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The Self-Made Myth

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It’s always baffled me how so many successful, usually white, usually male, individuals claim that they alone were close to solely responsible for their success, discounting or ignoring so many factors that contributed to that success.

One factor that’s so often discounted is simply the fact that it’s easier to take risks if you’ll still have a safe place to sleep and something to eat if that risk turns to failure. Another is knowing that you have the skills or qualifications to get another job. Yet another is having a lighter skin color. Another is having a manner of speaking that’s accepted. The list of other overlooked “advantages” is far longer than most “self-made” men will ever consider. And I’ve certainly had more than a few of those usually discounted or overlooked advantages.

Then, there’s luck. Now, it is true that people who work and try harder do have more “luck” than those who don’t, but in all the fields in which I’ve worked, I can name a number of people who had more talent and who worked harder that others who were more successful, largely because the successful ones were in the right place at the right time.

Obviously, it’s not all luck. I do work hard. I’ve averaged writing 2 ½ books a year for more than twenty straight years, and I’ve visited almost forty percent of the B&N bookstores in the U.S. over the past 20 years, as well as hundreds of other bookstores, not to mention the time and effort spent on the website and other activities, but there are other authors who worked that hard as well, and not sold as well as I have, and there are some who haven’t worked as hard as I have who’ve sold a great deal more.

I was a marginally successful short story writer – very marginal – until Ben Bova wrote me a critical rejection letter. He didn’t have to write it. I was fortunate that he did, because his suggestion that I should write novels was absolutely accurate. I was also fortunate that David Hartwell read all the major SF magazines, because when I submitted my first novel to him, he recalled my name from the few ANALOG stories I’d written, and that meant that he turned to reading my manuscript before those of totally unknown writers. Now he bought the book because it was good enough to publish, but I’m sure there were others good enough to publish that probably didn’t get bought for various reasons. I was also fortunate that David prompted me to do to my first SF convention, because the experience at that particular convention prompted me to write The Magic of Recluce, which I never would have considered, at least not until later, and Tor published that book with a Darrell Sweet cover just a year after The Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time book, which had a Sweet cover, and the fact that The Magic of Recluce also had a Darrell Sweet cover and was released so soon after The Eye of the World certainly had to have helped enormously in launching my fantasy career.

Whether you call it luck or good fortune, it’s still a factor, and while I’m exceedingly happy that those events worked out that way, I’m also very well aware that they might not have… and that I could still be struggling to write short fiction while mired in a 60-80 hour a week high stress job in Washington, D.C. All of which is why I’m extremely skeptical of anyone who touts themselves as self-made. There are doubtless a handful of such individuals, but far, far fewer than most of those who claim such a title will ever understand.

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dlanods
627 days ago
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Race, Policing and the Voice of the NFL Player

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What does “Black Lives Matter” mean?

BY DUANE BROWN

I am a football player, but I am not just sticking to sports. The events of recent weeks in America should force all of us to have difficult conversations in our locker rooms, in our homes and in our workplace about the root causes of violence, hatred and racism in our country. We have an obligation as professional athletes who give back so much to our communities to educate ourselves and be part of these important discussions.

The narrative created by people who do not understand it would lead you to believe that Black Lives Matter is a radical, police-hating mob. Not only is that viewpoint wildly incorrect, but it also oversimplifies and trivializes the real prejudices that black people endure at the hands of some police officers. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is not saying that the lives of black people matter more than the lives of others, it’s saying our lives matter EQUALLY to everyone else and when they are taken unjustly, we expect justice. That is part of the movement’s stated mission, “…working vigorously for freedom and justice for black people and by extension all people.”

People of color are getting killed at the hands of cops at an alarming rate, with no equal justice. According to the Washington Post, 50 unarmed black Americans have been shot to death by police since 2015, accounting for 39 percent of all fatal shootings of unarmed Americans. An unarmed black person is five times more likely to be shot to death by police than an unarmed white person. Body cams, cell phones and surveillance footage have shown us horrifying images, and some still deny what they see before their very eyes.

Let’s be clear. Black people have never been fully treated as equals in this country: Not 397 years ago (1619), when slaves were first brought to this continent to be free labor; not 153 years ago (1863), when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves from bondage; and not a mere 51 years ago (1965) when the racist Jim Crow laws that mandated segregation were finally ended. In fact, part of the history of policing includes special patrol units, put together to hunt for runaway slaves.

As recently as the 1960s, black people in some states were being attacked and sometimes killed because they wanted to vote and have the same basic rights as everyone else. Imagine that for a moment: Blacks have only been allowed to be fully integrated for the same amount of time that Chris Rock, Dr. Dre and David Spade have been alive. 

Now flash forward to 2016, during a time when you have some people given national platforms to say that black people need to stop making excuses, and “move on!” and categorically deny that racism even exists. How could there not still be racism and underlying prejudices? As Americans we should seriously examine how slavery and segregation have taken a toll on us, both black and white. In the scheme of human history, it has been blink of time since slavery ended and all citizens were declared “free and equal.”

Despite all the evidence in plain sight, some still justify these murders. They say the officers “panicked” or the “suspect made a sudden movement” or worse, the victim “got what he deserved” because at some point in their lives they made a mistake. Why is it whenever a black man is killed by the cops, networks and mainstream media hurriedly check their backgrounds, skimming through Facebook pages and court records to provide a character portrait, as if the findings mean that their murder is justifiable? Let us once and for all accept basic humanity and declare that this is wrong.

Another justification or explanation we hear is “What about black on black crime?” as if we are blind or not upset by the fact that our communities are being ripped apart by violence. This viewpoint is wrong because we know, we see and we hurt as a result of the violence in certain parts of the country, and that needs to be addressed. We have a huge problem with the murder rate in certain areas of the country that we need to get fixed. It’s terrible that so many young men growing up in underserved areas engage in behavior so detrimental to themselves and their peers. It’s something that needs changing, and sadly is largely a byproduct of much of what I’ve talked about in this article.

Wanting police officers who break the law, exhibit racism or use excessive force to be punished is not being ‘anti-cop.’ Everyone has to be accountable.

That being said, police take an oath to “protect and serve” the community and should not be compared to criminals, gang members or even everyday civilians. When your job is to uphold the law you are entrusted with power over other people and if you abuse that power, you must be held accountable. 

Wanting police officers who break the law, exhibit racism or use excessive force on civilians to be punished is NOT being “anti-cop.” Our nation is filled with exemplary men and women who risk their lives every day for us. I respect them, I celebrate them and I am grateful for the ways they sacrifice to preserve justice. Violence against police is not the answer and it is something I DO NOT condone, nor should anyone. I have friends and family members who are cops and are great human beings. But right now, at this pivotal moment in time, we need the great men and women in blue who keep our cities safe to break the silence among them and speak out against those who have a different agenda. Everyone has to be held accountable.

I alone don’t have all the answers, but it’s very clear from the state we are in right now that things must change. All the citizens of this country have a right to be treated equally and to feel safe, and if those rights are infringed upon any of us, all of us are affected. All of our lives should matter, but right now that is not the case for the black ones, and we should all feel compelled to change that.

Duane Brown was a first-round draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2008. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times and was All-Pro in 2012.

* * *

My Home

BY ERIC REID

As I look at my wife’s growing belly that is the safe haven for our next child, I am at a loss for words at this beautiful life created. No one but God can manage such a job, and there is no substitute for the Creator of life. I look at the news and see stories of death. A life destroyed in my hometown. A job that should be reserved for God’s appointed angel, and yet man has killed his brother again.

Man killing man is a tale as old as time. One might think that we would have figured out how to stop pointless bloodshed by now. It’s 2016, and the tale continues. One would think that we’d learn by now how to live in peace. One would think that we are smart enough creatures to move past racial prejudices and discriminations, but it is apparent that we have not.

The tragic death of Alton Sterling has led me to remember events of my past while growing up in Baton Rouge, my home. It is who I am and part of what shaped me into who I am today. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against. I’ve experienced several encounters with police officers that left me wondering how such a person wears a badge. I’ve also been pulled over and there was no prejudice against me. I could speak to those experiences, but what good would it do? The point is that some individuals who are sworn to protect and serve have shed unjustifiable blood.

There is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. It appears that some police are afraid of black people, whether it’s from their own prejudices or ill-conceived stereotypes. In turn, folks in the black community are afraid of police for the same reasons, as well as incidents such as those in Louisiana and Minnesota. Time and time again, this fear of one another has proven to escalate routine encounters into deadly ones.

Let me be clear, not all police officers are racist, but it is alarming that these events continue to pop up all over our nation. Our system is broken, and it’s time for change. Positive, peaceful and systematic change and NOT the disgusting vigilante actions we saw in Texas that took the lives of innocent officers working during a peaceful protest.

To see this country, especially my home state of Louisiana, in such turmoil is sickening.

I’ve pondered many times on how to find a solution to this problem, as well as other problems humanity faces: homelessness, starvation, disease. Almost always, I’m left feeling hopeless and that peace is an insurmountable feat, because there always will be those few who send us back to square one.

We continue to repeat history, and the violence has to stop. It’s overwhelming. I am heartbroken and moved to tears over the events of this past week, this past year. To see this country, especially my home state of Louisiana, in such turmoil is sickening.

I’ve racked my brain trying to come up with an answer only to realize that it is too big a problem for one man to solve. We must come together to find a solution and to overcome these injustices. I can’t imagine what the families of the deceased are going through, but I pray they find the same comfort in Jesus that I do. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

My only hope is in Jesus, the Savior of the world. I have faith in the will of God. I have learned that in times like these God can do amazing things. We just have to believe that He is capable. I pray that He enters our hearts and teaches us how to love one another. Through His faithfulness I pray that He sends us the answer that we’ve been looking for.

Eric Reid, a native of Baton Rouge, was a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2013. He was selected to the Pro Bowl after his rookie season.

Questions or comments? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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dlanods
647 days ago
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Thoughts on privilege

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The first rule of Privilege Club is: You do not know you’re a member of Privilege Club.

The second rule of Privilege Club is: Even if you know you’re a member of Privilege Club, you don’t know how far your membership goes.

The third rule of Privilege Club is: The second rule of Privilege Club applies even if you try to take it into consideration.

The fourth rule of Privilege Club is: You do not talk about Privilege Club, except to deny its existence.

Just what we need: more proclamations from a straight white man

This is my third attempt at writing this post. The reasons I’ve found it hard to write are the same reasons I think it’s important for me to write it. Its purpose is mostly to help me organize (and record) my own thoughts; a secondary purpose is to effectively raise my hand and say “I believe privilege exists” to punctuate the silence from many privileged people. I believe that the more people who openly acknowledge privilege, the easier it will be to defeat, and this post is just one way of acknowledging it.

I recognize that there’s a risk that this post will come across as mansplaining privilege. “Listen dear, I know you think you know about privilege, what with being sexually harassed, talked over in meetings, received less recognition and compensation for your work and so on – but hush now: man talking. Let me tell you what privilege really is.” Recognizing the danger isn’t the same as avoiding it, and I may fall into the pit anyway. Please call me on it if I do.

How does privilege affect me?

I’m a straight, white, cis-gendered, married, middle-class Christian male living in the UK. I could go on with things that have given me advantages, but that’s probably enough to start with.

That means:

  • I can sit here thinking about privilege instead of working a second job or trying to find a job. If I lose my current job, I can be reasonably confident of finding another one before I go hungry.
  • There’s a referendum tomorrow: I can vote freely, and I’m confident the vote won’t be rigged.
  • I can write this post and be pretty confident I won’t be abused for it. (When I messed up an earlier post in a few ways, I was called on it by a writer I admire. It stung, but the criticism was all measured, polite, and useful. No threats, nothing ad hominem. Compare that with the comments on the average feminist article…)
  • I can walk across the local park to the shops without being fear of sexual harassment. (If I walk across at 10pm and there’s a group of teenagers hanging around, I get nervous. I don’t know how rational that is though.)
  • I can show affection to my wife in public and not receive abuse.
  • I can practise my religion without persecution. (I’ve received more abusive comments from other Christians for things like my stance on homosexuality than I’ve received about my other religious beliefs.)
  • Although I tend to talk quite a lot in meetings, I’ve rarely been cricitized for it. I suspect a woman talking the same amount would be seen as “overly opinionated” or somesuch.
  • I’ve never been denied service for how I look. Compare this with the #AirBnbWhileBlack situation which originally prompted this post, and which horrified me when I heard about it. It horrified and surprised me due to rule two.
  • If someone buys me a drink, I’m happy for them to bring it to the table, without worrying about whether or not it’s spiked.

Now none of this is what I might have termed “privilege” a couple of years ago. It’s just “normal life, the way it should be” – because everyone is equal, right? I would have used the word “privilege” for things like blatant nepotism, or inheriting millions. (The deposit my parents gave me for my first house? No, not privilege, of course not. Being lucky to have hard-working, generous parents? Sure, I can acknowledge that – but calling it privilege would break rule one.)

Living in different worlds

I’m not hopelessly naive – I haven’t just woken up and discovered that sexism, racism and homophobia exist. But I’ve become more aware of the extent of them, and how they can make it feel like you and I may be living in entirely different worlds. We could walk down the same street, minutes apart, and experience very different journeys – not just tinkering round the edges, but aspects that change the decisions we make, the state in which we arrive at our destination, our outlook for the rest of the day, and so on.

That’s an easy idea to shrug off, and I suspect I’d have dismissed it at least partially a while ago. No-one could have proved it to me, in that I can’t live in someone else’s skin. Sure, you could have shown me a video of the two experiences, but that’s not the same as feeling it, and living it – not just for five minutes, but for a lifetime. So instead of looking for proof, I go by what others say about how they find the world around them, basically – and it feels like reading books like Everyday Sexism has opened my eyes, at least partially. (Girls Will Be Girls helped a lot here too, particularly descriptions of structure vs agency.)

I still have to fight myself on this – privilege is apparently really hard to shake off. It’s so easy to fall into Privilege Denying Dude mode, fundamentally assuming that the world really does work the same way for everyone, and that those unfortunate people that bad things just seem to happen to would be so much happier if they’d just make better life choices. It would be lovely to think I always catch myself before going into that mode these days, but it seems unlikely… and how could I know?

Aside: eyes wide (?) open

This morning I read a wonderful piece called “10 ways to be a better male feminist” by Aaminah Khan. It includes this wonderful line:

And once you start doing this, you can’t just stop, because even if you want to, you won’t be able to shut your eyes to reality once you’ve had them opened.

For a couple of months now, I’ve been realizing that being a feminist isn’t making me happy. I didn’t really expect it to, but when I first ordered a few books a couple of years ago, I don’t think I’d expected how sad and angry I might become… and yes, that’s obviously within the privileged position of only having to learn about the injustices rather than live them. No sympathy requested or expected. The only way I expect to become less sad or angry about this is for the world to change.

Debatable privilege

There’s one aspect of privilege which isn’t directly related to my gender, race, sexuality or anything like that – but more my experience.

For those coming to this post from a non-software-engineering background, I’m a micro-celebrity on a Q&A site called Stack Overflow. People ask questions about how to solve programming problems, and other people provide answers – I mostly provide answers, and I’m pretty good at it. This in turn has led to me speaking at quite a few conferences. It’s fun, and the attendees seem to enjoy my talks.

Now, when a conference opens its Call for Speakers, the organizers often email me directly to ask me if I’d like to speak. Sometimes they’ll put me in the agenda before we’ve even worked out what I’m going to talk about, let alone written a full abstract.

Is that privilege? Most of the other speakers will have had to find topics which are new and cool, hone abstracts, carefully craft bios to sound impressive but not arrogant… all work I haven’t had to do. I’ve taken a shortcut. Does it count as “not privilege” due to “earning” the shortcut with previous talks and Stack Overflow answers? I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I feel guilty about it; usually I don’t.

Conclusion (aka darn it, this time I’m going to hit “post”)

I don’t want to come across as wearing too much of a hair shirt. I didn’t “opt” to be in a privileged position, and I don’t feel guilty for being a man, or being white. (And no-one is asking me to feel guilty for that, either.) But there’s no excuse for not recognizing the privileges which give me unfair advantages every day. I hope that busting the rules of Privilege Club is the first step in dismantling it entirely. I hope I’m able to help open my sons’ eyes to privilege earlier than I opened mine. I hope there’ll be less and less to open our eyes to over time.


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dlanods
669 days ago
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Stop saying learning to code is easy.

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WoC in Tech Stock Photos used under CC

I saw this tweet after the Apple WWDC keynote and had thought the same thing. Hang on, programming is hard. Rewarding, sure. Interesting, totally. But "easy" sets folks up for failure and a lifetime of self-doubt.

When we tell folks - kids or otherwise - that programming is easy, what will they think when it gets difficult? And it will get difficult. That's where people find themselves saying "well, I guess I'm not wired for coding. It's just not for me."

Now, to be clear, that may be the case. I'm arguing that if we as an industry go around telling everyone that "coding is easy" we are just prepping folks for self-exclusion, rather than enabling a growing and inclusive community. That's the goal right? Let's get more folks into computers, but let's set their expectations.

Here, I'll try to level set. Hey you! People learning to code!

  • Programming is hard.
  • It's complicated.
  • It's exhausting.
  • It's exasperating.
  • Some things will totally make sense to you and some won't. I'm looking at you, RegEx.
  • The documentation usually sucks.
  • Sometimes computers are stupid and crash.

But.

  • You'll meet amazing people who will mentor you.
  • You'll feel powerful and create things you never thought possible.
  • You'll better understand the tech world around you.
  • You'll try new tools and build your own personal toolkit.
  • Sometimes you'll just wake up with the answer.
  • You'll start to "see" how systems fit together.
  • Over the years you'll learn about the history of computers and how we are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

It's rewarding. It's empowering. It's worthwhile.

And you can do it. Stick with it. Join positive communities. Read code. Watch videos about code.

Try new languages! Maybe the language you learned first isn't the "programming language of your soul."

Learning to programming is NOT easy but it's totally possible. You can do it.

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Sponsor: Big thanks to Redgate for sponsoring the feed this week. How do you find & fix your slowest .NET code? Boost the performance of your .NET application with ANTS Performance Profiler. Find your bottleneck fast with performance data for code & queries. Try it free!



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dlanods
674 days ago
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'Is that a rift in space-time, daddy, or just a cloud?'

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Australian storm-chasing photographer Nick Moir threw the kids in the car and tore off to catch this shot of squall line hitting Sydney






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dlanods
1265 days ago
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Turns out it's from my wife's work carpark.
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The Small Business Owner’s Case for a Higher Minimum Wage

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I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but around these parts there’s a strong movement forming to raise the minimum wage. Most of the municipal proposals are in the $10-13/hour range, but the zeitgeist seems to be heralding a $15/hour minimum wage.

People getting paid more for their work is a heartwarming notion, so it can be pretty easy to get behind these proposals on an emotional level. Economically, one sees macroeconomic cases made both for and against a higher minimum wage. I haven’t found the arguments in either direction particularly compelling. At the small business owners’ level, I hear from people both in favor and against raising the minimum wage.

But who are we kidding – most people are going to give or withhold their support for this initiative based largely on their perceived self-interest. So here’s my self-interest — as a small business owner, I selfishly think a higher minimum wage is great for me. Make it $15 an hour. Make it $20. The higher, the better. Make it high enough that dishwashers get paid as well as office workers.

The reason is this: the biggest downward force on the profits of our independent businesses is price “competition” from large, well, capitalized corporations. Prices at the local superstore, supermarket and chain restaurant anchor our customers’ understanding of what things cost. market’s understanding of prices. In other words, the reason it’s hard to sell a $15 artisanal burger in most markets is not because the product isn’t worth $15 (it can be), be)a, and it’s not because making the burger doesn’t cost the business that much (it can cost that or more) can) — it’s because a burger costs half that or less in many corporate retail environments.

The way these big companies are able to generate profits while selling things so cheaply cheap is by externalizing certain costs that we small businesses can’t externalize. These companies, alone or in aggregate, have the resources to produce goods in areas with lax environmental regulations, externalizing some of their production costs onto the environment. They can transport the goods from these remote places over subsidized roads using subsidized fuel, externalizing those costs as well to the taxpayer while undercutting the local production of goods within communities.

Subtly, a nonlivable minimum wage — and minimum wages under $15 are basically unlivable wages — is also a kind of externalization of costs. These employees work a full-time job, but are unable to afford health care, education, quality food or a healthy routine. The difference between what they make and what they need is paid, one way or another, by the community in which they live and by taxpayers.

Simply put, when Global Megastore Inc pays its employees less than they can live a decent life on, the difference is very clearly paid by the rest of us.

Now, if the minimum wage rises and the cost of human resources has to be borne in full by the employer, then the price that large companies charge for their products will have to move closer to their true cost. That means that we us small businesses — who generally have to charge nearer the true cost of things, because we lack the ability to externalize many costs — will be competing on a more level playing field with the big guys.

And, in this environment where fewer costs are borne by the community and where things are therefore priced higher to the purchaser, the purchaser is likely to be more thoughtful about her choices. Which is where we independent businesses have our advantage. With our small size, we can be nimble in our offerings; with our personal involvement in our communities, we can develop a kind of trust with our clients that can’t be matched by mere brands. And when everybody in the market has cash to spend, and every burger costs at least $15, you can sell a burger based primarily on its quality.

I saw a little of this in action some years back when I spent some visited of time in Australia, where the minimum wage has typically been higher than in the US (it’s currently hovering around US$16/hour). $16/hour). While there were plenty of big companies and the costs of opening even a small business were higher than in the US, the biggest differences that stood out to me was the higher quality of most everything for sale, and the care with which people made purchasing decisions. I’m sure there are other factors at work, too, but I think the higher minimum wage helped create a context for quality to thrive.

TL;DR: a higher minimum wage helps create an environment in which thoughtful, high-quality independent businesses can thrive by outfoxing our well-capitalized competitors.

NB: Relatedly, but not exactly part of this argument, I enjoyed this factoid like this quote, by the way, from Inequality.org:

At the top 1 percent of the American income distribution, average incomes rose 194 percent between 1974 and 2011. Had U.S. minimum wages risen at the same pace as U.S. maximum wages, the minimum wage would now be $26.96 an hour.

Today, $15 — tomorrow, $27!

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dlanods
1487 days ago
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pfctdayelise
1488 days ago
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Reasons I feel concerned about rumblings to cut penalty rates (extra pay for weekends/nights/holidays) here ( https://newmatilda.com/2014/03/12/why-are-penalty-rates-back-table )
Melbourne, Australia
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