Hot-spots in Melbourne

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has asked Victorians to avoid six virus hotspots: Hume, Casey, Brimbank, Moreland, Cardinia and Darebin. Premier Andrews says that half of the state’s cases were due to “family-to-family transmission”, with family members visiting each other in large numbers and ignoring social distancing orders. One cluster of infections included 14 people from the same family who have then spread the virus widely. Another group produced 11 new cases.

I am out of date with Victoria’s local government names, so I looked them up. The worst outbreaks are in the less-wealthy suburbs of the north-west and south-east. While traveller-borne infections were widespread in more wealthy suburbs, it would seem community transmissions are worse in less affluent suburbs. Partly this may be because casual workers lack sick leave and have little choice but to work for money even though ill. But how to get through to large families that they simply must not gather together in one group? In some cultures, that is a tough ask.

My submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill

This is a submission to the Committee with respect to paragraph (1) of its Terms of Reference, particularly "the nature and effect of proposed exemptions for ministers of religion, marriage celebrants and religious bodies and organisations".

I submit that the draft bill has two defects in relation to the proposed exemptions for ministers of religion, marriage celebrants and religious bodies and organisations.

First, the draft bill greatly overcomplicates the wording of exemptions. In its present form, section 47 of the Marriage Act 1961 already (and quite properly, in my view) provides ministers of religion with very considerable discretion concerning whether or not to solemnise a marriage—regardless of the reasons. This provision could be strengthened to apply "despite any law" and also applied to other marriage celebrants.  The following would suffice:

Ministers of religion and marriage celebrants not bound to solemnise marriages.
Despite any law, an authorised celebrant, (whether or not a minister of religion) may refuse to solemnise a marriage.

Similarly, the provision relating to exemptions for religious bodies and organisations could be simpler, more comprehensive and more straightforward, for example:

Religious bodies and organisations may refuse to make facilities available or provide goods or services
Despite any law, a religious body or a religious organisation may refuse to make a facility available, or to provide goods or services, for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage.

Secondly, the identification of same-sex marriage as a ground of exemption is:
—redundant in view of the overarching nature of available exemptions; and
—itself hurtfully discriminatory, particularly as it is in any case redundant.

Vehement but well-crafted

The daily and detailed specifics of Donald Trump’s many stupidities are of less concern to an Australian than the threat he posoes on some big questions—especially climate change, nuclear weapons and trade. What I find fascinating is the vehement but well-crafted language used against Trump in some of America’s highly reputed papers and magazines. The New York Times and the New Yorker in particular have nailed their journalistic colors to their mastheads. Thus David Remnick at the The New Yorker:

Every morning since November 9th, you wake up and read the news and think, “This has got to be an issue of The Onion.” Because, while so much of the media, in ways subtle and broad, attempts to normalize the Trump ascendancy, while we are told that patriotism demands that we accept Trump and “give him a chance,” the President-elect acts in ways that leave even dystopian satire behind. His behavior has little to do with conservatism or libertarianism or populism; his mode is recklessness, a self-admiring belief that unpredictability is the path to national salvation. And so every day brings at least one fresh outrage … It seems almost sadistic to go on. It’s the holiday season, after all. … But, rather than fog the mind and defeat the spirit with the litany of accumulated outrages, let’s concentrate on the outrage of the day &hellip

Will Trump nudge the Doomsday Clock?

Doomsday ClockIn the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (9 December 2016), Seth Baum, executive director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute offers an discomforting, though measured, account of "What Trump means for global catastrophic risk."

"Global catastrophic risks are those that threaten the survival of human civilization. Of all the implications a Trump presidency has for global catastrophic risk—and there are many—the prospect of him ordering the launch of the massive US nuclear arsenal is by far the most worrisome. In the United States, the president has sole authority to launch atomic weapons."

If Trump were to order an unwarranted launch, it could be stopped only by disobedience of military personnel, whom he could then replace.

Aside from planning to either persuade or disobey the president, the only way to avoid nuclear war is to try to avoid the sorts of crises that can prompt nuclear launch. "The United States has long been too dismissive of Moscow’s very legitimate security concerns regarding NATO expansion, missile defense, and other encroachments. … Trump’s unconventional friendliness nonetheless offers a valuable opportunity to rethink US-Russia relations for the better. On the other hand, conciliatory overtures toward Russia could backfire. … Russia could become aggressive."

There is a risk that Trump’s defiance of democratic norms and institutions may make the US government itself becomes authoritarian—and many of hius supporters seem to favour that. "Already, government officials are discussing how best to resist illegal and unethical moves from the inside, and citizens are circulating expert advice on how to thwart creeping authoritarianism."

An authoritarian US government would be a devastating force," Baum says, weilding "overwhelming military and intelligence capabilities to even more disastrous effect."

Trump tends towards an isolationist mercantilism that would have the United States look out for its unenlightened self-interest and nothing more. This would have "important implications for catastrophic risk," that would risk, "putting the world on course for another major war, this time with deadlier weapons." On the other hand, globalization has its own risks of rapid economic destabilisation.

"Climate change will not wipe out human populations as quickly as a nuclear bomb would, but it is wreaking slow-motion havoc that could ultimately be just as devastating. Trump has been all over the map on the subject, variously supporting action to reduce emissions and calling global warming a hoax."

"Just because election-winning politicians have been of a particular mold in the past, doesn’t mean the same kind of leaders will continue to win. Likewise, just because we have avoided global catastrophe so far doesn’t mean we will continue to do so."

Meanwhile The Bookloft‘s photo offers some light relief.