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Cognitive dissonance 18 September 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Life, Philosophy, Politics.
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I am suffering, dear reader. I am suffering from cognitive dissonance.

I’m sure you have heard of that before: holding two or more beliefs at the same time, where those beliefs are incompatible in theory and practice.

I often suffer from cognitive dissonance, which is why I could never go into politics. The world is not sufficiently black or white for me to pick a side and not see the other’s merit. There are times I feel strongly one way or another, but often, I cannot reconcile conflicting beliefs to take a position on a matter. How easy it would be to be certain of yourself all the time.

This time around, it’s politics. Today, the Abbott government was sworn in. Out of 20 ministers, there is one female, and 19 male ministers. And I am struggling with this on two levels.

On the one hand, I am disappointed that there is only one woman in cabinet. I think there are plenty of capable, interesting, intelligent, measured, hard-working women in the Liberal Party. And I am sure there could have been more women on the front benches. I believe the government and the cabinet should represent the people that put them there, which may mean they should look like a cross-section of society.

On the other hand, I do not believe there should be a ‘quota’ of women that should be promoted (in any position), and merit should be the driver for appointments. I believe women are not ‘equal’ when they experience positive discrimination. I think they are equal when people no longer see their gender. As a woman, I would hate to think that I get to where I am in life because of (or despite of) my gender. I want to be respected, valued and appreciated for my brains, my abilities and my shutzpah.

I think selection bias, or the fact that one tends to select and promote people who look, feel, sound and behave like oneself, is a driver behind many appointments. And not just in government.

I don’t think it is necessarily done in a malicious way, but I think a leader who is unaware of his or her own bias might easily fall into the trap of promoting those like him- or herself. My selection bias might explain why I am disappointed there are no more women in cabinet. I want to see strong, capable women in places of power and decision making.

And as per my previous post, I think Abbott plays a dangerous game in terms of his outward views on women. Whether he actually holds a low opinion of women or whether the media is just portraying him as such, is not really the point. However, I do think it less than politically astute to give his opponents more fodder, which is what this cabinet has done. And to say he was ‘disappointed’ there were not more women on the front bench was outright silly – he chose the front bench.

There were countless Facebook posts in my feed over the past days reflecting a less-than-flattering view of “I cannot believe any woman would have voted for this government, and now you reap what you have sown” or worse still, “Abbott will take Australia 20 years back in time”. Simplistic gibes.

Because Abbott and his party did win. And it would have taken a significant number of female voters to get him there. It is, however, possible that women who voted for him are also suffering from cognitive dissonance.

The world is not black and white, and it is the varying levels of grey that makes it interesting. I will keep an open mind on this cabinet. May it do good for Australia.

Abbott talks about looks too much 5 September 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Life.
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Clearly, Tony Abbott should steer clear from commenting on fellow candidates or his daughters looks. In case you missed it: not long ago, he noted that the Liberal candidate Fiona Scott had ‘a bit of sex appeal’. More recently, he said about his daughters (he has three) that they were ‘not bad looking’.

Not because the comments are actually that bad – if you watch the footage from either occassion, he is actually being a total dag. Lighthearted. And even friendly.

On both occassions, though, people cringe. And here is the rub: it gives further amonition to people who think Abbott is out of touch, old-fashioned and (god forbid anyone should have known this word prior to the infamous speech in parliament earlier this year) mysogenistic!

Set aside that he also praised Fiona Scott for multiple other qualities that she is supposed to bring to the table. Set aside that he is obviously a biased dad who seems to adore his girls. Set aside the fact that ‘not bad looking’ is the quintessential Australian understatement.

You, Mr. Abbott, are in the public eye. And soundbites are the way of the media. So steer clear of praising women for their looks. Completely. For some reason, it is no longer acceptable.

Like it or loathe it, stick to telling women (and men) that that you work with they are well-qualified. Smart. Intelligent. Astute. The best option for the future. Or whatever you choose to say. I must admit that I would not like to be introduced at a work function with any reference to my looks. I would like to think that I am where I am because of my ability and my skills. And it would be highly inappropriate for a supervisor to say that I have sex appeal.

At the same time, leave the man alone about his daughters. He clearly loves and adores them, and probably thinks they are the most gorgeous girls he knows, both inside and out. So what? That’s a dad’s perogative.

What a cesspit the Australian political landscape is 26 June 2013

Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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It has been a really long time, I would say years, since politics have had any substance in this country. I am frustrated.

I am sick of the personalities and the low-blow personal attacks. As if anyone cares?

I am sick of the so-called major topics that are being discussed. They are distractions and unhelpful.

Boat arrivals. There are such few people that arrive by boat to this country. It is a travesty that so many people perish on the way over – surely there is a solution out there that doesn’t require locking people up on islands out of sight? Surely most asylum applications can be processed and dealt with in a timely manner rather than having these people wait, in limbo, for years?

Gay marriage. It is going to happen, so why is this such a major political play thing? Stop telling people what they can and can’t do in their lives. If it isn’t hurting anyone (and no, being ‘offensive’ to you does not qualify) then what do you care what people want to do with their lives?

Misogeny. Oh, please. Stop reducing my life experience to something out of a 1950s magazine. In today’s Australia, women can have what they want. So take it! But everything involves choices. And if you chose not to take it, that’s fine, too. That is the whole point. If I as a woman choose having a family and therefore do not become a CEO before my 35th birthday, I do not see myself as a failure, because they are my choices and they make me happy. And guess what? If I choose to focus on career and aim to lead a company by my 35th birthday, guess what? In Australia 2013, I can do that, too! It would take a heck of a lot of overtime and focus, and very hard work, but it is my lack of commitment and drive in that field, not my gender, holding me back.

So what should we be talking about?

Family Tax Benefits 14 May 2013

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There has been a lot of talk in Australia lately about broken promises. The Federal government decided to implement a few of new taxes over the last couple of years; the carbon tax and the mining tax. The former was a tax on polluters of carbondioxide, and the latter was a tax on mining companies.

The government was promising all these lovely benefits to ‘average Australians’ and ‘families’.

Turns out that neither one of these taxes has actually amounted to a whole lot of revenue for Australia. At least far less than projected. So all these promises were suddenly unfunded. So now the government (still the same) has had to scrap some of these promises as the economy is likely to run into deficit when budget is announced tomorrow.

One of these promises was higher “Family Tax Benefit A” which was scrapped earlier this month. It got me thinking – what is this benefit? And why is Australia already forking out billions of dollars for this benefit?

The Australian Tax Office states that the Family Tax Benefit Part A is paid for each child.

Now, I know children are expensive. You need a bigger house. A bigger and safer car. Clothes they grow out of and food. Never ending food. And school fees, uniforms, books, school outings. And then there are the activities, the sports, the music, the scouts (or similar) all the things you choose to expose your child to to make them into well-rounded individuals.

But I am going to edge out on the controversial branch here, and ask the question – Isn’t it a choice to have children?

I sure hope to have children one day, and I am sure that time will be difficult financially. And I will want to provide them with the best I can offer. But does that mean that all of Australia must pull together and pay for the brood that I pop out? And until the age of 16 (as the ATO currently states) or up until 20 in some cases?

I simply cannot agree with that.

Wedding extravaganza 12 September 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life, Travelling.
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I spent Friday preparing for and celebrating the wedding of two friends of ours. It was a beautiful day, with the most amazing people. I wish them both all the absolute best in life, and I feel so lucky to have such immeasurably valuable friends.

Weddings are, to me, one of the big three – one of the three events in life, next to births and deaths, that one should endeavour not to miss.

It might be the only opportunity one ever has to gather family and friends together to celebrate what matters most in life, namely love between people.

I felt so privileged to have been present at this one, and I regret that I have not been able to go to all the weddings I have been invited to in the past. Seeing the love that my two friends have for each other, celebrating it and sharing it with us all was a most touching experience.

Good luck, dear friends, and I wish you a very romantic honeymoon. I look forward to seeing you both again soon.

Blogging lapse 12 September 2010

Posted by uggclogs in Happiness, Life, Travelling.
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I have neglected my writing for the past couple of days. I have been slack and quiet. But there are some valid reasons for it.

Firstly, I have been on holidays. And because I needed a holiday, I’ve been happy to avoid the blog for a while.

Secondly, I have been in Australia, where free WiFi is hard to find. It still amazes me that the Internet should be so regulated and costly in that country. At our last hotel, they wanted to charge close to 25 dollars per 24 hours for the priviledge, and only through cable (so I would not have been able to use my iTouch).

Thirdly, I was feeling boring, and did not think I had much to tell. Hopefully, this will change.

The Australian Internet Filter Issue 13 April 2010

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After reading that Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, addressed the Sydney Institute on 12 April 2010 regarding the proposed Australian Internet Filter, I decided to go and look up his speech.

This I did because the media can sometimes take comments out of context. Yet nothing that I found in the speech made me any less concerned about the issue of net filtering. So I decided to do some more research and break it down, in an attempt to understand it better.

Here’s what I found.

Here is the speech from 12 April 2010 in full, but I have proceeded to quote the part of it relating the filter (or ‘regulation’):

Regulation

The internet is the greatest transformation tool we have ever seen and the Rudd Government is ensuring Australia takes advantage of every opportunity it presents, through the NBN.

But while the internet is poised to become even more central to our lives, and much more accessible — can it remain largely unregulated?

With great opportunity, comes even greater responsibility, and having sensible, appropriate protections in place is also the role of government.

There are some who want to argue that on the internet, people should be able to publish anything they like — regardless of whether it contravenes laws in the off-line world.

The internet is an incredible piece of technology and in our lifetime it’s unlikely we’ll see anything like it again.

But for all its technical brilliance, the internet is a distribution and communications platform.

Having no regulation to combat illegal activity actually weakens all that is good about the internet.

The Government has always maintained there is no silver bullet when it comes to cyber safety and we have never said ISP-level filtering alone would help fight child pornography or keep children safe online.

The Government’s $125.8 million Cyber Safety Policy incorporates a range of measures, including law enforcement, research and education and awareness.

The Rudd Government does not support Refused Classification content being available on the internet.

This content includes child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

Under Australia’s existing classification regulations this material is not available in newsagencies; it is not on library shelves; you cannot watch it on a DVD or at the cinema and it is not shown on television.

Refused Classification material is not available on Australian hosted websites.

The Government’s proposal will bring the treatment of overseas hosted content into line by requiring ISPs to block overseas content that has been identified as Refused Classification.

This is a modest measure, which reflects long held community standards about the type of content that is unacceptable in a civilized society.

Those who claim that the Government’s approach is akin to the sort of political censorship practiced by authoritarian regimes are simply misleading the Australian public.

I feel the urge to point out the following.

1) Is it censorship?

Yes.

Definition of censoring: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable.

The internet filter, as proposed by the Government, is supposed to include a non-optional ISP filter to restrict access to certain websites which will be part of a non-disclosed black list of content.

Ergo: it is censorship.

2) Is it political censorship?

Definition of political censorship: when a government attempts to conceal, distort, or falsify information that its citizens receive by suppressing or crowding out political news that the public might receive through news outlets.

The filter is said to target illegal (by Australian Laws) material. So strictly speaking, it should not filter out political views etc.

However, few (read: none) of the other countries of the so-called ‘free world’ have taken the extraordinary step of trying to censor the internet. In fact, these comments are akin to this one:

The Internet cannot be something open where anything is said and done. Every country has to apply its own rules and norms.

Which were made only one month ago by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez according to Reuters.

I would join the ranks of those others who have raised their concerns about the slippery slope of this type of censoring. It is already clear that the current proposed filter is very different from the internet policies in the 2007 Labor election platform. According to Libertus.net, the Government election policy ‘fact sheet’ regarding the internet (issued five days before the election) stated that ISPs would be required to offer a so-called ‘clean feed’ to subscribers.

The word offer implies user choice and, ultimately, control.

However, only a month after the election (December 2007), it was already understood that

anyone wanting uncensored access to the internet will have to opt out of the service.

That in itself creates flags in my mind – in stead of an opt-in, there is an opt-out option, meaning that choices are already being made for you without your say. Also, if you were to opt-out, what would stop you from being placed on an opt-out register, which, in the wrong hands (or in that of the government) could be seen as an easy-to-access list of people who may be looking at illegal material, or who are, (gasp) bad parents, instantly placing you under scrutiny?

Only 10 months later, (October 2008), it was revealed that the opt-out of the filtering system would no longer be allowed, and all of a sudden, there were other shifts in language which was different from the election policies:

Internet users would not be allowed to opt-out of ISP-level blocking of access to content in one of two tiers of blocking. Labor had not previously mentioned blocking that is non-optional for adult Internet users, nor “two tiers” of blocking.

In December 2009, the latest changes were made, and are the ones that are currently being discussed for implementation.

For a full understanding (and analysis) of the current proposed net filter, go here.

That was a very long and winding way of saying that I have my doubts that there is no slippery slope scenario here. I believe that the changes have already proven to slowly be sliding into stricter censorship than its original scope, and who is to say that it will not continue?

I have other questions that make me uncomfortable:

Who decides what will go on the blacklist? (It is supposed to be made by an independent body not attached to government, but who issues their guidelines?)

How do we determine what is ‘long held community standards’? (Being homosexual used to be illegal, but it is not anymore, so clearly standards can, and do change, hopefully for the better?) and who determines these ‘community standards’? Perhaps most people can agree on child pornography, but there are also people out there (and entire sub-communities, like the catholic church) that would say that homosexuality is not something acceptable according to community standards. Yet I disagree. So who do they listen to?

How do we know that these blacklists are not being abused? I suppose Australia is lucky to have an elected government that could (arguably) be seen as trying to do what they think is best for the population, but are they always benevolent? Aren’t Governments made up of people with all their blemishes (including petty feelings like revenge, lust for power, etc) that you and I have? Since the blacklist is supposed to be secret, how can we know that the content included in the list sticks to the original purpose of the filter, and is not changed later on?

Does the Australian Government really think that Australian enforcement agencies (and parents) are so impotent that they need to implement a blanket censorship of internet material? It boggles the mind.

If anyone could shed any light on these issues, please leave a comment!