Fukushima and the Whale

The last couple of weeks have been busy ones for Australian political news, so it might have flown under the radar that Australia and Japan finished their concluding cases at the International Court of Justice regarding Japan’s whaling program. Australia has argued strongly that there is nothing scientific about Japan’s scientific whaling program. Japan’s closing argument, in response, threatened to quit the International Whaling Commission entirely if the verdict of the court didn’t go its own way. Koji Tsuruoka, Japan’s deputy foreign minister, argued: “What will happen to stable multi-lateral frameworks when one morning suddenly you find your state bound by a policy of the majority and the only way out is to leave such an organisation?” Continue reading

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So what is this thing called justice?

America is rioting.

Not all of it, of course, nor even a majority. But a large enough part of the population of major cities, supported by what I’ve heard described as “two of the biggest rock stars on the planet” – Jayzee (who?) and Beyonce (whom I have at least heard of). Newspapers are writing articles with titles such as “Thousands gather across the country to demand justice“. Here in Australia, you might be forgiven for not understanding what all the fuss is about. If you’re interested, do a Google search for “Trayvon Martin”. On second thoughts, don’t; I’ll summarise it here. It’s a simple, if sad, tale. A white guy, George Zimmerman, was driving in a gated community in Florida, US, in February 2012. He saw Trayvon Martin, a young black man (at 17 years of age, technically still a child) acting, in his view, suspiciously. Mr Zimmerman, being a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, decided on a bit of vigilante justice. Whilst the facts are not entirely clear and there were no direct witnesses, it seems that Mr Zimmerman approached Mr Martin on foot. What ensued was a fist fight, in which Mr Martin apparently got the better of Mr Zimmerman. In the last, fatal moments, Mr Martin was sitting on Mr Zimmerman’s chest, the older man on his back on the pavement, and punching him repeatedly in the face. And then Mr Zimmerman shot him. Continue reading

A solution they can live with

So Kevin Rudd has announced that asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat will no longer have the chance to resettle here – instead they will, if found to be legitimate refugees, be settled in Papua New Guinea. Kevin Rudd and the Labor party may have come up with this plan and made the announcement, but make no mistake: this is squarely Tony Abbott and the Coalition’s fault.

Six years ago Kevin Rudd and Labor dismantled Howard’s Pacific Solution. They were supported in this by public opinion, which had turned as people became aware of the psychological damage being done by the harshness of the policy. By some measures, the Pacific solution was a less harsh measure than the current announcement of permanent resettlement in PNG. It seems fair to say that the current policy is one that Labor would never have countenanced when it first came to office six years ago. In those six years, the discussion has soured; the public opinion has turned; and Labor is on the verge of being decimated in an election with the significant risk that all of their good achievements of the past two terms could be reversed under an Abbott government.

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How I learnt the fundamentals of programming through Microsoft Office VBA – part 1

As I have “IT professional” in my tagline, it’s probably time to write something IT-related. Fear not, this is about as simple as you can get and still call it “IT”.  Intended audience: this is basic programming for those who use Microsoft Office but know nothing about programming. If that’s not you, feel free to skip on to another post.

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The New Puritanism

As a research professional with a scientific background and a professional expertise in information technology, I keep coming across arguments and beliefs that make me cringe. Whether the topic be immunisation, or climate change policy, or the National Broadband network, the health risks of genetically modified foods, or the effect of genetics on personal capability and life prospects, you can be sure that some commenters will challenge the “orthodoxy”. Now I don’t have a problem with challenging orthodoxies. The very basis of modern scientific practice revolves around the concept of putting up hypotheses and then trying to shoot them down.  But when a challenge to the prevailing paradigm is made without a suitable basis in fact and understanding, it contributes to an ongoing sense that we live in a country that is actively hostile to the idea of expertise.

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Word Association

Last week, in what has variously been described as a “great day for multiculturalism in Australia” and an “absolutely sickening” “disregard [for] Australia’s constitution”, Ed Husic, federal Labor MP for Chifley, was sworn in to two parliamentary positions using a Koran. Whilst some of the commentary on this event was appropriately respectful and even congratulatory for a first-generation migrant achieving such high office, also making the news was the volume of vitriol poured in Mr Husic’s direction. The reason: that he swore in on a Koran, rather than a Christian Bible.

Of course, the entire purpose for swearing in on a Bible is not in endorsement of the values and beliefs espoused by Christianity, but rather is akin to swearing “on my honour” or “on the lives of my children” – a commitment on something that the swearer values. The whole idea of “swearing in” is a bit of an antiquated principle in itself, something that became amply clear with commenters mentioning that sworn-in witnesses to a criminal trial lied through their teeth, whilst a Muslim, having sworn on a Koran, told the unblemished truth. In a country where well under ten per cent of the population are regular church attendees (church attendance may be an unrealistic signifier of Christian attitudes, but good enough to go on), the reverence with which the other 90% of the population hold the Bible has to be open to question.

So swearing in a devout Muslim on a Koran has got to be at least as fit-for-purpose as swearing in an agnostic, atheist or non-practicing lapsed-catholic on a Bible. You might as well ask whether the specific bible in question is a King James or The Message. But let’s put that aside for now.

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