What I read this Week – Review of “Bloodline”

This is a review of Bloodline, a book by Katie Thornton-K (http://www.katiethorntonk.com/). I was provided with a free ebook copy to read in order to review this.

First thing: maps. I can already tell there’s been thought put into the world-building of this novel, because the first couple of pages are full of maps showing things. From the beginning, it gives a mystery, using a prologue to set the scene and give hints as to what is at stake. Good descriptions of characters, including dress, type of voice, etc. I like the use of different points-of-view (POVs). Also, it is set in some sort of pretend-mediaeval times, with “Clans” and kingdoms and some sort of magic involved. Just the sort of thing I like.

As the title – Bloodline – indicates, this is very much a story about the actions of the past being carried down through the years to affect the present; the ties of family and friendship; the choice of wrong and right; fixing past mistakes.

Check it out, it’s a great read.

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Good luck citizens, we’re on our own

Further to the rant about the new data laws the other day…..

Sally Baxter

Australia’s rush to embrace sweeping powers to access the digital footprints of its citizenry has raised the existential age-old question: What is a journalist?

The development of the government’s data retention bill and its implications were woefully under-reported by those most obviously fitting the description until we got to the pointy end of the law-making.

One honourable exception to prove the rule was Bernard Keane at Crikey who has been writing extensively on the issue for months, if not years. For the rest, it wasn’t until the 11th hour that journalists started showing some concern and then, predictably, it was how the new laws would impact them rather than the rest of us which caught their attention. 

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Privacy and Metadata

The controversial “data retention” laws have passed Parliment. To which I can only say, bugger.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-26/data-retention-laws-pass-federal-parliament/6351278

The laws will force telecommunications providers to keep records of phone and internet use for two years and allow security agencies to access the records. Companies already retain the data but for varying durations and in an unregulated environment. The Coalition and Labor have argued the laws were necessary to help authorities in counter-terrorism and serious crime investigations. Both major parties knocked back several amendments put forward by the Greens and concerned crossbenchers during Senate deliberations. Labor announced last week that it would vote with the Coalition after the two parties agreed to several amendments, including specific protections for the phone and internet records of journalists, in a bid to protect anonymous sources and whistleblowers.

I’m sorry, but I don’t trust them. It’s an issue of privacy. “Big Brother is watching you” and all that. Is this law really necessary to “protect” us? It just makes me quite uncomfortable.

These two articles sum up my sentiments very well:
http://theaimn.com/at-the-mercy-of-the-state/ excerpt:
Under metadata retention legislation all citizens can become the object of suspicion. “The government now assumes if you want privacy you must be guilty of something” reports Jennifer Wilson.
There is something very rotten in the state of a nation’s politics when both its government and its opposition are able to co-operate on the introduction of legislation for intrusive mass surveillance of the nation’s entire population.
If you want to better understand the repercussions of this legislation for the individual, I’d recommend reading this piece, sending the suggested letter to your MP, then retreating to a corner to weep for what we’re becoming.

The government and opposition argue that these extreme surveillance measures are necessary to apprehend terrorists, pedophiles and major criminals, all of whom will by now have devised encryption methods to bypass government surveillance, and most of whom will have had such methods securely in place for years.
What has been most alarming in the lead-up to the Senate debate on the legislation today has been the apathy of mainstream media towards proposed state surveillance that frames every citizen who uses the Internet as a suspect. Not as a potential suspect, but as a suspect whose online activity can be accessed by agents of the state without a warrant, if they decide to go after you.

And http://theaimn.com/metadata-retention-laws-eroding-democracy-increasing-risk-and-otherwise-pointless/ excerpt:
” “The social and economic costs of the metadata retention law are massive yet the public benefits miniscule” writes business analyst Carl Sudholz. Carl shares his concerns with The AIMN about this controversial law.

The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 increases our nation’s risk to terrorism and cyber-crime while fundamentally eroding our democratic rights and freedoms. By way of their support for this legislation, my local National’s member for Mallee, Mr Andrew Broad, the Abbott Government, and the Labor Opposition are considerably increasing the risk to all Australians of government abuse, corporate crime, cyber-crime and terrorism. This is not an act of responsible Government. These laws are dangerous!”

And this last one – look at it if you wish, its subject should be obvious by its title: http://theaimn.com/online-privacy-a-basic-guide/

As I said, this makes me really uncomfortable. Sigh. :/

Stuff Worth Watching – The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Words, words, words!

Accidentally Inspired

I am a lover of language.

I adore aphorisms. I moon over malapropisms. I can’t get enough of witty wordplays. And then there are things that take it to the next level completely.

I wrote a few weeks back about how I dig on inventing words — I think all writers do, for that matter — but for me, it’s something I just noodle with, inventing a word to suit the moment. More often, I’ll simply invent a word to fit a dumb little alliterative pattern, or worse, bend and break a word to rhyme it. But the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig is next level word genesis.

His postulate — that other languages have words for complicated concepts, while English lacks the words for similar artful expression — is one that I’ve bemoaned, but Koenig takes the matter straight to the mat. He not only invents words…

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Uni….. What a delightful slog!

Hi.

I haven’t written much this week.

Uni stuff is picking up. I had my first group assessment on Monday; my first individual assignment due date is one week away. Have to remember census date, too….

Sometimes it can be hard to concentrate or whatever. I’m easily distracted. But other times – like yesterday & today arvo, woo! – everything comes together. A change of scene – say, doing stuff in the uni library instead of going home and trying to do it there – does a world of good sometimes I reckon.

I’m a second year student. Due to a couple of things, I’m doing things part-time (with a special course plan), so that my four-year course will be six years. But I’m not complaining. At school, I was one of the conscientious students who loved to learn and couldn’t help but show it. Just because I’m at uni, doesn’t mean that’s changed. It’s all so interesting…

I’m studying Health Sciences (bachelor) and Occupational Therapy Practice (Masters). I already know that I want to work in Paediatrics when I’m finished. I’m also beginning to consider (only a partly-formed thought, really) tacking on a Grad. Dip. Ed (Graduate Diploma of Education) at the end, given that 2019 will be just placement work thanks to the aforementioned part-time arrangements.

They’d complement each other I think. (For those who don’t know,) Occupational Therapy is a broad discipline. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. It looks at the Person (values, needs, wants, family), their Environment (place of work, suburb of living, house, regular environments visited) and their Occupations (work/ school, self-care, other necessary activities).
Think of it as us, helping you achieve what you need, want or are expected to do. This may mean modifying the environment or occupation to better support the person.

It’s really interesting. I love helping people and being around kids, so a Paediatric Occupational Therapist is right up my alley. My first placement starts in about four weeks. It’s really very simple I think – basically community service for a local (i.e. Melbourne) school, participating in projects and/or class room support. I can’t wait.

Books! And other things. But mainly books!

Hi everyone.
A while back, I mentioned how I hate emails “cluttering up” my inbox. It’s just one of my quirks.
But I do deliberately leave some as unread, in order to sort through when I have time. These usually include ones with links to other websites, as well as stuff I want to remember to write about on here, or book reviews.

I’m a very bookish person. The fandoms post of a few weeks ago showed my favourite things, but it didn’t really scratch the surface of some other stuff. I will read almost anything – though I do prefer a happy ending, or at least a bittersweet one. I read to escape, to explore opportunities of things to be better or different than reality.

Right now, there is a backlog of bookish emails in the inbox which I’ve been ignoring. In order to open even one of them, I had to sort out the document that notes down my “to read/ watch list”. I’d been using a draft email to note down stuff, because the big one was on my trusty USB. Well, I’m discovering that I waited a little long to transfer.

My list was already in the hundreds. But it’s more than doubled now. I need to actually read some of these and not get distracted by other interesting books!

Recently, I’ve borrowed a few books from the local library. I’m working my way through them.

What I’m Reading Now:

And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini.
Status: Finished.
A beautiful book about different forms of love, touching on themes of family; stretching from Afghanistan to Europe and America, across generations. A bittersweet tale.

Star Trek Memories, by William Shatner.
Status: Finished.
Full of backstory and behind the scenes tidbits, including what it was like making the series, cast interactions, his favourite episode and more. Provides a great little look at things; hearing it from the actor’s perspective is interesting and he tries to include more voices than just his own.

I Am Spock, by Leonard Nimoy.
Status: Finished.
A fascinating look at everything Trek from beginning to 1995 from his point of view. He also gives a bit of background on himself pre-Trek, in-between- and after-. As I mentioned above with Shatner’s memoir, reading things from the actor’s perspective is really illuminating. Each described how it felt, being on set – they had exceptionally gruelling schedules including bloody long hours – as well as how it felt to be their characters, especially during certain scenes – both amusing and poignant. Reading this book, in particular, there were some moments that squeezed my heart; his death gives a different tone to things. Each memoir shows the author’s personality quite well in the writing style and such, too.

I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai.
Status: Reading in process.
It’s amazing to think that this young woman is only a little younger than me. The way she tells things is so direct, almost innocent in a way, but full of strength.

Oh, and that other thing I mentioned in the title (which I nearly forgot, cue eyeroll) was that I’ve shaved my head for the cure! My 30-cm ponytail was snipped off and is now on its way to the beautiful lengths place to help make a wig. The rest of my hair was shaved off, so I’m now sporting a n#3 cut. Woo! Total raised is $1312….Wow. Donations are still acceptable!: http://my.leukaemiafoundation.org.au/CAKeogh .

An Open Letter About Metadata

http://theaimn.com/an-open-letter-to-australias-politicians-in-opposition-to-the-proposed-metadata-retention-laws/

Another great article from AIMN regular, Rob Marsh. I’m copying the open letter in full here, to give it exposure.

Stupid ideological, business-driven, paranoid government.
They want Big Brother to watch us closely.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

An Open Letter to the Politicians of Australia on the Potential Adverse Effects of Proposed Metadata Retention Legislation on Human Rights and the Functioning of Our Democracy

This letter contains many references to the Report of the Inquiry into Potential Reforms of Australia’s National Security Legislation, where there is a number or text enclosed in brackets like so: (5.17), refer to the appropriate section of the report.

[Politician’s name],

I am writing to you to express my deep and sincere concern with regards to the proposed Metadata Retention legislation that the government wishes to pass by the 27th of March 2015.

This legislation represents, contrary to the claims of those with vested interests in seeing the legislation pass, a grave threat to the right to privacy, freedom of speech and association that is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy.

You may not be aware of what the legislation addresses, or what the “telecommunications data” it refers to actually entails.

Nicola Roxon, in a statement to the Attorney General, describes telecommunications data as: “Telecommunications data is information about the process of communication, as distinct from its content. It includes information about the identity of the sending and receiving parties and related subscriber details, account identifying information collected by the telecommunications carrier or ISP to establish the account, and information such as the time and date of the communication, its duration, location and type of communication. (5.7)

The proposed legislation, based on the definitions above, would give the Australian government unprecedented access to nearly every aspect of the online activity of it’s citizens, and the ability to infer a disturbingly accurate “pattern of life” from the collected data.

For example, you may have your cellphone’s GPS services enabled to use Google Maps. That data, in conjunction with your phone records and timestamps on the above data could clue in a security agency as to your most likely whereabouts on any given day. This poses an enormous risk to freedom of the press, as governments could use these capabilities to track journalists and their sources to frequented meeting places, limiting concerned parties’ abilities to bring sensitive information to the public for democratic review.

“The database will contain every page they accessed – every article they’ve read on a newspaper site, any online political activity, any purchases on ebay, books bought from amazon, Facebook pages visited etc.” – Ian Quick

In the words of former NSA/CIA Director Michael Hayden:

“We kill people based on metadata.”

Fears about the above stated powers and the implications thereof have been echoed by several EU countries.

The Romanian Court, with regards to local metadata retention, held that a “continuous legal obligation” to retain all traffic data for six months was incompatible with the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. (5.26)

In Germany, the Constitutional Court described metadata retention as a “serious restriction of the right to privacy” and stated that a “retention period of six months [was] at the upper limit of what should be considered proportionate”. (5.27)

The Czech Constitutional Court, in analogous statements, described misgivings about the potential abuses of these powers: “Individual citizens had insufficient guarantees against possible abuses of power by public authorities.” (5.28)

The EU Court of Justice found that the 2006 European Data Retention Directive violated citizens “fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data”.

With such strident international condemnation, it seems to go without saying that any committee responsible for review of similar legislation would be given express access to details of the proposed changes and sufficient resources to complete a sincere and detailed examination of the material. Oddly enough, these criteria were not met: “Having commenced the inquiry at the beginning of July 2012, the Committee was asked to report if at all possible by the end of the calendar year. This afforded the Committee a highly compressed and unachievable time frame of less than six months to examine what is an extensive list of potential reforms, some of which are far reaching.” (Introduction, Page 3)

It seems that the government also failed to provide the committee with the relevant draft legislation, leaving those involved to rely on speculation and inference rather than an appraisal of the raw data: “The Government sought the Committee’s views on a mandatory data retention regime. The Committee did not have access to draft legislation. Furthermore, the inadequate description of data retention in the terms of reference and discussion paper also impaired both the public discussion and the Committee’s consideration of the data retention issue.” (1.29)

The question of how efficacious metadata retention is in solving and preventing crime is a raging debate.

Electronic Freedom Australia noted that it was “highly questionable” whether data retention would aid in the investigation of terrorism, organised crime or other serious illegal activities:

“It is worth noting that determined criminals will have little difficulty disguising or anonymising their communications. There are many relatively simple and effective tools available that allow for the protection of communications from surveillance.” (5.167)

This is an excellent point. The proposed legislation is no secret. Those in the criminal world will have no doubt heard of the potential for their activities to be monitored and have likely already taken steps to anonymise their online behaviour. Even in the event that the scope of the metadata retention reforms is so broad that it includes tools for opening encrypted chats and messaging services, it is not unlikely that tech savvy individuals on the wrong side of the law will be developing tools to combat this unwanted intrusion, rendering the legislation effectively useless in dealing with its raison d’être: combating terrorism and serious crime.

An unintended consequence of the introduction of metadata retention could be the opposite of what it is designed to achieve: a progressive opacification of the internet, with more and more users turning to encrypted browsing and communication, thereby shrinking the usable pool of data.

“Why do we imagine that the criminals of the greatest concern to our security agencies will not be able to use any of numerous available means to anonymise their communications or indeed choose new services that are not captured by legislated data retention rules?”

This quote from Communications Minister Macolm Turnbull, in addition to his recently revealed use of the messaging app Wickr, which provides a platform for anyone to send and receive self-deleting encrypted messages, seems to indicate that the reforms are likely to bring about little change in the positive ability of law enforcement agencies to stop criminal activity.

Add to this comments made by Blueprints for Free Speech, indicating that “there is no evidence to suggest data retention would assist with the prevention of crime or terrorism. A 2011 study of Germany’s Data Retention Directive found it had no impact on either the effectiveness of criminal investigation or the crime rate. Further, the study specifically found that countries without data retention laws are not more vulnerable to crime.”

Make no bones about it, metadata retention is mass surveillance. It can be used to form a dataset, a pattern of life indicating your movements, interests, affiliations and beliefs. You will be paying for this intrusion of privacy through rises in service bills, a kind of “tele screen tax” if you will. You will be at a higher risk of identity theft through the creation of ‘honeypots’ of data, irresistible to organised criminals and foreign actors. Your basic rights to privacy, to freedom of speech, to live as a dignified human person, are being infringed upon in ways that do not preclude a broadening of the scope of these abuses.

Even the supporters of the legislation don’t buy into their own rhetoric, with members of the Liberal party using Wickr on a daily basis, showing the world that privacy is of the utmost importance even to those who adamantly maintain that it isn’t.

With unanimous condemnation from leading human rights groups around the world, with a public backlash on a scale almost never witnessed, with the potential for so much to go horribly wrong, we simply must put a stop to this.

Tony Abbott has made statements that he wants a parliamentary inquiry into the legislation to be scrapped. I think it’s our responsibility as members of our democracy to ask why anyone would want a piece of legislation with so many potential avenues for abuse to pass without appropriate scrutiny.

I implore you, with the utmost sincerity and urgency, to do whatever is within your power to oppose this legislation at the very least until it is put before an independent NGO and reviewed in depth, with all the aspects of the legislation made available for public review and scrutiny.

Thank you for your time and your consideration, I hope that we, together, can make history and bring our society forward into an age of social egalitarianism, where the ideals of freedom of speech and thought, freedom of association and transparency of government are enshrined as they once were, as the foundations of a working democracy.

Sincerely,

______

For more information on the legislation you can refer to the Report of the Inquiry into Potential Reforms of Australia’s National Security Legislation, which you can find here: http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=pjcis/nsl2012/report.htm

An independent summary/opinion piece on the legislation can be found here: https://wideeyedandhopefullywild.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/metadata-and-you/

Calling all Aussies! This week will decide the tertiary education Bill

Now Minister Pyne is trying to blackmail the crossbench senators.

Read this: http://theaimn.com/pyne-playing-poor-politics/

He’s been quoted as saying that, “There are consequences for not voting for this reform and that’s very important for the cross benchers to understand,”
These consequences include the sacking of some 1700 scientists and researchers, claiming that if he cannot achieve savings in education, he will reduce funding for scientific research. Idiot!

It smacks of bullying. He’s not the first in this government to declare “my way or the highway”. I don’t think he’ll be the last. Hmph.

Labor and the Greens are opposed to this bill, so he needs six crossbench senators to agree. If you’re an Aussie, please try and find a way to contact your crossbench senators to ensure they’ll vote it down. D-Day is apparently Wednesday.
In case anyone needs reminding (in the words of John Kelly), “includes a big emphasis on deregulation, meaning increases in fees for students that will, in some cases, render a University education unaffordable, for others, carrying a heavy financial burden into their professional lives, assuming they are able to find appropriate employment when they finish. … [It] originally included interest loans for students to be pegged to the bond rate, but has now been linked to the Consumer Price Index. It also contained a 20% funding cut to courses which now appears to be open to negotiation.”

I am a university student. While my course is not as expensive as some, it’s still going to be a pretty big debt, especially since I’m doing part-time due to circumstances. Add to the fact that I’m a commuting regional student, forced to spend at least $25 a week for public transport (don’t get me started on living “on res” or in Melbourne itself; waaaay too expensive right now) and the fact that I’ll be taking time off work sometime (10+ years) in the future for family and such…. You begin to feel my annoyance. I’m just one of many voices grumbling similar things.

Of course, uni is not the only option. TAFE and other such vocational training efforts, including apprenticeships, need support also.

Education – all education – along with health, is just one of those things that needs to be valued, for it is bloody important.

Everyone deserves a chance to have it.

UPDATE – look!!

Gah, Dunno if you can see it (quality of the screenshot is lousy), but….announcement: Pyne has backed down on his threat to cut research funding & jobs if he didn’t get his way. He’s guaranteed funding for this year at least. Phew.

But we do need to be aware of these sorts of things. Apparently, Australia’s education standards and such are slipping. At a time when people in other countries are threatened for going to school and such, we need to remember that education is important. Bigots and such dislike true education, because it gives “the masses” power. To decide their own futures, to push themselves out of bad circumstances….etc.

Value your education, in whatever form it takes. Life education can be good; but supporting education is great.

Yes, I’m at uni today. How could you tell?

pyne backs down for now

“Facts”

I just read this article: http://theaimn.com/is-it-a-fact-that-all-you-need-is-the-facts/
It makes a good – and interesting – point that in order to change minds, we need to be able to think similarly to those we’re talking with. Not in an “on their level” sort of way, but an “in their terms” sort of way.

Basically, while a rant on here about politics and such may feel therapeutic for me, it will only preach to the converted. Facts don’t help; we humans are creatures that thrive on believing in our own bulls***. There’s even been a suggestion this is wired into us in our brains – I would assume by our early-life experiences.

Quoted from the article: “According to research, there are identifiable differences in the brains of conservatives and progressives. Apparently conservatives have demonstrably ‘a more threat-oriented and reactionary mindset than liberals’ (i.e. progressives in the US.) ….
Cognitive linguist George Lakoff has written extensively on the way in which voters interpret the political messages they hear. He postulates that we all have two competing frames in our heads, though one is usually more dominant than the other. One is the ‘authoritarian father’ frame. Lakoff argues that for some voters, the metaphor of the nation as family and government as parent evokes the strict parent, who provides discipline, and values responsibility, morality and self-sufficiency. Such voters favour independence from government, patriotism and aggressive foreign policy, and abhor welfare and public spending on things like health and education. The other is the ‘nurturing parent’ model, where parents – ie the state – work to keep citizens away from ‘corrupting influences’ such as pollution, social injustice, poverty, etc. He’s not suggesting that these frames are completely inflexible, but he is saying that the concept of ‘welfare’, for example, will be seen quite differently according the frame of reference of the voter.”

So next time you’re having a conversation with someone of a different ‘ideology’, remember this. It might save a bit of frustration.

Facts are useful, for this. But they need, perhaps to be delivered correctly. Or it’ll just become another big argument. And I don’t know about you, but I’m getting sick of those.

We need to reshape the debate somehow. Anyone got any ideas?