10 April 2014

Racism, Religion and Internalism

There has been a lot of debate recently over the Australian Government’s decision to look at amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.  The amendments proposed include removing the provisions making it unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” based on a person’s race.  This would be replaced with a new clause that bans racial vilification.  In brief, a large number of Australian’s feel that the proposed changes will, in effect, allow people to be more racist to others.

Since the debate about section 18C has started there has been a couple of incidents, most particularly in multi-cultural Ryde, where a poster was displayed with the words “No more Asians.  It’s not the face of Australia.  We speak English.  Save our Aussie culture”. Under the proposed amendments a number of migrant groups fear that they will incur more racist incidences like this one.

Before I move on, I would point out that every country has elements of racism.  This can be along the lines of hierarchy, culture, religion or even social groupings.  Australia is no different to any other country. There is, and always will be, an element of racism from a small group of Australians.

Since the tragic events of 9/11, Muslims and other religious groups, have had to cope with racist attacks – both verbal and physical.  John Howard, the then Prime Minister, hardly helped racial tensions in Australia by announcing, in the lead up to the 2001 election, that “we will decide who comes to our country, and under what circumstances”.  Four years later and racial tensions reached boiling point during the Cronulla riots.

Fast forward to today, and a search on Twitter will easily show racist tweets here in multi-cultural Australia.  These tweets are normally aimed at Muslims, especially those who can easily be identified as such.  Women who wear the hijab (headscarf) are particularly vulnerable to attack. 

The main issues that some Australians have are that we could allow asylum seekers who are terrorists into our country who would then attack our beliefs and also look to hurt and kill innocent Aussies.  Others feel that migrants are generally ‘dole bludgers’ who don’t want to assimilate. In addition, some feel that there is a plan to take away ‘our’ Christian values and make Australia a Muslim country through stealth.  Note that at the last Australian census in 2011 Muslims made up a mere 2.2% of the population.  Christians, on the other hand, made up a total of approximately 63%.

The media certainly plays a role in swaying our views on subjects.  A number of right wing commentators often make reference to the danger of letting asylum seekers into Australia.  Is this fear valid?  Or do we need to look at how our Christian faiths and values stack up against other religions.  Is our real enemy, from an historical point of view, ourselves and not religious groups who make up the minority?

A quick search on the internet shows that Christians, as a rule, have a long history of decimation and destruction.  Consider these examples:

·         Between the 10th and 12th centuries it is estimated that more than 20,000,000 non-Christians were killed.

·         The 30 year war in Germany in the 17th century saw approximately 40% of the population of the country decimated.

·         With the arrival of the Spaniards to the Americas in the 16th century it has been estimated that 60,000,000 locals were slain.

·         During the Second World War, 6,000,000 Jews were killed in concentration camps and roughly 600,000 non-Catholics in Catholic Extermination Camps.

·         During the Vietnam war 80,000 locals were killed whilst in concentration camps.

In the last two decades we have also witnessed mass murders in Bosnia and Kosovo as well as Afghanistan, as the Allies went searching for Bin Laden.

Certainly it can be seen that Christians have been responsible for many atrocities in our history.

Before, I conclude I am certainly not saying that other religions are ‘holier than thou’.  Certainly there has been many atrocities in a number of Muslim countries.  Especially in the Middle East and North Africa.  To this day this continues to be the case.  Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists have also been involved in aggressive campaigns that have left many thousands dead.  It is part of the Human psyche that we attack and kill each other regardless of any God that we may worship or not.  Historically this has been the case and this will no doubt continue in the future.

So let’s remember that Australia is blessed with migrants from all corners of the globe.  Over the past two centuries they have brought their culture and way of life into this country.  How many of the people reading this drink cappuccinos (Italian), enjoy a kebab (Turkish) or love eating burritos (Mexican)?  It is important we sway the argument away from the phobia that is attached to migrants and recognise the role they have played in giving us a rich and well founded lifestyle that we are proud of.  

We need to embrace our multi-culturalism with open arms and learn from each other.  You may find that we have similarities that you never realised before.  Remember too that the vast majority of people are just like you- friendly and peace loving!

22 January 2014

Social Media Respect

It has been a while since my last blog, so I thought I had better rectify this!

So much has happened over the past few months that it is hard to know where to start.  However, I would like to start with a topic that touches every one of us and that is "Respect".  In particular social media respect.

As human beings we can be very self-opinionated.  On the whole, this is an admirable quality.  If we didn't sometimes challenge each other, authorities or our beliefs then the world would be a much more boring and backward thinking place.

However, we need to show respect to others when we are using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.  People use social media for a variety of reasons from keeping in contact with family and friends, sharing interests, following 'celebrities' and also to share opinions on a number of topics.

In the old days (pre-internet) a lot of conversations would take place in the tea room or at the water cooler at work.  In reality, these conversations still happen to this limited audience today. However, social media allows people to access a larger audience. The use of hashtags are a common way to find a topic and comment on it.

Social Media allows people to hide behind their comments without the recipient (of the comment) knowing who they are. This leaves everyone's opinions and beliefs open to potential attack. These attacks are nowadays known as trolling.

I, myself, have been trolled on a few occasions. These troll attacks have been in relation to my views on gun control, politics, asylum seekers and ensuring religious tolerance.  Except for one occasion I have not worried about the attacks.  The only occasion it affected me I really felt infuriated!

However, as time goes on I have realised that not everyone will share my views.  In fact, a number of my friends differ with me on a variety of topics.  Having said this, some people react differently to other peoples views.  In extreme cases, due to trolling and cyber bullying, some people have taken their lives after being attacked.

So when you read a comment or post on a social media site remember that a human being with feelings has posted it.  Healthy debate is always to be welcomed but do not overstep the mark. Lets keep conversations healthy and non-aggressive.

20 October 2013

Are We Robots?

As a prequel to the topic of this blog I would like to make reference to the Pink Floyd song 'Welcome To The Machine' from their classic 'Wish You Were Here' album.  The main premise of the song is that we are all part of a well oiled machine, a factory processing unit where we are but a cog in that process.  Our life revolving around the repetition of life/work and so on, whilst the company we are working for makes huge profits.  So with this view in mind read on as I look at if we are robots or not... 

Over the past thirty years there has been something of an underground revolution going on.  It is a revolution that has not required guns, bombs or even covert operations by elite militia.  It has not required UN Peace Keeping forces and it is not religion based.  By and large this revolution has been under the radar of the media.  In fact, the only time that you would have heard about it would have been through industry related forums and workshops.   Even though this revolution was borne out of good intentions, it has become clear that there is a potential dark side to it as well.

So what is this mysterious revolution?  Well, this is the revolution of business efficiency.
Over the last three decades businesses worldwide have been looking at ways to make processes more efficient.  By efficient I am really talking about minimising errors, making the process simpler and, of course, making the product or service cheaper (or should I say more profitable).  After all, if you eliminate errors you will save money on your production costs.  For a large number of industries (think the car industry) it can make sense to streamline production.  That way, at every stage of the evolution of the construction of the car you can easily monitor its quality as well as being able to pinpoint where any defect or error has occurred.

Business efficiency has become a science as well.  There are a number of theories and worldwide standards that can help businesses and employees alike.  One is Six Sigma which some of you may be aware of.  Six Sigma, for the uninitiated, is a set of tools, techniques and strategies used for process improvement.  It was originally developed by Motorola in 1985.  Since then it has been implemented by a large number of companies worldwide. 

Another efficiency tool is Prince 2.  This is used for project management purposes and covers the management, control and organisation of a project.  Somewhat surprisingly this was developed by a UK government agency in 1989.  It is now seen as one of the global industry standards for projects across all industries.

There are many more theories and concepts aside from the two I have mentioned above.  A quick internet search will provide a plethora of different ideals for business improvement.
From a different angle it could be argued that all business processes that follow these concepts have, in fact, morphed into factory processing lines.  Without a doubt for some this is a good approach (again, think the car industry).  For other industries it does take away the ‘organic’ thinking that is important for the good or service being developed.  This lack of ‘organic’ thinking has, in my opinion, impacted workers.  Nowadays employees who are utilising Six Sigma, for example, may not always see what the overall end result will be. 

They may also not be able to think ‘outside the square’ clearly which is a very important element not only in business, but also for the growth of us as humans.  It could be argued that after three decades of the implementation of these concepts that we are turning into human robots.  Robots that are unable to compute anything outside of their immediate vicinity. 

Recently, I came across this on a project that I have been working on for 12 months.  An issue arose that required input from a number of people as to the best way for resolving it.  However, some of the project team had trouble coming up with a required solution.  Their view was that all the boxes had been checked from their partitioned view, and therefore, all was fine.  They could not grasp what the ‘Big Picture’ was.  It actually took a few phone calls, emails and time to resolve this issue.

Now Sir Richard Branson is certainly not one to get bogged down with theories and concepts.  Aside from any regulatory requirements he utilises an organic and consultative approach to business and issues.  I remember reading that he normally makes decisions based on his gut feeling rather than spending many hours researching.   I think it is safe to say that Sir Richard has had a fairly successful career adopting this approach!  I am also sure that he surrounds himself with like-minded people (I am still awaiting a call from Sir Richard – hint, hint).

My worry is that as we improve technology then more and more business concepts and theories will be introduced.  This could well lead to less ‘thinking outside the square’ situations.   Probably the best way ahead is to combine both business efficiency processes with organic thinking.  We must ensure that all workers and employees are fully aware of what the end picture is.  Until we do this we run the risk of us all turning into human robots.

Remember, that we must always look at the end result.  That is the good or service that we are supplying to our customers is the correct one.  This may require more of the ‘grey matter’ inside our heads rather than any process.

19 October 2013

What A Wonderful World - Or Was It?

Nearly half a century ago an African-American recorded a song that was to define not only his career, but also Music in general.  The song itself had already been rejected by Tony Bennett, one of the top singers of the time.  In hindsight, it probably turned out to have been a very bad decision by Bennett.  Anyway, the song was referred to an ageing 66 year old jazz musician who eagerly agreed to record the song.  The musician was Louis Armstrong and the song was entitled “What a Wonderful World”.

Over the decades since it was released it has become a beacon of hope for the future, as well as being a staple song at weddings during the father and bride dance.  With lyrics such as:
“I see trees of green, red roses too.  I see them bloom for me and you.  And I think to myself what a Wonderful World”.

It is easy to see the positiveness in the song.  A song of hope, of a bright future and of the things in life that we take for granted but ultimately we should be thankful for.  Indeed, from a certain angle it could be seen to be a very spiritual type of song.  However, I have recently been wondering if in fact it is quite the opposite.  If we look at the era in which it was released it could be deemed to be a very sarcastic take on society.  Let me explain further.

The song was released in the US in 1968.  At the time the US were well and truly entrenched in a war in Vietnam that would ultimately end in a stalemate.  From documentaries and films we know that a lot of young Americans were enlisted to fight the Viet Cong and ended up being there for a number of years as well as witnessing many atrocities.  Statistics show that somewhere in the region of 58,000 servicemen lost their lives fighting in Vietnam.   At the time of the song there were many anti-war protesters who were against the US involvement in Vietnam.  Protests up and down the country were growing in numbers virtually by the day.

In 1968 the African-American Civil Rights movement was going from strength to strength.  For more than a decade up to then African-Americans had been staging non-violent protests and civil disobedience in an attempt to end racial discrimination and segregation.  Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were two prominent leaders in this movement.

1968 also saw the assassination of two prominent progressive public figures.  The aforementioned Martin Luther King was assassinated on 29th March in Memphis.  Less than two months later the President-elect Robert F Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.   These two assassinations had a profound effect on the nation.

Likewise, Louis Armstrong was seen as a colourful character.  He was one of the few African-Americans that enjoyed celebrity status and benefits that were generally only apportioned to White Americans.  He was often seen as an anomaly amongst his own people.   Armstrong was born in 1901 and was the grandson of slaves.   He spent much of his early life living in poverty in a rough neighbourhood of New Orleans.  At a young age he learnt to play the cornet which was to define his career.

Biographers have always had trouble trying to map out Armstrong’s true life story.  Louis Armstrong was known to tell many stories and innuendos about his upbringing and early years.  So much so that no-one is really sure as to what the truth is and what is false.   Although Armstrong was not as politically active as other African-Americans he did take a stand for desegregation during the Little Rock Crisis.  He even called President Eisenhower “two-faced” and “gutless” over his handling of the crisis.

So, given the above, it is clear that the song was released against a background of social upheaval and political activity.  Although Louis Armstrong did not write “What a Wonderful World” it can be seen that during the late 1960’s it was a time of change.  In addition, this was also the time of the Summer of Love and hippy power was taking off.  The times were certainly a changing as Bob Dylan would sing.  

When you look at this era it can be safe to assume that the supposedly uplifting song “What a Wonderful World” was actually a bleak outlook on American Society.  Certainly for a large number of African-Americans racism and segregation were still huge issues and they, for one could not see “trees of green and red roses too” unlike their White-American compatriots.

20 July 2013

Social Media Fasting

Recently a fellow tweep @little_freedia and I decided to go a week without access to any social media.  We decided to see how we would cope without it.  Would we have withdrawal symptoms? Would we give in prior to the end of 7 days?  Or would we discover things that we didn't know existed?

To make it easier (or harder) we had to deactivate all social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.  For myself, Facebook wasn't an issue as I had permanently deleted my account more than a year ago.  Twitter and Instragram are my main social media nowadays.  We decided that emails were allowed as it really is a communication platform and not a social media outlet.

So on Sunday night 7th July, I deactivated my Twitter and signed out of my Instragram account.  Having done this I actually felt like a naughty schoolboy who has done something mischievous in the classroom.  Well I couldn't worry too much about this as I had made a commitment to my fellow Tweep and was determined to see this experiment through.

Monday came and normally I would access my iPhone and check Twitter.  This time I couldn't. So I  got ready for work and made my way to the bus stop.  Immediately, my bus arrived and I shuffled on board.  I noticed that virtually everyone had their head bowed and were on their smart phones. It struck me that I could not do that, so I decided to look out of the bus window. It was a glorious sunny day and as the bus made its way over the Sydney Harbour Bridge I glimpsed the Opera House looking resplendent in the early morning light.  It was kind of therapeutic looking out of the window rather than looking at my phone screen.

Work was a challenge as well.  Periodically during the day I do check Twitter and Instragram for the latest updates. Naturally, I was not able to do this. What I noticed was that I was more focused on my work and engaged more with my co-workers.  The temptation was to check my phone but I stood firm.

Monday evening was certainly the hardest.  I always send numerous tweets out during the Q and A show on ABC.  This time I had no choice but to watch the show and not participate from a social media perspective.  I noticed that some of my Tweep friends (Em, Jennifer and Mariam) got their tweets posted. I felt helpless and unable to congratulate them.   

Tuesday was also another hard social media free day but it seemed easier to handle than Monday.  I noticed also that I seemed to have more time on my hands by not using social media outlets.  I seemed to engage better with friends and colleagues as well as spending more time on things like reading books.  

This trend continued throughout the week.  The more I was off social media the less I missed it.  I also noticed that I seemed to be more in control of my time and, strangely, felt quite relaxed.  That may have been in part due to the fact that I had a long weekend in Ballina, rather than my social media exile.

Finally, the end of the experiment came around.  I was now able to access Twitter and other social media platforms.  Quickly I re-activated my account for Twitter and re-logged into Instagram.  It felt strange being back after a period away.  

So what did I learn?  probably the obvious things.  In today's society we are very reliant and addictive to social media.  It is a drug that we cannot live without.  It also takes over our lives at the expense of proper interaction with our friends and loved ones.  Like most things, once you have been absent for a period of time the addiction wanes.  I found that time seemed to slow as I had to revert to the pre-social media ways - talking directly, watching television and movies without accessing a phone as well as reading magazines etc.  

I am now thinking of doing this on a regular basis - possibly every three months.  I will see if I can get @little_freedia to join in again.  If anyone else wants to take the social media experiment then I can thoroughly recommend it.

07 July 2013

Migrant Musings

I am a migrant.  I have been in Australia for many, many years and call Australia home.  Likewise, as I didn't come to Australia as a youngster I still have a soft spot for my country of origin - England.  Naturally, I am not a refugee, unless you can call the English weather grounds for applying for refugee status!

For the benefit of all migrant phobic readers, yes I did steal one of your Aussie jobs.  I have been able to create a life here through sheer hard work, and the fact that Australia offers opportunities to those that grab them.  I went out and grabbed mine with both hands.  Although I haven't reached what I set out to do, I cannot complain as to where I am today.  

As a migrant I feel a kinship towards all other migrants whether they are from Zimbabwe, Bosnia, Iran or Venezuela.  To settle into a new country, even if you can speak the language fluently - which naturally I can, takes a lot of getting used to.  This can range from the different climate, unusual food types, culture and understanding what you need to do to, for example, applying for a job or even catching a train across town.

In my time in Australia, I only have been abused twice - both a long time ago.  One was by an Aboriginal who was blaming me for what Captain Cook did in 1788 by bringing 'white people' to Australia.  In this case I didn't really know how to reply, all I could say rather weakly was that it happened well before I was born and was therefore out of my control.  The other occasion was in a bar and I was resting myself against a poker machine.  All of a sudden an ocker Aussie came and started abusing me, thinking that I had played the machine whilst he 'was in the dunny'.  I hadn't played it, but that didn't help my plight.

Up until two years ago I had played soccer here.  Then a snapped Achilles and two operations put an end to my long career.  During my time playing I did get called 'wog' a few times as I am not a pale skinned, blue eyed Pom. I have slightly olive skin courtesy of my father's side of the family.

In social media, eg: Twitter, I have only really been trolled twice.  Interestingly, neither time was by an Australian! One was an American who was a member of the NRA, and the other was a right-wing member of the UK EDL (English Defence League).  Their personal attacks didn't affect me as I have grown much more thick-skinned and tolerant over the years.

As you can see I have had it fairly easy as a migrant.  I am not going to deny this, as I cannot.  Yes, there have been times I wished I wasn't in Australia but by the next morning my mind has always changed.

However, there is the other end of the spectrum.  There are those of us migrants who have escaped from their country of origin due to a number of reasons such as war, fundamentalism, famine and religious persecution amongst others.  I have met a number of migrants who have some of the most heart wrenching stories about how they came to Australia.  One such story involved a husband taking his wife and young children through a minefield to get to safety, and then later on to Australia.  You can only imagine what must have been going through his mind as every step he took could have lead to death.

So a number of migrants come here for a chance to rebuild their lives, a new start, a fresh beginning.  A large number of migrants cannot speak fluent English when they arrive.  This impacts their interaction with others and also restricts what they can do, certainly in the early stages of life in Australia.

Some migrants are of a non-christian faith and as such wear turbans or headscarves and contribute to their local place of worship.  Head coverings have certainly become an emotive issue in the West ever since 9/11.  Skin colour can also play a part in identifying a migrant from 'mainstream' Australia (whatever this is).  For example, there are not a lot of Africans in Australia, unlike the US, UK or Europe.   

However, if I was to ask some of them publically whether they have been abused personally, or trolled online I am sure I would get a reply of 'yes'.  Now I am not saying that Australia is a racist country, but there are elements of racism here and all over the world.  Unfortunately it is a human condition when we see something that is a little different to ourselves, we can be accepting of it, or fearful. 

Recently, I watched the ethnic business awards on television and was amazed at the stories of migrants who arrived in Australia, and through hard work have made something of their lives, as well as employing Australians and giving time and money to charitable causes.  In fact, migrants have been contributing to our society for more than 200 years.  I was also humbled when a few of the migrants said they were abused for their background but just shrugged it off and kept on believing in their dream.

So where am I going with all this?  

I really want everyone to realise the contribution that migrants have, and will continue to make to Australia.  The vast majority of them are just wanting a better life for themselves and their families, which is no different to you and I.  They may look different, they may be devoutly religious, they may even speak with a different accent.  However, at the end of the day they are AUSTRALIAN! 

If migrants seem scary to anyone who reads this, go out of your way to talk to one or two.  Get to know them better.  If you do this, your outlook on migrants may indeed change and we can all start to live together more harmonously.

06 July 2013

Political Boxing

Imagine this - you are watching a heavyweight boxing match between the two best boxers in the country.  One boxer has been on the attack for the first nine rounds whilst the other boxer has been grimly hanging on, hoping for that one chance to launch a rare counter attack.  Then, round ten starts and, all of a sudden, the boxer who has been on the back foot for most of the fight launches a couple of upper cuts.  The other boxer is stunned, not only by the force of the hits, but also by this unexpected aggression from his opponent.  The attacks keep coming and the roles are reversed.  The aggressor is now defending, and the defender is launching blow after blow.

This analogy really sums up what the current political situation is here in Australia.  Since the last election back in 2010, Tony Abbott and the Liberal-National Party have been on the front foot attacking the Government and, in particular, Julia Gillard.  In scenes reminiscent of Groundhog Day, Abbott has been espousing phrases such as "we will stop the boats" and "we will get rid of the Carbon Tax" over and over again.  As well as reminding all and sundry about how the Prime Minister got the top job in politics.

The Government had no option but to go into defensive mode.  Things like justifying the Carbon Tax, explaining why the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was ousted, grimacing as the opinion polls showed that the Australian Labor Party was heading for a virtual wipe-out at the September elections.  What could the government do? The sharks were circling, it was only a matter of time before the blood letting would start.

At the eleventh hour our hero arrives.  He is nerdy looking, has a distinct mop of grey hair, wears glasses and looks like an older version of the Milky Bar kid.  Enter Kevin Rudd.  Yes the man who was ousted by his own party had been re-elected as Prime Minister of Australia.  Virtually overnight the opinion polls showed a large swing back to the ALP.  Instantly frowns started to appear on the Opposition's brows.  The easy fight they had been experiencing for three years was about to get much harder.  The worm was about to turn.

Rudd is a clever politician. He knows that he must nullify the only two real policies that the Opposition have made public.  These relate to the Carbon Tax and the refugees fleeing from Indonesia, via boats, to Australia.  Rudd also knows he has to attack Abbott and try to get under his skin.  Tony Abbott is not popular with the electorate despite the polls showing that he would be Prime Minister at the next election, this is the Opposition's Achilles heel and must be exposed. 

So what has Prime Minister Rudd done in just over a week?  Quite a lot really.  He has indicated that Australia will move to an Emissions Trading Scheme rather than an fixed price Carbon Tax.  Rudd has also had talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) about the 'boat people' issue.  SBY has made it clear he will not agree to Australia towing the refugee boats back to Indonesian waters, as indicated by Tony Abbott. It is a policy that will not work and gain favour with the Indonesians.  Within a few days, the two main policies of the Opposition appear to have been stifled.  Now it is Abbott with the problems and not the Government.  

Rudd pulled off a masterstroke this week.  Challenging Tony Abbott to a series of debates about the Government's and Opposition's policies for the forthcoming election.  Abbott, not surprisingly, has declined.  

Since the 2010 election Tony Abbott has not appeared on 'Q and A', a programme that enables voters to question a panel of politicians and non-politicians questions about relevant topics.  Abbott has not appeared on the ABC show 'Lateline' for more than a year and a half, Insiders for a year and Radio National Breakfast for a year.  For whatever reason Abbott seems to have a phobia of appearing on shows where he can be questioned in relation to the policies of the Opposition.

This has lead to Kevin Rudd saying that Tony Abbott "does not have the ticker" to debate him.  The word "ticker" is a clear reference to the comment ex-Prime Minister John Howard said of Opposition Leader Kim Beasley when asked if he thought Beasley could run the country.  In fact, Rudd took this further by saying that Abbott could take his 'assistant' John Howard along to the debates as well.

Rudd has come out with all guns blazing ala Milky Bar Kid style.  This has caught the Opposition, temporarily at least, off guard.  The upper cuts from Rudd are making their mark.  Now it is Abbott and Co waiting for the bell to ring to re-coup and try to come out fighting in the last two rounds.

As for Rudd, he has one objective.  That is to win the election.  At the same time we can expect him to continuously attack Abbott and the Liberal-National party.

One thing is certain, this is going to be a messy election campaign up to and including polling day.