This woman who I’ve never met made me feel better about the world

Racist rants on your bus, dodgy builders on your street, scammers on the internet… sometimes you just shake your head at humanity.

(And that’s before we even consider the meatier issues of war, famine and the persecution of the needy.)

This is Nikita.
This is Nikita.

But not today. Today I refuse to shake my head at humanity, and all because of the tiny (some might even say insignificant) actions of one woman I’ve never even met, Nikita.

When I stupidly left my wallet and iPhone — packed with photos, contacts and audio recordings — on a commuter train a few weeks ago, Nikita found it.

Did she hack my bank account? Sell my phone at Caribbean Gardens? Extort money from me?

No, she tracked me down on Facebook.

Unable to actually message me because of my insane privacy settings — hey, I remember what happened to Sandra Bullock in The Net — she went to a police station and handed in my belongings.

She then found my email address online and dropped me a note.

There are a lot of people in the world that aren’t evil, but are just plain indifferent. Or self interested. People who wouldn’t bother helping an old lady cross the road (or assisting a silly young man who’s lost his iPhone).

After all, what’s in it for them?

But, Nikita, you’re not one of those people.

Thank you for your good deed.

-RS

 

(Feature image via Ucwepn)

Advertisements

Why we miss the ‘old’ Game of Thrones

I ASSUME we’re all familiar with those trendy tapas restaurants where the food is brought out in annoyingly tiny portions which are consistently too small to ever really satisfy? One bite and the dish is gone, and you’re once more hungrily awaiting for the next (also unfulfilling) culinary instalment.

danyYes, well in a case of ‘careful what you wish for’ this is exactly what’s now happening to fans of the Prime Ministerially endorsed HBO series Game of Thrones.

After demanding the show be available locally as it’s aired in the US, Australian fans are suddenly missing out on one of the key ingredients that made the show so enjoyable to begin with: binge viewing.

Gone are those heady times when we could (morally, at least) Torrent a dozen episodes of this Westeroisi wonder and sit back as the gripping political power plays and gratuitous sex scenes kept us engaged for half a day.

No longer can we enjoy the quaint and guilty pleasure of borrowing a friend’s burnt DVD with back-to-back instalments of the Seven Kingdoms’ palace intrigue.

We brought this on ourselves.

And last night’s non-episode just added insult to injury. The mood was captured by my friend Zo Zo (reassuringly, not her real name):

 zoeeee

The era of on-demand digital media and the notion of being drip-fed a “television show” seems grossly incompatible. Filming for Game of Thrones Season 3 was completed in November2012 – but still we wait! We have the technology, we have the demand… what’s the problem?

Of course, this is just the modern expression of an old urge. When I want to read a book I want to read the whole book. In my time.

I don’t want it serialised. I don’t want to purchase a few chapters, and then have to buy a few more later on. If I want to stay up past midnight to read a few more sneaky chapters, I damn well will.

Why should the small screen be any different?Game of Thrones … Peter Dinklage as Tyrion.

Wouldn’t it be great if the next frontier in “television” is direct and comprehensive distribution. A season at a time, as they’re commissioned and created.

Traditionalists could still watch episodes on the TV, and good on them. Their slightly archaic viewing habits wouldn’t affect me (and chances that demographic wouldn’t have their viewing experience ruined by spoilers on social media).

Everybody would win.

Well, nearly everybody. Just not the TV industry gatekeepers, who are already moving quickly in the other direction.

It seems those already in control are so busy preserving their power they’re ignoring the chilly winds of change brewing afar.

Sound familiar? Winter is coming.

ned

No Federal parallels in Victoria, argue all those with a vested interest.

“The difference between my elevation and that of Julia Gillard is we have a united team, we don’t have blood all over the floor and we didn’t stab in the back an incumbent (sic) … against their wishes.” – Denis Napthine, ABC Radio.

VICTORIA’S new Premier, Denis Napthine, has been quick to assure voters his swift, overnight ascension to power at the expense of Ted Baillieu is entirely dissimilar to the day former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was so brutally shown the door.

Image
Ted Baillieu leaves State Parliament after being dumped by his party.

And he may have a point.

Dr Napthine, a veteran MP from south west Victoria, is a factional ally of the outgoing Premier. And aside from some fighting words earlier in the day, Ted Baillieu appears to have accepted his fate without a struggle. There hasn’t (at least yet) been any bitter parting shots.

But you can expect the new leader will be hounded over coming weeks as to why Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbot’s arguments about Julia Gillard’s Government’s “illegitimacy” shouldn’t also apply to his own fledging administration.

Respected political commentator George Megalogenis started the ball rolling very quickly last night:

Image

A lot now rests with the rejected leader, Ted Baillieu.

The man who unexpectedly steered the Coalition to power in 2010 now must decide if he will truly be a staunch supporter of Dr Napthine (as he has pledged to do), or follow the lead of Kevin Rudd and engage in a rolling campaign of covert destabilisation.

Image
Ted Baillieu in happier times

Chances are ‘Ted’ – as he’s affectionately known on Spring Street – will choose the first course.

As even his internal critics will tell you, the former Premier is not an egomaniac and lacks mongrel. Chances are he won’t harbor delusions of a comeback.

So what does this all mean for Victoria’s Labor opposition, led by Daniel Andrews? He has to attack this sudden change of leadership without casting aspersions on the conduct of his own Canberra colleagues.

So far, he’s been choosing his words very carefully.

“No one voted for Denis Napthine,” Mr Andrews told Lateline last night.

“Ted Baillieu was elected and the community that chose him had every expectation that he would serve the full four years.”

Stop.

As soon as Mr Andrews starts talking about the Napthine’s “illegitimacy” or “lack of mandate”, Julia Gillard’s political opponents will have a field day.

Of course, there’s another reason that line of attack wouldn’t suit Mr Andrews.

Image
Daniel Andrews

Before Ted Baillieu swept to power in 2010, Mr Andrews served as a senior minister in the “unelected” government of John Brumby.

‘We didn’t hear Daniel Andrews resigning to a high dungeon in the Brumby Government because Brumby wasn’t elected by the people,’ Premier Napthine said on ABC Radio this morning.

Politics is nothing but a smouldering pile of contradictions.

-RS

ABC ‘Reseach Report’ March, 2013

RR_logo
1) Surgeons who play video games are better at ‘keyhole’ procedures

University of Rome.

Laparopscopic surgeons may improve certain aspects of surgical performance by regularly playing on a Nintendo Wii, according to research published in PLOS ONE.

Researchers analyzed how a four-week training regimen on the Wii impacted the laparoscopic skills of post-graduate residents in the first or second year of their surgical training.

Half the surgeons were assigned to a training regimen on the Wii while the other half were not. Before and after the regimen, all the participants’ performance was tested on a laparoscopic simulator. The study found that participants in both groups improved their skills over the four week period, but those who had been trained on the Wii showed a significant improvement over the other group in their performance on several specific metrics like economy of instrument movements and efficient cautery.

[Note: this study didn’t recieve any funding from Nintendo or other video game developers.]

2) Australians didn’t gamble away last year’s carbon tax compensation payments, viewing them as different from past payments
University of Melbourne (Melbourne Institute) 

Australians opted not to gamble away last year’s carbon tax compensation as they had earlier government payments, according to a University of Melbourne study.

Researchers explored whether the 2012 carbon tax cheques sparked an increase in expenditure at the pokies, as had occurred following the economic stimulus payments of 2008 and 2009.

The study found many recipients were more restrained in 2012.

“The Carbon Tax cheques arrived when people were expecting a hike in their power bills. They were portrayed as a rebate on rising costs of living due to a ‘big, new tax’,” said researcher Hielke Buddelmeyer.

“In contrast, the payments made during the Global Financial Crisis were seen as a windfall. Something to be spent, guilt free.”

3) Conservates are happier than progressives: study
University of Queensland

Conservatives are happier than liberals because of their strong ties to a large network of social groups, according to new research.

A research team from UQ Psychology conducted a study among 816 undergraduate students to explore the link between conservatism and happiness.

UQ Psychology Professor Jolanda Jetten said the findings indicated that conservatives were happier than liberals due to greater access to social capital – a great source of well-being.

It appears what makes conservatives happy is not conservative ideology but rather a “social and material advantage” – that is, access to groups, participation, membership, etc.

So maybe money can make you happier?

Journey to belonging

Image
An edited version of this article appeared in February VOICE, distributed through The Age.

Each year thousands of asylum-seekers try to settle in Australia. Most are fleeing persecution because of their race, religion or lifestyle. They’re looking for something simple yet sometimes elusive: a fresh start. Ryan Sheales reports on their struggles and triumphs.

Randomly stop 10 people in the street and ask for their view on asylum-seeker issues and you’ll probably get about 15 different responses. Some welcoming, some hostile, some confused, some somewhere in the middle.

Refugees arriving in Australia often encounter a climate where their legitimacy is bitterly contested.

Social researchers – like Melissa Phillips from the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Sciences – see it as a problem across the whole of Australian society.

“Despite the Federal Government trying to distinguish between ‘good’ refugees and ‘bad’ asylum-seekers, most people make little distinction between them,” she says.

“As a result many refugees’ everyday interactions involve people questioning who they are, and why they have fled their countries of origin.“

The Australian Parliamentary Library, which produces independent research reports for politicians, has warned there is “a great deal of confusion and misinformation in the public debate” about asylum-seekers.

Its 2011 report Asylum-seekers and refugees: what are the facts? also found the terms ‘asylum-seekers’, ‘refugees’, ‘illegals’, ‘queue-jumpers’ and ‘boat people’ are frequently used “interchangeably and/or incorrectly”.

The study also dismissed the notion Australia is being “swamped” by would-be refugees.

It pointed out that Europe generally processes about 280,000 claims for asylum each year compared with roughly 49,000 claims in the US and 33,000 in Canada.

In comparison, less than 7,000 claims were lodged in Australia and New Zealand combined in 2009.

Despite this, a “treacherous combination of a lack of understanding, generalisations and misconceptions” still lingers across sections of the Australian community, according to the University’s Martina Boese, who’s currently working on a research project analysing the experiences of migrants and refugees settling in country Victoria.

Dr Boese believes refugees are often incorrectly portrayed as damaged, needy or burdensome for their new country.

“The focus often seems to be on a refugee’s history with trauma or deprivation, not on their skills, experience and resilience. In comparison, skilled visa entrants are more commonly represented as useful and entrepreneurial,” she says.

“This black-and-white imagery of ‘damaged refugees fleeing war-torn countries’ versus ‘skilled migrants needed by the Australian economy’ leaves no doubt about who is the more wanted kind of entrant.”

Even the very term “refugee” – which is as much a legal category as it is a social descriptor – can be a damaging label.

Invariably, some politicians and media organisations seem intent on exploiting the ‘refugee stereotype’ for votes or ratings. But there’s little focus on the less tabloid-friendly ‘success stories’.

Somalian woman Maimun Mohamed spent the better part of a decade in a UN refugee camp in Kenya, after fleeing the civil war that had gripped her homeland in 1991.

Image
Maimun Mohamed

When she and her husband arrived in Australia in 1999 they knew nothing of their new country – and no one.

Her experiences in Australia were recorded in 2010 by Researchers for Asylum-seekers, a volunteer group of academics and students affiliated with the University of Melbourne’s Department of Psychological Science.

“At first she worked as a receptionist and gradually moved into community work where she developed a niche for assessing the employment needs of disadvantaged communities, including refugees,” her story reads.

“Slowly she made connections and figured out the way things are done.”

Ms Mohamed eventually started her own business, the Innovation Recruitment Agency, which works to find appropriate employment for resettled refugees.

Or take the example of David, whose journey from Sudan to Melbourne took 19 years: through Ethiopia, back to South Sudan, on to Kenya and finally to Australia. He arrived here safely in 2004, aged 22.

“Flying through Sydney to get to Melbourne, David could not believe that such a world existed. Everything felt like a dream,” researchers remarked of his experiences.

Image
David

“The first challenge David encountered was to understand how to connect with people, services and just ‘live’ in Australia. Everything was completely new and each task, even a simple one like cooking or filling the bathtub, had to be learnt from scratch.

“Luckily, his cousin was here to help him figure things out and explain processes as simple as a meeting at Centrelink.”

Like many refugees, David also had to deal with traumatic flashbacks to the horrors he witnessed in Africa.

Refugee advocates believe there will be a greater acceptance of refugees when their motives are better understood.

Too many people still believe refugees make a voluntary choice to leave their homelands, warns Melissa Phillips who spent time working in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in South Sudan.

“The idea that people voluntarily leave their homes with few means and little documentation is just crazy, and challenges our knowledge of contemporary conflicts and their effects on people,” Dr Boese says.

“Going further, it seems hard to comprehend that some people believe refugees leave their homes with a destination in mind.

“Refugees are focused foremost on removing themselves from precarious situations and it is only later that they may start to think of options for a permanent and safe future.”

David knows how he’d like Australians, and those seeking asylum here, to approach refugee issues.

“People from round the world look and think differently and it is easy to be misguided by stereotypes,” he says.

“Until you get to sit down with people and talk to them, it is important to extend respect and kindness to all people.”

“It is important that those who were born here as well as those that resettle here work hard, open up and accept each other.”

Hear an interview with David or read more of Maimun Mohamed’s story here

Etch-a-Sketching out a path to an Australian Republic.

ImageThe Etch-a-Sketch was a staple in the toy boxes of generations of Australian children, right up until the digital revolution drove kids towards new-fangled devices with brighter screens.

As Australia Day dawns and the long weekend provides a time for reflection about our nation’s identity, the humble toy might provide some much needed inspiration.

The Etch-a-Sketch allowed users to draw complex images and then – with the vigorous shake – clean them away and start afresh.

It got me thinking… what if we could do this to Australia?

How would we redraw our nation, if we had a blank canvas?

Like the structural underpinnings of the Etch-a-Sketch itself (the red frame, the two drawing wheels, the muted grey screen) there are many things Australians would keep

We would most likely retain our respect for the rule of law, our notion of fair play, opportunity and egalitarianism.

Capitalism seems rather secure, and undoubtedly our love of sport and artistic endeavour would stay.

Sharrons would still be Shazza and each Barry would clearly remain Bazz.

Parliamentary democracy would persist in some form, though we may finally have that debate out compulsory voting, preferential ballots and the role (or lack thereof?) for state governments.

But it seems unfathomable that upon redrawing our country’s institutions and structures from scratch modern day Australians would choose to have the Queen of England as their head of state.

ImageFrom where would the required groundswell of support for the monarchy come? Exactly who would ring talkback radio to suggest we select a small island off the coast of Western Europe and declare their head of state to be ours also?

‘Traditionalists’ wouldn’t exist, we wouldn’t have any Diggers who fought under the Union Jack and the media obsession with Kate and Wills would be no more important than our obsession with whether Taylor Swift really is carrying a One Direction baby.

Australia would undoubtedly emerge from this Etch-a-Sketch refresh as a Republic.

Sure, we’d need a debate about the preferred model but, as the slogan goes, at least we’d have “a resident for a President”.

In reality we can’t redraw our country from scratch. Australia does have traditionalists, monarchists and former soldiers who love the flag. Modern Australia, for better or worse, is a legacy of British rule and strong British influence.Image

But it remains valuable to ask ourselves: what kind of Australia would be if we could escape our historical tethers?

I believe any new vision for Australia must have a proud Republic at the very core.

Stamping out lawlessness in the media

Soon after completing a gruelling inquiry into media ethics in the UK, senior judge Lord Brian Leveson used a University of Melbourne presentation to spark discussion on what he sees as the ‘next frontier’ in media regulation. Ryan Sheales reports.

Image

With governments and media tycoons still bickering about the correct means of regulating traditional media, it may seem ambitious to begin talking about international agreements to govern the online space.

Yet this was the challenge laid down by Lord Justice Brian Leveson in his address at the University of Melbourne in December.

Having just completed his inquiry into the UK media phone-hacking scandal and media ethics generally, he expressed deep concern about the problems posed by the emergence of internet publishing.

The central issue was that traditional media – newspapers, radio and television broadcasters – were accountable at law in ways that online media were not. This had created a situation in which the principle of equality before the law had broken down.

Some bloggers and tweeters, he declared, “have no real reputation for accuracy or reliability but are, in many ways, no more than electronic versions of pub gossip”.

What’s more, “lawlessness in one area may infect other areas,” he warned. Traditional media might come to have less regard for the law, and cut corners in order to compete with online rivals.

One area in which he saw a specific threat to the rule of law was that of injunctions. Where the media is concerned, injunctions are usually directed at prohibiting or limiting what can be published about a person in order to prevent what the court regards as harm, unfairness or interference with the administration of justice.

People who ignore an injunction are in contempt of court, and traditional media — with their names and addresses known, and with identifiable personnel and assets — can generally be located and prosecuted with comparative ease.

By contrast, a blogger who might or might not use his own name and might or might not be traceable, would be difficult to prosecute for the same offence. This difficulty is magnified by the fact that in the global online world, he might be publishing on the other side of the world but being read in the jurisdiction where the injunction applies.

Lord Justice Leveson argued a solution might lie with better cross-border co-operation, potentially including the enforcement of media law judgments made in other jurisdictions.

“By failing to act and recognise judgments and court orders which emanate from other countries, we encourage the weakening of the rule of law at home,” he cautioned.

“[This] may require us to reconsider the approaches we have taken in the past, to develop a cosmopolitan approach and one which supports the rule of law through a fair and effective international framework.”

In an increasingly digital world where it has never been easier to inflict reputational damage upon others (and never been harder to defend oneself without some mud sticking), Leveson believes the stakes are high.

The internet, Levson argued, should not be considered “a Wild West … without an effective sheriff or a Wyatt Earp to ride into town. Procedural justice requires the law to be equally applicable to all.”

Lord Justice Leveson explicitly stated he would not canvass the contents of his report on the phone-hacking scandal, saying he considered his report to be the equivalent of a judicial judgment. By convention, judges do not comment on their judgments but allow the document to speak for itself.

“It may be that some of you are hoping that I will elaborate [on my report]”, he told the event, organised by the University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism.

“If you are, I am afraid that you are going to be disappointed.”

His 1987-page report recommended Britain adopt tougher forms of media self-regulation. These structures would be underpinned by — and here’s the contentious bit — new legislation designed to monitor whether media organisations are actually behaving themselves.

As a counterbalance this new legislation would, for the first time, also enshrine freedom of the press in British law.

The recommendations generated mixed opinions across the UK media and political circles, including within the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government.

But might this proposed new system be something Australia should consider?

The Centre for Advanced Journalism’s Dr Denis Muller followed the Leveson Inquiry closely. The veteran journalist and media ethicist had been a consultant to the Australian Government’s own Independent Media Inquiry, headed by former Federal Court Judge Ray Finkelstein.

Dr Muller says the Leveson model “echoes several of the features” already proposed by Judge Finkelstein and, to a greater extent, Australia’s recent Convergence Review.

Image
This article first appeared in VOICE, a publication of the University of Melbourne.

“It is similar to the proposal from [the] Convergence Review — a law-based regulator independent of government and the industry,” he says.

The Finkelstein Inquiry had recommended similar measures, but to be overseen by a statutory authority. It’s a crucial distinction.

But the Australian inquiries disagreed with Leveson regarding whether media organisations should be forced to submit themselves to self-regulation.

“Finkelstein and the Convergence Review recommended compulsory membership, seeing voluntary membership as one of the key weaknesses in the existing Australian Press Council arrangements,” according to Dr Muller.

What do you mean PR flacks don’t eat their young?

The conference had been organised by the Global Alliance for Public Relations.

The name could have been plucked from some B-grade futuristic war film like Starship Troopers, and immediately my head filled with images of armies massing for an interplanetary battle.

And as former journalist now working in communications, I certainly felt like I was entering a different world: a lone solider in the enemy’s nest.

You see, it’s now been six months since I left journalism but I still identify with the craft. Perhaps more than ever. As anybody who has made the transition will tell you, I have become ‘the journalist’ in my new office: explaining, contextualising, defending and (occasionally) apologising for the acts of my former colleagues.

It’s with the burden of this split personality that I attended this week’s World Public Relations Forum in Melbourne. The place was filled with what I would confidently call ‘PR types’, knowing you know exactly what I mean.

A year ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead at this event. After all, these are members of the dark side. Was I now part of their shifty brotherhood?

ABC TV’s Virginia Trioli might have been an odd choice as conference host, but I was glad she was there. She was one of my people. I enjoyed a smug chuckle when she told attendees that, despite being a journalist, she wouldn’t bite “though may nibble”.

The PR flaks who spoke at this conference disappointed me greatly.

Not because of what they said, what they did or who they represented. But rather because of what they didn’t do.

They didn’t advocate outright lying or secrecy. They didn’t speak of ways to frustrate or mislead journalists. They didn’t preach pure evil or share innovative ways to eat their young.

What they did do was spend a lot of time discussing how they (PR operatives) might persuade corporate leaders that genuine openness and engagement are worthwhile.

They discussed how frank communication is desirable, and obfuscation is counterproductive.

There was even some debate about whether the term “PR” was now toxic, given the industry’s poor reputation.

How dare they seem so bloody… noble.

The nibbling Virginia Trioli wasn’t easily fooled, pointing out words are cheap. When will things really change? she asked.

It’s a fair question, but one nobody can yet answer.

But I do take heart that my latest profession does seem to be undergoing something of a slow and subtle revolution.

Those who preach obfuscation and believe power resides with them as gatekeepers or disseminators, are on the way out. Replacing them is a group of people who understand the democratising potency of social media, and how the internet has given global communication power to the people.

This group truly champions engagement and “co-creation” (a conference buzzword).

These new age communications professionals might reside on ‘the dark side’ but they haven’t drunk the conniving corporate Cool Aid.

So here’s my take away message from the conference and this blog post; not all PR operatives are bad. Most are arguing your case within an organisation. And many are genuinely trying to change that organisation from within.

The ‘new age’ communications worker might just be the modern journalist’s best friend.

RS

Lets celebrate the muddled coverage of the Gillard-Abbott showdown.

ImageMost agree that when Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard went toe-to-toe in Federal Parliament last week they were arguing at cross purposes.

The Opposition Leader thought Peter Slipper was an inappropriate person to remain as Speaker. On the other side of the dispatch box, the Prime Minister (not wanting to engage in that debate) took aim at what she saw as Mr Abbot’s “misogyny” and “hypocrisy”.

Much has already been written about how the media coverage of this tussle was, itself, disjointed. 

The mainstream media largely focused on the Speaker’s woes and the day’s effect on Labor’s parliamentary numbers, sometimes deriding Ms Gillard’s performance as a sideshow.

Bloggers, the Twitterazzi and the foreign media saw the Prime Minister’s takedown as the real story.

So who is right? Both camps. Much like the original dispute, this debate is also running at cross purposes.

We can all agree Julia Gillard’s performance — taken in isolation — was masterful. 

She went in to bat for Australian women in a way that no Prime Minister had (or could) previously. The clip will likely be shown in politics classes, feature in documentaries and remain popular on YouTube (or it’s successor) for years to come. 

It will be rightly regarded as one of the great performances of Australian politics.

But the job of the Canberra Press Gallery was also to offer context.

That context must involve mention of Peter Slipper. It also must also involve a genuine analysis of Labor’s parliamentary tactics. 

And it must involve a discussion about whether the Prime Minister’s feisty performance was a calculated diversion, or simply had that effect.

In my view, it is wrong to attack the mainstream media for “missing” the significance of Julia Gillard’s performance. Just as it would be wrong to criticise online publishers for failing to adequately cover the Slipper components of the day.

Our new media landscape is meant to be a marketplace, where we select the products we wish to consume.

In this instance, we were presented with very different coverage of the same event from various quarters.

We were given diversity. A choice. 

Surely this should be celebrated — not bemoaned?

Perhaps we just don’t know a good thing when we see it…

RS