Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

It can’t happen here… but it did!

January 18, 2010
Free Speech, originally uploaded by Pam Rosengren.

For me, the issue of internet censorship goes back to before the internet even existed. This piece of history isn’t taught in schools and seems to have been largely forgotten, so I will briefly talk about it here.

The declaration of a State of Emergency in Queensland in the 1970s under Joh Bjelke-Peterson meant that our political and environmental protests were suddenly transformed into a struggle for basic freedom of speech. It first became illegal to carry posters, then it became illegal to march in the streets. Ciaron O’Reilly* (pictured above, in Bundaberg in the early 1980s) was one of the people who did jail time for the crime of assembling in a group greater than three.

Now that won’t happen again, you say. The street march ban has been repealed. But unfortunately, it could. A State of Emergency can be declared at any time, by someone as lowly as a Justice of the Peace. That happened during the Palm Island riots. Then all those old statutes can be brought into effect. Lex Wootton was charged under the colonial statutes of Riot and Affray, and faced a life sentence – which mercifully he did not get.

OK we probably won’t be rioting, and anyway what is the connection with internet censorship? The connection is the vague definition of “Refused Classification” (RC) content, and what concerns me most is the part about instruction in crime.

The notion of crime changes over time.

Some things become decriminalised after a period of public discourse and as society grows tolerant of particular things: in Queensland in the 1970s homosexuality was a crime, and so was prostitution. The latter had to be legalised because of widespread police corruption.

Grey areas exist where people disagree about what constitues crime – for example street art is seen as a valid and necessary form of artistic expression by some (including me), whereas to others it is only vandalism.

Sometimes detailed instruction in crime can have a public benefit. A case in point is instruction in safe injecting of illegal drugs, to protect against hepatitis B, C and HIV. There should be no restriction of access to this.

New laws are enacted as society changes, and the interpretation of existing laws may become more rigid. This is where Conroy’s proposed internet censorship becomes a major worry. When I read the news over the last few days, I see a disturbing trend in definitions of crime that forms the real-life context for this proposed censorship. Three are in Australia, one is overseas.

The first is a change to the film classification act in South Australia, which came into effect on January 10, 2010. All R-rated movies for sale or rent must be in plain packaging and no posters or pamphlets may be displayed in the shops. Film distributors found out about this change after the event. Films such as Apocalypse Now and Mad Max are R-rated.

The second is a proposed change to the Crimes Act (s 91H(4)) in New South Wales which would take away the defence of artistic merit when in possession of images or words that appear to sexualise persons “under 16 or who looks like a child under 16”. The problem with “appear to sexualise” is that this crime is very much in the eye of the beholder. I am thinking of the Bill Henson case, where the police regarded the images as pornography whereas they were ultimately classified as safe for children.

The third is in Italy, where the Berlusconi government is proposing a law that will require Italians to get an “uploader’s licence” in order to put any moving images on the internet. Under this law uploads will require ministerial authorisation. Opposition Democratic Party spokesman Paolo Gentiloni told a press conference that the government was “also keen to restrict the uncontrollable circulation of information over the Internet to preserve its monopoly over television news”.

Back to Australia for the fourth one. The government of Western Australia is proposing anti-association laws. Hundreds of people attended a rally to protest this at the weekend. The attorney-general says the laws would only be used to combat organised crime. That is not the experience we had in Queensland under Bjelke-Petersen, where the definition of crime was stretched so far that when a Bundaberg dentist, Harry Akers, announced he and his dog were staging a protest march down a local street at midnight the cops turned up en masse.

I hope that you now understand the past and present contexts of my concerns about internet censorship. Thank you for reading this.

*update June 4 21012 – I dissociate myself from Ciaron’s recent public outburst of violence. That is not the Ciaron I knew.

Rebelling against personal branding

January 31, 2009

This post was prepared as a response to Just How Valuable is Personal Branding on Des Walsh’s blog Thinking Home Business. I have modified it slightly here.

Re personal branding, I am with the contrarians. The term ‘personal brand’ began to peeve me some time ago, perhaps because I have always hated anyone’s attempts to pigeonhole me. I wondered how I was going to do that to myself. Then I decided I wouldn’t, no matter how fashionable it is.

I am in the process of re-starting this blog yet again, a blog which I think shows some of the pitfalls involved in personal branding. Initially, I spent a lot of time developing a clear focus for the blog, which was to be an academic blog about the shared nature of creativity. I called it ‘Culture is a Conversation’ based on a phrase in a book by JD Lasica. That brand ended up being a conversation stopper, which constrained me from posting most of my thoughts.

I decided to move from that focus, and explained why. It would be possible to read that post either way, as a further exploration of how to arrive at a personal brand, or as a rejection of personal branding in favour of emergent practice. I favour the latter.

Today I was editing the ‘about me’ page of this blog when a tweet came past about Des’ discussion. There I state the limits of my self-branding:

‘I like the education I have had, as it gives me the ability to approach anything from a humanities, scientific or creative perspective; and to see things from the intersection of all three. Emphasising this diversity is as close as I am prepared to get to the current notion of ‘personal branding’. I mistrust anything that might make my life smaller, and I have no interest in defining any presets for my thinking. I will use whatever tools I have in whatever way my content requires.’

To constrain myself to a ‘brand’ would risk limiting my vision to things that already exist. Then again, maybe I could just add ‘contrarian’ to that brand-like list above, because I usually end up being one 😉

A hundred years…

April 4, 2008

Dad aged 6

Today is the centenary of the birth of my father. If it were possible to communicate with the dead*, I don’ know how I would begin to explain to him what I am doing now.

Dad was born in a horse-drawn cab in one of the main streets of Sydney, New South Wales. His parents were old-fashioned, and dressed him in velvet and lace, with waist-length ringlets, until he was six. (Photos of that were purposely destroyed – he hated it. The one above is the first after those ringlets were cut.) He became a double orphan at age twelve, and rather than see himself and his sisters put into orphanages he pretended to be fifteen and got a job pushing barrows at Sydney’s Paddy’s Market. After he had paid for the education of his sisters, he set about getting himself educated. He worked as a telegraph operator, translating the ticker tape messages into English at 120 words per minute. Riding out the Great Depression in the Navy as radio officer, he got his education at Duntroon Naval College. After he left the Navy he trained as a draughtsman and later became a design engineer in his forties. That’s about when I turned up. Dad died in 1982, an era ago.

Dad worked in electronics at one stage, so he would comprehend some of the science behind the technology I use. If I showed him how easy it is to use this stuff he might even want it himself – after all, I did get my late mother-in-law onto the internet. But explaining the social changes that have taken place since computers became a communications medium via the Internet would be daunting. Explaining the political issues at stake would be as difficult. As for the cultural effects – dad wasn’t really into culture, he had been preoccupied with survival – so that would be harder still.

“I’m doing Internet Studies.” That didn’t exist then. Nor did much of the vocabulary I use every day (even if I avoid using kittah). “I’m doing it because…” Communication would be lost about there.

One thing dad would understand for sure about today is climate change. He often told me that the climate was changing, based on his detailed memory of his early years. He blamed it on industry and pollution. He used to get put down for saying this, but he wasn’t wrong.

“Andy” as he was called by his Navy mates

“Andy” as he was called by his Navy mates.

Image restored in MacPaint years ago by my son


* I don’t believe in that, I’m just trying to stretch my imagination across an epochal gap.

my political views, or lack thereof

October 9, 2007

It has been suggested by an academic colleague that we post our political views online. Could be a good way of making sure we never get that job we are after, but never mind. Let’s not be silenced by that kind of intimidation… After all, the silences we participate in can be damning.

Anyway, having been through 1960s radicalism / revolutionism, a few years ago I wryly came to the conclusion that contrary to orthodox left opinion, the revolution actually did happen, but most of the lefties were looking the other way at the time. The revolution of our era is the one you are looking at now – the digital revolution, the networked society. It is mind-blowing, and at the same time it isn’t all good. It is a stupendous collaborative achievement, but it is so far from doing everything and righting every wrong.

My brain hurts (mostly) when I have to listen to conventional politics. It reminds me of when my mother used to participate in market research. She’d be given two packets of laundry powder, one yellow and one blue. She had to use them both, and answer a questionnaire about the differences between them. But she wasn’t dumb. She knew they were both the same, and they were testing the color of the packaging. Nonetheless she kept it up for free stuff. But I get sick of “Brand A” and “Brand B”, same-shit-different-bucket, especially when it’s not just washing powder – and people’s lives and our entire habitat is at stake.

But I can’t fix it all by myself, in fact there is very little any of us can do. So then I start thinking that if each of us does our little bit it might be good. For this reason I have decided that while I will no doubt support some political issues and causes as they come up (e.g. I’m attending a memorial vigil for the SIEVX in late October), my civic engagement is going to be mainly with the politics of the internet. I’m well placed to do that, as I am working toward a Master of Internet Studies.

Most people aren’t aware of internet politics, so I have a lot of work to do (along with all the others who are doing this) in a limited time frame, because the structures being developed now will have a decisive impact. Our collaborative tasks incude educating the public, and all decision-makers, about the social and economic importance of a neutral internet; curbing the excesses of digital copyright so that creativity can flourish; and maintaining the networked public sphere free from undue political or corporate pressures. Of course, there’s an endless list really. Just like everywhere else, it is about ownership and control, and the social implications of that.

So there, good people, are my political views. If you expected something along the right-left dichotomy, go to politicalcompass and see why I don’t think like that. Who will I vote for in this year’s election? Wishing the Liberals would listen to Malcolm Fraser but they hate him; wishing the local Labor guy wasn’t a speedbump; wishing the local Greens hadn’t expelled some people I trust; keeping an eye out for a Climate Change Coalition candidate… sigh.

Breakfast of Champions…

September 2, 2007

Breakfast of Champions…, originally uploaded by maharetr.

A friend sent me a link to some delightful photos of the evolution of a “conversation” that was (past tense) on a toilet wall at Curtin University. I am a Curtin student, but have never set foot on campus, so it is nice to be able get a feel for the place through Flickr. I have also never met the photographer.

The series started with a drawing. Then someone added something else, and more was added and so on. Eventually the whole thing was painted over leaving a clean wall for the next round. Here’s the last shot of “the rabbit that wanted to be a toad, and other tales” (before it was painted over).

One word links this to popular culture on the internet – “bunneh”. That is in a distinct grammatical form known as “kittah”, the language of LOLcats. If you don’t know LOLcats I can fully explain that another day. Might be a few days, as I have to put my computer in for service for an unknown period of time.

(edited because the connection between Flickr and WordPress stuffed up mightily)

p.s. click on the image to go to the original image, and then to the series itself