Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Shocking live cattle abuse in Indonesia deserves tight regulation but not the banning of an industry

In last week's blog "You don't ban a whole industry because of a few bad eggs", I explained the importance of self-regulation by companies.  That article focused on self-regulation in the porn industry, to ensure that workers are not exploited.  
Mistreatment of cattle at Indonesian slaughterhouses

Tonight's episode of Four Corners uncovered torture of live Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs, essentially exploitation and harm of the defenceless workers.  The revelation only came to light as a result of an investigation by Animals Australia, and then by Four Corners.  The  images are shocking. 

Self regulation means setting real standards and sticking to them

Ideally, the Australian cattle industry would be self regulating, to ensure the humane slaughter of the live cattle being sent to Indonesia.  The industry, under the control of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Livecorp, has standards that are expected to be observed by the slaughterhouses, and it even inspects these slaughterhouses and conducts training.  Some of the facilities conduct themselves in a way that satisfies those standards.  Unfortunately, as shown on Four Corners, many of them fall horribly, inhumanely, short of acceptable.

What is clear is that the cattle industry is not enforcing its standards adequately.  Nobody in the Australian industry wants cattle harmed.  Yet they continue to allow it.  The self regulation of the industry is tepid.  A strict enforcement of standards could easily be implemented by developing a tight set of regulations, including mandatory stunning of cattle before they are killed.

In fact, only 10% of Indonesian abattoirs currently stun the cattle.  Despite significant efforts by people such as Greg Pankhurst, whose company, Juang Jaya Feedlot, has installed many stunning devices, most Australian beef is still being killed without stunning.  Pankhurst says that "You could probably say 90 per cent of our animals could be stunned within 18 months to two years".

Despite Pankhurst being one of the leaders in animal welfare within the cattle industry, a self regulating industry would impose a zero tolerance policy.  What he is suggesting is that with 10% compliance now, 90% compliance in 2 years will be OK.  Surely, that is not what self regulation means.

Sometimes industries need a very large nudge

Today, LiveCorp has announced that it is suspending exports to three facilities.  It is taking a stand against maltreatment of cattle.

To get to this step has taken a strong nudge through this major campaign from Animals Australia and of course, a very public 45 minutes on national TV, with extensive press coverage in Australia, Indonesia and around the world.

This reinforces the need to encourage individuals and groups to speak up against the breach of standards.  Animals Australia should be congratulated on bringing this atrocity to our attention.

The government may regulate, but we must resist banning the industry.

In last week's blog, I posed a question around what should be done when a "Manufacturer X, that sells Product A, exploits and harms their workers".  Most people would agree that the manufacturer should be prosecuted, and consumers might boycott the product.

However, banning the product completely isn't the answer.

The case of live cattle exports is an example where a particular problem certainly needs to be fixed.  There are many ways that the Australian government could regulate.  Indeed, if an industry has proved itself too slow or incapable of self regulating, then government regulation is appropriate. But, the solution is not to ban the trade.  

The government should insist that live cattle may only be exported if they are delivered to a certified slaughterhouse, which uses stunning to kill each animal.

Industries, beware! There are costs of ignoring your own standards. The Greens will get you.

I've seen so many industries pay lip service to their internal standards, believing that they can get away without walking the talk.  In every case, this deceit comes back to bite them on the arse.  Tobacco, gambling, banking, alcohol, telemarketing, cattle, porn, manufacturing ...

As an industry, you must set standards, and insist that they be adhered to. No wiggle room.  If you breach your own standards, government will impose tighter regulations on you - it will hurt the bottom line more than the ill-gotten gains you made.  If you still ignore the standards, you will be prosecuted. 

But it is only in the extreme case where the whole industry ignores an imposed set of standards for an extended period of time that the industry might be shut down.  The live cattle industry isn't at that point of no return yet, and the calls of politicians tonight to close down the trade are misguided.  The Greens are using an appalling situation as an excuse to peddle an agenda.

We must expect standards from all industries, but we must also support economic liberties. Our government should not ban any industries just on principle.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Hey Lindsay Fox: The economy is no excuse to compromise on women's rights

Lindsay Fox's encouragement to women to have 6 babies in 7 years reflects an outdated view from an old generation.  His economic objective makes sense - grow our population. It's the social element that is two generations out of date.

Fertility rates in the developed world are permanently lower since women's liberation

This chart shows the fertility rates for Australia and the US since 1950.

As you can see, the numbers of children born per women plummeted since the availability of the pill. It wasn't that women actually wanted 3 or 4 children each - they simply had no way to plan their family.

Lindsay Fox would need to turn Australia into Burundi

But take a look at this map of fertility rates around the world. It's only the poorer sub saharan African nations where fertility rates are above 5.0.  Those countries lack the same liberties for women that developed and even developing nations enjoy.
Except for sub-saharan Africa, almost all of the world has lower fertility
rates than Australia in the 1960s

To populate Australia the way Lindsay Fox advocates would require the wholesale rejection of contraception, and decades of feminism. We would need to have a culture like Burundi, where a woman's primary role is to breed boys for agricultural labor.

Obviously that isn't going to happen.

We can import population, Lindsay, so hopefully you support that as well

The first half of Fox's suggestion sounds like a great idea ...  "go home and make love tonight and create another baby for Australia.". But I'd strongly encourage safe sex, and remind Lindsay that you don't have to create a baby when you make love.

The economic premise of Lindsay Fox's suggestion makes a lot of sense - more people in Australia has a whole raft of economic benefits. But there's an obvious alternative to 1950s fertility levels. Let's just increase migration.  I've written a blog on migration here, so won't go over that again.  However, I would call on Lindsay Fox to support that option.

The key issue is that a suggestion to achieve a valuable economic solution by reducing women's options is just not acceptable. It's even more of a concern when it is said in humor or by a well respected citizen like Fox, as it softens the blow, and entrenches very old-fashioned attitudes.

We cannot condone any comments that suggest women should comply with any set of behaviors - especially those that reduce their equality

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

You don't ban a whole industry because of a few bad eggs

Which of the following sentences do you agree with.  There is no right or wrong answer.

  1. Manufacturer X, that sells Product A, exploits and harms their workers, so all Product A should be banned. 
  2. Manufacturer X, that sells Product A, exploits and harms their workers, so Manufacturer X should be prosecuted.
  3. Manufacturer X, that sells Product A, exploits and harms their workers, so Manufacturer X should be boycotted by consumers.

Remember your choice of these three options, because there is no logical reason why you should change your mind once you replace the "blanks" with real names of products and manufacturers who have exploited workers.  This discussion is all about what the impact should be of a bad egg on an industry or on that bad egg.

With your preferred answer in mind, now re-read that statement with the blanks filled in by these manufacturers and products


We don't ban products because of the bad eggs in each industry

I'm guessing that most readers will have chosen the second or third statements.  That makes sense.  All three of these manufacturers have been convicted or punished for their actions against workers.

Does anyone really think that we should ban sporting footwear because of Nike's actions?

Does anyone really think we should ban motor vehicles because of Ford's actions? (Remember, you might want to ban motor vehicles for other reasons - but not because of what Ford did)

So, why would we consider banning pornography because of Max Hardcore? He was convicted, sentenced and imprisoned.  Given the laws in Florida, that was appropriate.  His actions were wrong - he is the one to be prosecuted and boycotted.  Nobody suggested that all the porn in Florida would be banned.

Gail Dines is wrong - and doubly so for picking on abbywinters.com

Gail Dines, the author of Pornland, has been in Australia this week. She has received a lot of airplay, but she is wrong to say that pornography should be banned because of the actions of some pornographers.  She wouldn't argue for Nike runners to be banned, or even for Fords to be boycotted. The only fair point she makes is that some extreme forms of porn should be prohibited.

Accepting this one point, to ensure that exploitation doesn't occur, what many companies and industries do, is to regulate themselves.  If the self-regulation doesn't work, regulation is imposed upon them.  Some level of regulation is valuable (see the blog on the benefits of regulation in the banking industry).

So, is the porn industry regulating itself?  Well, yes it is.  There is a body dedicated to online child protection, ASACP.  And Garion Hall, the CEO of one company, abbywinters.com has announced that they are developing "standards that all adult websites choose to adhere to, covering models, staff and members."   That's exactly what is expected of Ford or Nike, or the banking industry if there are any questions raised about their business practices.

So, by singling out abbywinters.com in the press this week, Dines has picked the wrong target.  Dr Alan McKee pointed this out about Dines attack on abbywinters when he responded in a measured way in this article. Dr McKee pointed out the reality that "The women who have appeared on the site describe it as a positive experience for them."

And Lauren Rosenwarne also provided an intelligent response on the ABC website, where she criticised Dines... "Telling people that porn’s exploitative, that it’s degrading, that using it is shameful, does nothing to quell the yen for it and does everything to perpetuate guilt and embarrassment about masturbation, about sexuality."

Every industry needs to be responsible

Whether it is the food industry with issues of children's obesity, the apparel industry and sweatshops, the energy and vehicle industries with greenhouse gases, the porn industry and treatment of women, or the banking industry and responsible lending - every industry needs to be responsible.  Some of these industries (and many others) have had some very bad patches over an extended period, but we've (almost) never banned them.

Instead, the free market has responded by campaigning against dubious practices, and influencing companies and other consumers to modify their practices and impose reasonable standards.

Gail Dines' calls to ban and shame pornography are misguided and contrary to principles of social liberalism and even the free market.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Bob Katternomics - you make me rofl

Bob Katter - in power???
Bob, Bob, Bob. You really are hilarious. Your suggestion yesterday to reduce our interest rates to the same level as the US! Hahahahahahaha. Sorry, that's the best belly laugh I've had all year.

OK, let's have some fun with this idea, shall we?

Bob Katter, hero of the rural man, and the old economy manufacturer, miraculously wins power. So then he claims a mandate to implement his policy of "simply lowering the interest rates to that of Europe or the United States.". What happens next? (After the markets stop rolling around on the floor of course)

Bob fires the Reserve Bank Governor and Board

Pauline on the RBA!! lol
First of all, there's no way an independent Reserve Bank Governor will implement Katternomics.  Oh no, Bob's first task is to reissue a new "Statement on the Conduct of Monetary Policy" overriding 18 years of stability.  There's no way a sensible Governor like Glenn Stevens will serve under the new principles of Katternomics, so he'll need to find a new guy to rubber stamp the brave new world.  But there's still the thorny matter of those other Board members.  No problem - Bob has a hand picked bunch of pro-tariff experts including Pauline Hanson.

The new Governor cuts the cash rate from 4.75% to 0.5%

What a great media story?

Average mortgage falls by $750 per month.

Well, the reality doesn't quite work that way.  Rather than slashing rates by 4.25%, the banks only cut by 3.5%.  Outrage! Why are the banks profiteering - Bob, you have to do something about it.

Borrow, borrow, bubble, bubble

After two years of consumers relearning how to save money, the Katternomics inspired new super-low home loan rates cause a frenzy.  The banks try as hard as they can to stop people borrowing money, what with their recent credit downgrades, but they can't help themselves and the new sport on the street is lending money for houses to people who may or may not be able to afford it.  But there aren't enough houses to buy, so house prices skyrocket.

The developers try their best, but they just can't build the houses fast enough.  Capital city house prices increase by 20% in a year.  Housing affordability is a thing of the past, and the natives are getting restless.  Fights break out at auctions, and by the end of the year, desperate wanna-be home owners are protesting in the streets.

Nobody wants to be a miner

With so much money to be made in building houses, the developers increase wages to keep workers in the building trade.  And so do the suppliers, and before you know it, Australia's inflation rate hits 7%.  It's the highest rate since 1990.

And now the mining companies can't get workers because they are all back in the east building houses.  So, the miners go to Bob and ask for an increase in migration.  But Bob wants jobs for Australians, so he knocks them back.  The miners can't deliver on their contracts to China, and now there's an international incident brewing.  What's more, Australia's mining revenue is below budget because of the wages issue, and the budget deficit is spiralling out of control.

Sure, the dollar is falling - because the economy is disintegrating

International investors aren't too keen on Katternomics, so money starts to flow out rather than in, and the dollar falls to 80c.  Bob's mates are thrilled - they are selling their wares overseas and making a killing.  The manufacturers don't do quite so well.  Even though they can compete a bit better on price, they haven't kept up with their competitors and can't break back into the overseas markets.

Now consumers all over the country are screaming.  Everything imported is going up in price, and unless you are a builder you aren't getting paid more than what you were before.  The budget surplus means that Bob has to reduce government spending so public servant numbers are being reduced.  The economy is starting to slow down as a result, and so we've got rising unemployment and inflation. You can't afford your housing and all you see on the TV is a big hat and a few happy farmers.

A Grimm Fairy Tale

Thankfully, the chance of Bob Katter ever having control of Australia's monetary policy is about the same chance of Pauline Hanson being elected Prime Minister.  And frankly, who knows what would actually happen under such a bizarre scenario - the picture I've painted might actually be an understatement of the debacle.  The only thing it really shows is how insane it would be to revert to a pre-1993 economic policy, or worse.

Thank you Bob Katter for giving me a great laugh.  For that is what you are - truly a laughing stock!

Let me know what you think (reaction buttons below)

Mark S

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Rejecting cake socialism - the operation of the free market in office morning tea

"Come have some scrumptious coconut cake near my desk ... Reviews from my team so far: "this is yummy" and "much nicer than it sounded, I think I'll have another bit"
Not the actual coconut cake

So announced the offer of a mid morning treat to all our team today. And an interesting example of social economics followed.

Apparently, the Marketing (email) was effective, the product (cake) good quality and the price (free) was attractive. Naturally, the laws of economics meant that demand was high, encouraging significant trial and repeat purchase. Soon the supply had been exhausted.

I wandered over for a piece of cake many minutes later to be told I was much too late. My suggestion that there should be rationing and "cake socialism" was rightly rejected. The free market had triumphed.

Let's dissect this cake giveaway market.

Supply: limited

  • With the limited supply of product, the seller could extract a high price. Alternatively, they could control distribution, to ensure preferred purchasers were guaranteed product.

Pricing: Low

  • Instead of setting price high, it was set low. Was this an error in assessment of the market need for cake? Or perhaps it was a deliberate tactic to generate "buzz"

Consumption controls: Low

  • With such a great offer, why weren't any purchase quantity controls imposed? In fact, there were controls - only one piece could be taken at a time - this limited bulk purchase for resale, but there were no limits on returning for more.

In a controlled market, cake socialism might have ruled.  One piece might have been allocated per person.  Or even a ballot for who gets a piece. People who didn't even want a piece would probably be given one (and there is every chance that would create a black market for coconut cake with non coconut cake eaters onselling their portion to those who missed out)

Instead, by letting the market operate, competition for the limited supply ran wild.  Sure, I didn't get a piece.  But that's my own problem. Next time, I'll be faster.

So, how will the market operate next time?  The success of the coconut cake launch has generated positive brand trust for the cake provider.  She can increase her price (perhaps favors from colleagues), or maybe extend the product line into a more profitable offer.  Maybe she will increase supply to satisfy more colleagues.

In any case, the free market will find its level.  It's not perfect, but it's better than cake socialism

Let me know what you think (tick a reaction box)

Mark S

Postscript, with thanks to @almulcahy
Eddie Izzard- Cake or Death

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Reward the innovators, not the middle class

On the weekend I was watching Rocky III on Fox Classics - that's the one where Rocky gets beaten up by Mr T (Clubber Lang) and comes back to win.

The moral of that story was all about complacency, and its flipside, the hunger to achieve. Clubber had the hunger, the young guys struggling in the gym had the hunger, but in the words of Rocky's trainer Mickey, Rocky had "become civilized".

Now Mickey had no problem with Rocky being civilized but he knew it was time for him to retire. He had lost the eye of the tiger, and couldn't compete with the hungry upstart Clubber.

So this is a typical tale of society.
  • The hungry upstarts work super hard and innovate. 
  • They succeed then become comfortable. 
  • They stop pushing the boundaries and have a decision to make: they can retire, comfortable; or they can go back to the beginning, work hard and recreate themselves to better the new upstarts.
Society has no responsibility to preserve the comforts of those who have gained them. In fact, society is best served by supporting the upstarts. Most western countries have been built on the toil and creativity of the upstarts.

In Australia, we should be proud of success stories like migrant businessman Frank Lowy and rags to riches gay pyjama icon Peter Alexander.

We should design public policy to support innovation whether at the upper levels of big business or at the lower levels of start ups.

And this innovation should not be confined to traditional areas such as economy, health and education. While they are essential areas, creative endeavors such as the arts and sport also need to be nurtured.

This does mean I am opposed to generalised middle class welfare. And yes, as a member if the middle class that means me too. 

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Fair Work decision is a milestone for carers, and for a caring Australia

Fair Work Australia's determination that (mainly) female social and community workers have been grossly underpaid is a huge win for equality and fairness. 

In a recent speech, Cassandra Goldie from ACOSS explained the reluctance of these workers to press their claims for fair pay, as they were concerned that the money is required do those who they care for. For such caring individuals, society must care for them. 

Unfortunately, the horse trading has already begun regarding how and when these very fair pay increases will be funded. And it seems that the workers' fears are well founded - cuts may be on the agenda. 

The good news is the commitment from Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten on Q and A that the funds will be found in the budget.

As Anna Rose also mentioned on Q and A, our society must deliver on well-being. Decisions on fairness of pay are important milestones on this journey. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

We must have progress. We must encourage the unreasonable. Let's start with higher migration

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
- George Bernard Shaw

"The only constant is change"
- Isaac Asimov

Much of 21st century society supports the reasonable man and expects that people will conform to the status quo. But as George Bernard Shaw's famous quote reminds us, we need the unreasonable man (or woman) in order that society can progress.

For those who are satisfied with the status quo, the concept of progress may seem baffling. Indeed, there are many people in our society who think we have "progressed backwards". But as Asimov reminds us, the status quo is not an option.

Nick Clegg learns the dangers of the status quo

Take a look at this chart, showing the shift of UK's LibDems to the centre between 2005 and 2007.

Now consider the result of the recent UK local elections - the movement to the centre (an attempt to be the reasonable man) has spectacularly backfired as the LibDems lost control of 9 Councils without one gain. The voters who had supported the LibDems in the name of progress now recognise that the LibeDems alliance with the Tories show there won't be any progress from Clegg.

The Scots vote for the unreasonable man

Across the border in Scotland and the clans have voted for change. Major change. Who would have thought that Alex Salmond and the Scottish Nationalists would be given a mandate to separate from England?

And yet, that's just what they have voted for - a change to the status quo.  If you stand for something, if you stand for progress, the reasonable man often recognises it.

Immigration policy is a flashpoint

Perhaps the greatest debate in the progress v status quo battle is over the issue of immigration.

On the status quo side are those in favor of monoculturalism. Genocides have been committed in the name of monoculturalism. And more commonly, official government policies have supported monoculturalism, with Australia's White Australia Policy continuing as late as the 1960s.

The most notable monocultural nation is Japan. Only 1.5% of Japanese are migrants. The Japanese economy and society is now suffering terribly from this status quo approach.

In contrast, Australia and America are countries where migrants have built our societies. And both countries are at a tipping point in regard to the next step.

Today, President Obama announced a new policy supporting continued immigration to the US. In his speech he said " immigration is not just the right thing to do. It’s smart for our economy." And of course, he is right. You can watch Obama's speech here

He is resisting those who want to retain the status quo, despite emotional, fear-based claims, while still recognising the need

Australia is also at a tipping point. Our aging population cannot be self supporting without an influx of new workers, as demographer Bernard Salt has reported many times. And today Skills Australia estimated that we will need an additional 2.4 million skilled workers by 2015.

More importantly, we need new cultures, to generate new ideas, and continue the regeneration of Australia.  We need to embrace new migrants - new citizens - to Australia.

We need unreasonable men (and women) to achieve progress. If you think calls to increase permanent immigration are unreasonable then bring on the unreasonable.

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Positive Psychology initiatives must be funded by the new mental health budget

Tonight's Budget announcement to increase funding for mental health by $2bn shines a spotlight on an important issue. However, it is important that these funds are spent to improve mental health and not just to increase spending on treatments.

There are two separate elements to be addressed in mental health funding:
1. Mental illnesses
2. Mental health

These are different and require different approaches.

BMRI delivers on the medical model treating mental illness

The head of Sydney University's Brain and Mental Research Institute (BMRI), Prof Ian Hickie, is a psychiatrist, who is expert in the mental illness field. He is a key adviser to the government.

This Institute is proud to house some of Australia's most eminent brain scientists. These scientists are working on cures for debilitating mental conditions such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and Multiple Sclerosis.

Australia should be proud of this work, and it should receive substantial public funding.

Mental health is also about enhancing well being - the mental illness model is simply not appropriate

For over 20 years, the study of mental health has recognized that the mental illness model doesn't help in many cases. The mental illness model assumes that some form of treatment is the solution. It is codified by the DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders).

It discounts the Positive Psychology work pioneered by Dr Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania, supported by others such as Prof Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Prof Christopher Peterson from the University of Michigan.

Seligman and Peterson have authored an alternative to the DSM called CSV (Character Strengths and Virtues) which focuses on increasing the positive psychological traits of human beings instead of only reducing the negatives.

In Australia, the only course in positive psychology is the Executive Certificate in Positive Psychology Coaching run by Dr Tim Sharp from the UTS. Despite the expansion of courses at prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Stanford, this lack of courses and research in Australia needs to be addressed.

Tonight, the Treasurer announced that funding would be provided for prevention. Positive Psychology provides the best scientific basis for prevention of mental health issues. It needs to be included in the funding mix.

The Treasurer is right - prevention is important, and instead of funding for mental health only being directed to the medical sciences, substantial funding is required for positive psychology, via our outstanding academic institutions and reputable organisations such as the Australian Positive Psychology Association.

I call for the new National Mental Health Commission to allocate substantial funding from the $2bn budget to positive psychology initiatives.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Monday, 9 May 2011

A budget preview - a patchwork economy means not everyone's a winner

Tomorrow night, Australia's Treasurer Wayne Swan will announce the Federal Budget. It will show that Australia's economy is the envy of the developed world.

Overall, the economy is doing very well because of China and India's huge need for our coal and iron ore.

But a key theme will be the "patchwork" nature of the economy. This is Swan's preferred phrase to explain that whole the resources sector is in a once-in-a-lifetime boom, manufacturing and tourism are suffering.

So, how should Treasury respond to a patchwork economy?

Free marketeers would say the economy will take care of itself. If that was allowed to happen, everyone who has suffered from the floods would be left to rot. Surely that's not an economically rational approach, as these people who could return to being productive would take much longer than if they were given a helping hand.

On the other hand, protectionists would want the old, struggling manufacturing industries to be supported. They would add tariffs to imports in the name of protecting jobs. All that would do is produce an environment of complacency. Rather than encouraging product innovation and increased efficiency, it would create a culture of laziness. No, that is not an option either.

Instead, the budget will seek to strike a balance between these two extremes. And as the Treasurer said in his most recent economic note, "you often have to choose between what’s right and what’s popular".

Australia has been blessed with a series of excellent Treasurers on both sides of politics for many years. Striking the continuing balance to achieve a stable economy allows each of us as individuals to strive to achieve our economic potential.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Respect the dress code - whether it's teenage boys, hijabs or sluts

Discrimination against people based on their dress code continues in so-called civilised societies such as America, Canada and Australia.  Teenage boys with their pants too low, women dressed like Lady Gaga, or Muslim women in a hijab.  There's no excuse for discrimination - but worse, there's no excuse for violence.

Student says cops used Taser, broke his arm because of sagging pants

Last month in Kansas, USA, a 17 year old student was tasered and had his arm broken by school resource officers who work for the police department.  According to the Wichita Eagle, Jonathan Villarreal, said he was walking with friends to the bus after school on Wednesday when one of the officers ordered him to pull up his pants. He told them he could wear them how he wanted because school was out. (You can read the full article here.)

There is absolutely no justification for this sort of action.

Discrimination against women wearing the hajib - you better believe it

While Australia is a nation of migrants, attitudes towards people who look different continue in our "tolerant" land.  Here is a shocking quote from a report by the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria.

Muslim Village
“I was going shopping with my son, he is blind. These men followed us, and one extinguished his cigarette on my head. I felt it burning. I started to run with my son. They came up and surrounded us, 6 of them, Australian and white …”

This level of intolerance, of people of a particular religion, is made obvious by the hijab.  Whatever you may think of this dress code, the discrimination and violence towards these women is shocking and unacceptable.  I remember Jewish friends of mine being discriminated against when I was playing footy as a child because they wore a jarmulkah.  We must not accept any racism against any groups as a result of their religious dress codes.

Slutwalks - supporting the rights of women to be safe from sexual violence

On 24th January this year in Canada, a member of the Toronto police force stated that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.  The women in attendance were rightly insulted as this wrongly implied that the dress code had some bearing on sexual attacks.  It does not. As a result the Slutwalk movement was born. http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/

On 3rd April, the Toronto SlutWalk was held to support the rights of women to dress how they choose and not to be subjected to sexual violence.  There is simply no justification for sexual violence against women, and what they dress is irrelevant.  Honestly, do we think that Lady Gaga deserves to be sexually assaulted?

The SlutWalks are also reappropriating the phrase "Slut", as the word has always been used to wound, whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult.

SlutWalks are now spreading around the world, and are being held in Australia.  I encourage you to attend to support all women.
Melbourne - May 28
Sydney - June 13
Adelaide - June 11

Dress styles have often been at the front line of discrimination.  In a civilised society, we must be proud of the diversity of dress styles. Our only intolerance should be against those who use dress standards as an excuse to villify others.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Don't let the Victorian government erode women's rights

Yesterday's decision by the Victorian government to wind back changes to the Equal Opportunity Act for some sports are a dangerous step down a very slippery slope.

I am a lawn bowler and in 2001 the issue came to a head in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal when a 19 year old woman challenged the men's only status of Saturday pennant competition. Emily South wanted to play competitive bowls on the weekend when she was free from university commitments, but was prevented because the Saturday comp was mens only.

She won the case, and as a result she and other women were able to play on Saturdays. The unexpected consequence was that men were permitted to play in the women's pennant competition on Tuesday mornings.

Both the men's Royal Victorian Bowls Association and Victorian Ladies Bowling Association opposed Emily's application (you can read the judgment here).  Here are some of their (very old fashioned) comments...

the Immediate Past President of the VLBA, Mrs Lewis was not aware of any demand from women wanting to compete in mixed pennant.
The reality: After Emily's successful challenge, thousands of working women now play on Saturdays.

She was aware that among the older group of players, there is no desire to change the way pennant competition is administered ... many VLBA members did not want to play in competitions that are open to men and that if they are made to do so, she was concerned that they will withdraw from the sport. Mr Hosken also expressed his concerns if women were allowed to play in the men's pennant and vice versa.
The reality: The Ladies pennant competition was dying, and now that men are playing on Tuesdays and women playing on Saturdays, both competitions are more successful. In fact, many clubs wouldn't be able to field teams if there was a return to same-sex formats. 
(You can read more comments here at the bowlsworld forum that support the new format)

This decision upset some older ladies and it is these individuals who are now influencing policy.  And amazingly, the head of Bowls Victoria (now mens and women combined) is in favour of returning to same-sex pennant.  See the Herald-Sun article.

So the backflip from the conservative government has been driven by a bunch of oldies, who want to return to the days when women didn't work and had Tuesdays off for a quiet game of bowls.  These are the same oldies who insist on having the Queen's photo in every bowls club, and toasting her at every official function.  I mean, we love Lizzie and all, but really, is this the 19th century!

Where will this all lead?

From a bowls point of view, there are a limited number of bowling greens, and men's and women's pennant can't both be accommodated on a weekend.  So, a return to mens only on the weekend would be a return to discrimination against women.  And yet, it has been women pushing for this change.

While the Attorney-General, Robert Clark claims this is a "victory for common sense", it's much more likely to be a thinly veiled pandering to outdated, sexist values.  And for the head of Bowls Victoria to be in favour shows that nothing has changed in the bowls headquarters in the last 10 years.

If this change to the Act was to ensure that some events could be men's or women's only, just like some are for juniors only, or for over 70s, this might make some sense.  But it's clear that isn't what the conservatives want.

Instead, this retrograde approach to equal opportunity could easily return our society back to the bad old day's of exclusive gentleman's clubs where the old boys network ruled, and women were denied fairness.  We simply cannot risk any denial of the rights that women have rightly earned - even if it's just on the bowling green.

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Well-being: our aim for happy ever after

Back in 2002, Martin Seligman crystallised the theory of Positive Psychology with his book Authentic Happiness.  This was a major shift away from previous theories that focused on abnormal psychology.  Abnormal psychology assumed that people's problems were as a result of them being different from the norm - so they were "treated". It was also a shift among from psychologists' focus on reducing misery (such as helplessness and depression) towards increasing happiness.

[The Dalai Lama had a similar idea around the same time.  He asked "Scientists often study depression, anxiety and fear, but why not devote your work to the causes of positive human qualities like happiness and compassion?"]

One of the major shifts with positive psychology is the focus on people's strengths.  Rather than treating individual differences as a problem, the alternative is to leverage these "signature strengths".  When we leverage what we are good at, we are happier.

To find out your signature strengths, take the VIA Signature Strengths test here.

My top five strengths are:  Creativity, ingenuity, and originality; Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness; Perspective (wisdom); Bravery and valor; Curiosity and interest in the world.  So, that probably explains why I am happiest when engaged in thinking (and making brave statements like some of my blog entries!)

Recently, Seligman has expanded his research and is focusing on well-being, more than just on happiness. He now explains that Well-being has five measurable elements (PERMA) that count toward it:
- Positive emotion
- Engagement
- Relationships
- Meaning and purpose
- Accomplishment

So, rather than just focusing purely on happiness - we "flourish" by using our strengths to achieve these five PERMA elements.  And so, well-being is a combination of feeling good, along with relationships, meaning and purpose.

The evidence is in: human beings actually make choices to maximise relationships, meaning and purpose - and not just personal happiness.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

To listen to an excellent talk from Martin Seligman, click here
Click here to read more about the Dalai Lama and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

Clarification on affairs - if it's wrong, it's wrong - whether you find out or not

I have a clarification to yesterday's blog.

In yesterday's blog, I wrote...

Jenny and Fred are married. Jenny has an affair with George. Fred doesn't find out about it and notices no change in their marriage. Has Fred been hurt physically - no.  This action has not breached the harm test.

What if Fred does find out about it when he sees an expose on the television about his wife's affair? Jenny's action didn't change - there was no physical harm to Fred.  But what about emotional harm?

The blog then went on to explain that different couples have different attitudes towards extramarital relationships.

I never meant to convey that having a secret extramarital relationship is different to having a relationship when the other party finds out.  If the action would not be acceptable if it was learned about, it wouldn't be acceptable if they didn't find out.

Thank you for reading my blogs - please accept my apology for a badly written one.

Mark S

Monday, 2 May 2011

Affairs are matters of the heart, not matters for the State

How can acts that make some people feel bad be acceptable?

Let's take the thorny issue of affairs. One perspective is that once two people have committed to a relationship then any breach of that bond through a romantic connection to another person is wrong and should be prohibited.

A social liberal doesn't agree with this hard and fast rule.

First, let's pass this action through the "physical harm to person or property" test.

Jenny and Fred are married. Jenny has an affair with George. Fred doesn't find out about it and notices no change in their marriage. Has Fred been hurt physically - no.  This action has not breached the harm test.

What if Fred does find out about it when he sees an expose on the television about his wife's affair? Jenny's action didn't change - there was no physical harm to Fred.  But what about emotional harm?

This is where the context is all important. Let's develop a scale to measure the context.

Relationship monogamy scale
(modified from the original Kinsey Scale)
1 - Totally monogamous, no incidental emotional contact with others permitted
2 - Monogamous, incidental emotional contact with others is accepted
3 - Monogamous, more than incidental emotional contact with others is accepted
4 - Partly open, sexual contact outside relationship permitted in certain circumstances
5 - Mainly open relationship, one committed relationship with other sexual contact permitted with conditions
6 - Totally open relationship, one committed relationship with sexual contact permitted with others
7 - Polyamorous, no conditions attached to any relationships

If Fred and Jenny's relationship is a 6, Fred will have no problem with this TV revelation. He would accept the sexual contact with George as being perfectly normal.

But if their relationship is a 2, he will view the contact as breaching their marriage agreement.

This is where it gets interesting. Fred can view this breach of their marriage in a variety of ways. He can choose to feel hurt and betrayed. He can choose to treat this as a fundamental breach and leave the marriage.  He can choose to be surprised by the revelation and ask Jenny to enter into counselling. Or he can choose to accept Jenny's actions as a minor infringement and continue as normal, resuming their previous agreement.

He can CHOOSE?? Are you serious?? Yes, this is exactly what he can do. Indeed, with most statistics citing that 25-50% of married people have an affair, this is a decision that is being made very often.

Does this condone Jenny's behavior? If their relationship was a 2, no it doesn't. But that is a private matter between Fred and Jenny.

Without demeaning the personal side, it is much like a commercial agreement - if there is a breach by one side, there may be consequences. In a breach of a personal relationship, there may also be consequences - and as sad as the consequences may be, that is OK for those consequences to play out in whatever way they will.

Providing the harm test is not breached, people should be at liberty to act in whatever way they wish - they just need to accept that there will be consequences of any action.

Groups of people are free to impose social norms on themselves, but breaches are civil matters between those individuals, they are not a matter for the State.

(Clarification: having a secret extramarital relationship is no different to having a relationship when the other party finds out.  If the action would not be acceptable if it was learned about, it wouldn't be acceptable if they didn't find out.)

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Some statistics on infidelity:
Peter Fox
Kinsey studies

Sunday, 1 May 2011

From bikinis to gay rights, there are real costs of not supporting civil liberties

When it comes to economic matters, data and logic really are king.  But social attitudes are not so cut and dry.  I've spent the last few days researching data to support some thoughts on social liberalism, and then had an epiphany - not every comment needs to be supported by statistics!  Instead, the issue of social liberties comes down to a philosophical debate between two sides.

In the red corner - those of us who believe that adults should be permitted to act in whatever way they want, providing it doesn't cause any harm to person or property.
In the blue corner - those who believe that adults cannot be trusted to make good (or moral?) decisions, and need to be "protected" by the imposition of a set of rules by "society".

Of course there are an unlimited supply of examples that bring this debate to a head, so let's look at a couple of them, from the sublime to the ridiculous:

Wearing bikinis:
In the red corner, we say, if you want to wear a bikini, wear a bikini.
In the blue corner - well, it depends on what year it is, and where you are. Throughout history, the bikini has been acceptable, then unacceptable, then acceptable again.

Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily.
Source: Wikipedia

In 2006, in Kanab, in the US state of Utah, Council passed a ban on bikinis at the city pool, which was overturned in 2008.  The Kuwaitis rejected a motion to ban the bikini just this year, but in the neighbouring Saudi Arabia, no way.

Kuwaiti parliament rejects ban on bikinis

So, just for the moment, let's consider the blue corner has a point (which I don't accept of course), and this bikini ban is in some way a good decision for women.  Why should that decision vary from year to year, and even from State to State and country to country?  It's surely nonsensical.

Sex between consenting adults of the same sex:
In the red corner, we say, if you want to have sex, enjoy yourself.
In the blue corner - this is one of those issues where the wrath of God has been invoked against sin.  But of course, society's attitudes have differed over the centuries.  To the ancient Greeks, no problem.  To the Abrahamic religions, it is a sin.  For the Chinese, over most of its history, homosexuality has been OK.

When it comes to homosexuality, the battle isn't just theoretical.  Societies over the years have demonised and proscribed homosexuality, with 76 countries still criminalizing consenting sexual acts between people of the same sex.  4,000 people have been executed in Iran since 1979 for homosexual acts.

You see, when it comes to being socially liberal, there are real consequences. The costs of imposing rules on people, where no person is being harmed are very, very high.

Let me know what you think

Mark S