Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Abuses of Power…unfortunately, not that surprising.

So this is what all those electorate office workers do for our MPs, at taxpayer expense, of course: collecting data on voters from correspondence directed to elected representatives.

Again, an article mainly dealing with Victoria (State Election a few weeks back) but it would not surprise me if Australia's two major parties are doing this is in every State and Territory. While I am surprised of the fact that our political parties are competent enough to utilise modern marketing strategies and techniques to better target potential customers (voters), this is a classic example of an abuse of power, especially as these same parties are apparently exempt from privacy legislation.

Not only "At the very least…" but all political parties should be forced to comply with every law and regulation that is enforced on businesses which rely on gathering data from their customers/potential customers. The fact that campaign workers and members of these political parties can have access to personal information serves to confirm the continual mistrust that many people have of politicians in general.

The Labor and Liberal parties (and any other political parties that use these same data –gathering techniques) should always indicate if any information is retained or added to databases etc. for any form of marketing or "information tailoring/targeting." What has the potential to undermine our democracy is the question of whether correspondence between an elected representative and their constituent is actively used in party political work. Conveniently, this may not be illegal but it surely sows mistrust in constituents who may not be of the same political persuasion as their representative but have nonetheless a legitimate reason for communication. The ever-present "I will work for all the people of (insert electorate name), even those who voted for my opponent" seem like shallow (or celebratory bubbly-induced) words indeed.

The names of the softwares that are used are a little interesting: Electrac (Labor) and Feedback (Liberal)...assuming the Liberal system to be similar to Labor's then the Liberals lose on naming honesty. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Japanese Economics 101; Women in Afghanistan; SNS; Solar Power; American Dilemmas; German Multiculturalism

After a busy few weeks…

Japanese Economics 101 – A little long, but an interesting look at the state of Japan's economy, though I guess you have to be an economist to say it is "exciting." Included in the article are sobering thoughts from economist Noriko Hama on the risks to Japan of stocking up on US dollars and on not demanding its fair share of the Japan-US relationship. Finally, there will be no good news for Americans if the dollar loses its global status as she predicts. Though, I must admit I do not understand her "…leave the ¥5 change" proposal – consumer-driven charity for for-profit businesses?

Irrespective of your views on the conflict in Afghanistan, the following story regarding Afghan women who attempt to commit suicide by self-immolation is shocking. We may have a ruthless business world but there are surely some fundamental human rights that we should all uphold when it comes to the most basic of human qualities. Now, how we help to ensure that these rights are maintained is up to us to decide. I wonder if those who advocate withdrawing from the conflict in Afghanistan also hope that stories like these will also be forgotten.

On SNS…here is an article that asks when we as a society will cease to be shocked by private photos that end up in the public domain. I have to agree. Unless an inappropriate action is carried out at a public or work-related event then anything that is private should remain private (in the modern, SNS definition). But then again, perhaps now we get a taste of our own medicine…paparazzi is not just for celebrities anymore. So we shall reap as we sow.

The tile of this article says it all: "Solar energy boom in the American desert" – that's right, the American desert. Follow the article and you can see that India, China, South Africa and Germany are incorporating solar energy into their national grids; Germany perhaps a little too enthusiastically. Australia does not figure in this article, yet you would think that a technologically-advanced country with an environmentally-aware population and boundless swathes of sunny desert would be a global leader in solar energy, mentioned in every article, report and discussion. You would think that…but sadly that is not the reality.

Americans turning into the British? – Concise look at the dilemmas facing the US at the moment and how they may relate to the decline of Great Britain as a global economic, military and political power. The conclusion is that the US is following Britain's lack of coordinated, consensus-built policy to tackle the economic challenges now, akin to Britain's response to the Great Depression of 1929. Seeing how Britain may not be a global superpower but still maintains its place near the top, the US doesn't have that much to lose, or does it?

Finally, a few weeks after the fact, but the now widely reported comments of German Chancellor Angela Merkel that multiculturalism has failed in Germany get disproven somewhat by this article. If the facts are correct then decades of non-citizenship for German-born, German-speaking children of migrant workers was clearly not the best step to multiculturalism. I wonder if Merkel mentions this fact in her speeches. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

In summary: Tips; Afghanistan; Immigration; Political Zombies; Charity(?); Gridiron Fail; Murder(?) Abroad; Schools Funding; Banned; Geopolitics-Asia

For the last week or so...

1. Tipping is one concept that is disproportionately difficult to understand. A quick look at the US and you can see that hourly wages (including tips) for waiters etc is about the same as Australian hourly wages minus tips. So is there really a need to tip in Australia? Probably not, unless you get exceptional service…usually a rarity. As for 'bribing' instead of tipping…my usually luxury-free travel style means that I have never encountered the incidents that that the author writes about.

2. Afghanistan…and Alexander Downer…a strange combination, and interesting to see a former Foreign Minister of Australia (1996-2007) writing this piece. As Foreign Minister, did he contribute these ideas at the time of Australia's initial engagement? The cynic in me cannot help but think that he might be playing a game of tremendously subtle politics.

3. Still on Afghanistan…Greens Leader Bob Brown. Surprising to see that he thinks we should withdraw from Afghanistan because: "We have to remember we didn't go there to assist women, children, families, farmers and education institutions." While he may be correct, what is our mission now? Surely assisting the people of Afghanistan get their country functioning again is a good cause, though a quick look at the history of Afghanistan and you wonder what 'functioning' would mean. His interview on the ABC's 7:30 Report did not inspire confidence.

4. I honestly find it difficult to form an opinion on Australia's involvement in Afghanistan, but with all the politicians and experts going about policy and implications I am far more moved by the following account.

5. This is a piece with a different viewpoint about immigration and the issues that currently surround this topic. What the author could also focus on is the issue of refugees, especially those from war-torn countries. This harrowing tale of a refugee family from Sudan should be included in the debates about refugees in Australia – if Australia accepts more refugees then caring for their mental health has to be a priority.

6. On a solely NSW matter (and a little risqué) does this show us the real Labor Party? Why bother voting for an ALP candidate if the party machine wields all the power?

7. Did you know there is a charity that pays drug addicts to get sterilised so that they will not have drug-addicted babies? Well, there is. It started in the US and now has plans to enter Australia. How does paying a drug addict, for whatever reason, help them?

8. A piece of free advice to Todd Stordahl, chair of the Washington Officials Association (gridiron referees): by disciplining the referees who helped a breast cancer charity raise money and awareness you are doing damage to the association that you represent. This was a perfect and free PR opportunity that you somehow managed to ignore. Rules are important but they should not be set in stone.

9. As with most news stories, there may be more to the following account of alleged murder (officially suicide) of an Australian in Portugal, but the story so far does not inspire much faith in the Australian Government should you be a victim of crime while overseas…

10. Schools funding…after the insulation debacle, I wonder what Garrett has in store for Australian education…

11. Hilarious, but for the real-world ramifications…another news story that tells us that the nanny-state is becoming the norm and not the exception. This time: what can/cannot be done/worn in an Italian town…

12. Finally, a quick intro into the geopolitical landscape of the future: Japan, China, India, the Middle East. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

In summary: Abortion; Heritage Listing; Truth in Advertising; School Funding; Andrew Bolt; Censorhip; Taxpayer-subsidised AFL; Uniform Costumes; War

Another busy period and so here is another collection of links:

● Is abortion legal or illegal in Queensland, Australia?
Cairns, Queensland, 2010 – yes, this question is still up in the air, apparently. I have to say that for a leader, the fact that Premier Anna Bligh says she would support the removal of the law that makes abortion illegal but will not actually do anything about it speaks volumes.

● Heritage Listing means ….?
Saw this article a little while ago and while I have to admit I am not the least bit familiar with Melbourne, it makes you wonder what Heritage Listing really means.

● Australian election ads – Truth in Advertising?
Let's see if the current Labor federal government in Australia follows through with this push for truth in political advertising because the Advertising Standards Bureau does not seem to be capable of looking into any allegations of lying. I wonder if politicians will actually legislate to prevent themselves and their parties from lying or deceiving us…

● School Funding – It's all just spin, isn't it?
While I really have no immediate interest in Australian school funding, it makes me wonder how long the plainly inequitable funding model that we have at the moment will continue. It is not so much a private vs. public debate as more a "well-resourced, elite, private group" vs. "everyone else". If you want public money, then be open and accountable, it is that simple. Otherwise become 100% private. The government has certainly missed an opportunity to make the system more open.

● Andrew Bolt…not a big fan, but freedom of speech is important.
I have to agree with Luke Walladge, Andrew Bolt is offensive, but surely we can take his crass comments for what they are and move on with our lives. This whole case reminds me of what former PM Howard failed to say when he defended that very famous red-headed Queenslander in 1996 and thus, in my opinion, implicitly agreed with her views.

● When will censorship end?
I thought this article by Guy Sorman was informative, and it definitely looks like censorship of the internet will be with us for a while. Sorman, however, states that entrepreneurs are greedy and that is where I have to disagree. He paints all entrepreneurs with the same brush and that is not fair. Entrepreneurs by definition are taking a risk to devise or implement new ideas or services and usually bear most of the financial liability. Greed is wanting money for money's sake – at least in what I believe to be the general definitions of these words.

● Is it worth owning an AFL Club?
$2.7 million says it is. Granted that this a state issue in Victoria, but it appears that the Collingwood AFL Club has been able to claim $2.7 million dollars for "community benefit" that included operating costs such as wages and running costs. I guess the fact that the money that the club used ended up keeping the local economy moving is a form of community benefit?

● The Third Reich is fashionable again?
What with Prince Harry photographed in a Nazi costume a few years back and now a Republican candidate in the US doing the same (although from what I gather the wearing of the uniform is not a recent incident, the appearance of the photo, however, is) it makes me wonder why Nazi costumes are worn at all. If we are to condemn people who wear Nazi costumes, then let's condemn people who wear Stalin, Mao, Amin (did a quick search on costumes for this last one and was surprised at what I found…) and whatever other similarly tasteless costume.

● War – what does it mean?
Whatever your views on the war in Afghanistan, the campaign against the prosecutor in the case against three Australian commandos would be trivial were it not such a serious matter. Personally it is a difficult topic to form an opinion on but one thing is clear: war means innocent people will get killed. That is something I think everyone should remember, whether it warrants a case or not is a matter that I leave to the experts.

● And finally: Cyber Wars….the way of the future? Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Healthy dose of mercury from whale meat & The (Australian) politics of abuse in Sri Lanka

So the story of hunting whales, whale meat and dangerous mercury levels keeps popping up every now and then. The excuses are the same as always: it's a tradition. Fair enough.

But if we were, in each of our respective countries and cultures, to follow all our traditions I am pretty sure the world would be a very different place today. Not only does whale hunting continue in the name of scientific research, but now we have 4 million kilos of frozen whale meat tucked away in who knows where throughout Japan.

With the Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan heavily discounting the frozen whale meat for the school lunches of children the question of mercury poisoning comes to mind. Granted Japan has a very seafood-heavy diet and so the average person's exposure to mercury in seafood may be higher than in other countries, but I wonder how the bureaucrats feel about knowingly providing inexpensive, potentially toxic meat to schoolchildren. How do some people sleep at night?

In another article…

Armed conflicts is in my opinion are always difficult to analyse without having all the facts available, and inevitably all the facts are for one legitimate reason or another not readily available. The end of the insurgency in Sri Lanka in 2009 was good news in that it meant an end to an armed insurgency, but how much do we really know about the insurgency itself and the methods used to end the conflict?

This article provides some insight into how Australia is out-of-step when it comes to pressing the Sri Lanka government to be more open and accountable on this issue. I wonder how Australia's political leaders feel about playing politics at the expense of accountability, but then is that even a question that requires an answer? Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Euthanasia – guess we need permission before we can debate…

There was a report earlier this week that a TV ad to be screened by Exit International was banned when the TV industry body, Free TV Australia, withdrew permission for the ad to screen. Now it seems that even billboard ads will not be able to be displayed due to legal concerns.

Here's the ad:

I am of the view that euthanasia is not the same as what is usually reported as suicide. The definition of suicide that I have is one where someone is unable to cope with sudden, immense stress or finds no way to solve some ongoing, traumatic problem. Anyone who finds themselves in situations like these should seek the assistance of mental health experts (Australia has several organisations that help people who are in depression such as beyondblue and Lifeline).

Euthanasia by someone who is physically ill, mentally sound and has no prospect of a medical resolution should be a topic that we should debate. I acknowledge that should euthanasia be legalised, it opens the possibility to horror scenarios where someone may be persuaded to end their lives – that is exactly why we should have a debate and decide what checks and balances, if any, are suitable to prevent such abuses. Perhaps we shall find none and thus the debate can be ended.

I have not had direct experience of a loved one suffering through a debilitating physical illness but there are many out there who have – shouldn't we hear what they have to say?

Are we too reluctant to debate euthanasia because it would force us to take a closer, deeper look at the causes and impact of suicide on our society?

For reference
- Here's the Free TV Australia media release on this issue.
- Suicide is the biggest cause of death in Australia for people aged under 44 (estimated at 2,000 deaths per year), surpassing car accidents, cancer or heart disease!!
- Japan fares much worse, with over 30,000 people taking their lives every year, for the past 12 years!! Sphere: Related Content

Monday, 6 September 2010

In summary: Australia; Israel; Burqa banning; Overseas Aid; Whales; Japan; Okinawa

With busy, modern life starting to eat into my free time and after seeing some interesting (for the most part, anyway...except #8…) articles I decided to make this post into a mini-digest.

1. Malcolm Turnbull is a fiscal conservative and social liberal (can't really disagree too much with this assessment), yet in the current Liberal Party of Australia, I would say he is in the minority…maybe he should form a new political party?

2. Over two weeks after the Australian Federal Election and we are still waiting for a government. Initially I was wishing for a new election, but out of the five independent Members of Parliament I have to agree that the three that are yet to decide who they will support haven't been rushing to any decisions. I would probably not agree with them on many, many issues but at least they are being (for the most part) transparent. Let's hope their transparency lasts…

3. The Labor-Green deal recently announced produced an opinion piece from Russell Trood, Liberal Senator for Queensland. I have to agree with him. Plus, given the Greens' propensity to dictate, I wonder: they may be socially progressive, but at the same time authoritarian…something that we see from the socially conservative extremes in many countries…I know it's overly simplistic, but didn't we finish with fascism and communism already?

4. On the topic of authoritarianism…saw this article about how Israel is facing internal attacks on freedom of speech. Whether you are pro-Israel or pro-Palestine when it comes to the Isreal-Palestine issue, it makes you wonder…

5. There have been several opinion articles on the niqab and burqa – whether it should be banned or not banned in the last few months. This article seems to be the most unbiased of all that I have read – it makes you think without being scared by one side or the other, well worth sharing.

In related news: came across this article that reports some ultra-orthodox Jewish women in Israel wear the burqa…make of it what you will...Also, while I am sure that many people will be pointing to the recent ban of the burqa in Syria (a majority Muslim country) – how many people are talking about the extremists on all sides that seem to be getting louder and louder? Are they the vocal minority or are we indeed living in such a bigoted world?

6. Nice to hear of celebrities that use their fame for something worthwhile: Hugh Jackman writes about aid programs that are not just handouts, but empower the people they help. These economic development projects have been around a while, as have the issues that give rise to people in need, all the more annoying when people such as "40mark" make ignorant and bigoted comments (see comments section of article).

7. Japanese nationalists would be happy at the news that whale meat has been used at least once in one sixth of public schools. My comment: thumbs down, period.

8. There may or may not be a new Japanese PM next week… either way, if you are in Japan you will probably have seen Kan or Ozawa in the news at some point. If you aren't in Japan you probably can't name the Japanese PM. Could they just move on and try and come up with some policies for the country instead?

9. To all foreigners coming to Japan (or living here, for that matter): If you stay in a "minshuku," read up a bit on Japanese culture, otherwise stay in a run-of-the-mill hotel or hostel.

10. An finally, an uplifiting story about Byron Fija and his quest to revitalise Okinawa's local languages. Sphere: Related Content