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

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Do we really need the new airport scanners?

Gradually more and more airports around the world are introducing the new full-body scanners. To their credit, most governments and airports maintain the scan as a non-compulsory option. Manchester (UK) airport being a notable exception – if you are selected for a scan and refuse, you can't board your flight; let's hope whoever sells you an air ticket that goes through Manchester airport makes that very clear to you.

My concerns are not so much the fact that the scans reveal each person's anatomy to a great extent, though those are valid concerns – can you really trust any of the operators to not ogle at the scanned images, no matter how much training they have had? And if operators of scanners at a US courthouse in Orlando, Florida were able to save 35,000 images, who is to say that images will not be stored in the future in the US or in another country. The real worry for me is the hidden effects of the radiation used for the scans.

I am not a radiation expert, but when it comes to exposing my body to extra radiation I would rather opt out. Air travel, mobile phones, UV rays, dental X-rays, UV lights, fluorescent lights…I have enough on my mind to worry and would rather not add another radiation source to my list. Let's not forget pesticides, herbicides, cleaning products, pollution, and a myriad of other nasties that we are exposed to on an everyday basis. The above are a fact of modern life and I accept them because they are my choice to accept. I could go and live in a far away place, grow my own food, stay indoors during the day and use home-made candles at night while my teeth do whatever they please...but I choose to live in our modern world with all its modern conveniences (and perils).

I wonder what will happen if 20 years from now we have a surge in cancer among frequent fliers and airport scanner operators (is standing near those things safe?). Or worse, what if these scans have immediate detrimental effects on sperm quality in men or pregnant women unaware that they are pregnant? What do we do with these unseen and unfelt damages to DNA? Do you feel the initial damage from UV rays that give you skin cancer? Do you feel your liver scarring little by little from drinking too much or the nascent cancer in your lungs from smoking or inhaling nasty pollution?

From some news reports, the option of a pat-down can be quite handsy…perhaps we should make air travel clothing-optional.

Image credit: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 27 August 2010

Government-in-waiting…or more like waiting-for-Government

Australia's federal election went off without a glitch…except that the result is a little ambiguous.

It has been nearly a week now and neither of the major parties has managed to form a government. The final call will come to the four independent and one Green (and if you count the renegade Western Australian National, one National) members of parliament. Some people think this is a good thing while others think it is not so good or neither good nor bad – guess it all depends on who is talking.

Since the general consensus has been that the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal/National Coalition do not seem to differ on many policy fronts, I guess we all had this result coming. The Australian Greens, as always, had been super quick to support Labor (no surprises there) and three of the four independents are former Nationals, though it is not clear where their support will go. It will be interesting (albeit painful) to see how everything turns out. I am sure every day will bring silly news like these, so perhaps it would be best to simply wait and ignore the "look-at-me" announcements from everyone.

While counting is still ongoing, it is clear that neither of the major parties will have the numbers. This brings us to the question of the Governor-General. As the Queen's representative, she is supposed to be unbiased and "above politics." Something that surprised me was that her son-in-law is Federal Labor MP Bill Shorten. She has been cleared of any ethical conflict, but who are we kidding here? Now, I know we are not at the point where Australia is on the brink of collapse or in the middle of a constitutional crisis, but if we were to have another Labor administration, there is always an off-chance that the Governor-General may have to act in the interests of the nation and sack the Government (granted the chances of this happening in Australia are as likely as swimming in a crocodile-infested river with chicken fillets strapped to your body and coming off unscathed) but Bill Shorten is her son-in-law – that means that whatever position he occupies impacts directly on the Governor-General's daughter. There may be no legal conflict of interest, but the possibility for there to be one is so plainly obvious. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 20 August 2010

Death and (unfair) taxes…

There comes a time when we all come to accept death and taxes, whether we like it or not. What I would like to know is when did Australians start to accept unfair taxes as the norm?

The lack of policies to get excited about during this Australian election campaign got me thinking and searching through all the policies that the parties have on offer. Rummaging through the scaremongering and hyperbole almost made me want to give up but knowing that that is exactly what the politicians want forced me to keep researching.

Many are the policies that I would disagree, question and downright reject (as I'm sure many people would as well, though perhaps not the same policies), however there was one that caught my attention: the Australian Democrat's income tax reform proposal (after the run of bad luck they have had they could use some good news). In Australia, the tax-free threshold is currently $6,000. Income tax is taken from every dollar over $6,000 earned in a financial year. To put this in perspective, assuming a 5-day work week, you can make about $25 a day tax-free.

Since Australia has a Goods and Services Tax (GST – a value-added tax), if you are spending those income tax-free $25, the government gets its tax take anyway. But back to the point I want to make: with low and controlled inflation over the last 20 years it boggles the mind why the tax-free threshold has not kept pace. Since the 2000-2001 financial year, the tax-free threshold has been $6,000. For the majority of the 90's ('91-'92 to '99-'00) the threshold was $5,400. In that same period the middle ranges have undergone various adjustments and the top range has increased from "$50,001 and over" in '91-'92 to "180,001 and over" in '08-'09 - an increase of more than 300%. For the current 2010-2011 financial year the minimum will still be $6,000 (not even a 12% increase on early 90's levels) and the maximum kicks in from $180,001 – there will be slight changes to the middle ranges.

I think it makes sense to raise the tax-free threshold – something that hasn't been done considerably for 20 years! It would benefit everyone and simplify the damn complicated process of tax that is income taxation in Australia.

Perhaps the lack of reform is because there's an accountants' conspiracy…

Image credit: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The (red) power behind the Greens...

Ok, so the Australian Greens are poised to make history on Saturday 21 August. Diversity in the political landscape in Australia is always a good thing. But, what do the Greens really stand for and who are the people behind their nascent surge...?

Information about the Greens is readily available on Wikipedia, their official website, news sites and myriad other sites. What I am presenting here is simply new information that has become available recently coupled with my thoughts, so hopefully it is error free.

It is great to see that the Greens have a full range of policies. They are just not a one-issue party. But after having a look through their policies and looking at the related coverage, I have to agree that they have been confirmed, in my eyes, as hard socialists. If things go as predicted, I look forward to the grandstanding of "we have a mandate" from the Greens even though I doubt that all the people who will vote Green agree with all their policies (the same goes for the major parties – this whole "mandate" thing gets really annoying).

Now we have news that a rather large donation by the Electrical Trades Union (previously aligned with Labor) has gone to the Greens. Do we really need another union-backed political party in Australia?

Finally, we have GetUp's not-so-subtle endorsement of the Greens with their issues scorecard. Funny how no issues where the Greens fail are presented. For example increasing the tax-free threshold or having a fairer distribution of public funds between government and non-government schools (granted, all major parties fail on that, I think). If GetUp were genuinely interested in advancing the prospects of progressive and moderate candidates they would do more than this token gesture.

Image credit: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content

Monday, 16 August 2010

Boats or Cosmetic Surgery.....which is the greater risk?

The superbug: NDM-1 is in Australia.

I know it's not very exciting news, but I wonder if we are ready for the worst-case scenarios that could eventuate if this antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria takes a permanent, widespread hold. The first reported death has been recorded and while this is not to say that others haven't succumbed already the potential for widespread loss of life is real.

As usual, we should expect weeks if not months of international blame game commentary but it is pointless to waste time and resources finding the origin, this resistant strain is here and now we have to do something. The reality may be that the origin of this antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria was a country with widespread antibiotic availability, or a country with poor regulatory frameworks, or a random bacterial mutation, or whatever - either way it is, as I said, pointless.

Air travel would thus seem to be the unfortunate harbinger of worse things than a few boats off the Australian coast. As can be seen, we have to also watch out for Canadians - in a light-hearted, non-offensive, kind of way of course.

Image credit: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

English in Japan....is it enough?

Japanese companies have started to adopt English, the language of global business, for more and more of their everyday operations. Although requiring all employees to have a working knowledge of the English language can be construed to be a very controversial move, it points to a dichotomy in Japanese society.

The business world in Japan is openly embracing English and the oppportunities it can bring. On the other hand, there is a bureaucratic side of Japan that eschews English like the plague. While the Japanese government has set a goal for English language instruction, it remains to be seen how successful this policy will be at increasing English proficiency.

Of greater concern, in my experience, is the fact that so many Japanese, young and old, are apprehensive (for lack of a better term) to use the English language. Japan has one of the most widespread foreign language (English language) programs in the world (at least to my knowledge). I would estimate that most Japanese in their 40's and younger would have studied English for six years or more in junior and senior high schools. Now, I am not saying that six years makes anyone a master of any language, but, assuming the teaching is sound then the basics are there.

I have met many people here in Japan who are decent at writing and reading English, however, when compared to China there seems to be a lack people who are able to actually speak the English language here. From personal experience, I've noted that when Japanese make slips of the tongue in the standard Japanese language, they are very nearly ridiculed for their minor mistake. I am no expert on Chinese but I wonder if the same thing happens in China to someone who mispronounces Mandarin words.

Perhaps this culture of avoiding mistakes at all costs needs updating?

Image credit: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 6 August 2010

Why filter the internet?

I do not agree with censorship and I do not agree with the current Australian Government's proposal of an internet filter. Like so many others, I believe censorship would be made much easier by having this filter in place. Censorship: Labor's hidden policy explains (in rather long detail, sorry) the broad opposition to the filter.

While the current Australian election campaign has so far failed to mention anything about the filter, if Labor gets reelected they will be touting that as the filter was an official policy proposal that people voted for it....yeah, right. If noone is discussing it then it doesn't enter into the which-party-to-vote equation that faces us as voters.

Reports in early July that the filter would be put on the backburner were good to hear but for the fact that it is a deceptive delaying tactic.

Finally, however, the Liberals have clearly stated their position - let's hope they treat this a 'core' promise and keep their opposition to the filter, period. I tentatively expect that this announcement will bring the internet filter into the election discussion. Why spend $30 million when the responsibility to protect children should also involve parents themselves. Paul Syvret's line: "But don't treat me like a 12 year old Senator Conroy. I don't consider it a 'legitimate' exercise of power." pretty much sums up my thoughts.

Perhaps Labor is taking its cues from Chavez in Venezuela?

Image credit: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Hypocrisy....sadly, it's everywhere.

I am not a supporter of capital punishment. My basis for this is that no matter how removed you are from the process it is still a form of murder: deliberate, state-sanctioned murder.

Law enforcement and armed conflict pose similar philosophical questions as they are state-sanctioned but the circumstances are vastly and clearly different. Capital punishment is usually a drawn-out argument seeking permission to methodically end someone's life.

Now, coming to the reason why I am writing about the always controversial topic of capital punishment.... it is reported today that the Justice Minister of Japan signed off on two hangings (yes, Japan still hangs people). Until yesterday she was seen as another Justice Minister that would hold off on signing for the executions of convicted felons as had been done in the early 1990's. It is therefore very difficult to understand why the current minister, who is publicly oppossed to the death penalty, would authorise not one, but two executions in the closing days of her ministerial career. The actions of Keiko Chiba make no logical sense to me.

Lastly, a few more links on the above topic:
1. "Five myths about the death penalty" by David Garland...quite an eye-opener to find out France used the guillotine until 1977 (although thankfully not in the middle of a square a la Reign of Terror).
2. "More than reasonable doubt about death penalty"by former New York State Police investigator Terrence P. Dwyer. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, 26 July 2010

Which is the bigger worry...?

Living in Japan I live with the ever-present threats of earthquakes, overcrowded trains, Gozilla...and perennial favourite: North Korea

Looking at the Australian election campaign, you'd think immigrants were the new undesirables. Considering both Gillard and Abbott were born overseas, it makes you wonder what really goes on inside their heads at times...

The above crikey blog pretty much hits the spot, except that I disagree with the insinuation that international students rorted the system in obtaining permanent residency. That option was not illegal and the fact that so many shoddy "educational institutions" popped up actually points the finger of blame at the bureaucracy that allowed those institutions to be registered. It makes me wonder if our political leaders actually take note of what goes on around the world, Indian students are already looking past Australia as an option and the US looks like it is gearing up to increase international student numbers. Can Australia compete against an America in full marketing mode?

I would think it is common sense that when workers are in short supply as stated by bodies such as the Business Council of Australia and WA's Chamber of Commerce, that the prospect of allowing international students take up permanent residency to live and work in Australia would be ideal. These students have shown an interest in Australia, committed themselves financially to pay for their education, and spent considerable time in the community. If they want to stay it most likely means they like the damn place!

Image credit: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content

Heat wave in Japan

If you are in Japan right about now you will know how excruciatingly hot it has been for the last week or more (depending on the region of Japan that you find yourself in, it may be longer). What is truly shocking is the number of people that have succumbed to heat exhaustion and heatstroke in the last few days.

Listing all the news reports can be a little time-consuming, but to get the picture: this report from Thursday 22 July and this one from Monday 26 July give a rough idea of how each day has developed.

Slightly related to the above...there are a few individuals who I know here in Japan that sleep with their windows closed and their aircons switched off. I understand switching the aircon off as I am not a big fan of leaving it on overnight; though there are some instances when it is essential. But closing all windows in what are usually tiny Japanese apartments/houses is asking for a not so pleasant and restless night, at least in my opinion.

MedlinePlus tends to have a thorough database on many topics and while it is written for American audiences (degrees Fahrenheit and 911 Emergency Numbers...), it has concise yet detailed information about heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here's wishing everyone stays cool during the Northern Summer (and warm during the Southern Winter).

Image credit: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Sadly, not unexpected...or unprecedented

We all remember that fiery politician in 1996 who railed against immigration and for better or worse captured the nation's attention....has she gone to the UK yet? Anyway, she started off as a Liberal candidate....and then was disendorsed before the election but elected because the paperwork was filed after the ballots had been printed. Ah, technicalities.

Now we have another Liberal candidate saying silly things....makes me wonder what kind of people make up the rank and file of that party. Disappointing, yes. Unexpected, no...and I wonder how many more Liberal (or non-Liberal, just to be fair) candidates think the same way.

I know most of our politicians prefer to play politics, but they should start getting on with their job. Infrastructure problems are not limited to western Sydney but the state government there has apparently done its best to outperform in the playing politics stakes. Maybe we should borrow from our American friends and vote the incumbents out. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 23 July 2010

Crying wolf...

Crying wolf...we all know the story. It's rather disappointing to see that asylum seekers continue to be used as a political bonfire by both major parties in Australia. Tony Abbott wants to be seen taking a strong stance while Julia Gillard is not really doing anything productive, in my opinion.

Border control is important for all the obvious reasons, but why do our politicians forget that refugees and asylum seekers are risking their lives because they find themselves in countries that have not signed the Refugees Convention.

In 2009, Australia has a very small number of refugees within its borders, compared to other countries with a similar population: Total Refugee population by country of asylum, 1960-2009.

Syria..............1 054 466 (that's right, over 1 million!)
Venezuela........201 313
Nepal...............108 461
Cameroon.........99 957
Netherlands......76 008
Malaysia............66 137
Australia............22 548

Taking a look at GDP per capita (PPP), we have the following:

#22 Netherlands..US$ 39,200
#23 Australia.........US$ 38,800
#86 Venezuela......US$ 13,100
#77 Malaysia.........US$ 14,800
#146 Syria..............US$ 4,600
#180 Cameroon....US$ 2,300
#207 Nepal.............US$ 1,200

Clearly we are much better placed than other countries to care for people who are genuinely seeking refuge.

The lack of infrastructure to handle population increases should be blamed on the people that are actually responsible for creating that mess: our politicians.

Let's bring an extinguisher to this political bonfire.

Image credit: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 22 July 2010

How is this surprising?

So, seeing how the 2010 Australian Federal Election campaign is in full swing...I guess for my first post on this blog, this is appropriate.

A "surprising" preference deal between Labor and the Greens (really?)....the less we rely on those silly how-to-vote cards, the less power that faceless party powerbrokers have over elections. I remember one time when I refused to accept a how-to-vote card from a Liberal supporter and he scoffed at me....umm, nice way to get me to vote for you. Just because I don't take the card doesn't mean I don't support the party, it just means I will make my own choice - which I did.

Been a little busy recently but looking forward to the circus that will be the next few weeks.

Image credit: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net Sphere: Related Content