Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tony Abbott's About-Face on Sexism, Two Years Late

My latest roundup for Global Voices Online: Australian Prime Minister's About-Face on Sexism, Two Years Late

Australian PM Julia Gillard at Antipodes Greek Festival - Melbourne  2012
A tense moment between Prime Minister Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott (25 February 2012)
Copyright © Demotix. Photo by Angus Mordant

"There are doubts that the prime minister will be able to put the gender card back in the pack".

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What World Leaders Should Discuss at Brisbane's G20 Summit

My latest Global Voices post: What World Leaders Should Discuss at Brisbane's G20 Summit

The G20 summit on 15- 6 November 2014 has done what terrorism has never managed to do – shutdown the centre of an Australian city, namely Brisbane. Just the arrival of Barack Obama has been a showstopper.

Watch this space.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Human Rights Videos: Have You Got That Right?

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law has launched a new video series - Have You Got That Right?:

Have You Got That Right? is an innovative series of videos answering important human rights questions quickly, clearly and in a way that won’t put you to sleep.

The project will be broken into a number of 10-episode series, each with a different theme. Series one blends comedy with serious academic content, while series two will be interview-based.

Knowledge is power, and these videos will empower people to better understand how human rights protect the most vulnerable people.

Each series has 10 episodes. What are Human Rights? and Marriage Equality are now online with 8 to follow.

Each video has very useful additional information about the Law and a collection of excellent Resources.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Burqa Banished Behind Glass

From my latest post for Global Voices Online: Burqa Banished Behind Glass in Australian Parliament
There have been strong reactions to a decision on 2 October 2014 by the presiding officers of the Australian parliament concerning the burqa.

The current controversy should be seen in the context of:

  • The raising of the National Terrorism Public Alert level from Medium to High, “that points to the increased likelihood of a terrorist attack”.

  • High profile security raids with subsequent terrorism charges.

  • The stabbing of two police officers by a Muslim youth who was shot dead.

  • Australia’s military participation in the coalition against the so-called Islamic State.

  • New, tougher anti-terrorism laws that have been condemned by some as striking “at the heart of press freedom”.

  • Twitter was ablaze with lots of opposition to and some support for the proposal.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

    Peter Greste: Act to #FreeAJStaff

    My post for Global Voices: Australian Shock and Outrage at Egyptian Sentencing of Al Jazeera Journalists

    Update from @no_filter_Yamba:

    So let's do something! Silence is consent.

    Monday, June 16, 2014

    Socceroos Proud in Defeat at #WorldCup2014

    From my latest post for Global Voices:
    Australians have a long tradition of finding national pride in our defeats. The ANZAC experience at Gallipoli in the First World War is the best known instance. The 1-3 loss to Chile in the #WorldCup2014 is the latest example. 
    Socceroos Proud in Defeat at #WorldCup2014

    Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    Reactions to Australia's Deal to Dump Refugees in Cambodia

    Some initial reactions on twitter to Australia's deal to resettle successful asylum seekers in Cambodia:

    Please add your voice to this crime against humanity.

    Tuesday, May 20, 2014

    Military Pulls Rank in Thailand

    From Brad Adams, Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch:
    While there has been sporadic violence in recent months, nationwide martial law was not necessary to prevent further violence. The military has pulled a 100 year old law off the shelf that makes the civilian administration subordinate to the military, effectively rendering the executive, legislative and judicial branches powerless. The broad powers conferred on the military mean that there are no legal safeguards against rights violations and no remedies for any damage caused by the army. Censorship and shutting down of both anti-government and pro-government satellite TV channels and radio networks raises serious concerns that freedom of expression will be the first victim of de facto coup. Thailand's friends in the world's capitals should make it clear that they expect this de facto coup to be reversed immediately.

    Thailand is using a century old law with draconian provisions that permit the military to exercise essentially unlimited authority to violate human rights if they are so inclined. There are basically no brakes in this law - the authorities can prohibit any activity, censor the media, outlaw meetings and assemblies, search and seize any item, hold people without trial for up to 7 days, and even compel forced labor. Opportunities for justice are minimal since the law provides for the use of military courts to try cases. It's a law that pre-dates the creation of all international human rights standards, and it shows.

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    Linda Jaivin: Sex, Sinology and the Translator

    Linda Jaivin – Photo: Jade Muratore

    From my post for Global Voices 'The Bridge':

    Linda Jaivin is a renaissance woman who describes herself as a secular humanist. Born in Old London, Connecticut, USA, she has been an Australian citizen for over twenty years, after many years studying and working in Taiwan and mainland China.

    Linda's activity is prodigious. The list of hats she wears includes translator, interpreter, anthology editor, poet, novelist and playwright. Her written works include short stories; essays; novels such as the comic, erotic “Eat Me”; historical fiction such as “A Most Immoral Woman”; and non-fiction such as the outrageous “Confessions of an S & M Virgin”.

    Words that apply to Linda: stimulating, challenging, quirky, provocative, original, salacious, graphomaniac. Her writings and her conversations take us many unexpected or unfamiliar places. She may once have shocked much of her audience, but Linda has helped expand the openness of public discourse. As the Wheeler Centre video interview shows, she can be in your face, but in the friendliest way.

    There is a lot more than sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in Linda’s box of tricks.



    Trial of two journalists 'a dark stain on Thailand's record'

    Brad Adams, Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch on case of trial of two Phuketwan journalists in Phuket TODAY:
    "The trial of these two journalists is unjustified and constitutes a dark stain on Thailand's record for respecting media freedom. The Thai Navy should have debated these journalists publicly if they had concerns with the story rather than insisting on their prosecution under the draconian Computer Crimes Act and criminal libel statutes. It's now time for Thailand's leaders to step in and order prosecutors to drop this case, and end this blatant violation of media freedoms once and for all."
    From Reporters Without Borders:
    Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the withdrawal of all proceedings against two journalists who are to be tried tomorrow in the southwestern province of Phuket on charges of contravening the Computer Crimes Act and defaming the Royal Thai Navy for quoting from a Reuters special report on the smuggling of Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Burma.

    The two journalists are Alan Morison, the Australian editor of the Phuket-based news website Phuketwan, and Chutima Sidasathian, a Thai reporter who works for the site.
    It is an increasingly dangerous world for journalists as Peter Greste and his Al Jazeera colleagues know only too well.

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    Global Voices: Australians High Five International Court Decision Against Japanese Whaling

    Image: Greenpeace Australia Pacific
    My post for Global Voices:
    There has been online elation on Australian social media following the news that on 31 March 2014 the International Court of Justice has found against Japan’s so-called ‘scientific research’ whaling in the Southern Ocean.

    ...There are bound to be people in Australia who are pro-whaling but if so they have been well and truly submerged on social media. It will be interesting to see the reactions in Japan.

    Australians High Five International Court Decision Against Japanese Whaling


    Monday, February 24, 2014

    Lingua Tribute: Translators are not tools

    Translators are not tools
    [君子不器 Junzi bu qi]

    A Tribute to Linda Jaivin’s Found in Translation: In Praise of a Plural World

    'Linda Jaivin has been translating from Chinese for more than thirty years. While her specialty is subtitles, she has also translated song lyrics, poetry and fiction, and interpreted for ABC film crews, Chinese artists and even the English singer Billy Bragg as he gave his take on socialism to some Beijing rockers. In Found in Translation she reveals the work of the translator and considers whether different worldviews can be bridged. She pays special attention to China and the English-speaking West, Australia in particular, but also discusses French, Japanese and even the odd phrase of Maori. This is a free-ranging essay, personal and informed, about translation in its narrowest and broadest senses, and the prism – occasionally prison – of culture.'

    The Confucian saying, 君子不器 Junzi bu qi, is not hard to decipher according to Linda Jaivin, just to translate. Take your pick: 'The accomplished/gentleman scholar is not a utensil/pot/tool.' If it’s possible for a woman to be to a ‘gentleman scholar’, then Linda more than fits that tag from her essay for the Quarterly magazine.
    The contact page on her website is for ‘messages or love letters’. It entices the sender to engage ‘tutoiement’ - the process of using the informal 'tu' in French. We should all pay homage there to her invisible hand behind the subtitles that have enriched cinephiles’ lives for decades. As a former teacher of NESB [Non-English Speaking Background] students and an author and sub-editor with Global Voices Online, this is my response to her essay and my tribute to translators.
    In 1980 I attended a matinee Woody Allen doubleheader in Lisbon. The packed house was a clear indicator of his international popularity. I remember laughing loudly during both movies. It was a tad embarrassing for my reactions were slightly ahead of the pack as most of the audience were reading the subtitles. His New York Jewish humour didn’t seem to ruffle the Portuguese audience’s enjoyment.
    Lingua Voices
    Our GV Lingua team has volunteer translators for approximately forty languages. They are as diverse as Aymara, Magyar [Hungarian], Swahili, Bangla, Korean and Amharic [official language of Ethiopia and second-most spoken Semitic language in the world after Arabic]. In addition, posts are also translated into English as all stories on the main section use that lingua franca. Nearly 100,000 translations of posts have been completed since 2006.

    Volunteers choose which ones they will translate. It is a form of feedback that can be a bit disheartening sometimes but that is compensated for when quoted bloggers/ tweeters find their words in two kinds of Chinese, Filipino or Farsi and send messages of delight.
    Word play

    As an author and a sub-editor helping with translations into English, my earliest lesson was to avoid puns. Word plays are potential nightmares for audience and translators alike. The most common slang in Oz English can stump even experienced linguists. It belongs in Pandora’s box, with jargon and cricket metaphors, marked ‘never to be opened’. Allusions to Australian Rules football prove even more dangerous.

    When I wrote ‘Coca Cola Machine ‘Out of Order’ in Australia’ it was translated into six other languages including Malagasy, Macedonian and Catalan. In French it became ‘Distributeur Coca-Cola « En panne » en Australie’ [‘Distributor Coca-Cola ‘Broken Down’ in Australia] abandoning the double play on words. The charged word, ‘machine’, just went through to the keeper. That’s wicket-keeper, not goal-keeper, in case anyone is translating this response.

    Neologisms [new words] are an essential element of netizen-speak but they are not universally understood even amongst geeks or tweeps (not to be confused with tweeping). Inevitably we fall captive to the latest. ‘Lacticvist’ was impossible to resist when breastfeeding in public hotted up in early 2012 but its rendition as ‘les militantes de l'allaitement maternel’ was a real mouthful. De l'autre côté, ‘SlutWalks’ was simply incorporated into the German, Italian and French using quotation marks – a very slippery slope indeed for L'Académie français. The Spanish translator was more creative with ‘Marcha de putas’- roughly ‘march of whores’ though it had currency in Brazil by then. Portuguese prefers ‘Marcha das Vadias’ i.e. ‘Bitches’. 
    It is often hard to know exactly which connotations attached to words like these, especially in different languages and cultures. Linda observes, "The swearwords and curses of a language expose what is forbidden, what is permitted and what is held sacred in that culture."

    The use of Twitter hashtags presents its own complications. Some tweeters use multilingual tags such as #Syria #Siria #Syrie #Syrien to reach a wider audience but limit the length of the message. Others tweet in more than one language. GV always includes the original text when quoting plus a translation. The 140-character limit adds a challenge normally confined to post titles or headings, where brevity invites wit but not always clarity.
    Lingua global
    Linda asks, 'Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton?' When my partner and I visited Iceland in July 2013, we were entertained by an Esperanto choir on the grand steps of Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre. They were taking a break from the World Congress of Esperanto, which involved over one thousand participants from fifty-five countries. Linda would be glad to know that there were some Chinese involved. Hvað er merking hörpu? No prizes for guessing that one, though harpa has two distinct meanings in Icelandic.

    Sub-editing posts written originally in a LOTE (Language other than English) is both daunting and rewarding. I often use Google Translate to check a word or phrase or to get a better grasp on the context.

    Google doesn’t seem to like Japanese but sometimes gets it right. A scandal about Tokyo’s governor taking a bribe had this: ‘The document is a note of hand to borrow 50 million yen with no interest, no collateral and no return date set.’  I presumed ‘note of hand’ referred to something hand-written but it turned out to be a legit term for an informal promissory note. I.O.U. might have sufficed even if some readers wouldn’t have understood the etymology. It is a clear forerunner of SMS and twitter-speak.

    "Words have the power to change the way we think."
    Meanwhile the Chinese government is trying to eradicate Chinglish [中式英語]  in a bid to stop people who ‘slip carefully’ in their translations. Chinese netizens are also annoying the authorities by mining euphemisms that Internet surveillance software is not blocking yet. They started using the term “tea talk” or “forced to drink tea” [被喝茶] to describe vigorous interrogations by the internal security police.

    “River crab’ (censorship)  and ‘watch uncle’ (corruption) have required pest control. Mention of the 18th National Party Congress was banned on Sina Weibo [China’s version of Twitter] and their Facebook equivalent Renren, so it became ‘Sparta’ because of its similar sound. Modifying English words also became a game on Weibo. Freedamn [中國特色自由] is freedom with Chinese characteristics. You can raise the red lantern against China’s censorship by offering a friendly Internet connection for the new circumvention software called Lantern [燈籠].

    You have to wonder what the Chinese censors would have made of the ChinaSmacks’ translation of the ‘My Vagina Says - If your vagina could talk, what would she say?’ meme. It certainly went against stereotype: “You need to be invited – to get in!”

    Barbaros babble
    Chinese is one of the United Nations six official diplomatic languages. The others are Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish. They are obviously vehicular but they don’t always travel that well. We spent a month in 1996 at a Spanish language school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The teachers claimed that Cubans speaking Spanish sound like they have a mouthful of chewing gum. At that time my Chilean colleagues and students at Melbourne’s Westall Secondary College tested my tin ear by omitting the end or middle of words and sometimes both. They often contracted two of these into one word. There’s a word for everything in English, often borrowed. ‘Elision’ might fit here or perhaps ‘syncope’.

    Arabic should present fewer difficulties, at least for Arabs. However, a Tunisian blogger maintains that their vernacular can be almost impenetrable at times, even to near neighbours.

    Linda canvasses "linguistic imperialism". English may be the great vehicular language but assumptions about its  international currency are hazardous. The term ‘dog-whistling’ originated down under thanks to Prime Minister John Howard et al and has spread to some in the U.S. and UK. One of my posts began :

    “There has been a contest for the worst pun following remarks by Teresa Gambaro [MP who] called for immigrants on work visas to be taught ‘social norms’ such as the use of deodorants and waiting in orderly queues.”

    I was stretching all the rules about language accessibility but you’ve got to have fun. ‘Raw prawn’ and ‘hair of the dog’ were my favourites. My advice: “Check it out while the poop is still fresh”. You wouldn’t be dead for quids!

    Northern Territory lights
    Segue to Katherine High School 2002. After sharing my interest in etymology with my Year 8 class, I was approached on lunchtime yard duty by an unfamiliar youth who asked if it was true that I read the dictionary for fun. My confirmation brought the response, “You’re a very sick man!”

    When we were teaching in Maningrida in Arnhem Land during 2003-6, senior students were required to get exemptions to enroll in English as a Second Language [ESL]. For most it was not their second, third or in some cases even fourth or fifth. The indigenous community, and its homelands, has ten or more languages. Some are spoken by one or two extended families yet are healthy, rich and vibrant. Nakkara, with ap,proximately 60 speakers, and Rembarrnga are two of those. The township has a lingua franca but somewhat surprisingly it isn’t the local traditional owners’ Ndjebbana/Kunibidji but rather the other major language of the township Burarra.

    Ars Poetica
    Linda explores difficulties with translating poetry. They apply equally to song lyrics. Welsh band Manic Street Preachers’ song ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next' didn’t faze some of our translators. Rezwan did an outstanding job in Bangla, going by my back-translation using Google. However, there was a stumble over ‘fascists’. Most online machines were fooled, ‘phyasistaderao’ being the only stab for ফ্যাসিস্টদেরও. Linda is, of course, no fan of "machine translations".


    Finally, some wisdom from multi-linguist supremo, Danica Radisic, GV’s Central and Eastern Europe editor. Recently Niki wrote of her childhood growing up as a third culture kid:
    Our parents’ work and lives allowed us to travel to different countries and often live on several different continents throughout our childhood, learn to speak countless languages and move seamlessly between cultures…”
    Her ability to converse with someone simultaneously in their respective native languages is awesome. She concludes:
    “…this spot on the Word Wide Web [GV] that is a scrapbook of different cultures and opposing views, is where third culture kids come when they grow up.”
    The full story is on The Bridge at GV. Please join our global conversation.

    Sunday, February 16, 2014

    Bougainville - Life After the War

    Spent an inspiring Sunday afternoon with Clive Porabou, Mekamui (Bougainville) filmmaker and musician, at a viewing of his documentary After The War. The event was hosted in Melbourne by Pax Christi.

    Papua New Guinea Mine Watch's Jemima Garrett interviewed Clive recently: New doco says mining not necessary on Bougainville

    It's nearly 4 years since we first met and made this video:

    The original post, for Th!nk About It #3: Developing World, has details: Mekamui Message: No More Mining, No More Bloodshed

    I'll update this when After The War is available online.

    Tuesday, February 4, 2014

    Peter Greste: 35 days Detained and Counting

    Australian journalist Peter Greste and other staff form Al Jazeera English were arrested in Egypt on December 28 2013. They are now awaiting trial on highly dubious terrorism charges. I left this comment on the Guardian's latest story Peter Greste arrest footage is leaked as al-Jazeera denounces 'propaganda'

    Gradually the amount of media coverage of this story has increased to the level it deserves. I am staggered, nevertheless, that there is no coordinated action campaign to pressure the Egyptian government to release the Al Jazeera staff and drop these charges.

    I have sent the following email to the Egyptian Embassy in Canberra. Hope others will join me:

    'I am writing to express my grave concern about the arrest and imprisonment of Australian journalist Peter Greste.

    It is impossible not to agree with the sentiments of the UN Human Rights Commission:
    UN high commissioner for human rights spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, says the accusations are extremely vague.

    "Aiding a terrorist group, harming the national interest - I think there was some mention of incitement as well - [are] very vague charges," she said.

    "And this is very worrying because if you are going to bring charges of this sort you would at least need something very clear and transparent from the government, which we have not seen."
    Mr Greste should be released form gaol immediately and charges against him and his colleagues should be dropped.

    Egypt risks losing the goodwill of the international community during these difficult times.'

    Their email address is:

    This seems an appropriate cause for Amnesty International. Action is being taken today in Kenya where Peter Greste resides: Nairobi protest to demand release of Peter Greste and colleagues

    The latest:

    Lots of people, especially other journalists are doing their bit but it needs a real campaign. Peter's family are tweeting on his account: @PeterGreste Let's support them as we did Greenpeace's Colin Russell when he and his fellow activists were locked in Russian gaols.

    Thursday, January 23, 2014

    Rule Without Law: "Australia is Nauru's paymaster"

    From my post for Global Voices Online Rule of Law Overturned in Nauru:

    The Australian government has been slow to react with some on twitter accusing it of complicity...

    Barrister and human rights advocate Julian Burnside also took to the web, criticising several recent governments who have supported the Pacific Solution... "Australia is Nauru's paymaster"...

    Many on twitter have been calling on the Australian government and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to take strong action such as boycotts imposed on Fiji in similar circumstances...


    Thursday, January 9, 2014

    WikiLeaks Party's Shock Visit With Syria's Assad

    From my post for Global Voices Advocacy- WikiLeaks Supporters Shocked by Visit With Syria's Assad:
    Despite John Shipton and Wikipedia indicating that the delegation also met with the Syrian opposition, details have not become available yet. Accompanying journalist Chris Ray did not mention the meetings in his post.

    ...Doubtless, Shipton and other delegation members will face many questions when they return to Australia.