Climate change and rising sea levels

Time and tide not waiting is the title of an article by Nick O’Malley printed in The Sunday Age.

In it, O’Malley describes the situation on Miami’s South Beach and area of land in Florida that is 1.5 m above sea level and subject to frequent flooding. The flooding means that the sewers back up and raw sewage flows into the streets and onto the beach.

 South Beach MAmy: soon-to-be underwater (and raw sewage)

South Beach MAmy: soon-to-be underwater (and raw sewage)

The state governor, Rick Scott, a Republican with strong links to the coal industry, responds to questions about climate change with a response typical of climate denying Republicans  “I’m not a scientist.” Presumably this excuses him from all manner of stupidity.

President Obama has set targets of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 But this is probably not going to be enough to stop South Beach going underwater.

The problem is huge. Geologist Hugh Wanless believes that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the flood mitigation has been wasted and the only solution is to move people out of the area.

Rick Scott should fly over Jakarta when the monsoon rains and the spring tides coincide to get and insight into what is going to happen on South Beach.

.banjir bundaran HI

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A happy confluence of events

Special Religious Instruction appears to be on the way out

Henry Grossek, principal of Berwick Lodge Primary School, said his school has now decided to discontinue the program altogether, due to an overwhelming lack of interest. His school sent the revised “opt in” form to all families midyear, and afterwards less than 20 per cent of parents wanted their children to complete the program

Lara Wood, a spokesperson for the Fairness in Religion in School group, said the grassroots organisation would not rest until religious instruction was removed entirely.

“SRI is a dying program, and we are here to make sure that happens sooner rather than later,” she said.

Tony Abbott commits to free vote on euthanasia

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Is it time to get rid of politicians?

There are abundant signs that some  of our democratic processes are not working too well in Australia where small groups of micro-parties, elected with decimal points of the popular vote, can hold the  government to ransom.. It is also true in the US where processes such as gerrymandering by newly elected legislatures distort the democratic and representative process.

These problems arise when the democratic institutions that were established by the “founding fathers” are insufficient to deal with the complexities of a modern society.

The concept that the Senate in Australia was to be the “states’ house” in the lower house was to be the “people’s house” has clearly been outdated.

This system was designed protect the electorate from the vagaries of the party political system in the lower house but this is clearly no longer the case as the Senate is now elected along party, rather than state, lines.

There was also a recognition that representative government was likely to be a fairly clear-cut division between two major social groups in society: those who controlled land and capital and those who provided labour.  For some time,  this distinction worked moderately well. However, these social and economic distinctions are becoming increasingly blurred.

Now this simple dichotomy is not a good working model for modern pluralistic democracy  where the political issues are not well managed by a partisan political system.

This problem is best illustrated by the concept of the “mandate”. A party that wins 51% of the vote can claim it has a mandate to implement all of its policies, some of which may need to be developed post-election in the light of changing circumstances that were not envisaged by the original policy platform that was presented to the electorate.

It is highly likely that many voters will have divided allegiances. Some may support the tax reform policies of a party but oppose their policies on immigration. Or support the policies of the party on climate change but oppose its policies on same-sex marriage.

The difficulty is  that the electorate has to choose one party and accept that party’s position on all policy matters for a complete Parliamentary term.

My proposal is that we have a completely different electoral system: one were you able to vote for policies rather than for politicians and parties.

The basis of the system would be modern information technology where it is possible for people to vote on policies on an ongoing and continual basis, in a series of electronic referenda.

So, on the matter of euthanasia there would be an electronic referendum where people could vote on that specific issue without needing to support a specific political party at the same time.

If the US asks Australia to provide troops for Iraq, then that matter can be put to an electronic referendum.

With this system, we would not need politicians whose task it is, after all, to represent the views of the electorate, a task which they do exceptionally badly at times given the constraints of party politics.

The advantage of this system is that we would not be electing politicians, as we do with the Senate in Australia, who stay in Parliament for six years, often well past their use-by date. What we would be able to do is to vote on issues and policies on a regular and continuing basis. This would also avoid the problem of having politicians making “promises” before an election and then finding the changing circumstances mean they can’t keep that promise.

These referenda policies would be put into practice by the  bureaucracy which is a bit of government that really works quite well when the politicians leave it alone.

Tinkering with the electoral system particularly for the upper houses at both state and federal level is unlikely to give us a democratic system that has the flexibility to respond to the demands of modern society. Modern information technology provides us with a tool where the views of the electorate can be canvassed quickly and accurately.

It would be a far more flexible and effective system than the one we labour under present.

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International comparisons of gun related deaths

Bob S has taken exception to my statement “America where death rates from firearm homicides are amongst the highest in the world.” in my blog The myth of the good guy with a gun” arguing that some of the countries that have much higher rates than America.

He’s right, some countries do have higher rates of  gun related homicides. He  provides the list of gun deaths per 100,000 head of population.

Honduras 64.8 (2010)
El Salvador 39.90 (2008)
Jamaica 39.40 (2009)
Venezuela 39.00 (2000)
Swaziland 37.16 (2004)
Guatemala 34.8 (2010)
Colombia 27.1 (2010)
Brazil 18.1 (2008)
South Africa 17.00 (2007)
Panama 16.10 (2010)
Mexico 10.00 (2010)
Paraguay 7.30 (2009)
Nicaragua 5.90 (2008)
Costa Rica 4.6 (2006)
Uruguay 3.43 (2009)
Philippines 3.24 (2002)
Argentina 3.0 (2008)
Barbados 3.0 (2000)
United States 2.83 (2012)

United States is 19th in a total of 194 Nations.

That places it on the 90th percentile, or if you like in the top 10%.    By any reasonable judgement and on the data presented by Bob S, this would place America’s gun related death rate amongst the highest in the world.   Fair to say that it is low by comparison with Honduras  and El Salvador. But that is not my point, it’s high by international standards and it’s high in percentile terms.

It’s also worth noting that gun ownership  in the United States is the highest in the world at 90 guns per 100  people. Now whether this rate is responsible for  the relatively high rate of gun related deaths in America or whether they would be much higher with a lower concentration of gun ownership, is difficult to say.

But it is  useful to compare gun related homicide rate in Australia where it is 0.11,  amongst one of the lowest rates in the world. It places it roughly in the bottom 10%. Statistics show that there are 15 guns per 100 people. That’s one sixth the number for America.

Judging from the responses to Senator Leyonhjelm’s statement on gun ownership, the Australian public is in no mood for any relaxation of the tough gun control and buyback laws introduced by John Howard after the Port Arthur massacre.

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The myth of the “good guy with a gun”

Fresh on the heels of the tragedy at Martin Place, libertarian Senator Leyonhjelm  has jumped on the bandwagon with his ideas about gun control.  He’s a politician and so, like Tony Abbott, can’t resist the opportunity to get some media attention for some of his half-baked views.

Libertarian Senator Leyonhjelm

Libertarian Senator Leyonhjelm

On the surface, he looks like a social progressive supporting gay marriage, decriminalisation of marijuana and assisted suicide. He and his party are also opposed to foreign aid and gun control.

What lies at the heart of this is a philosophy that believes in limiting the role of government in regulating the lives of individuals. It’s about being pro-choice. It’s not about being socially progressive.

In the wake of the tragedy of Martin Place, he has trotted out  old the mantra of the National Rifle Association “The only way to stop the bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.”

This is absolute nonsense on a number of counts.

There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the good guys with guns have done anything to stop the bad guys with guns in America where death rates from  firearm homicides are amongst the highest in the world.

He ignores the difficulties in working out who the good guys are when you start handing out gun licences. Of course,  we could get everyone who applies for a gun licence to tick a box:

good guy

That should do the trick.

Leyonhjelm argues that if someone in the Lindt Cafe had a gun, they would have been able to shoot gunman Man Haron Monis.  In Leyonhjelm’s brave new world, everybody would carry a gun to protect themselves. So here’s how the Lindt Cafe scenario would have played out.

A gunmen (a bad guy) walks into the cafe, which is full of good guys with guns. He produces a gun and points it at a group of customers. One of the customers (a good guy) then pulls out his gun and fires at the gunmen. Unfortunately, he miss and hits one of the customers who are sitting behind the gunmen and who cannot see that gunman (the bad guy) is carrying a gun.

What they can see is the customer who has fired at the gunmen and hit one of the other customers (also a good guy). The partner of the wounded customer pulls out a gun and returns fire. Within seconds, all the good guys are firing at each other and the cafe is ablaze with gunfire.

Lindt Cafe light up with gunfire as police storm in

Lindt Cafe light up with gunfire as police storm in

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Can any of David Hamilton’s work be judged to be pornographic?

Defining what constitutes pornography is fraught with peril. Most of us know it when it when we see it, but turning a definition of a pornographic image into words, particular words that will be useful in defining other pornographic works, is exceptionally difficult.

Some people have a massive capacity for being affronted, particularly when it comes to visual depictions of nudity or sexual activity.  In Melbourne, a single complaint about an art exhibition was enough to close Paul Yore’s art exhibition Artist faces child porn charges

Artist Paul Yore Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Artist Paul Yore Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

An example of Paul Yore's work

An example of Paul Yore’s work

Inevitably, the action was not supported by the Courts, as actions against Bill Henson were not.

Wikipedia defines pornography as  the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal. the Oxford dictionary adds  display of sexual organs or activity while American law adds the proviso  “utterly without redeeming social value”

When it comes to court cases, almost everything, it seems, has some redeeming social ( If not artistic) value and efforts to curb the spread of pornography inevitably wind up looking ridiculous.

The British Parliament has recently outlawed a list of activity being portrayed in videos, including spanking and face sitting.The protest was organised on Facebook by the Sex Worker of the Year 2013, Charlotte Rose, who believes that the new “measures appear to take aim at female pleasure.” 

The campaigners had hoped to break the world record for the number of people “face-sitting” at the same time, but the record has been rejected by Guinness World Records.

It is difficult not to form the opinion that adults should be entitled to watch other consenting adults engaging in whatever activities they choose and the censor should keep out of the way.

But there are two areas where quite clear distinctions should be drawn: the depiction of  images of young children and the depiction of images that portray violence against women (or one of the sexual partners).

It is useful to look at some of the work of David Hamilton when discussing the boundaries around the portrayal of children. Much of Hamilton’s work is concerned with the depiction of young women, as distinct from children, and their nascent sexuality. A small part of his work is concerned with sexual relationships between these young women. Very few of these images actually depict  overt sexual activity.


These are probably not amongst Hamilton’s best work and certainly past suggestive of sexual activity but it would be difficult to categorise these images as pornographic. This is because the idea of pornography being used for the purpose of sexual arousal  is a particularly difficult one. Any  erotic photographs, these included, will have some element of sexual arousal for some viewers. But it is difficult to argue that this was Hamilton’s purpose and taking these photographs, particularly when you see them in the context of the larger part of his work.

There is another small group of images that portrays sexual behaviour more explicitly but never-the-less relatively harmlessly.

Couples montage

The two left-hand images are taken from the film Cousins and should be seen in the context of the film. All three are arguably a celebration of, rather than a purient interest in, teenage sexuality. These images also focus on the pleasure of the sexual encounter rather than the mechanics of the act. Certainly,  it could be argued that these images have some redeeming artistic or photographic value.

The next two images raise some interesting questions.


Are these images celebration of the developing sexuality of two beautiful young women or are they simply a voyeuristic view of two masturbation scenes? Clearly, it is in the eye of the beholder and everybody brings your own prejudices to every picture painting or photograph. However, it does seem to be  An element of gratuitous voyeurism in these images.

There are some images where Hamilton gets close to the line  between erotic art and pornography and this is is where he begins depicting children rather than young women. these images do not represent the best part of his work.


The first thing it is striking about these images is that the portrayals of the much younger subjects are, for the most part, devoid of any of the joy and celebration of his best work. In the montage above, the vast bulk of the children look disgruntled, distrustful and even unhappy. Perhaps this is an age group that Hamilton was not comfortable with.

Two images, in particular, serve to illustrate the problems arise with the portrayal of these younger subjects


Both of these photographs are characterised by a graphic depiction of the young subjects genitals. Redeeming artistic value? Probably not. Voyeurism? Possibly.

Looking at some of Hamilton’s other work there is certain preoccupation with the genitalia of his subjects.


Redeeming artistic value? Probably not. Voyeurism? Possibly.


Redeeming artistic value? Possibly. Voyeurism? Possibly.

It is inevitable that questions of pornography will arise when examining the work of photographers such as David Hamilton  particularly when the work involves the portrayal of young children. The answers to such question will depend on where the line is drawn between the work of an artist and the work of a voyeur.

The question of voyeurism in photography raises difficult issues. Voyeurism involves watching someone involved in some intimate activity without their knowledge. This is clearly not the case with Hamilton. His subjects are always obviously conscious of the presence of a photographer. So the question arises: is the response of the viewer as distinct from the photographer, a necessary component of a definition of pornography. It is quite possible that the photographer’s intent is not pornographic while the viewer’s may well be.

Does this make the photographer complicit in the way that the viewer uses the images? It is hard to argue this case. Yet it’s also difficult to ignore the fact that publishing photographs of young children’s genitals is not in some way contributing the voyeuristic tendencies of some of the viewers.

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Martin Place: a $630 million policy failure

Guess who said this:

“We particularly need to know how someone with such a long record of violence, such a long record of mental instability was out on bail after his involvement in a particularly horrific crime.”

If you thought it was the Australian public questioning how this could have happened after the federal government had allocated $630 million to monitoring people at risk, you would be wrong.

It was actually Prime Minister Tony Abbott the man who allocated the money and is responsible for seeing the policy implemented. As a sideline he also sent Australian forces to the Middle East to make us safe from exactly this kind of attack.

So it’s the Australian public who should be looking for answers from Tony Abbott not the Prime Minister jumping on the bandwagon, as he normally does, when anything concerning national security gets into the news.

In matters like this you can’t help thinking the whole situation would be made much better if the Prime Minister just kept quiet.

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