressing their …

A few days ago I noticed the following tweet and clicked on the accompanying link. The image below was at the other end of the link:

Source: Bronwen Clune – used with permission

This tweet and the picture made me laugh. It caught a bunch of women having a moment of feminine camaraderie in the office while all the guys just happened to be away. It’s a pretty informal office and it was amusing to see the girlz having fun on a crazy hot day in Sydney.

Oz Girl Develop IT 2011 #ozgdi

Just spent another evening with a great bunch of women learning about JavaScript as part of the Oz Girl Develop IT program for 2011.

Discussing the plans for this year’s Oz Develop IT with Pamela Fox and Cathy Lill tonight it became clear that there’s an interesting line up for the rest of 2011.

IMG_0571For example we’re planning to run sessions on:

  • SEO for geeks
  • UX for n00bs
  • Introduction to Blogging
  • PHP for script kiddies
  • Introduction to web programming – HTML and CSS
  • and a special workshop on blogging for Ada Lovelace Day in October

Final dates for these sessions are yet to be confirmed.

If you’re a woman who’s interested in learning more about web development sign up to our OZ GDI meetup group to find out about upcoming sessions and meetups
Girl Develop IT (Sydney)
You can also follow us on Twitter @OZGDI.

Some more about Oz Girl Develop IT:

Welcome, women developers of tomorrow!

Want to learn how to code? Have a great idea? Don’t be shy. Develop it.

Though the web developer community these days is open and welcoming, it is still up to 91% male and it can be intimidating for women to learn and ask questions when they are in an extreme minority. We decided it was time to provide a place where all questions are OK and everyone can learn in a supportive environment. The idea started in New York, and now we’re taking it down under to Sydney, Australia.

Our courses focus on coding, leveraging existing technology, and having something to show for it (aka building sweet websites). We will start with a series on HTML/CSS, and if that goes well, we can hopefully offer additional series to continue building your skills, or repeated sessions of that series

Note: Membership and event attendance is currently limited to women.

Some preliminary thoughts about revolutions

There is a lot of talk about revolution happening now in online communities given the unfolding events in Tunisia and Egypt. This has got me thinking about the nature of revolutions. There’s a rather nice list of revolutions and rebellions on Wikipedia for those who are not up to date with the history of revolutions.

Revolutions come in different forms. Revolutions in ideas and thinking have changed our society and belief patterns. Political revolutions have reshaped our polity. Revolutions can be peaceful, dangerous, bloody. But rarely are they run according to a plan and rarely do they achieve a set outcome. And many times the unintended consequences shape the future as much as did the intentions of the revolutionaries.

This issue makes me think back to one of the seminal thinkers about the nature of scientific revolutions – Thomas Kuhn. He wrote before many of us were born; and one of his most controversial and revolutionary works was a monograph called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In this work Kuhn argued that scientific progress was discontinuous and driven by human subjective behaviour that was not always entirely rational.

Kuhn proposed the notion of “paradigm shifts” (which were later adopted by various business gurus with gusto) that were driven by what kind of things were thinkable at a particular time. And it is this part of his thinking that seems important about revolutions. A revolution moves through a cycle where the unthought becomes thought and then is manifested in action.

Some might also base their thinking about the start and spread of revolutions on Dawkins’ notion of memes and the associated idea of memetics.

Unless certain external factors have shifted then new ways of thinking (which go on to drive behaviour) are not possible. An interesting example of this is the recent death by self-immolation of a protester in Tunisia. The Guardian outlines the sad story whereby Mohamed Bouazizi was so angry and disenfranchised within his society that he set himself on fire. This action inspired other young men who felt similarly to commit suicide in protest. And within days this had translated into riots in the capital Tunis.

Thus we see that the idea of rioting in the streets of Tunis went from not-thought to thought-and-action within only a few days. And that this process leached into the political process in nearby Egypt very quickly afterward.

None of the political revolutions of history has occurred in a vacuum. In each case there is political and economic disequilibrium. And, at some stage a tipping point is reached that enables the unequal people in the system to think and act against their situation.

In a Kuhnian sense this is often a visceral movement, not rational and not driven by clear aims and objectives. I think that this is the kind of revolution we are seeing spread through the middle east now. The result of this kind of revolution is hard to predict since it is often not driven by clear ideology or consolidated group goals.

The other kind of political revolution is that driven by an opposition party or parties who share in the political process but have been disenfranchised in some way. Perhaps locked out of power by a despotic monarch or leader, but still the opposition is part of the existing power structure.

Revolutions are driven by feedback loops and these revolutions occur within systems. Taking a systems approach to thinking about them can be helpful. I’m re-reading a number of thinkers about systems theory and strategy at the moment in response to the popular uprisings in the middle east.

Strangely enough thinking about revolutions and systems theory led me to re-read Aristotle. In his Politics Book V Aristotle outlines the reasons why people turn to revolution and it seems a strangely contemporary list:

  • …Insolence and avarice on the part of government officials
  • …one or more persons have a power which is too much for the state and the power of the government
  • …Either men have committed wrong, and are afraid of punishment, or they are expecting to suffer wrong and are desirous of anticipating their enemy.
  • …a disproportionate increase in any part of the state
  • …the slightness of the change
  • …difference of races which do not at once acquire a common spirit
  • …in oligarchies the masses make revolution under the idea that they are unjustly treated, because, as I said before, they are equals, and have not an equal share, and in democracies the notables revolt, because they are not equals, and yet have only an equal share
  • …Revolutions in democracies are generally caused by the intemperance of demagogues
  • …There are two patent causes of revolutions in oligarchies: (1) First, when the oligarchs oppress the people [or] …the personal rivalry of the oligarchs, which leads them to play the demagogue
  • …In aristocracies revolutions are stirred up when a few only share in the honors of the state
  • …Constitutional governments and aristocracies are commonly overthrown owing to some deviation from justice in the constitution itself

Australian citizenship, ceremony and ritual

A friend invited me along to his citizenship ceremony the other Citizen-Mark copyday. He’s terribly excited about becoming an Aussie after living here for a number of years.

We went to the newly refurbished Sydney Town Hall and the Lord Mayor, wearing her Lord Mayoral bling, gave a lovely speech. Several hundred people from all over the world gathered to receive and to celebrate receiving Australian citizenship. They took the oath or affirmation and were given their citizenship certificates and we all sang the national anthem. Afterward we were treated to afternoon tea with Anzac biscuits, lamingtons and Pavolva; and the Australian Electoral Commission was there to sign them up as registered voters.

Citizenshipification-1 copyIt was a touching ceremony and then, it being a hot Sydney summer day, we decamped to a pub for a proper celebration with cold beer and other icy beverages. Many of Mark‘s friends attended, bringing with them essential gifts such as Vegemite, and shouts of Australian beers in celebration.

This all got me thinking about my own experience, and that of any Australian citizens who are born here. Our citizenship dribbles past us, uncelebrated, unthought, unremarked. As we sat out in the beer garden at the pub discussing the various citizenships held by people around the table it dawned on me that I’d never really noticed I was an Australian citizen.

Sure I tick the box on official forms but had never really actively noticed that I’m an Australian citizen. There was no ceremony or ritual that marked my acquisition of Australian citizenship because it happened at birth.

I started nosing around the rules about Australian citizenship, the nuts and bolts are in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (with other details via Australian Citizenship Instructions).

“The Parliament recognises that Australian citizenship represents full and formal membership of the community of the Commonwealth of Australia, and Australian citizenship is a common bond, involving reciprocal rights and obligations, uniting all Australians, while respecting their diversity.

The Parliament recognises that persons conferred Australian citizenship enjoy these rights and undertake to accept these obligations:
(a) by pledging loyalty to Australia and its people; and
(b) by sharing their democratic beliefs; and
(c) by respecting their rights and liberties; and
(d) by upholding and obeying the laws of Australia.”
Source: Australian Citizenship Act 2007

But what I also discovered is that the various Commonwealth governments have never really articulated a clear statement of obligations and rights in relation to Australian citizenship. In this regard it is quite enlightening to read Citizenship in Australia: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records.

In particular Chapter 4 outlines historical records on civic rights and obligations, movement and passports, and international instruments on human rights which have affected citizenship in Australia.

I never learned any of this in school. There was never a moment where we enacted any ceremony or ritual that brought citizenship to our consciousness. It makes me wonder if this might be a good kind of ritual to invent for our civil society?

Perhaps a ceremony similar to that which I attended with Mark and all the other new Australians the other day would be a fitting ceremony for eighteen-year-olds who are just coming into their right to exercise political power?