Friday, April 28, 2006

New quantum blog

There's a new quantum blog in town, Quantum Quandries. The site is run by Matt Leifer, who works at the Perimiter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Quantum Quandries is going to pick apart the foundations of quantum theory and is aimed at physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers and anyone else who is so inclined. As a quantum geek I think that it's well worth a read.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Guest post by AJ: On ANZAC Day

(Cross posted at AJ's site.)

One of the biggest problems of having no car, is the walk home the morning after. Having been to a cocktail party last night, I did the 25 minute trek back from the ferry this morning, adorned in some $1300 worth of suit, shoes, belt and watch. This being Australia in Autumn, it was of course some 20 something degrees, and I sweated as I trecked in my inappropriate attire. However it was a lovely walk, as it is a beautiful, clear day in Brisbane, and for the reasons I am about to explain, it gave me some things to thing about.

Today is ANZAC day in Australia. It the day that we commerate the sacrifice of all those servicemen and women who have fallen in the name of this country, and recognize the contribution of all those who came home. The day honours the first landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on the beaches of Gallipoli during World War 1. As you would (hopefully) know, the invasion was not successful, and over 8,000 Australians alone died in the attempt. During World War 1, Australia suffered the largest per capita military casualty rate (with 10% of our population overseas fighting on foreign shores), and New Zealand suffered the greates per capita casualty rate.

Thus as I walked home, looking very swish and every bit the modern Australian male, who is both Metro and a SNAG, I had an identy crisis. I walked past dozens of young families with children waving the Australia flag, I walked past a number of aging servicemen with medals proudly displayed. Today is a day where we celebrate and recognize. However I realized on my way home that I wasn't sure what we were celebrating, nor what we are recognizing.

Is it War? Sometimes I worry that ANZAC day has (or maybe always was) about having a pride in militancy. Having a pride in Australia's ability to go to war and commit violence against other people. I am not an idealist. Wars happen, and sometimes they are necessary. However I shudder when I see people proud or even excited about the concept of warfare and enthusiastic about a nations capacity to ruin and destroy. There are Just Wars, but as first highlighted by St. Augustine, that "just" quality is one based upon intentions and how people think. So, a celebration of militancy would be bad.

Sometimes I worry that ANZAC day is nationalism of a particular type. A type that can be manipulated by certain people or groups to their own ends. I worry that there is a concept of "us and them" on ANZAC day, a concept that we died fighting people who weren't like us, and by God that's because we like our country the way it is. It is a concept that is trumpted out in times of xenophobia - "our fathers died to keep this country Australian" - meaning that they died to keep Australia of a particular type. One with certain characterstics that are simply inappropriate and outdated in our current society.

Similarly, I worry that ANZAC day harkens back to a time when the average Australian was different. It is this worry that sparked my identity crisis on the way home. I consider myself a good Australian. I work hard, I try to be a good person and mate, and I love this country. But I realized that I probably have very little in common with those that died on Turkish shores 90 years ago. I am progressive, I love multicultural Australia, I wear expensive clothes and probably will never serve in a war. How much is ANZAC day my day? How much right do I have to celebrate? Would the ANZAC's really want me to give them respect? I feel like I want to celebrate, but is the Australia they died for the Australia I believe in and want to see created?

Ultimately, the answer is yes. I think the reasons for this answer lie in a deeper inspection of what ANZAC day recognizes. The Australian troops that served at Gallipoli, and the vast majority who have served since, would be the first to tell you that war is horrible. The diggers at Gallipoli endured hellish conditions during their 8-month farce on those beaches. Australian troops have been in the crappest areas of the world fighting wars ever since, under the shittiest conditions. War isn't glorious, and only fools on ANZAC day believe Australian troops have ever thought differently.

So ANZAC day isn't about war being glorious, is it about nationalism then? Hmmm, tougher to answer. I think there should be a distinction between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is bad - it promotes the concept of the nation-state and that states sovereignty above other concerns, and creates boundaries between people. Patriotism is about recognizing those attributes present in a culture that are worthy of praise. Patriotism doesn't require an "us and them" concept - think of it like your birthday. On your birthday, you don't hate other people, nor do you think yourself better than your friends. Indeed you can love your friends more on your birthday as they come together to celebrate your admirable qualities. The same is for a celebration of patriotism - patriotism doesn't require a distrust or subjegation of other people, or the creation of boundaries between them, it is simply an expression of pride (and even hope) in what you think is great about your home.

Therefore, given all of this analysis, what do I think ANZAC day is about? ANZAC day is a day we remember those who did what they thought was right, because it was the right thing to do. It isn't about war being good, nor is it about Australia belonging to certain people and not others. It's a recognition of spirit. Ultimately, Gallipoli was a shitty campaign in a stupid and largely pointless war. I'm sure many of the diggers realized this. I'm sure more recognize it now. However, the whole point is that they did what they thought they should do, because their mates were going to do it, and you'll be buggered if you let your mates stand alone. That spirit was forged on the beaches of Gallipoli, and has now grown into a cultural concept. It's a concept of loyalty and mateship. Courage is in there too, but it's a courage that comes from doing what is expected of you, a courage that comes from believing in your mates and not wanting to do wrong by them. It's a courage that comes from seeing what has to be done, and doing it because that's your job and that's just the way it works. There is no glorly in the ANZAC spirit, because to glorify it would ruin that spirit. What the ANZACs did then and have since done was not for recognition, it was because such actions were considered regular, the assumed behaviour, they were what should come naturally. You stand up for your mates when you should, and you don't stand down.

Thus, I think ANZAC day celebrates a spirit, one that was created at Gallipoli and is timeless. Do I feel entitled to celebrate this spirit, given I have nothing in common with its founders? Sure. The point is that under similar conditions, it is hoped that I would act the same way. Although the country has changed and will continue to rightly do so, the spirit is something that can be forever embraced by everyone within our borders, and indeed beyond them.

You don't leave your mates. You do what is right, even if it isn't easy. At the end of the day when all else goes to shit, bugger 'em, and keep your chin up.

This is what ANZAC day means to me. Celebrating a particular spirit that Australian's believe in. I hope people found this little blog food for thought, and I would really like some discussion if anyone has comments. Particularly if you disagree - this whole concept is about 4 hours old so I'd love to reshape it if someone has a good point to make!! But basically, I like ANZAC day, because it celebrates a type of bravery and righteousness that appeals to me - an everyday version. A version that everyone has, and appears in the right conditions. A version that goes without praise, as people just do what they think they should. So I'd love to hear back!

Much love and respect, especially to those who created the spirit 91 years ago today.


Elsewhere: There's a lot of good writing on ANZAC day in the Oz blogosphere at the moment. Check out this post at LP for a bunch of links.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A bad week for the Right

It's been a bad week for the right (as pointed out by Mark at LP) and it might get worse:

  1. Republican majority leader Tom DeLay quits politics after being embroiled in a corruption scandal.
  2. "Scooter" Libby rats out George Dubya and his boss Dick Cheney.
  3. Details George Dubya's for a crazy Iranian adventure get leaked to the world press and threaten to destabilise any progress that the UN might make in attempting to end Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions.
  4. Australian deputy PM Mark Vaile admits under oath to being too much of a newbie for his staff to tell him that the AWB was giving money to Iraq's government in the lead up to the 2003 invasion. Not to mention he fesses up to having a spectacularly bad memory and not much of a head for detail.
  5. (Ex?) Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi looks for all money like he will be relegated to the opposition benches (and maybe jail?).
  6. Australian Foreign minister Alex "Dolly" Downer to be in the dock at the Cole Inquiry tomorrow. He's going to have to explain how he avoided knowing about the AWB kickbacks, in contravention of Australian and International law, and then go on to explain why he thought it was appropriate to shield the AWB from the Volcker Inquiry.
  7. On Thursday Lord Voldeshort himself, Australian PM John Howard, might have to front up to the Cole Inquiry.

Bye bye Berlusconi?

Things are looking bad for Italy's vile PM Silvio Berlusconi. Hopefully, with some luck, this will be the end of this tyrant's political career and Italy might finally get back on track.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Enough wedgies Bomber

I notice that Bomber Beazley couldn't resist trying to turn skills shortages into another wedge issue today. The Bomber seriously seems to be trying to insinuate that the Howard government is encouraging employers to employ skilled migrant workers over skilled Australian workers.

Sure, there is a skills shortage in Oz and it's great that the ALP wants to end this by training people. But can the Beazer do this without tying immigration issues into the policy?

Imagine if you were a fly on the wall when they came up with this crap:

Labor Right Hack 1: The Bomber has to go on the attack about skills.

LRH 2: Yea, polling shows that we are losing Blue-collar votes to Howard. Maybe we can get some back by pointing out Howard's under-funding of skills training schemes ?

LRH 1: I've got a great idea! Let's point out that skilled migration has increased under the Howard government then we can implement a policy to force employers to train Aussie kids if they want to employ migrants.

LRH 2: That way, we can finally once-and-for-all show to the blue-collar voters that we are tougher than Howard on immigration! WE'LL HAVE THE ELECTION SEWN UP!

LRH 1: I don't know why we haven't thought of this before? I mean, it's so easy. We just get voters to blame their problems on immigrants! What's more, those immigrants can't vote. Mate, it's a win-win situation. We can call it the "Aussies first" policy. You know, cause it puts Aussies first. If Howard tries to bag it we can say he isn't putting "Aussies first". It's freakin genious, that's what it is.

LRH 2: You don't think those sops from the left faction will have a problem with it do ya? Some of those bastards managed to win pre-selection again.

LRH 1: We'll just throw 'em a bone. Just say something about wage fairness for migrant workers, some crap like that'll keep their pinko traps shut.

LRH 2: What about employers? Won't they be pissed cause we might force them to spend money on training when they don't have to?

LRH 1: C'mon mate. Those big end of town pricks 'll never vote for us anyway. Especially after the Bomber has promised to shred the Work Choices legislation. Do you think we could get some shots of Beazley in a tank or something to announce the policy. You know, to remind voters that he used to be defence minister?

LRH 2: Wanna beer?

For all Oz and NZ bloggers

Well known Ozblogistan blogger and academic, Mark Bahnisch, is putting together a paper on the sociology of blogging and is requesting input on interesting research avenues to pursue and for Kiwis and Aussies to give input on the reasons that they blog. Follow the links and read the articles if you would like to help out.

Mark, being a sociologist, is interested in such things. Personally I'd like to see a paper or two on the physics of blogging, so if anyone has any ideas for research on the physics of blogging they can leave comments here.