Monthly Archives: December 2016

Paul Keating on Australia’s relationship with the UK

‘I was told that I did not learn respect at school. I learned one thing: I learned about self-respect and self-regard for Australia—not about some cultural cringe to a country which decided not to defend the Malayan peninsula, not to worry about Singapore and not to give us our troops back to keep ourselves free from Japanese domination. This was the country that you people wedded yourself to, and even as it walked out on you and joined the Common Market, you were still looking for your MBEs and your knighthoods, and all the rest of the regalia that comes with it. You would take Australia right back down the time tunnel to the cultural cringe where you have always come from.’

– Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, Hansard transcript of extract of Question Time in the House of Representatives on February 27, 1992. See his full answer here.

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A gorilla never forgets

Why Evolution Is True

by Greg Mayer

Three gorilla brothers, Kesho, Alf, and Evindi, were recently reunited at Longleat Safari Park, after Kesho had been separated as part of a breeding program. As reported in an article in The Sun (entitled “Gorillas in the Missed”!), and visible in a slideshow at the BBC, the reunion has gone quite well.

Gorilla brothers Alf (left, age 9) and Kesho (right, age 13) get reacquainted. Photo by BNPS, from The Sun.

There had been some concern whether they would remember each other, but keeper Mark Tye said

The moment they met, you could see the recognition in their eyes. It’s like they’ve never been apart.

while Ian Redmond of the Ape Alliance noted

What you’re seeing is exactly what you think you’re seeing. Two intelligent social mammals, who were separate, are pleased to see each other again and play together. It is gorilla joy, being…

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Giles Fraser: Terrorists aren’t religious enough (!)

Why Evolution Is True

Giles Fraser is described by the Guardian as “priest-in-charge at St Mary’s Newington in south London and the former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral.” He writes regularly for the Guardian, but it’s nothing that is edifying. It’s apologetics, Jake! Fraser has appeared on this website several times before (e.g., here, here, and here), and never in a favorable light.

But his piece in yesterday’s Guardian (he has a column), may be the worst yet. You can tell that from its title, “How to defeat terrorists? True extremism.” Now what on Earth can he mean by that? He starts by talking about the truck that killed people in Berlin’s Christmas market. (The suspect, Anis Amri, has now been killed in Italy, and there’s a video of him pledging allegiance to ISIS.)  As a true apologist, Fraser argues that Amri, and other religious terrorists…

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When it comes to election campaigns, is the gambling lobby all bark and no bite?

Francis Markham, Australian National University and Martin Young, Southern Cross University

The gambling lobby’s influence in overriding popular opinion and the public interest in Australia is well-known. But is its electoral power exaggerated? A look at this year’s ACT election suggests that perhaps the gambling industry is less influential than it appears to be.

Generating fear

One crucial weapon in Big Gambling’s lobbying arsenal is its threat to campaign against MPs at elections.

Former politicians describe the fear generated by threats of being targeted at elections: that the gambling industry will bring such financial resources to bear in an election campaign that proponents of gambling reform will be defeated at the ballot box.

The 2011 campaign against federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s poker-machine reform agenda provides evidence of this electoral fear. Aided and abetted by a conflicted media, the gambling lobby boasted of a A$40 million war-chest that would “eviscerate the government’s ranks of ministers and parliamentary secretaries at the next election if no compromise was reached” on Wilkie’s reforms.

A marginal seats campaign was promised, in which vulnerable government MPs would be targeted with vast electoral resources to blast those who did not acquiesce to Big Gambling’s wishes out of office.

History shows this campaign was successful in spooking the Gillard government. It reneged on its promised reforms well before the 2013 election. This gave the gambling industry an easy victory without an election being fought on the issue.

We don’t know if the gambling industry’s promised electoral strategy would have been successful because it has never been tested. Its great success has been in the fear it generates among politicians well before any election is called.

However, there are good reasons to think the industry’s popular support is lacking. For one, poker machines are wildly unpopular in the electorate. In 2014, 86% of ACT residents stated a belief that pokies do more harm than good, and a majority would like to see the number of machines reduced.

Similarly, a national study conducted during the gambling reform debate in 2011 found 74% in favour of mandatory pre-commitment.

What happened in the ACT?

With such little popular support for Big Gambling among voters, the wisdom of fighting an election campaign over pokies is questionable.

The 2016 ACT election finally put this question to the test. The issue was the Labor government’s decision to allow the Canberra Casino to purchase 200 pokie licenses from ACT clubs, allowing the machines in the casino for the first time.

Lobby group ClubsACT promised to campaign hard on the casino issue, arguing it was a threat to the clubs sector’s viability in Canberra. But ACT Labor did not back down prior to the election, and decided to face a concerted electoral campaign by the gambling industry.

ClubsACT, which is reliant on pokies for the majority of its income, launched a campaign against Labor and the Greens. It reportedly spent $185,000 funding the creation of a new political party, Canberra Community Voters (CCV), headed by lobbyist Richard Farmer. Most of this money was reportedly spent on TV advertising.

A ‘Your Canberra Clubs’ ad.

CCV’s signature issue was the future of clubs in the ACT. While it always seemed unlikely that it would gain seats in the Legislative Assembly, the political strategy appears to be one of diverting primary votes away from Labor and the Greens, and directing preferences to the Liberals.

A second front of attack was launched directly through the clubs themselves. During the months leading up to the election, banners and beer coasters appeared in Canberra’s community clubs bearing the slogan:

Imagine Canberra without community clubs.

And, on election day, text messages were sent to club members, imploring them to “save your community club” by voting Liberal.

A text message sent to a voter on the morning of the ACT election. Francis Markham

In all, ClubsACT reportedly spent $240,000 on its electoral efforts.

But this much-feared campaign amounted to very little. CCV received just 1,703 first-preference votes, or 0.7% of validly cast votes, at a cost of $109 per vote. Clubs in the ACT collectively have more employees than CCV received votes.

If the clubs’ claim of 200,000 members across the ACT is taken at face value, then less than 1% of members voted according to their wishes. Ultimately, the sitting Labor government was returned for a fifth term. The Liberals, the supposed beneficiary of the clubs’ campaign, received a swing against them of 2.2%.

While it is impossible to know exactly what role the gambling industry’s campaign played in this election, the clubs’ monopoly over pokies clearly wasn’t a decisive issue. Few voters were swayed to change their vote by the clubs’ arguments or CCV’s advertising blitz. In the final analysis, the clubs’ willingness to spend almost a quarter-of-a-million dollars on campaigning came to little.

This should embolden governments around Australia that have a mind to deal with the social fallout caused by poker machines. Poker machine reform remains very popular in Australia. What we now know is that the gambling industry’s much-vaunted electoral power is more bark than bite.

The ConversationFrancis Markham, PhD Candidate, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University and Martin Young, Associate Professor, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Weekly Dose: doxycycline treats a host of human plagues, but it won’t work forever

The Conversation

Harin Karunajeewa, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Doxycycline is an antibiotic drug that kills a wide, weird and wonderful range of bugs that are often difficult to treat with other antibiotics. These include bacteria and parasites that take up residence inside our cells (called “intracellular organisms”), making them hard for most antibiotics to reach.

Unlike many other antibiotics, doxycycline penetrates deep into our tissues and ends up inside our cells, where it can kill these bugs. Examples of intracellular organisms susceptible to doxycycline include numerous “zoonotic infections” (infections that are spread from animals to humans), chlamydia, legionella (the cause of legionnaire’s disease) and malaria.

Other susceptible microorganisms include “spirochaetes” (that can cause syphilis and Lyme disease) and the bacteria that cause acne, anthrax and cholera.

Mechanism

Doxycycline interferes with a microorganism’s ability to manufacture proteins – the “building blocks” of life. Protein manufacture occurs in a part of the cell called the “ribosome” and is fundamental to any organism’s survival.

The reason doxycycline kills bacteria and parasites, but not our own cells, is that ours have a different type of ribosome to these simpler organisms.

Uses

Because doxycycline kills a wide range of bacteria that can infect the respiratory system, it is commonly prescribed for pneumonia and bronchitis. It is also widely used for treating acne and infections of the urinary and genital systems.

It is usually taken orally as tablets or capsules but can also very occasionally be given as an intravenous injection.

Doxycycline interferes with a microorganism’s ability to manufacture proteins – which is essential for survival.
Tim Proctor/Flickr, CC BY

Doxycycline continues to exert its effects for some time after being taken. This means it can be used not only as treatment, but also for prevention or “prophylaxis”.

Its most widespread use as prophylaxis is for tourists and other travellers (such as military personnel) going to tropical countries where it is used to protect primarily against malaria. It may also provide additional protection from common bacterial causes of diarrhoea.

To be effective in preventing infection, it needs to be taken once a day during the time the person is at risk. Doxycycline is also active against a number of bacteria that could possibly be used as agents of “germ” warfare. This included, most notably, anthrax. So it could be used as prophylaxis in military or other populations thought to be at risk of bio-warfare or following release of anthrax into the environment by terrorists.

Development

The development of doxycycline followed the momentous discovery of penicillin, a natural compound produced by a certain type of mould.

This lead many pharmaceutical companies to investigate the microbe-killing properties of a large number of other natural products, such as those produced by other microorganisms and plants, a process termed “bio-discovery”.

This unearthed natural compounds with anti-microbial activity and further synthetic modification improved these natural compounds.

Resistance

Like all antibiotics, doxycycline is susceptible to bugs that develop resistance. There is evidence this has already occurred in settings where the drug is widely used, such as treatment of acne.

This means its use may be curtailed or overtaken by alternative drugs for some conditions, now or in the future.

Side effects and reactions

The most commonly reported side effect is inflammation of the oesophagus (food pipe), causing heartburn. This can be quite unpleasant but is somewhat preventable by taking the medication with plenty of water, while standing and well before going to bed.

“Photosensitivity” (heightened sensitivity to sunlight resulting in being easily sunburnt) is also common ( in up to 20% of people taking it). This is especially problematic for travellers using it as malaria prophylaxis in tropical countries.

Doxycycline should not be used in children or in pregnant women where it can result in permanent brown staining of teeth and have other effects on foetal bone development.

Doxycycline can increase the toxicity of the anti-inflammatory drug methotrexate.

Controversies

Recent high-profile controversies regarding side-effects from antimalarial drug mefloquine in defence-force personnel and refugees have highlighted the role of doxycycline as one of two main alternatives to mefloquine.

It is now generally considered a preferable initial choice to mefloquine for malaria prophylaxis. Interestingly, previous studies suggest many people actually prefer taking mefloquine to doxycycline.

This may reflect the nature of doxycycline’s side effects, but also its less convenient daily dosing (mefloquine is taken weekly).

Possible future uses

It has recently been found doxycycline affects processes in human cells, especially a group of enzymes important for the body’s inflammatory response. This property may be beneficial and could lead to applications for treating various non-infectious conditions.

These include cancers (especially those involving bone), inflammatory and autoimmune conditions (including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis) and atherosclerotic diseases (plaque build-up in your arteries that can cause heart disease). However, these applications are currently still mostly in the experimental stage.

The ConversationHarin Karunajeewa, Associate Professor, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ acculturation

Why Evolution Is True

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “maths”, came with a note:

This week’s comic was provoked by an article written by the Rev Giles Fraser. If you can bear it, here it is.

It’s a piece by Fraser in the Guardian, “Assimilation threatens the existence of other cultures,” that begins this way and then goes downhill:

This week a doctor from north London was telling me about one of his patients, a lad of 20 who has lived in the borough of Hackney all his life. He was born here and grew up here. And he’s a bright boy – yet he speaks only a few very rudimentary words of English. The language he speaks at home and at school is Yiddish. Some may be appalled by the insularity of the community in which this young man was raised. But I admire it. In particular, I admire the…

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Why Berlin Christmas market attack puts new pressure on Angela Merkel

The Conversation

Patricia Hogwood, University of Westminster

A juggernaut ploughed into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin city centre on the evening of December 19, killing at least 12 people and injuring at least 48. Minister of the interior Thomas de Maizière said that it was a deliberate attack.

The Berlin police have urged caution until more about the incident is known, but this has done little to dampen speculation about the perpetrator, nor to prevent an unseemly scramble in some quarters to gain political capital from this tragedy.

This high-profile attack in the festive period looks certain to polarise an already strained political debate between German liberals of the left and centre, and populists on the right, piling pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership at a sensitive time in the electoral calendar. On the other hand, it may help to strengthen bonds between governments and nations at the European level as they work together to enhance security co-operation.

Chancellor holds her line

At home, internal security looks set to be a campaign issue in federal elections in September 2017. At the same time, 58% of Germans currently believe refugee policy is the biggest challenge the country faces. In light of this, Merkel is well aware that she needs to challenge an association, promoted by the populist right, between internal security and refugees: an association that insidiously asserts the inherent criminality of foreigners.

Policemen guard the truck which crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin. Britta Pederson/EPA

This narrative shows signs of taking root in public debate. The recent murder of a young student in Freiburg, apparently by an Afghan asylum-seeker, prompted such widespread outrage that the authorities had to speak out against the scapegoating of migrants.

In the last year, Merkel has proved adept at acknowledging the fears of the public over security while at the same time underlining her humanitarian approach to refugee policy. In her first response to the Berlin attack, the chancellor stated that if the perpetrator turned out to be a refugee, it would be dreadful for the many Germans who are involved in helping refugees on a daily basis “and for the many people who really need our protection and are making an effort to integrate into our country”.

Her traditional New Year’s Eve address to the country will give her another opportunity to drive this message home. But will it be enough?

‘Germany is no longer safe’

Whoever turns out to be responsible for the Berlin attack, the political damage is done. Frauke Petry, the outspoken leader of the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) has already pointed to the government’s refugee policy as being partly responsible for the atrocity. She claimed it has negligently and systematically imported a milieu in which such acts can thrive and that “Germany is no longer safe”.

Provocative as these claims are, they have been matched by voices from within Merkel’s own party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU). The Berlin attack has already shattered recent attempts to heal the intra-party rift over immigration that could threaten to derail party unity in next year’s election campaign.

Klaus Bouillon, CDU chair of the standing committee of interior ministers from the federal Länder (regions), was quick to claim that Germany found itself in a “state of war” – even though “some people, who only ever see the good, won’t like to admit this”. Noting that copycat attacks would be likely, Bouillon called for upgraded security measures and for the police to be heavily armed.

Problems at home – but promise for Europe?

Before the Berlin attack, Merkel might have been able to prevent the refugee issue from dominating the election agenda by making a feature of other public concerns (albeit less pressing), such as pensions and care for the elderly. Now, the field is open for the right to make capital from criticisms that Merkel is too involved in her role as international statesman. They are likely to step up critiques that she is losing touch with domestic problems, that her policies are tired and that she is running out of ideas.

Perversely, at the European level, the Berlin attack might offer an incentive to heal fractious relations between member states and to consolidate the co-operation that already exists on internal security and counter-terror operations. Following the UK’s June referendum result and Theresa May’s rhetoric of a “hard Brexit”, the UK’s standing within the EU is at an all-time low.

However, it is widely recognised that no other European member state has as much experience and expertise in counter-terrorism. Constructive co-operation with Germany in a concerted effort to keep Europeans safe may help a little to stabilise relations between EU partners in the testing times to come.

The ConversationPatricia Hogwood, Reader in European Politics, University of Westminster

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Petition started by University of Colorado student to disinvite Milo from speaking there; claims that doesn’t violate free speech

Why Evolution Is True

Update: I’ve said previously that, in light of Yiannopoulos’s unconscionable attack on a transgender student in Wisconsin, he should be allowed to speak on campuses with the proviso that he be told to refrain from singling out and attacking individuals students from his bully pulpit. (There may be exceptions if those students are seen as public figures.) I stand by that. Elsewhere, people like Dan Arel are apparently calling for him to be permanently and irrevocably banned from speaking elsewhere. I disagree with that.

_____________

Charles Wofford, a graduate student in music at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CUB), has started a petition at Change.org to disinvite Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking there. (Wofford also has a similar letter to the editor in the Boulder newspaper.) According to the petition, Milo was invited by CUB President Philip DiStefano himself, who’s quoted in the petition as saying ““Personally, I feel strongly that discrimination…

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Skeptics Café – Change of Venue

Victorian Skeptics

Twelve years of Vic Skeptics’ tradition came to an end this week when La Notté Restaurant closed indefinitely.

Next January’s Skeptics Café (Monday January 16) will go ahead at The Clyde Hotel, corner of Cardigan and Elgin Streets in Carlton. Some of our readers will already be familiar with The Clyde as the site of our recent Convention Trivia Night.clydelocation

We’ll be in The Lounge. You enter through the beer garden in Cardigan Street. After an optional meal from 6pm with food and drinks at quite reasonable pub prices, Tim Harding will speak on Scientific Skepticism vs Philosophical Skepticism at 8 pm. Those staying on for the talk will be asked to contribute $4.

Street parking can be tight in that area, but tends to open up after six pm. The Eastern Precinct Car Park is very convenient, being next door to the venue in Cardigan Street with a…

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Appeal to hypocrisy

Appeal to hypocrisy (also known as Tu quoque, Latin for, ‘you also’) is an informal logical fallacy that tries to discredit the validity of the opponent’s argument by asserting the opponent’s failure to act consistently in accordance with its conclusion(s).

The Appeal to Hypocrisy fallacy follows the pattern:

  1. Person A makes claim X.
  2. Person B asserts that A’s actions or past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X.
  3. Conclusion: Therefore X is false.

An example would be

Peter: ‘Based on the arguments I have presented, it is evident that it is morally wrong to use animals for food or clothing.’

Bill: ‘But you are wearing a leather jacket and you have a roast beef sandwich in your hand! How can you say that using animals for food and clothing is wrong?’

This argument is a fallacy because the moral character or past actions of the opponent are generally irrelevant to the validity of the argument. It is often used as a red herring tactic and is a special case of the ad hominem fallacy, which is a category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of facts about the person presenting or supporting the claim or argument.

 

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