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I feel like so much has happened this week. I’m constantly looking to Twitter, the newspaper, Facebook, television, tuning into the radio and those around me, in an attempt to keep up with everything going on.

My schedule seems to have been more hectic than usual. Work for university seems to have blown in my face en masse, despite me remaining relatively up to date throughout the semester. This week has seen numerous group meetings, time spent in the edit suites crafting and perfecting a short broadcast program, numerous blogs, readings and symposium conversations, time researching new theories and concepts on networks, technology and Ray Kurzweil amongst others.

Today, my Broadcast Media television group reshot some footage for our current affairs segment at N2 Extreme Gelato in the 40 degree heat, where the menu included tofu and Kopiko creme gelati for the week’s Chinese New Year theme.

ImageI spent my Thursday at my internship collating information on how different not-for-profits organise their media coverage, discussing events and updating brand and logo charts.

I am often overwhelmed by the weekend newspapers and having recently approached them differently, which actually involves getting on with other things before I’ve read the entire editions back to front. While this has enabled me to be more productive and somewhat less restricted, today, I found myself still trying to finish off last Saturday’s magazines while this week’s ones were on the dinning room table. The perils of so much information and diverse interests.

This week also brought us a number of media controversies and notable world events (or non-events). There was the attack on ABC from numerous Coalition and associated identities and Abbott’s announcement of an ‘efficiency study’ into the network and the SBS.

SPC Ardmona became a company in even more dire straits while local Liberal MP Sharman Stone stood up to her party and the nation’s leader in defence of the rights of her people.

The winner of America’s 15th season of The Biggest Loser spurred a worldwide controversy over the program’s lack of ethics, and disrespect for individuals’ health and overall wellbeing in favour of sensationalistic and damaging television. Fortunately, much of the health and wellness industry has spoken out against the show, but I still saw too many tweets and comments by mainstream news organisations and high profile individuals who saw Rachel’s extreme ‘makeover’ as ‘inspirational’, and led to me posting this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.33.25 pm

This came on the back of a contentious ‘body image issue’ of Fairfax Media’s Sunday Life magazine. For a good read in response to the issue, check out Madeline Beveridge’s letter to the publishers.

The Pakistani government and the Taliban didn’t and then did meet, and an evacuation of the besieged Syrian city of Homs finally began.

The creative industry and beyond were shocked by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Daily Telegraph sank to new journalistic lows – which I have chosen not to link to as they/it/he deserve no further coverage of such a distasteful nature.

And of course, Sochi happened, although whether the region was ready or not is another point up for discussion. While many athletes and journalists had photographic proof of their arduous arrival and accommodation, Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, retaliated and claimed he could be certain all such reports were false as Russia had ‘surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day’. Apparently Mr Kozak was pulled away before he could make any other spying admissions.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.51.30 pm Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.51.39 pmFinally, Google came out in support of all people and the Winter Olympics with a lovely Google doodle to mark the games’ opening, which also appeared on Google’s Russian homepage.

unnamedSo that’s just a snippet of what’s making news in my world this week. Here’s hoping for more progress, equality, peace and awareness in the week to come.

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I’m sure you’ve all heard someone talk about six degrees of separation.  Essentially, the premise of the idea – once thought to be only a myth – is that everyone on the planet is connected in just a few steps. Six, to be exact.

As unlikely as this may seem, in the not too distant past scientists established a new discipline of network science, to focus on the very nature of such connections and how people – and other groups – act according to others’ behaviour, and the implications of such interactions in the real world.

The science of networks was primarily born out of the work of Professor Steve Strogatz of Cornell University and Duncan Watts of Columbia University. Watts was a graduate student of Strogatz at Cornell and the pair were interested in how individual behaviour aggregated to collective behaviour.

Strogatz and Watts recognised that physics is the science of particles and individual behaviour, and interactions up the scale of single atoms, and chemistry is the discipline of the interaction between these atoms. Working upwards along this spectrum, next comes molecular biology, then medical science, ecology, epidemiology, sociology, and economics. However, there was no study yet that specifically considered what the pair were fascinated by – how an initial disruption to a system or ‘network’ of sorts makes subsequent disruptions more likely. This pointed to a inadequate understanding of interdependencies in systems, and collective behaviour in general.

‘a network is nothing more than a collection of objects connected to each other in some fashion’ Watts, 2003, p. 27

Strogatz and Watts identified the power plant networks across the United States as the world’s largest machine. An organisation that grew itself to meet growing demands of industry and production, there were 5000 power plants across the country and yet ‘only a few hops’ between one plant and another. Similarly, neurons in the brain are only a few synapses away from another neuron and thus, what really were huge networks of interconnected individuals were actually worlds connected by invisible links which made such apparent big worlds, in fact small.

Another Professor, Albert Laszlo-Barabasi of Northeastern University also found promise in network science. He began to study the possibilities networks offered as a way of predicting the future based on the hypothesis that events are never isolated and that they depend on each other. This too became a study of understanding the interactions within a network and in the mid 1990s, the world wide web became a vital source through which network science could be furthered and understood.

Laszlo-Barabasi first thought the structure of the web would be completely random but soon discovered links weren’t evenly spread across a bell curve. A few webpages had thousands of links and thus, were identified as ‘hubs’. Further research enabled Laszlo-Barabasi to understand that removing small nodes of a network will shrink a network but the implications overall were minimal. However, if a hub was removed, the system would collapse and fall apart. It was this finding that became a hub of its own for other researchers who were exploring the power of six degrees. As Watts writes, if the science of networks is to succeed it must become:

‘a manifestation of its own subject matter, a network of scientists collectively solving problems that cannot be solved by any single individual or even any single discipline’ p. 29

This framework of understanding can be applied to society and it could be argued that network science is actually ‘a sociological research project with a storied history’ (Watts, 2003, p. 37) and the foundation of the 21st century. Watts argues that the language for talking about networks has lent the concept real analytical power and has led scientists and humanity to see the globe as a dynamic network, constantly evolving and changing in time, driven by the activities or decisions of its components.

Network science is now thought of as an interdisciplinary field with applications in fields as diverse as genetics, mathematics, telecommunication and digital technology. It is used to predict disease epidemics (via airports) and is also part of the solution to prevent its global spread through the sharing of antivirals across a global network. The US Navy is said to have used predictive networks in the capture of Saddam Hussein and biologists are using predictive networks to identify genes that put patients at risk for cancer.

And of course, there is the obvious rise and rise of social networking that has literally changed the way we interact, as well as seek, source and utilise new knowledge and information.

My fellow Networked Media student, Kim, says Facebook has reduced the degrees of separation from six to four point seven four (4.74). It’s true though that when I add a friend on Facebook or accept a Friend Request, I’m genuinely surprised if we have no mutual friends. The science of networks says this is because we all tend to know people like ourselves, making the world very small but very clustered. But a single random link can have an enormous effect and shrink path lengths between people and groups in a instant. All of us know someone who has moved away for work, family, school, study or pleasure, and it is this random connection that brings the world together.

The world doesn’t gradually get smaller – it jumps off a cliff. And it is these jumps that help us to form relationships with people thousands of kilometres away because technology and network science has made physical distance almost redundant.

Here’s the documentary I watched to gain insight into the whole six degrees theory.

And if you’re up for a fun, practical way of furthering your understanding of the power of networks, check out the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, The Oracle of Bacon, developed by Brett Tjaden and Patrick Reynolds. It seems bacon really is at the heart of everything in this world.

In our most recent symposium, Paul Graham’s ‘The Age of the Essay‘ came up for discussion.

What intrigued me most about this piece is Graham’s proposition that the disciplines of English literature and writing may not be synonymous. To be honest, prior to Graham’s Essay the thought had hardly crossed my mind. In high school, anything to do with, or concerns regarding writing, are matters for the English teacher.

Graham argues that the reason so many young people have become disinterested in writing (and subsequently produce poor quality or incoherent essays), is that instead of writing…

…about how a baseball team with a small budget might compete with the Yankees, or the role of color in fashion, or what constitutes a good dessert, [students are writing] about symbolism in Dickens.

No disrespect to Dickens, but I think Graham’s on to something.

I know very little about the International Baccalaureate® (IB) education philosophy or system, but I do know all students who take on the IB have the opportunity to research and write about an area that particularly interests them. As I’ve mentioned in a number of recent posts, education is so much more interesting when we are actively engaged, when it’s targeted towards our personal needs and passions, and when it is future-driven – namely, we can see how we’ll be able to apply what we’re learning in our future careers and to achieve life goals.

I’m lucky. As this blog makes pretty clear, I enjoy reading, writing, and interpreting. English was one of my favourite subjects at school and on the whole, I was pleased with the texts we were given to study. However, my pleasure in the subject certainly wained when we studied what to me was, a less-appealing text, and my interest in writing a chemistry report was verging on non-existent.

This holds true to Graham’s proposition that one’s ability to engage with, enjoy and actively develop their writing skill and discipline is fundamentally caught up with their interest in the(ir) subject.

Graham says:

The seeds of our miserable high school experiences were sown in 1892, when the National Education Association [of America] “formally recommended that literature and composition be unified in the high school course.”

To my knowledge, this proposition is globally transferable, and is certainly something I can relate to. If you want your students to look forward to writing, give them a choice of texts to study. Some kids might really enjoy watching and reflecting on action movies, others might enjoy drawing up and constructing analytical reports on climate change. Maybe you’ve got a student who is utterly obsessed with dogs, and wants to be a vet when he or she grows up. Why not work with this child to compose a task that satisfies the curriculum, and engages them, motivates them, and works with their personal curiosities? Surely this would only result in higher student attention, retention and participation. Ultimately, isn’t that what we want from and for our students?

As I’ve somewhat alluded to, as we progress through the education system, opportunities for such self-selected or self-directed tasks do increase. Not many people complete a PhD in an area of little personal interest. We are more likely to dedicate our time and efforts towards something we want to invest in. Right now, Christopher Pyne is striving – and striding – towards rewriting and (re)establishing a more uniform, national curriculum. Yet, isn’t this ‘one size fits all’ approach to education only going to lead to greater disengagement, sketchier attendance rates, and consequently (and what is surely one of two primary motivators for Pyne – the other being re-Westernising an increasingly multicultural society), poorer results?

Mr Pyne, teachers and educational leaders, take a leaf out of Logan LaPlante’s hackschooling ‘book’. Learn to work with your students rather than for a system. If they want to compose an audiovisual response to a Mahler symphony, instead of the standard intro-paras-one-two-three-conclusion essay to some politically-identified set text – and it just feels right – then I say, let them.

We need to keep personalising education, and writing, if we are to achieve better results.

Those who want to write about English literature will continue to write about English literature. And, the others? Well, you’ve got a much greater chance of students writing about something they’re interested in and handing that in, than you’ll ever have of them submitting an inspired essay about English literature, too.

Last semester I took a subject called International Human Rights and Law. While I entered the course with relatively little prior knowledge of what I imagined the subject would cover, I had actually picked the politics/economics strand of my degree as my contextual major, specifically to take this subject.

I’ve studied very little law or legal studies in any formal way. At school, in year 10, we were introduced to some of the horrific realities of honour killings, forced marriages and dowry penalties, and similar degrading practices that occur far too commonly, largely in developing nations.

I suppose that subject contributed towards me choosing to pick up Women and International Justice over the spring semester of 2012.

But, today I want to post my final essay for International Human Rights and Law.

While not directly addressed in our course, I chose to focus on the ways in which people with disabilities or mental illness are dehumanised and ‘psychosocially debased’, and how these practices are in fact, violations of their human rights.

It never fails to surprise me how much I can enjoy learning and doing ‘work’ when I’m concentrating on something of personal interest. It is with this realisation, I find even more reason for leading educators to consider the principles of Logan LaPlante’s hackschooling philosophy.

It’s a bit Convention heavy, but if you have the time to sit down and ingest the essay, I’d love to hear your responses.

***

Discuss whether the dehumanisation and psychosocial debasement of a population or a sector of a population are always leading indicators of potential human rights violations?

Human rights have long been an issue of import and controversy across the globe. Within governments, industries, timeframes and communities, what constitutes a human right has been debated as cultures, generations and evolution bring new and conflicting ideas to the front of popular conversation. Despite this, it is commonly assumed, as recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), that dignity features as a primary concept across legislative instruments and cultural norms. Basser (2011) considers dignity to be an attribute of each person ‘by virtue of his or her humanity’ (p. 19), independent of social status, political affiliation, economic value, gender, ethnicity, or one’s ability to reason. This paper will work with a flexible definition of dignity, incorporating three significant elements of agency, control and worthiness. As such, any attack on a person’s agency, control or worthiness is inherently an attack on their dignity and thus is a violation of their human rights.  To quote Reaume, ‘[t]o ascribe human dignity to human beings… is to treat human beings as creatures of intrinsic, incomparable, and indelible worth’ without the need for further qualification (2003, p. 675). Therefore, one’s physical or mental ability or merit should not diminish the right to dignity and one’s inherent rights to humanity.

Implicit in human dignity and the inherent value of the human person, is an acknowledgement and acceptance of human diversity and difference (Basser, 2011). This paper will address how a disregard for this notion is very present in relation to people with disabilities or mental illness, and how as a consequence, they are collectively dehumanised – deprived of positive human qualities – and debased through the psychosocial, cultural, medical and legal spheres within which we exist. On many occasions, the rights of the disabled have been violated as they are considered to be non-human and are thus de-righted (Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake, 2012). They are often denied access to jobs, services and education, as is the case when children with disabilities find their choices are limited due to schools’ reluctance or inability to provide adequate support or resources to accommodate the child’s differences.

Lawson writes, ‘[t]raditionally, disability has not been regarded as a human rights issue’ (2006, p. 462), and the characterisation of ‘disability rights’ as a social issue was largely absent from global public, political, or legal debate until the early 1990s (Perlin, 2011). Those with disabilities are commonly objectified, and are considered to be a medical ‘issue’ or problem requiring management, care or control. While people with disabilities, like all people, may need care and medical assistance, it is important to highlight that human rights are relational, and that people live together in society where the extent to which any claim to human dignity can be met will be ‘constrained by the need to give equal concern and respect to other human beings’ (Basser, 2011, p. 21). Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘All human beings… are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood’ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1), and yet many people with disabilities are denied this very first human right.

The issue of one’s ability to reason is in itself, contentious. Robertson (2012) explains the 19th century ‘rationalist fallacy’ where rights were only thought to belong to those capable of logical thought which excluded ‘women, dogs and lunatics’ from equal and professional life (p. 150). Perlin (2011) endorses this critique and locates it within a modern context, referring to it as ‘Sanism’. Perlin defines sanism as ‘an irrational prejudice of the same quality and character of other irrational prejudices that cause (and are reflected in) prevailing social attitudes’ such as bigotry based on sex, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity (p. 5). He deepens this definition stating that sanism ‘infect[s] jurisprudence and lawyering practices’ and is based on ‘largely invisible… socially acceptable [prejudices] based predominately on stereotype, myth, superstition, and deindividualization… sustained and perpetuated by our use of a false “ordinary common sense” and heuristic reasoning in an unconscious response to events both in everyday life and in the legal process’ (p.5).

The persons with disabilities most affected by such potential human rights violations are those with intellectual disabilities, mental illness or problems, or those with communicative disabilities, and it was not until 2006 that The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability was constructed in the hope to provide a guarantee that such persons should have adequate access to community services and facilities. The 1948 Genocide Convention outlawed the attempted destruction of a race or ethnic group, yet Robertson (2012) notes the Convention makes no reference to those judged as ‘feeble-minded’ by the popular 1920s eugenics movement in the United States and United Kingdom (p. 150), a category under which those with disabilities were constituted. In what may be considered a similar vein, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made no reference to those with disabilities, until the European Convention on Human Rights took hold in 1953. After what the United Nations claims to have been ‘decades of work… to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities’ (United Nations Enable, 2006, para. 2), the urgency of a specific charter was finally met with the adoption of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2006.

Perlin (2011) heeds the United Nations’ notion that society has an obligation to ‘remove the attitudinal and physical barriers to equality and inclusion of people with disabilities’ (p. 4). He considers the extent to which society was blind to the frequent and enduring violations of international human rights law particularly concerning the institutionalisation and legal inequities people with disabilities are so often subject to (2011).  Article 12 of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ‘Equal recognition before the law’ states: ‘persons with disabilities have the right to recognition everywhere as persons before the law’ who are able to ‘enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life’ (The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 12). Articles 12.3 and 12.4 refer to involved parties’ duty to ensure appropriate support and safeguards are in place for helping persons with disabilities exercise their legal rights and capacity, and that these structures ‘respect the rights, will and preferences of the person’, while being free from any conflict of interest. Article 12.4 specifically states these measures will be put in place ‘to prevent abuse in accordance with international human rights law’.

Despite this, one of the first interventions denied to a person with a disability is their legal capacity to exercise their moral agency, including and especially, a right against forced treatment and an authority to give or refuse consent to various procedures, medical or otherwise (Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake, 2012). Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake (2012) cite Blackstone’s (1765) naming of this to be effectively a ‘civil death’ (p. 42), where the individual is automatically subject to being treated as ‘less than’ equal to other human beings. Medical or legal decisions are substituted to a third party, much like the protocol observed when caring for a minor. However, unlike when caring for children, it is assumed that these lost or diminished capacities will not return to those with disabilities. Quinn and Arstein-Kerslake (2012) note that ‘[t]here remain many laws, practices and policies throughout the world (including in Europe) that unduly restrict the legal capacity of persons with disabilities to make decisions for themselves’ (p. 43).

A large proportion of human rights violations of persons with disabilities are calculated through medical examinations and protocols. A significant proportion of persons with disabilities will be faced with institutionalisastion, where they are confined against their will, as a result of a ‘negative’ medical analysis that has deemed them to be somehow unfit to look after themselves. Perlin notes that despite formerly hospitalised individuals and their supporters taking an active role in advocating for mental health reform, ‘there is little evidence that these groups are taken seriously either by lawyers or academics’ (Perlin, 2003, pp. 699–700). Thus, routinely, persons with disabilities are deprived of their freedom, dignity and basic human rights in violation of Article 14.1b of The Convention on the Rights of Persons that states that ‘the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty’.

Article 5 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights condemns torture, including ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. However, as mentioned above, persons with disabilities are sometimes considered to be ‘inhuman’ themselves and are consequently placed in situations of restraint or seclusion undermining their worthiness and human rights. In early 2013, United Nations’ torture Special Rapporteur, Juan E. Méndez, stated that torture is the ‘most serious violation of the human right to personal integrity and dignity’, where the victim is thought of as powerless, is deprived of their legal capacity, their liberty, and is ‘under the total control of another person’ (Méndez, 2013, p. 7). He called for ‘an absolute ban on all coercive and non-consensual measures, including restraint and solitary confinement of people with psychological or intellectual disabilities … in all places of deprivation of liberty, including in psychiatric and social care institutions’ (McSherry, para. 3).

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the improvement of Mental Health Care in 1991. Principle 9.1 mandates patients be treated in the ‘least restrictive environment’ and Principle 9.2 states that treatment shall always be ‘directed towards preserving and enhancing personal autonomy’. This, however, becomes more complex in relation to Principle 11 that deals with consent to treatment. Richardson (2011) notes standards published by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in 2004, of which paragraph 4 states ‘[t]he admission of a person to a psychiatric establishment should not be construed as authorizing treatment without his consent’ except in the cases of involuntary admissions were the person’s condition poses significant risk to their own health or to others’ (p. 140). It is imperative to remember here, that persons with disabilities or mental health problems must be considered to have the capacity or potential to make a full recovery, or to return to a place of stability in which they could regain greater agency and personal control. Richardson (2011) also highlights that ‘the intensity of some mental disorders can vary over time and a patient’s level of competence may fluctuate over the course of the disorder and its treatment’ (p. 152). Throughout treatment, whether voluntary or involuntary, the patient is to be respected and treated with dignity, and as an equal before the law. Under no circumstance should the person be dehumanised, exploited or coerced. If any of the aforementioned was to occur, the individual’s fundamental human rights will have been violated.

Ultimately, The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities seeks to reverse disadvantage faced by people with disabilities through ‘empowering rather than a constraining approach to human dignity’ (Richardson, 2011, p. 155). At present, United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on the 134 states that have ratified the Convention to ‘energize the international community to move from commitment to action [giving] greater recognition… to the issue of disability in sustainable, inclusive and equitable development’ (UN News Centre, para. 3). People with disabilities make up nearly 15 per cent of the world’s population (UN News Centre, para. 4), and are considered to be the ‘world’s largest minority’ (Perlin, 2011, p. 14). Fortunately, there are many established organisations and foundations worldwide seeking progress and activity surrounding disability and human rights. One such organisation is the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, that recognises the need for care and communication continues post-active treatment. Similarly, there is an International Day of Persons with Disabilities, as well as efforts by the United Nations to mainstream disability and recognise the inclusion of disability into the Millennium Development Goals as integral to their prevailing success.

People with disabilities must be given the opportunity to prosper and exercise their legal capacities through consolidated support from the global network. Sanism, discrimination and questionable treatment of persons with a disability are all undeniable indicators of potential human rights violations. It is those who are most vulnerable who face continuous denials of their agency, control and worthiness, yet they are as human and as equal, as individuals living free from disability.

***

References

Basser, L A 2011, ‘Human Dignity’, in Critical Perspectives on Human Rights and Disability Law, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden, pp. 17-36.

European Court of Human Rights, 1953, European Convention on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf.

Lawson, A 2008, ‘People with psychosocial impairments or conditions, reasonable accommodation and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in Law in Context, vol. 26, pp. 62-84.

McSherry, B 2013, ‘Targeting isolation and restraint in mental health facilities’, The Conversation, 9 September, viewed 22 September 2013, http://theconversation.com/targeting-isolation-and-restraint-in-mental-health-facilities-16519?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+10+September+2013&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+10+September+2013+CID_a1e59d76a2229c3e1581ca325f634a89&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Targeting%20isolation%20and%20restraint%20in%20mental%20health%20facilities.

Méndez, J 2013, Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A.HRC.22.53_English.pdf.

Perlin, M 2003, ‘You have discussed lepers and crooks: Sanism in clinical teaching’, in Clinical Law Review, vol. 9, pp. 683-729.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1991, Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the improvement of Mental Health Care, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.equalrightstrust.org/ertdocumentbank/UN_Resolution_on_protection_of_persons_with_mental_illness.pdf.

Quinn, G & Arstein-Kerslake, A 2012, ‘Restoring the ‘human’ in ‘human rights’: personhood and doctrinal innovation in the UN disability convention’, in Human Rights Law, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 36-55.

Reaume, D 2003, ‘Discrimination and Dignity’, in Louisiana Law Review, vol. 63, no. 3, pp. 645-696.

Robertson, G 2012, Crimes Against Humanity, 4th edn, Penguin Group, London.

United Nations, 1948, Genocide Convention, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html.

United Nations, 1948, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml.

United Nations, 2006, The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability, United Nations, viewed 22 September 2013, http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf.

United Nations News Centre 2013, Countries must increase commitment to rights of persons with disabilities – UN chief, media release, United Nations, Spain, 9 September, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45800&Cr=disability&Cr1=#.Uj0YkBZ7m0u.

I am writing a series of pieces documenting my thoughts on the lead up to the Australian Federal Election to be held on 7 September 2013. As a young woman, it will be my first experience of voting in a Federal election. I am not endorsing any particular party or politician. All opinions are mine unless stated otherwise, and while I will try to include honest information at all times, nothing should be taken as fact without further investigation. You can view my first post here and second post here.

Men in Black

Men in Black

With the election less than five weeks away, the Government and the Opposition are well and truly into their campaigning across the country. Both parties seem to be most concerned with the state of the Australian economy, and the action of the Reserve Bank today, has only given the economy a more prominent position in the debating arena. The Australian dollar is down, as are interest rates, but so is spending. Australians are saving their money, and as a result, the retail and business sectors as struggling. Shops are closing, private organisations are going into voluntary administration and liquidation sales seem to be on every second street corner.

Asylum seekers are making every effort to enter our country in the hope of a better future. Both major political parties are doing their best to ‘Stop the Boats’. I am currently reading Geoffrey Robertson QC’s Crimes Against Humanity. Robertson speaks in detail about the UN’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the agency’s ‘hurculean task’ of supervising millions of asylum seekers and processing their claims.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. Yet politicians are deeming these so-called boat people, ‘economic immigrants’, therefore denying the legitimacy of their asylum seeking.

It is interesting in the context of the 2001 Tampa case where Australia had the humanitarian duty to consider those on board the sinking boat’s claims to asylum. I am reading the 4th edition of Robertson’s book, published in 2012.

Robertson writes: ‘Many Asian countries refuse to sign the [International Convention on Refugees] and have become notorious for pushing ‘boat people’ back to sea as prey for pirates (Malaysia) or for turning a blind eye to the bribery which makes them a transit point for people-smugglers (Indonesia).’

He then comments on the Tampa case, saying the country bribed Nauru to take the majority of the refugees, which ‘may be explained by the fact that the government was in the throes of an election, and took the opportunity to boost its popularity at the expense of refugees and respect for international law’. Sound familiar? It’s great to see how much progress our nation has made in the name of equality, acceptance and diversity, (note the sarcasm).

Labor says it will increase the country’s refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 per year, inline with the recommendation of the Expert Panel of Asylum Seekers. The Coalition argues any increase in the quota is both unaffordable and would send the wrong message to people smugglers. The Greens say they will boost capacity of UN in Indonesia and Malaysia to speed up assessment and resettlement, yet as mentioned above, these countries have not signed the Convention, and thus are less likely to be open to much negotiation.

The Solomon Islands are also uninterested in being a part of the Australian Government’s new ‘Pacific Solution’ for processing and resettling asylum seekers. However, the country’s Prime Minister makes a good point: ‘We have to respect the choice of asylum seekers, and the choices that these people have made is that they want to come to Australia.’

The state of mental health care in Australia and across the world is dismal. This piece published in the New York Times is incredibly poignant in describing the urgency of improved and expanded mental health care in the States, but translates easily to other nations, including Australia.

Labor has the $2.2 billion mental health packages announced in May 2011. The funding aims to provide ‘genuine, practical and sustainable mental health reform to ensure that Australians living with mental illness get the care they need, when they need it’. Both the ALP and the Coalition will back EPPIC, an integrated and comprehensive mental health service model aimed at addressing the needs of people aged 15-24 with early psychosis, and promote the growth of treatment and opportunities for those with mental health conditions, including employment prospects.

However, progress and action in regards to mental health seems to be happening on a smaller, state-wide basis. New South Wales police will receive specialised mental health training from as soon as next month, while in Victoria, Labor’s mental health parliamentary secretary Wade Noonan has said ‘Our acute mental health services have reached breaking point under the Napthine Government, which increases the risks to both staff and patients’. In a similar response to assaults on nurses, the ACT government will speed-up the timetable to build Canberra’s first secure mental health unit after receiving Opposition support for the proposal.

Yet despite all of this, Former Australian of the year Pat McGorry, Brain and Mind Research Institute head Ian Hickie, and former chairman of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, John Mendoza, have today called for and end to political talk without subsequent action and voiced concern that neither parties had ensured adequate funding for mental health.

Tying two issues into one, the Greens will commit to setting up an independent panel of medical and mental health experts to monitor asylum seekers sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under Labor and Coalition policies, after reports of suicide threats, hunger strikes and severe trauma amongst asylum seekers.

Of course, there are other significant issues and policies in this year’s federal election including education, jobs, a price on carbon, transport, and DisabilityCare. The ABC is hosting an educational tool called Vote Compass, that is designed to help you ‘discover how you fit in the Australian political landscape’. By answering a few short questions, you will be given a numerical and visual representation of how your values and interests sit in comparison with those of the major political parties. You can find Vote Compass here.

Additionally, make sure you’re enrolled to vote. You must be enrolled by 8pm on Monday 12 August. Visit the Australian Electoral Commission here.

I am writing a series of pieces documenting my thoughts on the lead up to the Australian Federal Election to be held on 14 September 2013. As a young woman, it will be my first experience of voting in a Federal election. I am not endorsing any particular party or politician. All opinions are mine unless stated otherwise, and while I will try to include honest information at all times, nothing should be taken as fact without further investigation.

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I heard the announcement while on the cross trainer at the gym. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has sent out a Save the Date message, but not for her wedding. September 14 2013 will be the date of the Federal election, and while within the period of estimated dates ranging from August to October, the specific date is inherently problematic even before considering the Red, Blue and Green.

The problem is somewhat ironic. An atheist Prime Minister has called the election for a day conflicting with the beliefs and interests of many religious Australians. Jews will be called to the polls on their annual Day of Atonement, the solemn day of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is commonly spent entirely one’s place of worship, praying, sitting, standing and repenting. It is also the only day of the year on which Jews fast. To say scheduling an election for this day is sacrilege would be putting it lightly.

However, whilst Australia’s Jewish population may be fairly small, another group of believers are also to be upset by the date. Everyone knows that September is a month of intense victory, controversy and upset as AFL and NRL teams battle it out for a place in their respective One Day in Septembers. Am I wrong to think that Saturday September 14 will also be a day of footy finals fever? And this is a rowdy crowd, thousands strong. It’s hard to predict which competition we’ll be hearing more about.

Yesterday’s announcement came as a surprise to many Labor politicians as well as other parliamentarians, the media and the public. Gillard’s early announcement is eerily remnant of the American Presidential Campaign, which involves an arduous process of selection, travel, and petitioning and huge amounts of cold, hard cash. The 227 days to this election is significantly longer than the notice given by past leaders where periods of 30 to 50 days were the norm. Prior to this year, the greatest time between announcement and Election Day was in 1966, 106 days before polling day. According to The Age the nation will experience 184,000 births, 95,000 deaths, 139,000 new immigrants and 7 full moons before the election, as well as the presence of Ellen de Generes and no doubt many other famous figures. According to Mark Kenny, the PM had the Christmas period to reflect and realise just how deep the shit she was in, was, and thus relied of the element of surprise to boost her into the New Year. Keeping her News under the radar was of the highest priority that even the official version of her speech circulated amongst journalists made no mention of it.

The Prime Minister is also seeing the New Year in a different light, or through new lenses at least. The move sparked comment from both political and fashion analysts, and Judith Ireland and Shelly Horton wrote, “Some punters hypothesised that the member for Lalor was courting the youth market with the trendy new accessory. “It seems @JuliaGillard is already campaigning to the hipster voters with those new glasses. Well played,” wrote Kath McLellan of Sydney.” Other ideas include the PM projecting the idea that she is finally ‘in business’, and that she is channeling retiring US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. Personally, I wouldn’t put either of these suggestions too far aside. And despite some people saying ‘if the PM was a man, he wouldn’t be receiving these kinds of comments’, it must be vaguely strategic, or why now?

Sportsbet.com.au already has full-page ads in the newspaper and so far, the odds lie heavily in the favour of the Opposition. This is a reflection of Australian culture, where even the most political matters are but a game, a sport, a competition, with a black and white outcome of winners and losers.

Key issues for this election include the state of the nation’s healthcare and education systems, the Budget, what to do about immigration and the influx of people seeking refuge on Australian land, the environment and more specifically, the Carbon Tax, which Mr Abbott plans to cut if elected into office. Of course there will also be a lot of blaming, broken promises and shying away from accountability that Australian politics is wrapped up in.

Motivations behind podcasting: What are the motivations behind participating in podcasting on a personal, individual level for both the sender and the receiver?

Podcasting technology was developed in 2004 in response to time-consuming processes for downloading audio files from the Internet. MTV VJ, Mark Curry turned to Really Simple Syndication (RSS) as a means for automating the process (McClung & Johnson 2010). The name podcast came about through combining the words broadcasting and iPod and describes the portable audio files available for download to home computers and other portable playback devices. Podcasts have a diverse user base, and have enabled both amateur and professional media organisations to disseminate information to listeners to be consumed on the listener’s own time schedule. These audio files are easily transferrable to devices such as iPods and MP3 players and thus “podcasts enable users to time-shift and place-shift content” (McClung & Johnson 2010, p. 83) ensuring both ease and pleasure of consumption.

Podcasts are often directed at niche audiences, whether it is a program of British comedy, health and fitness podcasts, self-help, politics, or technologically focused. The personalized and flexible aspects of podcasting, in combination with their ease of use and portability, heighten the appeal of the podcasts for both users and makers. Podcasting is based around the interactive communication model with a focus on feedback between the sender and receiver of information. Podcasting communities have emerged as makers and listeners actively seek interaction and create conversations within and beyond the boundaries of their podcasts. In this way social networks are established creating a sense of belonging and engaging individuals in conversation they may not have been able to access through other modes of communication.

Podcasts generally follow a template or structure making it easier for listeners to follow the individual podcast as well as the show or stream of podcasts to which it is tied. A basic structure of a podcast begins with greetings and rhetorical questions that initiate quasi-interactions with the listener (Jarrett 2009). The host then outlines the topic or theme of discussion, and defines a purpose for the podcast that relates the conversation back to the life of the listener. The nature of podcasting, being an online tool also dictates that each podcast show and episode has a title, alerting potential listeners to its focus and content. Podcasts may consist of varied segments including interviews with experts, scripted section or narratives, music interludes and featured questions, often at the end of a podcast, to prompt interaction beyond the close of the recording. These features seek to lure new listeners and thus are important to the sustainability of the podcast. However, it is important to note that podcasts are a form of communication that does not have to have a big user base to continue production. If a podcaster has a small, niche audience, and is getting positive feedback and satisfaction in production, there is no barrier to its continuation. This establishes the freedom involved in podcasting, as well as being a key motivator for podcast production.

Podcasting is very much a product of Ong’s culture of ‘secondary orality’ (Ong 2002) that describes communication effects of an electronic society. Both primary and secondary orality generate a strong group sense (Fernback 2003) but the electronic culture has diminished any need for physical co-presence that may have been sustained through primary orality (Venturini n.d). “Electronic media may arouse a sense of closeness and community” (Venturini n.d, para. 5) and virtual communication is a key aspect of podcasting and the establishment of podcasting communities. Ong draws significantly on McLuhan’s notion of a ‘global village’ where physical distance does not hinder peoples’ communication activities. McLuhan writes, “We now live in a global village… a simultaneous happening” (Symes 1995, para. 5).

Six gratifications have been associated with MP3 players: boredom, stimulation, entertainment, relaxation, escape, and loneliness (McClung & Johnson 2010). McClung and Johnson conducted research into the motivations behind podcast use among a very digitalised sample (58.5% of respondents spent between two and four hours online per day; more than 20% spent over six hours online per day). Results revealed that factors contributing to increased podcast use included entertainment, time shifting, library building, advertising, and social aspects, such as “how users talk with other fans about the podcasts they download” (McClung & Johnson 2010, p. 89). The availability and accessibility of the podcasts for libraries such as iTunes were coupled with personal empowerment through choice of when, where and how users were able to listen to their chosen podcasts, and “an overwhelming majority (89%) report actually using the podcasts they downloaded” (p. 89). However, despite the above, the value of podcasting still lies primarily with the content. Users “appreciate the ability to access only podcasts they like” (p. 89) and enjoy the communal aspect of discussing the media in social settings. McClung and Johnson suggest it could be “the socialization function of podcast use is akin to early radio use, but in a different technological format” (p. 93) that really motivates people to download and listen to their chosen podcasts.

Podcasts, falling under the category of participatory media, enable the “empowerment of non-professional or subjugated discourse” (Jarrett 2009, p. 116) particularly advantageous for the individual podcaster. Personal trainer Trish Blackwell’s podcast From the Inside Out released its first episode in July 2012. She tells listeners that she records her podcasts from within her closet, and repeatedly put off starting her show due to a fear of failure. The motivational nature of the show lends itself favourably to this particular discussion, as the show’s tagline is ‘The podcast about living, exercising and thinking from the inside out’. Blackwell discusses her experience of starting a podcast, as an amateur without professional equipment, through the encouragement of a friend. As a user, one is able to subscribe to her (or any) podcast series, when a new episode is released the audio downloads automatically, like an RSS feed.

The motivations for individuals to start up their own podcasts are varied however it would be negligent to dismiss the significance of the power the technology gives one to disseminate knowledge and personal narratives to a potentially large audience across national or cultural boundaries and time-enforced barriers. Podcast users in Australia are able to download episodes from BBC4 and listen to them in their own time, only hours after they have been aired through broadcast media in Britain. This is true of most audio content uploaded onto the Web, and provides users with a greater scope of knowledge from which to learn and contemplate. For podcast senders, this broad reach is a key motivator, especially when considered in relation to an interactive communication model. Foulger (2004) notes there is a bi-directionality of communication in this model, where feedback is introduced as a key aspect of two-way communication. It draws on earlier sender-receiver communication models, but the addition of feedback empowers both sender and receiver to engage with each other and provides points of discussion, criticism and positive responses to one another. This focus enables an exchange of information, expanding on the limitations offered by a one-way model of communication in which the receiver has no impact on future proceedings.

Such exchanges can be seen in the variety of responses encouraged by Blackwell. Blackwell encourages her listeners to follow her on Twitter, to subscribe to future podcasts, search her website, download her fitness-oriented applications from the Apple App Store, or even to send her an email, with any feedback, recommendations and responses. Blackwell also expresses her appreciation for her listeners. Being a new and amateur podcaster, these listeners are integral to the show’s success. Thus, through users subscribing to her show and the emails and followers she is gaining as a result of this process, Blackwell has achieved her goal to establish an outlet for her to teach and express her passion for living a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle, through podcasting. Similarly, many podcasters ask for feedback via their podcast library providers, such as iTunes. Listeners are then motivated to rate podcasts and provide comments from which other users can decide to download the podcast.

Podcasting has generated a sense of community that has its basis in the rhetoric through which many podcasters often communicate with their listeners. On a personal basis, many podcasters use lay discourse, “associated with experiential and concrete narratives, subjectivity, particularity and, importantly, authenticity” (Jarrett 2009, p. 125) to establish a relationship with their listeners. Podcasts not derived from news sources, political or non-government organisations, frequently utilize experiential narrative (Jarrett 2009) as a way of validating their comments, as they are commonly without expertise or professional standing opinion on their topic of discussion. Furthermore “rich engagement of audiences and user-generated content [can be] integral to [podcasting’s] success” (Jarrett 2009, p. 116), and thus it is this interaction and creation of virtual communities that becomes so important to maintaining and fostering these relationships. Users (both sender and receiver) are able to engage in intimate relationships and discussions despite being physically disconnected, and find individuals with similar interests and passions as well as avenues through which to discuss these subjects. What is interesting about podcasting is that while most people listen to episodes through headphones, alone and often whilst at the gym, cooking or multitasking, their personal interest in the conversation generates greater engagement than when one listens to the radio generally. The difference here is that users have actively tailored listening to their interests rather than being subject to the dictates of programming.

As listeners are paying greater attention to details of the discussion, they are being educated on a deeper level, which encourages them to join the virtual community and provide feedback, to rate the show or sign up to a forum through which to pursue their interests further. These communities, in turn, generate ongoing discussion and provide new modes of learning and educative models with which podcast senders and receivers can engage. It can be concluded from this research that the benefits to the individual of producing and consuming podcasts are numerous. However, the way podcasting enables the creation of communities based on niche interests is most significant in parallel with the interactive communication model, probing feedback and reciprocal relationships between listeners themselves as well as with the host. Together, they shape the podcast, empowering all users to engage in the group mentality suggested by Ong’s (2002) ‘second orality’. The evident rapid growth of the podcast suggests it is likely to continue to motivate producers and listeners in innovative and interesting ways.

References

Fernback, J 2003, ‘Legends on the net: an examination of computer-mediated communication as a local of oral culture’, New Media & Society, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 29-45.

Foulger, D 2004, Models of the Communication Process, viewed 1 October 2012, http://davis.foulger.info/research/unifiedModelOfCommunication.htm

Jarret, K 2009, ‘Private talk in the public sphere Podcasting as broadcast talk’, Communication, Politics & Culture, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 116-135.

McClung, S & Johnson, K 2010, ‘Examining the Motives of Podcast Users’, Journal of Radio & Audio Media, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 82-95.

Ong, W J 2002, Orality and Literacy, Routledge, New York

Symes, B 1995, Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Global Village’, viewed 1 October 2012, http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Students/bas9401.html

Venturini, T n.d, ‘Second Orality’, International Collaborative Dictionary of Communications, viewed 1 October 2012, http://mediaresearchhub.ssrc.org/icdc-content-folder/second-orality/