Australia – The Outlaw Nation

According to the SMH, the Abbott Federal Government’s position on sending asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka is against the law.

Australian international law experts have uniformly condemned Australia’s return of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka as a violation of international law that risks sending vulnerable people back to persecution and torture.


So how could this happen? How does a government break the law? As far as I can tell, there are only a few reasonable explanations.

1. They are completely inept.

2. They aren’t inept but don’t have any lawyers on staff to advise them about such actions, nor did they consult an external law firm.

3. They knew they were breaking the law – but didn’t care.

As much as I suspect our Prime Minister is a complete dickhead, I don’t think he or his team are completely inept or stupid, so the only reasonable explanation is option 3 – they knew they were breaking the law but didn’t care.

This leads me to wonder what the implications are when the government deliberately and knowingly breaks the law – does it mean that the concept of “law” is now invalid for the rest of us? Do we live in a lawless land? Are we an outlaw nation? If the government that is there to create laws willingly snubs its nose at the law, doesn’t this somehow mean the whole system of law is now void?

How can a government simultaneously insist that the population obeys the laws of the nation while it willfully breaks international law?



John Pilger’s UTOPIA

John Pilger Utopia

I had the opportunity this morning (5:30am my time!) to participate in a live discussion on Al Jazeera with John Pilger, the famous Australian investigative journalist, supporter of Julian Assange, and documentarian, about his new documentary “Utopia”, which looks at the current state of Australia’s treatment of our indigenous population. Although I barely got to speak to him (my one question comes in at the 30 minute mark), it was terrific to listen to him explain what he believes is the role of journalism and, in particular, investigative journalism. I want to be him when I grow up.

Utopia Trailer:

Profiles of Fake ALP-Promoting Astroturf Twitter Accounts

Profiles of Fake ALP-Promoting Astroturf Twitter Accounts

Grant Vandersee (@gvandersee) tweeted today about a series of fake Twitter accounts that appear to be sending the same pro-ALP message.

So there are fake accounts tweeting pro-#ALP messages. Trust #Labor to cheat & sneak around. #ausvotes

— Grant Vandersee (@gvandersee) August 19, 2013


I dove into some of these accounts and they are pretty interesting.

The first account to send out this tweet about #Jess_Rudd seems to have been @Kenneth_Ha_9123, with the tweet going out at 5:32pm, 18 Aug 13 via Mobile Web (M2).

This account is 33 days old, has only made 22 tweets (mostly nonsensical, randomly generated), has 150 followers (the majority of whom are also fake accounts), and is following 200, mostly authentic, accounts.

About 30 minutes later, at 6:05pm, @Doreatha_polski tweeted the exact same message, also from Mobile Web (M2). Interestingly, this account claims to be from the USA.

fake twitter ALPThis account is 135 days old, again full of randomly generated nonsense tweets and re-tweets, has 152 mostly fake followers, and is following 203 mostly authentic followers. 

About 30 minutes later, at 6:51pm, the account @5p5Odom sent the exact same tweet, also from Mobile Web (M2). This account claims to be from “Burnside borough, PA, USA”, has 153 fake followers, is following 208 and has made 29 random tweets since the account was created 105 days ago.

At 8:31pm, from Mobile Web (M2), @meghankwonm217 sent the same tweet. This account is also purportedly from the USA and has the same fake statistics and tweets.
So far, over the last 20 hours, there have been 14 such messages. Hardly enough to have much of an impact on anything. So who is sending them… and why?

Mobile Web (M2) would seem to be this SMS marketing outfit. They promote themselves as “the exclusive provider and deployment platform of text messaging for our partner M2 Systems. We are taking the mobile industry to a new level of marketing strategies for the booming handheld lifestyle.”

Has the ALP done a deal with Mobile Web M2 to run  an astroturfing persona management for the campaign? Is this just the tip of the iceberg?

And if the ALP is using persona management to try to influence the outcome of the election, what are the Liberals up to?

It reminds me of a book I’m nearly finished reading – Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez. It’s the story of drone warfare extrapolated to its obvious conclusion. Pretty terrifying stuff (and a great read).

Curing Religious Feelings, Re-thinking Female Sexuality and Nazis on Meth

Curing Religious Feelings, Re-thinking Female Sexuality and Nazis on Meth

Stories that have grabbed my attention over the last day or so.

Curing Religious Feelings

It’s all about the brain. One day we should be able to use fMRI tools (or their descendants) to identify psychopaths before they hurt someone and offer to cure them. Can we also use neuroscientific tools to help cure religious fundamentalists? I’m not sure they would willingly submit to be cured and we can’t ethically force them. Would you stop believing in imaginary gods and monsters if you could?

An Oxford University researcher and author specializing in neuroscience has suggested that one day religious fundamentalism may be treated as a curable mental illness.
Kathleen Taylor, who describes herself as a “science writer affiliated to the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics,” made the suggestion during a presentation on brain research at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday. In response to a question about the future of neuroscience, Taylor said that “One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated,” The Times of London notes. (source)

Women Are Horny After All

I didn’t need journalist Daniel Bergner to write a book to tell me that my wife has a massive sex drive. She reminds me every day! He’s written the book anyway –  “What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire”. According to the research he did for the book, many popular ideas about women’s sexuality is wrong, wrong, wrong. For example, they aren’t made for monogamy any more than men are. And women become physically aroused to a much wider array of visual stimuli than men, even though they deny it. Read the interview. (source)

Nazis On Meth! 

No, that’s not the title of the sequel to Iron Sky, it’s the story about meth was invented by a German in 1938 and then distributed by the millions to Nazi soldiers. Makes me wonder what impact that might have had on their early successes – and their eventual downfall? We know Der Fuhrer didn’t partake of alcohol or cigarettes, but did he use meth?

…the Wehrmacht, Germany’s World War II army, distributed millions of the tablets to soldiers on the front, who soon dubbed the stimulant “Panzerschokolade” (“tank chocolate”). British newspapers reported that German soldiers were using a “miracle pill.” (source)


We saw The Great Gatsby in 3D last night. It wasn’t the complete disaster I expected from the bad reviews and the stories about its troubled production, but I didn’t like it. I’m generally not a fan of Baz Luhrmann. I loved Strictly Ballroom, but all of his films since Romeo + Juliet have been too over-the-top for my tastes. I don’t mind CG effects if they are required – sure, go ahead and use them in The Avengers if you must. I just think character-driven stories don’t need them. We also saw Joe Wright recent adaptation of Anna Karenina a few months ago and I’m sure it also used CG, but it was used much more carefully, enhancing the story rather than over-powering it. That’s my two cents, anyway. Chrissy, on the other hand, loved it.


Who Is The New Doctor Going To Be? 

The BBC has announced Matt Smith is retiring at the end of the year. Who will be the new Doctor (no, not John Hurt). My tip is Ben Whishaw

stephen merchant for doctor who!

(he was Q in the latest Bond film), although he might be too big now. Cumberbatch is definitely too big – and he turned it down four years ago anyhow. It will probably be someone totally unknown. If I could choose, it would be Stephen Merchant.

Yeah the last season has been pretty dreary. It’s had a few cool moment (John Hurt) but nowhere near as cool as the first season of Eleven or the first couple of seasons of Ten.


How does the CEO of Evernote use Evernote?

Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, shares how he organises his personal install of Evernote.

 As of the time of this answer, I have about 9,000 notes in my Evernote account divided among 45 notebooks. However, the majority of these notes are in my single, default notebook. (source)

A little disappointing to those of us who obsess over getting the right combination of Notebooks & Tags. At least he has more notes than I do (6617).


The Truth About Asylum Seekers & Australia

The Truth About Asylum Seekers & Australia

Over the last year I’ve gradually compiled interesting stats regarding Australia’s asylum seeker intake. I thought I’d share them for easy reference the next time you have a xenophobic friend or family member ranting on Facebook.

  • First and foremost – they are not “illegal boat people”. They are “asylum seekers”. Australia is a signatory to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, which means we have an obligation to treat refugees with respect and compassion.
  • An investigative team was sent by the UNHCR to Manus Island where Australia has sent asylum seekers, and has concluded Australia is not complying with its responsibilities under the Refugee Convention. The report found that conditions on the island are inadequate, no processing is taking place and detainees are left in a legal limbo.
  • The 1951 Convention specifically bars countries from punishing people who have arrived directly from a country of persecution (or from another country where protection could not be assured), provided that they present themselves speedily to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry. Monitoring (through reporting obligations or guarantor requirements) is often a perfectly viable alternative to imprisoning asylum-seekers.
  • Figures show that developing countries accept the vast majority of the world’s refugees, with Australia 47th on the list of host countries in 2009.
  • Of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR mandate between 2005 and 2009, the largest numbers were being hosted by Pakistan (1,740,711), Iran (1,070,488), Syria (1,054,466), Germany (593,799), Jordan (450,756), Kenya (358,928), Chad (338,495), China (300,989), Vietnam (339,300), Eritrea (209,200) and Serbia (195,600).
  • Australia was ranked 47th, hosting 22,548 refugees between 2005 and 2009 (0.2 per cent of the global total).
  • Australia was 68th on a per capita basis and 91st relative to national wealth.
  • The industrialised countries with the largest number of asylum applications in 2009 were the United States (49,020), France (41,980), Canada (33,250), United Kingdom (29,840), Germany (27,650) and Sweden (24,190).
  • Australia was ranked 33rd for total asylum applications with 6206 new applications in 2009.
  • It was 41st on a per capita basis and 71st relative to national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • When an asylum seeker arrives in Australia, they do not get any Centrelink benefits. While their status is being processed, and if they meet certain criteria, they can be eligible for financial support from the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, administered through the Red Cross. This amount is 89% of the basic Centrelink allowance. This means approximately $405.84 per fortnight – over $260 less than a pensioner. For an asylum seeker to qualify for any payment under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, they must have lodged an application for a visa 6 months before, not be in detention, and not get any other payment or benefit.
  • Once an asylum seeker is recognised as a genuine refugee, after a long and highly scrutinized process, they are given permanent residency and are then entitled to the same Centrelink, schooling and health benefits as anyone else. No more, no less.
  • To get a permanent residence as a refugee, the person has to prove they are a genuine refugee fleeing persecution, go through character, security and medical tests, and sign an Australian Values Statement.
  • Since 1998, according to the SIEV X Committee, it looks as if well over 1000 asylum seekers have drowned trying to reach Australia. Their blood is on the hands of those Australian political leaders who have demonised, vilified, incarcerated, offshored and re-fouled refugees rather than massively increasing the intake and processing asylum seekers quickly in Indonesia and Malaysia to bring them here safely.
  • Department of Immigration data shows 88 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived by boat in 2009-10, including those who were initially rejected, have been found to be refugees and now have a visa. Sixty-eight per cent of those arriving in 2010-11, including those initially rejected, also have a visa. Final approvals are expected to be higher as half of these people are awaiting review.

My thanks to the bloggers and journalists who compiled this data.



Does Playing Violent Video Games Make Kids Violent?

Does Playing Violent Video Games Make Kids Violent?

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, a variety of people are trying to connect violent video games and mass murder. Like most 12 year old boys, my sons love playing FPS games on the Xbox. Their mother and step-mother aren’t big fans of allowing this, which means I’m out-voted, so I have limited what they can and can’t play over the last few years, much to their chagrin.

Like everyone else in my generation, i grew up watching violent films and playing video games. Obviously the technology has changes a lot over the last ten years, and playing Black Ops II is a world away from playing Frogger or Doom, Wolfenstein and Duke NukeEm which were available when we were in our 20s. But the same Chicken Little cries that video games are making kids violent is what we heard about Arnie movies and rap music in the 80s.

Now I love violent movies, the bloodier and gorier the better. I love rap music too, particularly of the NWA / Dr Dre / OG variety. Yet I don’t have a violent bone in my body. I also love classical music, art, poetry, philosophy, art-house films, Shakespeare and kittens. But perhaps I’m the anomaly?

So I keep an eye on the research every few years, looking to see if there is a conclusive link between violent movies and games and violence in real life.

I recently read a report on the Australian Government’s classification site called “Literature review on the  impact of playing violent  video games on aggression” from September 2010. I actually opened this report expecting it to be critical of video games, however it’s conclusion states:

Significant harmful effects from VVGs have not been persuasively proven or disproven.
There is some consensus that VVGs may be harmful to certain populations, such as people
with aggressive and psychotic personality traits. Overall, most studies have consistently
shown a small statistical effect of VVG exposure on aggressive behaviour, but there are
problems with these findings that reduce their policy relevance. Overall, as illustrated in this
review, research into the effects of VVGs on aggression is contested and inconclusive.

The report suggests that the evidence shows that kids with aggressive family situations or prior aggression of any kind may be more affected by VVGs than other kids, which makes sense.

If there was a correlation between video games and violence, we should see similar levels of violence in all countries where video games are popular – which is ALL of them. And that just isn’t the case. Levels of violence have been dropping in most countries over the last couple of decades – the United States being a major exception.

Dr Christopher Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and communication at the University of Texas,

recently pointed out that 

“in fact, in most countries youth violence has reached 40 year lows during the video game epoch.”


What are we to conclude from all this?

1. There is no conclusive evidence that violent video games lead to aggression or violence.

2. People suggesting that they do are either a) ill-informed or b) trying to distract people from the real issues driving mass shootings in the USA – easy access to semi-automatic weapons and ammunition and lack of access to mental health treatment.