Monday, 23 April 2012

Behring Breivik shows how racism must not be given any air

I really don't like writing about evil people, it only gives them oxygen. Yet on the other hand, not commenting allows their evil to grow quietly. Anders Behring Breivik is evil. We need to talk about this.

I don't think he is insane. 

In fact, he was very successful.  It's a terrible conclusion I've had to come to.  To be insane requires a lack of normal mental functioning. That's not the case with Behring Breivik, he is considered and very logical. He thought about why he was taking action, how to do it, and what would stop him from achieving his goals. He executed his plan extremely well. Indeed, as horrible as the thought is, there are many lessons to take from his approach that can be applied to the successful execution of other projects. That's not insane. It's intelligent, sophisticated, rigorous and tough. All of the qualities we would want on our own side.

He is the latest in a long line of killers in the name of race or religion

Srebrenica massacre memorial
When Osama bin Laden masterminded the September 11 attacks, most of the world launched a war against him. But not all, he had tens of thousands or millions of supporters for his killing in the name of Islam and against the West.  When Slovodan Milosevic ordered the genocide of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims which was meticulously carried out by Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic the world was horrified.  The UN and international community have engaged in years of investigations, trials and convictions against the perpetrators. Yet again though, there were thousands prepared to support and carry out this atrocity directly against Muslims, because they were Muslims.

These are just two examples through time.  Most major racial groups have been guilty of shocking racial/religious crimes and often they have been victims as well, at different times in their history.  Christians, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Hutu, Japanese, Turks, Indonesians, British, Germans, French, Russians, Chinese... Race, religion, ideology - all combining into considered deliberate attempts at genocide.

Breivik is no better or worse than all of them. We must stop all racial/religious intolerance. 

So Behring Breivik is just the same. He had a considered agenda. There are many Europeans with his Islamaphobia. He was the most recent to carry out a heinous act in the name of racial intolerance. We must stop all racial intolerance or we allow ourselves to be slaughtered, or to become the slaughterers.  Marine le Pen must be stopped in France. Ahmadinejad must be stopped in Iran. Rick Santorum must be stopped in the USA. But more importantly all the snide racial comments and jokes must be stopped in our living rooms.

Racism and religious fear and hatred must be stamped out before it takes its first breath. 

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Why Gen Y are holding us back

I don't really want to believe this, but the evidence is building.  Gen Ys might be responsible for the economic slowdown in Australia's non-mining States.  Let me explain.

Mortgage rates are low but mortgagees are worried

Over the last month some interesting data was released.  First, the Westpac/Melbourne Institute consumer confidence figures showed that mortgage holders are much less confident than they were. At the same time, the ANZ published some stats showing that housing affordability was its best for a few years.

This doesn't make much sense really.  Interest rates are low by long term standards.  Even though the banks put their rates up last year, and ANZ put theirs up a smidgem recently, the Reserve Bank cuts mean that home loan rates are lower now than they've been for a long while.  This isn't the sort of situation that should make home owners less confident.

House prices are down - maybe that's it

The best reason I can find for this loss of confidence is that house prices are down.  Hmm, that would make sense if they fell in 2012, but they didn't. House prices fell last year, and confidence is down this year.

I can't believe that everyone was blind to the falls in prices in 2011.  Every newspaper was talking about it - we all knew our house prices were sliding.

So what have Gen Ys got to do with falling confidence then?

My daughters are Gen Y, so like any parent I don't want to believe anything bad about these perfect angels, but then again, they've had it rather good!  Seeing the world from their point of view, over the last decade, they've had jobs, had a place to sleep, someone to bail them out and a booming economy.  Of course, they haven't always used those parental safety valves - but they've appreciated them being there.

Now, rather than the economy being a 10 out of 10, it's only an 8 out of 10.  For those of us old enough to remember 4 out of 10 economies, 2012 is pretty good.  yes, unemployment is pushing into the high 5s, but most people still have jobs, and even with issues in Europe, the world isn't falling apart.

For Gen Ys though, any whiff of a problem is scary.  Euro debt problems - aargh! China is slowing - Nooo! Tony Abbott says prices will go up because of the carbon tax - Yikes! If there is one thing that Gen Ys want it is certainty, and even though the fundamentals in Australia are strong, these are uncertain times.

You have shown a link to mortgagees

Gosh, you are right.  So let's get to that.  First of all, a lot of these Gen Ys are the ones who have bought the new houses in the 'burbs over the last few years.  They are loved up, and taken out their first mortgage, and suddenly have responsibilities.  You mean the bank wants me to pay this money EVERY MONTH?? So, it's perfectly understandable if the little dears are a bit worried about everything.

No wonder Gen Y parents look worried!
What about all those young renters, they aren't mortgagees? Well, no, but their parents are, and that's where the parental safety net kicks in.  The kids are getting worried, and what do you think they are going to do - that's right - put their hands out for free rent.  Not my kids of course, it's your kids. And that must make you worried, surely.

There we have it, because the world isn't perfect anymore and Gen Ys have to stand on their own two feet, its their parents who cop it.  Thanks kids!

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Monday, 16 April 2012

Atheist Convention - just a thinly veiled phrase for anti religion. So come out and say that.

I'm finding myself increasingly puzzled by the Atheists. This week Melbourne hosted the Atheist Convention. Essentially as Richard Dawkins said that is a convention of non believers. So I'm trying to think of any other situation where people have a convention to show that they DON'T believe that something exists.  Nobody holds "Tooth Fairy non believer" conventions, so why hold a "Judaeo Christian God non believer" convention?

Is it a reason convention?
Perhaps it's less dramatic to hold a conference on reason and logic but isn't that what Atheists are supposed to stand for. Aren't they simply people who have considered all the reasoned evidence and have concluded that there is no god. Aren't they just trying to emphasize the importance and value of critical reasoning?

I'm all for logical reasoning and objective evaluation of the facts. But the focus of an Atheist convention is the narrow topic of objectively analyzing whether there is a god, and everyone agreeing that there isn't one.

So does being an Atheist mean you make a commitment to Atheism?

Atheist are just as committed to their belief in atheism as believers in other religions are in their deities. And yes, it does include an element of belief because even when we analysts assess data we still have to form a view based on the most likely interpretation, and we have to leave open the possibility that there is a better one.

Yet being an atheist requires a commitment to the conclusion that there ain't a god. That sounds awfully close to a value system to me.

Atheism looks just like another religion

I have this debate with a number of people about what makes a religion. Given that you can believe in any number of religions or cults (religions without many followers) involving none, one or many gods, doesn't a fervent commitment to Atheism look just like a fervent commitment to any other religion?

The Atheists say no. But then again, we are back to opinion based on belief. I say that Atheism is actually the belief that religions based on a God are harmful and wrong.

Frankly, I think there is some merit in that argument, but it moves an Atheist from being a non believer to being an anti-religion campaigner. It makes Atheism a system of thinking based on the unshakeable view that there is no God.

That looks awfully like a religion to me.

Call it for what it is: the anti religion convention

Maybe  "non believer" is tame, "Atheist" is strong and "Anti religion campaigner" is likely to set lynch mobs on you. That could be why the real anti religion ethos isn't front and centre.

I think that's a shame because it is clouding the issues. If the campaigns are really about removing subsidies for religious institutions, then say it. If the campaigns are really about ensuring that every child at every school is taught the scientific facts of evolution, then say it. If the focus is on casting aspersions on the mental capacity of anyone who believes that there is a God or Gods, come right out and state it.

The whole Atheist movement is confusing. There are some very valuable contributions being made to society by Atheists because of the way they understand the world, but I don't see how it matters whether they are Atheists to make those contributions.

After all, if there is no God, then believing or not has nothing to do with it. 

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Paul Howes - somebody IS benefiting from the higher dollar

Today Paul Howes has come out criticising the Reserve Bank's charter, and claiming that "One of the real issues that our country has to come to terms with is that a high Australian dollar is good for nobody."

Sorry, but that's just plain wrong.  Here is some proof that the Australian dollar is good for somebody.

Overseas travellers have benefited

Since the appreciation of the Australian dollar, overseas travel has boomed.  There are nearly an extra 200,000 people a month travelling overseas now compared to 2008.

ABS: Short term resident departures

People buying televisions and computers have benefited

According to the latest ABS data, Audio, visual and computing equipment is down 18.8% in the last year (to Dec 2011).  That means major savings for anyone who wants to purchase these products.  It means that equipment that may have been too expensive for some people, has fallen into an affordable range.  It means that the rise in the Australian dollar has been good for somebody.

Australians buying property overseas

With the higher Australian dollar, that means that Australians can buy property overseas at a much lower price than previously.  It is now in the realm of the middle class income earner, with properties in Europe now attainable for $100,000. Property buyers lured to foreign affairs

Whether it is a lifestyle choice, or an investment, this means that Australians are owning real assets in other countries.  This means that the higher dollar is benefiting those buyers.  Those people are somebody.

Paul Howes - are the Unions as economically inept as Katter

The calls from Paul Howes to review the charter of the Reserve Bank are echoes of Bob Katter's crazy claims to sack the RBA board.  The well managed Australian economy through the Hawke/Keating, Howard/Costello and Rudd/Gillard/Swan years has been nothing short of stellar.  And the independence of the Reserve Bank with its charter and formal agreement with the Treasurer to maintain underlying inflation in a target range of 2-3% PLUS achieve full employment has been a critically stable influence throughout.

Whenever radical statements are made by any side of politics, people listen and get confused between the nonsense and the sensible.  We must remain economically rational.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

One Direction mania - symmetrical faces, endorphins and sex

One Direction: the latest superstar boy band
British boy band One Direction have arrived in Sydney, to extraordinary scenes of screaming teenage girls reminiscent of the Beatles in the 60s, the Bay City Rollers in the 70s and Take That in the 90s.  So, why does this happen?

Attraction and symmetry - they are pretty boys

At an evolutionary level, Cute boys offer the potential for ideal genetic material.  One way to measure this is via symmetry.  Leonardo da Vinci's famous "Vitruvian man" demonstrated the perfect symmetrical figure. More recently, a number of studies have shown that perfectly symmetrical faces present a guide to health and strong genetic material.

I've tested this theory out on the five One Direction boys compared with my own face.  I score a rather paltry 90.5% symmetry score, while the boys range from Niall on 92.6% to Zahn on 96.6%.  Given that this was conducted with publicly available photos on an online tool, it isn't exactly scientifically rigorous, but it certainly heads in the right direction.

On a somewhat more subjective level, there is general agreement among teenage girls that these fellow are "hotties".  That proves that part of the argument than, they are attractive! Therefore, they would make ideal mating material.

Screaming, excitement, endorphins and sex

So, the boys are attractive. Yeah, we know that.  What about the screaming? Well, endorphins are a substance that is released during a variety of situations including exercise, excitement, pain, love and orgasm.  They are similar in structure and effect to opiate drugs.  Of these alternatives, for a teenage girl, excitement and love are two of the most attractive options.  So, when you combine a "crush" on a beautiful boy with the excitement of seeing them, you have the recipe for a release of endorphins.

Where does the screaming come in?

There are a variety of theories why girls scream at the boys in the band.  Certainly it is some combination of expressions of excitement, joy, and (immature) sexual desire.  Once it starts, that only heightens the endorphin release.  Due to the opioid effect, that encourages more of the same behavior, to receive more of the opioid.  The process is the same as for drug taking, and for orgasm.  In some ways, although they are unlikely to be aware of it, this is a young teenage girls form of simulating some of the same positives they will hopefully receive from sexual orgasm in years to come.

So it's all good then - let's all get carried away with some euphoria

If you believe the conservative dogma that young women should be mild mannered, meek and quiet, then you'd be critical of any form of "out of control" response, at any age.  I don't subscribe to this view - I prefer to encourage all of us to experience the full range of human emotions.

Some people will actively seek out pain through experiences like Tough Mudder, others will experience physical and emotional pain that is not of their choosing.  Fans become obsessed with their football teams, and scream at the players.  When people have sex, it can be done with a degree of control, or total abandon, releasing more endorphins. And everyone can benefit from energetic exercise.  All of these experiences, whether good or bad, are part of who we are.

Thanks girls and thanks One Direction, you've brought yet another human experience to bear.  Let your endorphins run wild.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Thursday, 5 April 2012

There is no place for racists like EnergyWatch's Ben Polis. Boycott them.

Ben Polis is a racist. Source: Herald-Sun
The racist and sexist comments on Facebook by Energy Watch CEO Ben Polis are completely unacceptable. What is more concerning is that a young entrepreneur feels he can laugh off any criticism by claiming they are "private comments". It is exactly this sort of justification that allows racism, sexism, homophobia as all forms of bigotry to flourish.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The growth of social media has seen an explosion in the number of bigoted rants, jokes and pictures being publicized. This doesn't mean that society is becoming less tolerant. What it means is that the intolerance that exists in private in living rooms, bars, pubs, community and sporting groups and workplaces is being exposed to full view.

The cliche is that sunshine is the best disinfectant, so this exposure is an important step in stamping out these abhorrent attitudes.

Boycott EnergyWatch

Congratulations to the Melbourne Football Club for canceling its major sponsorship deal with this bigoted man.

I call on my very own football club Melbourne Victory to do the same. There is no place for this sort of sponsor at our fantastic multicultural club.

And as individuals we should boycott EnergyWatch (I feel ashamed now to have recently used their services). There are plenty of other energy brokers to choose from.

Don't let bigots get away with their comments

When you see a racist, sexist, homophobic or other bigoted comment on social media, don't ignore it. Bring attention to it.

You will probably receive a barrage of criticism but call attention to that as well. Being prejudiced needs to become socially unacceptable within people's hearts. It is only be calling attention to it that the mood will change.

Thank you for being a high profile racist Ben Polis - you have become the lightning rod for all of us

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Melbourne sponsor Ben Polis in racist rant storm
Demons dump EnergyWatch after Ben Polis's racist rants

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Finally, even News Ltd concedes drug laws need to change

When a popular commentator such as Eddie McGuire calls for change to drug laws in a News Ltd tabloid like the Sunday Herald Sun, you know that public opinion is shifting.

McGuire's article:"Time for national debate on evil drug trade" is a major shift for a News Ltd paper.

Yes, it is time for Australia to seriously look at decriminalising drugs

As readers of this blog will know, I've consistently advocated decriminalisation and regulation of drugs.  The first article on this topic "It's time for a national debate on drug laws - decriminalise and regulate" said many of the same things as McGuire.

I'll repeat it again. Let's regulate, tax and manage.

The more recent article "Challenge the narcotics convention" discussed a very practical issue that our lawmakers will need to face to move down this path.

Who will take the lead?

So, now that we have the conservative tabloid contemplating change, will we see anyone from the Liberals supporting these calls? Given the Baillieu government's tough on crime stance, it still looks like the Victorian government is calling the shots from the old fashioned anti-drugs, anti-crime playbook.  Maybe, a kingmaker like McGuire can influence from the inside.  Working for James Packer as he does, he certainly has the connections, and I'd encourage him to have those quiet conversations that are so necessary to make political change happen.

On the Labor side, the social conservatives who still make up so many of the supporters are reluctant to head down this path either.  With Prime Minister Gillard under fire from multiple directions, it's highly unlikely she would be willing to take this issue on right now.

And the Greens have also been reluctant.  While their constituents are most likely to support a different drugs policy, the leadership hasn't wanted to be seen as a bunch of hippie pot smokers.  Again, from a pragmatic perspective, it's understandable, but with recent disappointing poll results for the Greens, I hope they can be encouraged to take more courageous action on socially progressive issues like drugs.  Especially now they can see that drug legalisation is becoming more of a mainstream view.

We will benefit by changing our approach

As Eddie points out, if we choose to spend money on "rehabilitation, advertising and teaching", society will end up millions (or up to $5 billion) in front of where we are now.  Thank you Eddie for bringing this thinking to the Sunday Herald Sun readers.  We need them on board to make these changes happen.

Let's keep discussing drug law reform sensibly.  We will get there.  We will benefit once we do.

Let me know what you think.

Mark S