Friday, 22 March 2013

Lying with the truth: the state of Australian Labor

What on earth is Labor doing to itself? I thought the idea of a long lead time to the next federal election was to give Tony Abbott, whose approval ratings and preferred prime minister score remain a real obstacle to electoral success, lots of rope. And here they are tearing themselves apart with this bizarre attempt by former leader Simon Crean to unseat the prime minister in favour of former unseated prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Then again, is it purely Labor pushing in this direction?

Don’t you love the Murdoch media spin on this where they routinely do not report the bit where Rudd says he would not contest the leadership unless it’s vacant and focus on the bit where he says he will only contest it with overwhelming support, making him look cowardly rather than principled? Of course it’s not terribly hard when their competition supports their spin.

And there’s the routine Newspoll (also a Murdoch company) strategy of asking Labor supporters for preferred prime minister options including Rudd, whereas for the Liberals, they only ask about Abbott, no matter how low his positives.

Lying with the truth. Why didn’t us academics think of this? Imagine how many more papers we could write.

I don’t much like the Labor Party. What they stand for is not too bad, but they have become a party of expediency rather than principle. The opposing Coalition has this in a big way too: both will do whatever it takes to win, which is why I generally support the Greens when I get involved in Australian politics. But what I really dislike is dishonest news media that play the game rather than report it and deliberately misinform the public.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Usability horror: where will it end?

Windows 8 has lost the start menu.

I’m rather disappointed to lose this newbie instruction:
in order to shut down a windows machine, click on the start menu
I’m curious how eliminating a single global menu to find everything that is replaced by a bunch of cryptic keyboard shortcuts is an advance. The Ubuntu Unity interface and trends in the Mac OS interface represent a similar design sin:
pretty is not simple, if it obscures basic ability to get stuff done
Apple started moving that way since Jobs returned to Apple and fired the human interface team, who used evidence-based research to drive design choices. As the usability leader, sadly, others have followed when they started going wrong.

The notion that a desktop interface should look like a tablet interface because tablets are popular is like arguing in a market where bicycle sales exceed car sales that we should throw out the steering wheel and adopt handlebars in cars.

If I search on Windows 8 interface, almost all articles on the first google page are negative, or “fixes” to make it the way it was. A similar search on the latest Mac OS (Mac OS X Lion interface) produces similar results. As does a search on the Ubuntu Unity interface.

Am I missing something obvious, or are the Dutch about to produce a car with handlebars?

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A Case for Male Consciousness?

South African Minister of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, got herself into deep trouble by fingering Afrikaans males as tending towards family violence because of their Calvinist upbringing that makes them see women and children as property.

She made two serious errors: painting all Afrikaners with the same brush, and assuming that the error is specific to Afrikaans males.

Many Afrikaners have transcended this sort of pseudo-conservative upbringing and behave like modern humans. But it is also true that this sort of attitude persists, not only among those with an Afrikaans Calvinist upbringing. Extraordinary levels of violence against women and children in South Africa and many other parts of the world testify to a broadly sick society.

Here in the Eastern Cape, I’ve encountered the following attitudes:

  • Xhosa culture requires that a woman satisfy her husband; if she cannot, he’s entitled to seek an additional wife (this from an AIDS counsellor delivering a workshop to public health department staff)
  • a mother of a disabled child, concerned that she cannot look after that child adequately, decides not to have any more and is told she’s selfish
  • a mother battling to cope with her children’s needs as well as look after the house has an unemployed husband, who sees no obligation to help out in the home
Add to this the attitude of our shower-head president, and we have a broad picture of one of the biggest failures of post-apartheid South Africa: the failure of feminism. No one has failed in this field more shamefully than the ANC Women’s League, an organisation with a proud history. When Jacob Zuma was revealed in his rape trial to have attitudes that, while not sufficient to convict him, indicated anything but a modern attitude to women, the silence was deafening. Outrage at comments by another party’s leaders falls a bit flat against this backdrop.

The worrying thing for me in all this is not only that we have dropped the ball on women’s rights, but that the role of males in society is demeaned by the notion that they have no obligation in the family, and they only make demands of women, and give nothing back.

Claiming this is all “traditional culture” and therefore not open to question is BS of the highest order. Western society also used to have attitudes we no longer accept in modern society, including racism, slavery and  – yes – relegating women and children to a role little above chattels. I am also not convinced that the attitudes encountered today are really traditions, but rather evidence of the breakdown of traditions. But in any case, we have the option, with a world-class human rights-based constitution, to do better.

So what can we do better?

First, I would like to see a revitalised women’s movement. Whether the ANC Women’s League is up to the task I don’t know, but if they aren’t, someone else should pick up the baton.

Second, while it is possible for males to be feminists, I would like to see a movement to emphasise the positive role of males in society – a complement to feminism, with the obvious name of masculism. Unfortunately that term already exists as a label that carries some connotations that don’t quite fit the philosophy I advocate, including opposition to feminism, so I propose instead a movement called male consciousness. As with feminism, the emphasis would be on equal rights, with a focus on how to reform the male role in society and individual power relations. We should acknowledge the real differences between male and female roles that are physiologically defined – who carries the baby, who is likely to be physically stronger – while striving for political and social equality. By contrast with some interpretations of masculism, there is no requirement to oppose feminism: the idea is to arrive at a new social contract that accepts feminism, and redefines the male role in a way compatible with women’s rights. More positively, male consciousness defines a male role that includes full membership of and responsibility for family, and recognition that the male role in society should be the same as the female role wherever practically possible, and complementary where not.

Feminism is a reaction to male domination. Male supporters of feminism need a positive philosophy to work with, and we need a positive philosophy to replace “traditional” values that are out of place in a human rights-based society. What I have here is a starting point for defining such a philosophy – let us take it forward from here and fill in the details.