Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review: Glenferrie Lodge


Glenferrie Lodge, situated mere metres down the road from Kirribilli house, bills itself as a “3 star character hotel” ideal for student travellers on a budget. Among the perks it claims is water views, free breakfast, and a casual, home grown atmosphere.

While the water views are limited to the most expensive of the rooms, the Lodge delivers on being relatively budget-friendly, in most respects living up to the promise of being a suitable place for a visiting family member to stay if the idea of them crashing in your dank student housing for a weekend is too much to bear. The breakfast is a nice touch, and the Lodge’s surroundings quite scenic.

If you’re looking for an accessible place in the thick of the city and bustling inner suburbs, however, you’re better off looking elsewhere. While the Lodge is located a few minutes’ walk from Kirribilli Wharf, ferries are infrequent and only stop by every hour. A longer walk to North Sydney would still see you trekking over half an hour to make it to the Sydney CBD.

Give it a recommendation if your mum’s in town, but give it a miss if you’re a student.

Prices begin from $79.

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Review: Typical System – Total Control

By Kyle Redman

It’s been three years since Melbourne post-punk, cult supergroup of sorts, Total Control released their debut full-length album Henge Beat to supreme under-hype – which was bizarre, to say the least. Total Control boasts Dan Stewart from UV Race acclaim, and Mickey Young of Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Lace Curtain notoriety. In fact, this band stretches the entire synapse of Melbourne’s garage rock scene. It’s a supergroup whichever way you look at it, yet despite its impressive New Wave sci-fi punk and dystopian themes, Henge Beat didn’t make a big splash. It did splash though, and since then, Total Control has amassed a sort of cult following amongst those with their fingers on the pulse of Melbourne’s garage scene.

On the back of a split 7-inch with Thee Oh Sees, some experimental singles, and returns to their own regular musical projects, Total Control have come back in 2014 with another full-length album, Typical System. It’s more mature sounding – a relaxed experimentation of breezy new wave synth intervals, best showcased on the opener “Glass”, and acute scratchy punk jams, (see “Expensive Dog”). Musically, the six-piece are totally in control (sorry), deftly rotating from a rocking psych jam session in “Black Spring”, over to the synth musing in “The Ferryman”, and further on to Moog dripping doom-tronica in “Hunter”. These transitions are seamless because you never really know what side of the experiment you’re going to meet with each track. In fact, they close the album with what is perhaps their most accessible track in “Safety Net”, so much is their disregard for convention.

Sonically, the band are supreme, and it’s easy to coast through the jam sessions and the smooth synth rides without deep engagement. You’d be missing half of the fun, though. Dead poet and resident nihilist philosopher Dan Stewart loads tracks “Systemic Fuck” and “Black Dog” with open-ended questions poking at the end of times. True to his Nietzschean inspiration, Dan demonstrates a cunning sense of humour, waxing deadpan existential lyricism and monotonous complaints – “You were your worst” – snapping into Iceage-esque snarls between “Liberal Party” and “Two Less Jacks”, the latter ending with yells of “I surrender”.

You don’t have to intellectualise what’s presented here. The swirling guitar and drum repetition matches with the synth loops and Total Control’s bouncey sense of consistent rhythm. Sounds of new wave haunt the album, rearing prominently in the track “Flesh War”. It’s a straightforward ghost of post-punk – you can feel Joy Division, Suicide, and the Buzzcocks – but despite how orthodox the sound really is, Dan finds room for more radical lyricism. Slowly shifting lyrics mutate from “news” and “fame” to “noose” and “flame”. It’s a comment as straightforward as the instrumentation, a Kafkaesque dystopian life under surveillance. In their most conformist, Total Control are radical.

Total Control aren’t a band in a sense; their soundcloud is labelled with “WE CAN’T TOUR”. They’re a supergroup returning to their regular projects now, and if this is their final work, they’ve departed from a superb exploration of post-punk, philosophical-manifesto lyricism and sick psych jams. Listen to this with the news on mute.


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Review: Still Alive – Exhibition

By Sarah Fernandes


The Refugee Art Project is a locally run, not-for-profit collective that organises art classes for asylum seekers and refugees. Still Alive is an exhibition of original artworks created by participants from the Villawood Detention Centre, as well as from families and children who have been granted refugee status and are settling into the community. The show features works by asylum seekers and refugees from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Burma.

It becomes almost immediately apparent upon entering that these artworks transcend the notion of technical or stylistic “greatness”. While there are a range of mediums and approaches on display, the most powerful aspect of each piece is the story it tells. The uniting thread of trauma and sadness mingled with hope (and even humour) is extremely powerful.

Perhaps the hardest hitting of all the works are those done by children. The contrast between their juvenile style and the distressing content is quite confronting. Their innocence, which provides a universal emotional touchstone, really brings home the full extent of the suffering experienced at the hands of our own government. It’s absurd and saddening that we’ve become seemingly complicit in letting this mental and physical torture occur.

It’s disheartening to think that these artworks speak so loudly, and yet will probably never be seen by those inflicting the damage. One can only hope that art provides at least a temporary refuge.

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Review: Lucy – Luc Besson

By Lucia Watson

Scarlett Johansson plays a highly evolved drug mule in this sci-fi action film from director Luc Besson. I must admit I don’t usually go for the mainstream box office hits, but the idea of a mainstream film that passes the Bechdel test piqued my curiosity. Lucy follows the story of a young American ex-pat living in Taiwan and becomes involved in a drug trafficking ring. This ring is led by the intimidating Mr. Jiang, played by Choi Min-sik of Oldboy fame (the most badass piece of Korean film out), who turns Lucy and three others into drug mules after an ordeal involving lots of guns and drugs. The film begins with what I can only guess is a drug war between the Korean mafia and Taiwanese gangsters, but things get freaky pretty quick.

The premise of the film is based off the idea that we mere mortals only use 10 per cent of our brain, but when ScarJo absorbs the package of a new fun designer drug, her brain inexplicably begins to “gain access” to supposedly unused parts of her brain (yay for Hollywood science!). This is where things begin to kick off, and Lucy turns into a superhuman, gangster-fighting machine on a quest for retribution. Scarlett Johansson plays the enlightened Lucy with a cold, calculating reserve that is almost psychopathic in nature.

Her quest for revenge sends her to the door of Professor Norman, played by Morgan Freeman. And this is where things started to fall apart for me. The premise of the film itself is an interesting idea (despite its basis in pseudoscience), but as Lucy begins to gain access to more of her brain, things go from pseudoscience to fairy tale.

The film is full of unresolved issues and details left unexplained. It also left me with an overwhelming sense of disappointment at what could have been 2014’s answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Though the character of Lucy was, I think, intentionally two-dimensional, in a sense there was no real character development before the action took place. Though Lucy is supposedly the “strong female protagonist”, you still know next to nothing about her except that she was taken advantage of by the Korean mafia and now she’s pretty much the messiah.

I digress; I could go on about how Lucy doesn’t further the cause of women in film, but that shall be saved for another time. What I will say is that despite plot holes and missing details, there was some really interesting cinematography. The film features brief snippets of stock footage of the animal kingdom, intended to show us how humanity is no different from the rest of the living creatures on this planet. We are, after all, just trying to survive. I think therein lies the central idea behind the film: What drives us to keep living?

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An Ode to the Dyson Airblade

By Laksha Prasad


An Ode to the Dyson Airblade

Ten seconds is all it takes. Ten loud, glorious, whirlwind seconds and you’re ready to go again!

Who the fig tree is this miracle worker?

Well that’s the Dyson Airblade for you! As weird as it may seem, I would like to take 563 words of your invaluable time to express just how this hand dryer is more than just your ordinary outhouse appliance.

To begin with, you may notice that this total dreamboat is located in almost every bathroom on campus and has replaced the heinous, revolving towel rotisserie that each one of us suspected of carrying some undiscovered STI.

Having been installed to increase the hygiene standards of the university and drop the costs of cleaning materials, this no-touch, efficient and considerate piece of machinery is possibly the greatest campus investment since the coffee cart.

Named after what only sounds like one of the Top 60 Ghetto Names, the Dyson Airblade’s charm and flair with which it heats your cold, wet hands, and the way it magically spirits away any remaining suds, really blows its predecessors out of the water.

Good ol’ Dyson is usually what stands in between us traipsing awkwardly around Matthews food court with moist hands and nonchalantly fist-bumping your mate (who is blissfully unaware of the previous five minutes of your life because your hands are breathtakingly warm and dry).

Just think about it. Back in the days of the pestilence rotisserie and button-operated blower, drying your hands often required much deliberation – mainly around how long you are willing to wait in line to dry your hands (contract chlamydia) by pressing that button.

Now it’s just a matter of quickly slipping your hands in between those sleek, sanitary and sensory-operated cheeks and you’re back in your lecture before the introduction of the next slide!

However, drying one’s hands is not the sole capability of this baby – indeed, the Airblade has become much more than a part of your tedious fecal disposal routine.

You may have not actually realised your admiration for the dryer yet, but its warmth equals the love and warmth of a brother, mother…even lover.

I am fairly certain that many of you have felt how freaking freezing this season has been. Those early morning starts, late-night finishes, or even those breaks in between class, have definitely been made easier by holing up in the bathroom and defrosting your digits with Dyson – in a way that hand-holding has never been able to accomplish.

I mean, the reliance of gripping your coffee to seal in the heat is dictated by how fast you actually consume the beverage, and your hands have to share space in those hoodie pockets with old tissues and car keys.

Not to mention your mate or sneaky bed friend’s hand is only around to hold until the next lecture…but where there’s civilisation, there’s a loo, and where there’s a loo, there’s a Dyson Airblade waiting to warm your soul.

It doesn’t just dry hands…it dries tears of loneliness and fills a void that no other appliance can fill.

Call me slightly unhinged, but with a winter like this one, I would choose Dyson over a date with Gosling in the back of his Lambo, every time.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to fall in love with Dyson A. Blade, but there’s nothing wrong with feeling enamoured by an appliance…am I right?

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The Urge to Jump

By Srestha Mazumder

Have you ever stood at the edge of a cliff, or any high point for that matter, looked down and wanted to jump?

Many people experience this urge to jump off high places just “to see what would happen”.  When explaining this urge to people, many misinterpret it and thus label it as a suicidal tendency. But what if the person who wanted to jump is not suicidal at all?  How would one explain this irrational temptation to jump off a cliff just to see what would happen?

According to Sigmund Freud, we all have an unconscious desire to die, or a death instinct known as Thanatos. And when we are faced with situations that allow us to carry it through, we are tempted. Under Freud’s theory, these death instincts are “repressed” in our unconscious and come to surface in situations where we have the opportunity to carry them out. However, many psychologists and others alike are hesitant in believing in this innate “death desire” we all seem to possess. Moreover, they believe that this urge is due to some other impeding factor and not our self-destructive behaviour, as Freud explained it to be.

Many have experienced this sensation before, however, not many people have brought it to light. A psychology doctoral student named Jennifer Hames was the first to bring it to light in a lab meeting with her colleagues. Intrigued by this sensation, and also the fact that many others in the room had felt something similar, they decided to take a look into the phenomena. However, much to their dismay, no psychology literature mentioned anything of the sort. As a result, a research study was initiated.

In order to unravel this mystery, the Psychology department of Florida State University did some research. In 2012, in their Journal of Affective Disorders, they published their findings and conclusions. They studied 431 college students and noted their urges to jump from high places and their view on suicide. Their levels of depression and sensitivity to anxiety were also measured. This wasn’t measuring the amount of depression and anxiety they had, but rather how they susceptible they were to the physical effects that are attached to anxiety and anxious behaviour.

With the results coming back showing that approximately one-third of the students had experienced this before, Florida State University were able to come to a conclusion. However, it should be noted that due to the cross-sectional nature of this study, the conclusions are limited in strength, but they are still noteworthy. There is no significant correlation between individuals who have depression and/or anxiety and having felt this phenomenon. However, those students who had considered suicide previously were more likely to have felt this urge. In spite of this, over 50 per cent of students who have never considered suicide have also been subject to this urge at least once.

Contrary to popular belief, the urge to jump is not an innate death wish, nor is it associated with suicidal ideation. This experience is quite “normal” and has since been termed the High Place Phenomenon (HPP).  Basically, when we stare down a high point, our brain emits a safety signal, which we misinterpret and take it as an indication to jump. It is not a death wish, but rather it is our desire to survive that kicks in. However, it was also noted that although this is a typically normal behaviour, those who have some level of anxiety are more prone to this sensation and misinterpretation.

The phenomenon is fairy new to the world of psychology, and therefore there are very limited literatures in relation to this. In 2012, Jennifer Hames did mention that she would be planning further research into this phenomena. However, no papers have yet been published to further this research. The conclusion that we can come to, however, is that this urge is common and is felt by both suicide ideators and non, alike.  Hence, those individuals who have noted this experience before are not suicidal, as Freud would point out, but are instead just affirming their will to live.

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The Hogwash School of Witchcraft and Patriarchy

By Nick Timms


In her role as Pacific Researcher for Amnesty International, Kate Schuetze has witnessed the harrowing events that follow when a woman in a Papua New Guinean tribe is accused of witchcraft.

“We don’t often go into the details, but a lot of the time they’re burnt with iron rods, they might be cut by bush knives,” she says.

“Part of the belief in sorcery is that a woman’s reproductive organs is where it resides, so they are often quite brutally treated, and require hospital treatment to recover. One of the victims that we spoke with recently had about six months in hospital to recover from the injuries she sustained.”

Papua New Guinea is one of many places around the world whose people still hold a firm belief in sorcery and witchcraft, and persecute women who they believe have used their powers to harm someone in the community. These women are often tortured, paraded around the village naked, raped and killed.

Witchcraft accusations were brought to international attention in early 2013, when photos and footage surfaced of Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old woman, being stripped, doused in petrol and burned alive. The horrific nature of the case brought the topic into international discussion. While Kepari’s attackers have still not been brought to justice today, there was some positive outcome of the controversy: The PNG government repealed the 1971 Sorcery Act, which provided reduced sentences for those who assaulted or murdered someone, as long as they said there was witchcraft involved.

However, the accusations of witchcraft still persist, and not just in Papua New Guinea.

Dr Swati Parashar, a lecturer of politics and international studies at Monash University, has done extensive field work in India and has noticed equally disturbing levels of witchcraft accusations there as well.

“They’ve had a lot of violence against women, where they not only punish women through sexual violence, but parade them naked, rape them, and also kill them,” she says.

“I think there’s a little bit of arbitrariness to how the charges come up. They’re usually from men, who complain after some tragedy in their family, or some death that is related to some woman somewhere. It’s gotten institutionalised into the system. I would argue that it is not necessarily sanctioned by any of the religions practiced in India, but over the years I think culturally it is quite ingrained in societies… I would argue that it’s highly patriarchal and arbitrary.”

Dr Parashar also noticed in her field work that the sorcery-related attacks in India are not limited to small tribal areas.

“That is the impression that I used to have, that it emanates from fairly rural areas, but last year during my fieldwork, it was quite interesting to note that many of the cases of witchcraft are actually coming from urban cities…there were more complaints coming from urban areas, which really shocked me,” she says.

She also notes that while attacks such as these are not reported often in Western media, the attacks are incredibly frequent.

“If you start travelling to these areas like I was last year for my fieldwork, it was remarkable how every day in the papers you have stories about witchcraft or some woman that has been accused of something that’s gone wrong; it’s very regular, if you scan the local papers and local languages,” she says.

“There were some alarming figures coming from urban areas, and there were more than a thousand cases over a period of time of about 6 months to a year, and those were a thousand cases that were reported.”

Ms Schuetze shares these concerns. There are multiple cases of murder due to a belief in sorcery in Papua New Guinea that are not being reported on by the media.

“I’d say we heard of at least a dozen reports last year, and I’d say that the vast majority still aren’t getting into the media, or the media is not reporting on them,” she says.

“I think that the challenge in Papua New Guinea is that the local journalists don’t have the training and capacity or the budget to do trips and thoroughly investigate some of these cases.”

As for a specific number of cases in PNG, Ms Schuetze is unsure.

“It’s hard to quote a specific number, because I don’t think enough extensive research has been done on it, but there was a religious leader who did some research on it in his time and he believed that there were over 200 killings a year just in his area alone,” she says.

“There are parts of Papua New Guinea where it is more prolific, particularly in the highlands, which are known for their violence in any event, but it also depends on the cultural beliefs of the local community, as to what type for sorcery they believe in, and how they’d react to someone accused of sorcery. Some communities they will just banish that person, or seek compensation from them, but increasingly we are hearing more reports of people being killed, and being killed in a very public way.”

Martha MacIntyre, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Melbourne, has noted the occurrences in other places such as Africa, and questions whether it is always just women who are persecuted.

“The thing is with witchcraft, although it is predominantly women, it is not only women who are being tortured and killed for witchcraft. It’s also men,” she says.

“There are places in Africa where there are similar things, but I don’t know that they’re exclusively female there either.”

Ms Schuetze, however, believes that the pressing need is to boost the status of women, and making sure that all abide by the laws of the government. Women are still being persecuted for witchcraft in PNG, even after the repeal of the Sorcery Act.

“There was one where a woman had a court appearance. The court appearance was on the Monday, and she scattered some leaves outside the courthouse on the weekend, and she was seen doing that, and so the court actually charged her under the criminal code with an act of sorcery, like putting a spell to try and make the proceedings go in her favour,” she says.

“The problem is you’ve got magistrates at the local village level that aren’t very well educated in terms of the rule of law as we understand it.”

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Why is no one talking about the Central African Republic crisis?

By Divya Venkataraman


For a country “on the verge of genocide” since late 2013, coverage of the Central African Republic (CAR) crisis is notably absent from mainstream media headlines. The politics of media selectivity are often relatively transparent, centring around shock value and some potential for personal and community identification. However, when such patterns of inclusion obscure our vision of such gross injustice, we need to question the commonly accepted workings of our media sources.

CAR, an ex-French colony, was never a stable nation-state. The crisis reached new peaks, however, in December 2012, when President Francois Bozize was overthrown by a coup instigated by the primarily Muslim group, the Seleka (meaning “union” in the local language). They later instated Michel Djotodia as leader, committing horrific human rights violations in the process against the Christian majority of the country. Djotidia has since stepped down and been replaced by Transitional National Assembly head Catherine Samba-Panza, with the promise of real elections in early 2015. However, in light of recent events, this seems a faint hope.

Rape, kidnappings, extrajudicial executions and torture are commonplace, as the primarily Christian anti-Balaka retaliate against the Seleka with more civilian violence. Amnesty International reported “ethnic cleansing”, as the Muslim population of the capital Bangui is being reduced to almost indiscernible numbers. There have been reports of cannibalism, of feeding civilian men to crocodiles and children to snakes, of ghost towns and bodies lying in streets. It sounds like a conclusive definition of barbarism, and it’s happening in central Africa.

So why has it not made it into headlines? Is it simply that a Western audience can only take so much doom and gloom from a place so far removed from our own? Africa has commonly been named “the forgotten continent”. It appears in the Australian consciousness as the somewhat blurry landmass under Europe, in which voices merge into one another, and stories of famine and genocide reverberate and echo other historic events, leaving no lasting appreciation of individual impact. South Sudan, the Congo, Tunisia… the list stretches on. When tragedies like MH17 capture the human attention for a period, their impact is grounded in the proverbial kick to the stomach which accompanies imagining that any passenger could have been one of us, or one of our family members.

CAR has been in turmoil for nigh on 80 years, and the situation has ebbed and flowed, which defeats opportunities for punchy headlines – “Massacre continues”, “Massacre is still going” just don’t have the same shock value.

This is not to say that there has not been quality reporting on the CAR scene. The BBC has been following closely, as has Al Jazeera. However, they – like many other news agencies – have only a few correspondents for the entirety of Africa, thus limiting journalistic scope and opportunity.

Last week, a ceasefire was signed between the warring factions in CAR. Although most groups agreed that much more than a ceasefire is required, it was, at the very least, a nominal start. However, it was violated after three days, due to the lack of centralised power leaders of the factions hold over their increasingly splintering and independent groups. The number of displaced persons grows and the violence continues.

As David Smith said in his feature for The Guardian in 2013, “A massacre of innocents is taking place in the heart of Africa as the world looks the other way.”  A year on, and nothing has changed. The question will always be, “What can we do?” Western aid and intervention creates dependency and corruption and reeks of neo-imperialism. Even donations can go AWOL. There is no answer. But we can continue to watch and read, hoping that in doing so, CAR realises that the world is watching and that these upcoming elections have an impact.

Perhaps diverting the gaze of international scrutiny to the situation would bolster the integrity of such agreements as the recently signed ceasefire. Or perhaps that’s just naive.

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What You Need to Know About Gaza

By Maddie James

You’ve probably heard a lot in recent weeks about fighting in Israel and Palestine. Israeli students being murdered and missiles aimed into their borders; UN shelters in Palestine shelled and families forced to flee their homes.

And if you’ve been feeling a bit of déjà vu, it’s for good reason – this fighting is merely the latest manifestation of a long and complicated conflict that has its roots in ancient times. Here’s what you need to know.

Thousands of years ago, ancient Jewish people lived in the area that is today known as Israel, but they were forced to abandon their homelands by the Romans.

In Europe, where the majority of the Jewish people settled, anti-Semitism was rife, and as persecution of the Jews became more prolific in the late 19th and early 20th century, hundreds of thousands travelled from their homes and resettled in the land their ancestors had once occupied – which was by that stage, British-controlled Palestine.

Like the Jewish population in the area, Palestine, a predominantly Arab and Muslim nation, dated their claims to the land back thousands of years. They too had extremely important religious sites in the area.

But native Palestinians were not pleased with the influx of Jewish settlers, and the United Nations, in an attempt to end the conflict between these two groups, intervened in 1947 by formally creating Israel, granting the Jewish population the national, independent homeland they desired.

Palestinian land was divided, and although the Jewish settlers made up only one-third of the population in the area, they were given 55 per cent of the contested land. Suffice it to say, Palestine wasn’t pleased with the arrangement.

Tensions didn’t end there. A year afrer, Israel was created, the nation went to war with neighbouring Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israeli forces prevailed, and at the end of the conflict, Israel possessed 77 per cent of the contested land, and over 700,000 Palestinians were uprooted from their homes, creating a refugee crisis. Today, there are over seven million descendants of the refugees displaced in the 1948 war, seeking a right to return to the land they believe their families were forced to abandon.

In 1967, a war between Israel and Palestine left Israel in control of several key areas, home to large Palestinian populations:

- The West Bank, home to nearly three million Palestinians, as well as many Jewish settlers and several Jewish holy sites, which Palestine considers illegal occupation of their land;

- East Jerusalem, which was previously occupied by Jordan, and was condemned by the UN Security Council as an illegal annexation; and

- Gaza, a densely populated strip of land, mostly surrounded by Israel but overwhelmingly populated by Palestinians. The Gaza Strip was occupied by Israeli troops until 2005, and it continues to be subject to an Israeli blockade preventing goods like food, medicine and electricity from being moved into the area. This territory is currently under the control of Hamas, a militant resistance group that formed in response to Israel’s presence in the area and won political power in a 2006 election overseen by the US. Part of Hamas’s charter states the destruction of Israel as one of their key purposes.

So while Israeli forces and Hamas militants have been firing rockets at each other intermittently for years, in July 2014, the nations found themselves on the brink of war once more. On June 10 of this year, three Israeli students disappeared while studying in the West Bank. Israeli forces entered the Palestinian territory, accusing Hamas of abducting the young men, who were found dead 20 days after they went missing, apparently executed.

Since, in addition to several murders and attacks by militants, several schools declared as shelters by the United Nations were hit by missiles, and according to the UN, Israeli forces are responsible. On July 17, Israeli forces invaded Gaza, planning to destroy the tunnels Hamas had built to transport supplies like food and medicine around the Israeli blockade. Reports suggest that one in four Gazans fled their homes before Israel withdrew its troops on August 5.

For years, other nations have attempted to mediate peace talks between the countries, but to no avail. Two major options for solving the conflict have been debated. A “two-state” solution would involve establishing Palestine as an independent nation, with control of Gaza and the majority of the West Bank. The “one-state” solution would see all the land in dispute become either a large Israeli nation, or a large Palestinian one. The Australian government currently supports a two-state solution.

There have also been suggestions like financial compensation for Palestine, or limited resettlement in Israel, but leaders have never been able to agree on how to implement such a solution. Additionally, both sides have been unwilling to compromise on certain factors – Palestinian negotiators are insistent that the Israeli blockade preventing food, medicine and electricity from being delivered into Gaza must end, while Israeli forces are unwilling to discuss peace talks with a militant group that refuses to acknowledge their right to a homeland. Despite ongoing peace talks, it is uncertain whether a permanent ceasefire is likely to be reached.

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We kill people based on metadata

By Matthew Davis


The government is fervently trying to convince the nation that mandatory retention of metadata will help stop terrorists, without impacting privacy. However, they have yet to consistently define what metadata is.

The term metadata encompasses all digital information, excluding the core content. For phone calls, this includes location, time, duration and both phone numbers. For emails, it includes the subject, recipient addresses and attachments. For web surfing, it includes URLs, location, device type and even the images. Technically, the 140-character content of a tweet is contained in its metadata. In its Senate Committee submission regarding data retention, iiNet explained that “metadata reveals even more about an individual than the content itself”. Michael Hayden (former director of the NSA and the CIA) has admitted that “we kill people based on metadata”.

Attorney-General George Brandis has tried to downplay privacy concerns (via Sky News): “We’re not tracking the websites you visit, only the web addresses.” This is analogous to saying “we don’t care where you live, we only want your home address”. Brandis could not clarify whether “web address” means IP address, domain name or URL. Tony Abbott only added to the ambiguity (via ABC Radio): “Let’s be clear what this so called metadata is. … It’s not what you’re doing on the Internet. It’s the sites you’re visiting.”

The text you type into search engines is encoded into the URL of the results page. When you visit a Facebook page, the unique identification number of that page is encoded into the URL. Even if “address” means the IP address or domain name, a lot of sensitive information can still be deduced from such metadata. Grindr.com, beyondblue.com, pornhub.com and socialistalternative.org are all domain names which contain no content themselves. However, their presence in someone’s browsing history would reveal sensitive information that a reasonable person may want to keep private. (Online porn consumption is so ubiquitous that Montreal University researchers had to cancel a study about porn because they couldn’t find a single male over 20 years of age who hadn’t consumed it.)

Claiming that metadata is harmless is disingenuous. Metadata can tell you that someone called a suicide hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge, but it won’t tell you what that person talked about. Metadata can tell you that someone received a call from an HIV testing centre, then they immediately called their doctor, health insurance company and spouse. The metadata can’t tell you what was discussed, but it is fairly obvious.

Interestingly, whilst in opposition, Brandis opposed identical measures. The Coalition’s stance has changed, but Abbott himself said that the risk of terrorism in Australia “has not changed”. Despite this, the government wants universal data retention, an extra $630 million funding for intelligence agencies and the power to stop people travelling to Middle Eastern countries.

Most people have something to hide, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. Would you be at all reluctant to make public your academic transcript, bank account transaction history and unsanitised browsing history? If yes, you do have something to hide. Queer people should have the right to hide their identity if they want. HIV positive people and cancer patients should be able to keep their status’s hidden from the general public. Most of these examples could be deduced from metadata alone. Currently, law enforcement agencies require a warrant to access paper documents in your house. They do not require a warrant to access digital metadata. This is arbitrarily inconsistent.

Mandatory data retention is extremely expensive. Large telcos will each have to process and store up to one petabyte (1000 terabytes) per day. Over two years, that comes to more than 0.7 exabytes. This will cost each customer approximately $130 per year. Chief Regulatory Officer of iiNet, Steve Dalby, argues that “it is inappropriate to impose costs and obligations on unwilling commercial entities in order to create an intrusive police state”. Optus has made similar statements.

The government has claimed that telcos already collect the data that the government wants stored. This is false. iiNet said that “this suggestion…could be likened to saying, ‘You are going to the shops to get a litre of milk anyway, and so it’s no big deal to bring me the whole supermarket’”. The only information telcos require for billing is the quantity of data, date, time and outgoing phone numbers. It is not in their commercial interest to store anything else, therefore doing so would be a waste of resources.

These huge data honey pots would be of no commercial use to telcos. Security is not the core business of telcos, so they will lack the expertise that government security agencies have. This is more true of the smaller telcos. Inevitably, there will be breaches. Malicious individuals will be able to steal money from bank accounts. They can also hold sensitive information to ransom, forcing innocent customers to fork out blackmail money. The proposals and current laws don’t require telcos to notify customers of such breaches – voluntarily notifying customers of such incidents would be bad for businesses.

The law enforcement agencies themselves have a history of abusing their access to sensitive information. We have already seen from the Edward Snowden leaks that the Five Eyes (which includes Australian agencies) use their stored information and privileged access to destroy the reputation of their targets. Such targets are not limited to proven terrorists – they include ordinary, innocent citizens.

The original goal of this proposal was to help combat terrorism. This was soon broadened to include normal crime fighting. However, intelligence agencies already have the power to obtain warrants for all digital activities (not just metadata) of suspects and associates. Furthermore, it is trivially easy for moderately tech-savvy individuals and groups to circumvent this panopticon. The Attorney-General’s department has admitted that all it takes is the use of a Tor client or VPN, and telcos will not see what you are doing.

The government’s mandatory data retention proposals will not provide any extra security. Nonetheless, they will cost hundreds of dollars per person per year, and it is probable that the information will be stolen by malicious hackers and abused by our own government.

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