Some Thoughts About Australia’s New PM, Julia Gillard

On 24 June 2010, the Hon Julia Gillard MP was sworn in as Prime Minister of Australia by Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce, the Governor-General of Australia. And when that happened, she made history. She became the first female prime minister, and the first PM born outside Australia since 1915 (Bill Hughes, who was born in London). She’s the first unmarried PM, although other PM’s have been widowers at the time of office. She’s childless (although a recent letter to The Age stressed we should call her “child-free”, as she hasn’t lost any children) and openly atheist. So what does this all mean?

The Woman Thing.

In 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first female Prime Minister in modern times when she was elected PM of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Since then there have been 87 female heads of government, from Indira Gandhi (India, 1966) to Margaret Thatcher (UK, 1979), from Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan, 1993) to Helen Clark (New Zealand, 1999). Who’s to say why it’s taken fifty years for Australia to catch up, but I’m glad it has.

While I don’t see it as quite the fulfilment of the “feminist’s dream” Caroline Overington laudes it as, I do recognise Gillard’s appointment is a symbol of hope. It’s a symbol that says to young Australian women that they really can work at any level in workforce.

The Ranga Thing.

“First woman, first redhead,” joked Julia when asked by journalists about the significance of her gender. It should be noted, however, that she’s not the first redheaded Prime Minister. That honour goes to James “Jim” Scullin, in 1929. Two days after he was sworn in Wall Street crashed, and the next year Australia was in the midst of the Great Depression. Good thing we’ve already put our GFC behind us – although Scullin didn’t have a cashed-up mining industry to draw upon.

The De Facto Thing.

There are some wackos, like Bettina Arndt, who think Gillard is a “bad influence for women” because she’s not married. This is a statement that makes absolutely no sense to me. Last I checked marriage wasn’t a club where you can just apply for a membership – it generally takes two people to get married and they both have to want it. Getting married when you don’t want to, however, THAT I can understand as being a bad rolemodel. In fact so much of Bettina’s article is twisted and illogical that I almost don’t really know how to respond to it. Luckily Mia Freedman and Catherine Deveny have both done exactly that, and done a far better job than I could. Fortunately too, the comments on that article itself – not to mention throughout the blogosphere – demonstrate that Ardnt is well and truly in the minority on this.

And fair enough, too. After all, why should it matter? We’ve had 109 years of married prime ministers, was that the cornerstone of our country? Is that the reason for our success? Of course not. Are there any other jobs where someone’s marital status is subject to such scrutiny? I can think of only one – that of a Catholic priest.

Which is a beautiful segue-way to…

The Religion Thing

“I am not going to pretend a faith I don’t feel,” Gillard told ABC Radio’s Jon Faine. “I am what I am and people will judge that.”

Wonderful to hear. I am so sick of politicians who profess their strong religious beliefs like it makes them better people. Not believing in an invisible spaceman doesn’t make me any more or less moral than someone who does. It certainly doesn’t guarantee perfection, or even good judgement. So why should it matter what a person’s religion is? It shouldn’t.

That said, it DOES bother me when politicians base policy on their religious beliefs. I don’t want creationists, for example, anywhere near education policy. I want policy to be based on scientific facts, not faith-based ‘beliefs’.

But not everyone shares this view with me. Julia’s revelation about her atheism did upset a lot of people. I think I’ll leave the last word on religion and politics to Senator Arnold Vinick, from the sixth season of The West Wing: “I don’t see how we can have a separation of church and state in this government if you have to have a religious test, to get into this government.”

It should be noted, of course, that Gillard is not Australia’s first PM with religious doubts. Bob Hawke, the son of a Congregationalist minister, was agnostic when he went into politics. Surely a politician’s religious status isn’t as important to Australian voters as some people claim, otherwise he wouldn’t have become the longest serving Labor prime minister.

It’s not surprising, I suppose, that people will look for any fault they can find on a politician. Particularly one that enjoys such popularity. But come on, is this the best they can come up with? Complaints about her gender, hair colour, marital status and religion? Disagree with her policies, by all means. Draw attention to her political positions you think are wrong or ill-advised (I’m very disappointed at her stance on gay marriage, for example). But attacking the messenger, rather than the message, is low and grubby.

Cala Boca Galvao (Anatomy of a Meme)

It’s world cup fever, and the internets is no exception. Google’s got it, Twitter’s got it, and if you’ve got it you can surf the net to the sound of vuvuzelas. Like anything popular, it gets a huge amount of real-time Twitter action, but some disgruntled fans in Brazil started a hoax that took the world by surprise.

Commentators of all sports routinely face criticism: whether they’re too enthusiastic, not enthusiastic enough, or have a one-word “special” vocabulary (looking at you, Mr. McAvaney). Carlos Eduardo dos Santos Galvão Bueno, more commonly known as Galvão Bueno, is a Brazilian soccer commentator who cops a lot of flak for his passionate calls. Wikipedia describes his style as “flashy, pointed with superlative adjectives, and … a large number of mistakes.” Exasperated during a World Cup match, one Brazilian fan tweeted “Cala Boca Galvao” – literally “Shut up, Galvão”. And then, as the cool kids say, it went viral.

The phrase caught on, being retweeted and quoted over and over. Before long, “Cala Boca Galvao” was a trending topic, prompting hundreds of non-Brazilians to ask “What’s Cala Boca Galvao?” – which got the phrase trending even higher. And that, according to the New York Times, was the beginning of “one of history’s most successful cyberpranks”. Sure enough, enterprising Brazilians seized on the opportunity. “It’s an endangered Brazilian bird”, someone informatively tweeted. And soon there was an a flyer, a fake Twitter account and this brilliant Youtube clip. Tweet “Cala Boca Galvao”, the story went, and 10 cents will be donated to Save The Galvao Foundation. The newly created “Galvao” and “Galvao Bird” Wikipedia pages were very popular for a short time, before they were taken down by the watchful Wiki Police.

Still not satisfied, and with “What’s Cala Boca Galvao” tweets still flying around, Brazilians came up with a new meaning. It’s Lady Gaga’s new single, they replied whenever someone asked. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before various fake video clips showed up on YouTube.

This is the beauty of the internet – it can be a tremendous source of information, and a wonderful way of communicating with people all over the world. But all information, whether on the internet or elsewhere, needs to be treated with a due sense of scepticism. This is obviously a rarity for a hoax to be so well executed – the internet’s crowdsourcing nature generally enhances quality and accuracy. Perhaps the risk of being duped is the price we pay for listening in on other people’s conversations.

Getting Cluey About Elections

“Not even the almost-certain demise of Steve Fielding is enough to make me follow this election. On election night I’m getting as far away from TV, radio, internets and phone reception as I possibly can.”

That’s what a friend of mine said during a Facebook conversation in response to the Just Plain Stupid comments about paid parental leave from Family First Senator Steve Fielding. I can totally understand my friend’s feelings, as neither major party seems a good choice right now. On the one hand, the incumbent Labor Party has failed to achieve many of it’s core election promises, not least of which was action on climate change. Even scarier, the Liberal opposition is a rag-tag basket-case of climate change deniers, xenophobes and far-right dinosaurs. But to give up on the election all together is, I think, the wrong sentiment. This election is not without hope – but it’s up to voters to seize the opportunity and wield the only power they have on election day. To vote with their conscience and their brains.
It’s all too easy, however, to take the easy way out on election day. Most people, I think, decide who they want to vote for – Labor, Liberal, perhaps Greens – and follow the instructions on that party’s how-to-vote card, voting above the line. This is a dangerous method, because deals made between parties for preferences won’t always go your way. Consider the Family First Party in the 2004 Federal election. The Labor Party, so afraid of a growing support among the electorate for The Greens, put Family First well ahead of The Greens in their preferences. This meant that everyone who voted for Labor helped Steve Fielding get a senate seat, despite winning only 0.08% of the primary votes. Is that true democracy?
So the solution, surely, is to disregard the preference deals and vote below the line, according to your own beliefs. But you have to put a vote for every single candidate, whether you’ve heard of them or not! And if you stuff the counting up, your vote is void! That’s where Cluey Voter comes in. Alan Noble, Director of Engineering at Google Australia, developed the site in his free time for the South Australian state election in March. It provides a list of all the candidates, and a drop-down box next to each one with five options. You can choose “Support a lot”, “Support a little”, “Don’t Care”, “Against a little” or “Against a lot”. The default for all candidates is “Don’t Care”, so if you don’t know about a party you don’t have to change it.

Once you’ve told it your preferences, Cluey Voter will automatically generate a printable sheet that looks like the ballot paper. You can adjust the numbers if you like, and press the “Check Numbering” button to make sure you haven’t doubled anything, and then print off the page. Then when you vote, you just copy the numbers into your ballot paper and now your vote really does represent your views.

Cluey Voter has only been done for the SA election so far, but I really hope it’s implemented for the Federal Election. It’s the sort of tool that could really make voting easier – especially for political junkies like me, who always vote below the line!

Boobs cause Earthquakes, Abortions cause Oil Spills?

I don’t know how she does it, but Jen McCreight always seems to find the wackiest of the wack-jobs, the nuttiest of the nut-jobs. You might remember her as the unwitting instigator and spokesperson for Boobquake, where she proved that wearing “immodest” clothing doesn’t actually cause earthquakes. Because that was the theory being suggested by Iranian Friday Prayer Leader Kazem Seddiqi: that “women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray … which increases earthquakes”. And last week she found another moron, but this time from the good ole’ USA: preacher Joseph Herrin.

In his latest abomination blog post, Herrin manages to link hurricanes with Old Testament bible stories before claiming that the BP Horizon oil spill happened because Louisiana is “peppered” with abortion clinics. At least I think that’s what he says. I only got about half way through before my eyes began to bleed. It never ceases to amaze me how stupid people can be. But Herrin’s post wasn’t just random ramblings of a nutter – he had “evidence” to back up his “theories”. Take this image, for example, which shows Hurricane Ike shortly before it hit land in September 2008. Clearly, obviously, Hurricane Ike represents birth:

Surprisingly, though, this is the only photo that has this, erm, “resemblance”. It’s amazing that none of the other 217,000 Google Images results don’t feature a fetus-shaped hurricane.

Sigh. This is the sort of irresponsible, stupid and senseless crap that doesn’t just drive people away from religion, it corrupts the minds of those who believe it. But Jospeh Herrin’s over-active imagination has, thankfully, done one good thing. He has reminded me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: join the Australian Skeptics and the James Randi Educational Foundation. JREF and Australian Skeptics are non-profit organisations that aim to promote skepticism and critical thinking, so that people don’t start believing hurricanes look like fetuses. In fact JREF has a US$1,000,000 prize (donated by Rick Adams, founder of the first ever internet service provider) on offer to the first person who can provide objective proof of the paranormal.

James Randi, founder of the JREF, started out as a magician, but when he retired at 60 he started investigating paranormal, occult and supernatural claims. He’s become the poster child for skeptics, atheists, scientists and freethinkers. And he’ll be speaking in Sydney in November at the Amazing Meeting, a conference with a number of very very interesting speakers. I’ve decided I’m going to go up and attend, especially since Julian Morrow (co-founder of the Chaser) and  Dr Karl Kruszelnicki will be speaking there, as well as a bunch of other very smart people.
So thankyou, Joseph Herrin, for being so stupid you reminded me to support smart people.

When Social Media Stops You Getting a Job

Is your online life putting your job – or potential future jobs – in jeopardy? Social commentator Mia Freedman wrote on her blog last week how she used Facebook and Twitter accounts to help sift through potential new employees. Having sorted through the pile of resumes and leaving five possible candidates, she looked online and quickly wrote off three of them.

“One had a constant stream of Facebook updates bitching indiscreetly about her current job. Another evidently spent much of her time getting drunk and a third had some very strident views I disagreed with. Stridently.” – Mia Freedman

Her post sparked a lot of debate in the comments, with the majority of people seemingly alarmed or appalled at her actions. Someone called N/L said: “I don’t think I would be happy to be working for someone who thinks it is appropriate to snoop into my private life before interviewing me,” and OhEmGee said “There is this thing called a life OUTSIDE of work. It is my OWN time. If I knew that I could be working for someone who felt that it is ok to use Facebook as a tool to determine the person I am…well I probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.” I found those sorts of comments fascinating. Why should people insist that publicly available information be kept out of the selection process?
The more information an employer has about job-seekers, the better they are able to decide if the person will be a good fit in their organisation. Surely that’s obvious? If you’re doing something in your private life that makes you unsuited to a job then perhaps you should either stop doing it, or get a different job. The claim that “it is my OWN time” and therefore has no bearing on your job suitability seems naive to me. What you do in your own time is a reflection of your personality. And much as we’d like to believe that jobs are always awarded based on merit we have to be aware that personality plays a huge part in our work lives. Particularly in a small business, where an individual can have a dramatic influence on the culture of the workplace.
As I’ve said before, I’m a very open person. The only part of my Facebook account that is private are my status updates and posts, which is largely in case I update my status from Work and The Boss wonders why I’m not working. And I’m perfectly happy with my current employers (many of whom are “Friends” on Facebook) or potential new employers looking around my public profile. In fact the most incriminating thing on my Facebook profile is probably that I’m bisexual, I don’t like Andrew Bolt very much and I watch a lot of TV. And I don’t really want to work for any employer who has a problem with that. I’m a person, not a collection of qualifications. Anyone who employs me gets the whole package, not just my skill set.
What do you think? Should people get jobs based solely on their merit and qualifications? Or is there room for personality as well? Do you lock your social media profiles so potential employers can’t see them?